By Lynne Finnerty, American Farm Bureau with contributions by Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau A list of ag bloggers maintained by the group Farmer Bloggers has grown to nearly 200 agriculture-related blogs, and there are likely others not on the radar yet.
Farmers also are using social networks like Twitter , Facebook and LinkedIn more than ever to share information about their farms or agriculture in general. A group of blogging, tweeting and Facebooking farmers and ranchers formed the AgChat Foundation a few years ago to help farmers and ranchers connect with consumers through social media platforms. Recognizing the value of farmers telling their stories through social media, the American Farm Bureau Federation and Arizona Farm Bureau have been supporters from the very start.
To understand AgChat’s significance and online engagement more broadly, California cattle rancher Jeff Fowle has 54,857 followers (as of March 27, 2013) on his Twitter feed. An Agchat founder, Fowle chats with followers about coffee, wine, NASCAR and other interests to stay engaged. And when the Twitter community asks him about ranching, farming and agriculture in general, he’s treated as the online resident expert within his various groups simply because he’s having an ongoing conversation with his key audiences.
As Arizona farmers and ranchers, we often don’t think we have time? Well, Fowle doesn’t really either as a fourth-generation family farmer and rancher from Etna, California, but he feels he must connect with people he’s met online. From his blog Common Sense Agriculture regarding the US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, Fowle wrote “Americans have a lot of questions about how food is raised, the impact on our health and the health of the planet.”
And Fowle wants to make sure he’s listening and engaging. So he and a multitude of other “aggies” are online listening and conversing. Online engagement will never replace face-to-face, but it’s an option that’s paying dividends for those using it.
AgChat hosts conversations via Twitter every Tuesday night about food and agriculture. The number of people engaging in those conversations has grown to as many as 150 from 12 different countries. The number of people identifying themselves as being part of the AgChat community by using the #AgChat hashtag in their tweets has reached 12,000, according to Emily Zweber, AgChat Foundation executive director.
In Arizona, we have more and more farmers and ranchers coming online with regular blogs. One favorite emerging blog is The Farmer’s Wife Tells All by Lara Dinsmore from Yuma, Arizona. Her husband, Jonathan, is a fourth-generation produce farmer and they are raising their four children in a nurturing and busy home. Lara is the latest example of a farm family taking on the challenges and joys of online engagement. In fact, Arizona farming and ranching is completely suited for social media communication.
“Social media is an easy way to connect to consumers,” Zweber said, explaining farmers’ growing presence on social networks and blogs. “On our farm, we use social media as a risk management tool just like any other, such as contracting grains or buying inputs. If we want to be able to continue farming, social media has to be in that risk management tool box.”
For others who would like to join them in the blogosphere or on the social networks, Zweber says the AgChat Foundation’s website is a good place to find tips and tools on how to get started.
A couple of tips from Zweber:
- “I always say start small, and where you feel comfortable, whether it’s Facebook or Twitter,” she says. Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything at first. Once you get a handle on doing one or two things well, then you will be able to branch out to other networks and connect with more people.
- “Social media is about being social, not just messaging,” added Zweber, meaning it’s important to build relationships and reach out to non-ag communities and groups to connect your story with consumers.
And, consider applying to attend the next AgChat Conference in August. Any farmer or rancher or agriculture advocate can apply and scholarships to help with the $300-$400 registration fee are available. Only about 100 applicants will be accepted, allowing for lots of individual attention for farmers and ranchers who are just starting out with social media or are interested in building their presence online. Details about the conference are available at agchat.org.
Arizona Farm Bureau can also come alongside our state's farmers and ranchers and help them with their social media endeavors. If you have specific questions about social media and getting started contact Julie Murphree at 480.635.3607.