Lauren Nadeau said it best, “Farmers now have another responsibility after harvesting the day’s crops. They report about it on Twitter.” The day has come where you can’t just harvest some corn, but you have to tell people what you did and how you did it. Social media overcomes geographical boundaries and creates communities who share common interests. But, like every other technical update this century, social media has changed the way things are done and perceived. Agriculture, being one of the industries we rely on heavily, is being affected by social media.
In the “Wild West,” before social media, groups like “My Job Depends on Ag” (MJDOA) were nonexistent. Maybe you knew the farmer a few roads down and you could talk about what you did with your new irrigation system, but you had to wait until you ran into each other at the store for that interaction to happen. From a 2011 survey, over 95% of agriculturalists had a website, only about 28% of that updated it daily, and about 40% use a “microblog,” like Twitter. Only 28% of the original 95% have an indication of social media use on their website. Social media was just an idea at one point and now there are people like @dairydino (on Twitter) who travels and trains farmers on effective social media use. With these numbers increasing every day, the hope is that social media will become and stay a hub of factual information for consumers and farmers alike.
I spoke to a Facebook group of folks whose lives depend on agriculture. Based on the feedback I received, they mostly use Facebook groups like “My Job Depends on Ag” to coordinate and communicate with fellow agriculturalists, but also with other companies. Communicating via social media has allowed different businesses and industries to come together and learn about each other. Jared Coppola, a manager of his family’s dry-cleaning company, says that while he is not directly in the ag industry, his business relies on agriculture and has been bullied and damaged similarly to agriculture. If ag is strong, not only will his business thrive, but so will his relationships; To keep the industry strong they must keep those connections and create a support system for ag and the industries that depend on ag. Mr. Coppola was also among the many responses I got saying that social media can have a large negative impact because people just see something and run with it rather than checking if it is a credible source of information. Misinformation is one of the largest killers of any industry, but agriculture is not the first to face false accusations. We are continuously learning how to repute it through the use of social media.
People are reluctant to be wrong and accept new information as truth, even when it is something they did not know. But social media is not always our enemy, we can use it to our advantage. Bob Golden, an ag mechanic in California, summarized it as “exposing deceitful information and allowing an open platform of discourse among people involved in ag and those who seek to learn about it.” Social media is as detrimental as it is beneficial. It has given people an “anti” ability as well as a “pro” ability. “It allows the average consumer to engage with those that grow their food in order to correct any misinformation,” Eric Bream, MJDOA, said. Eric also went on to say that another benefit of social media is that is has raised political awareness on the producer level. In the past, much of the policy information was held “close to the vest” and filtered so that the whole truth could be difficult to find; social media allows for transparency.
My findings through the interaction on the Facebook page, “My Job Depends on Ag,” was that most use Facebook groups to interact with people already in the industry and to have a broad sharing platform for photos, videos, farm updates, and connecting with people. The members also mentioned that their own websites have been a driving force of feedback and constantly figuring out updates to appeal to consumers and create a first step in understanding their role in agriculture. Twitter is a commonly used platform for quick and easy updates, LinkedIn helps build professional relationships and allows for communication about new products in the industry, and even Pinterest is a fun way to share creative ideas for operations. Facebook is commonly used as a segue to an agricultural business website, like Turner Farms Maple Syrup; Carla Turner says she uses Facebook to sell her products but also as a link to her website. Blogs have also been a growing part of social media since the first official blog in 1998. Blogs can range from policy to the science of ag and most commonly just telling people how their farm/business works so that facts can be addressed right then and there. Blogs tend to be more personal and agriculturalists can build a following where people don’t just see a feed of information where you might be 1 out of 1,000 to be seen, but people go visit your blog to get that specific information.
I did ask them what the members of MJDOA look forward to or want to see happen in social media for the Ag industry. A few answers were: more interaction between front line producers and end users of Ag products, facts to become more commonplace, hope that interactions will force further transparency into what farmers do and how they do it, more interaction to help lessen the perception gap, and helping consumers understand the aspects of the business that isn’t just growing crops, but policy that also has to be formed and regulated.
Speaking with folks that work in the agricultural industry, specifically the everyday duties of a farmer or rancher, can change the way consumers understand ag and go about purchasing goods. For instance, Jerrett Kandzer and his family run their farm in the panhandle; starting out as citrus growers they have faced some challenges over the years, first the freezes in the 80’s and more recently citrus greening that has plagued the state of Florida. During battles like this, farmers have to make the tough decisions on how to move forward. The Kandzer family shifted to blueberries and then to cattle. Still facing issues and unexpected struggles, Jerrett has been able to share his journey and updates on the farm via social media. Each time he shares his stories and those of other farmers he’s met, it seems to enlighten consumers because they do not tend to realize that farmers face multiple obstacles just to get a few crops to market.
Sharing stories via social media can also have a negative impact on consumers because of that lack of understanding and distrust, but that is why social media is a vital tool to moving forward as farmers, consumers, and a worldwide community. Sites such as eatwheat.org are also good outlets for consumers to access first-hand accounts of life on a farm and the hardships and enjoyment it takes for food to make it to a dinner table.
Heather Kingdon, owner of a cow-calf operation, says “There is a unity that keeps many of us going through these tough times.” In the end, social media is about people; Building relationships, sharing information, and connecting with diverse audiences. Agriculture is no exception to the rule. Social media has changed the way agriculture is performed and perceived and this industry is tough and will see it through that this new form of communication is used to its best advantage.