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Chat for a cause

Eighty-seven percent of online community members participate in causes that are new to them.

What if one of them is agriculture?

Auburn University’s Anne Adrian says some of the public pressure agriculture now feels could be a result of various action groups being active in social media and on the Internet. Nearly all Internet users also log on to find out more about social causes.

“It may help explain why there’s more pressure from an environmental standpoint,” Adrian says.

Deltapine spokeswoman Janice Person can see that.

Key Points

• Online community members are likely to join new social causes.

• Ag leaders are a credible online source for information.

• Ag advocacy also is good for ag business.


“They’re out there telling their story,” Person says. “They’re shooting more than arrows at us.”

Those arrows, often shot from the hip, are being deflected with science and reality as more farmers log on, tweet, chat on Facebook and become YouTube movie stars.

“At this point it’s an ag advocacy sort of thing,” Adrian says. About mid-2009, the number of farmers involved in social media expanded — almost exponentially. Now, Adrian says, “there’s beginning to be understanding from an empathy standpoint.”

It’s all about connecting with people, Person says.

“It gives us a chance to be a lot more aware of what’s happening and connect to some of these people who might not have any other opportunity to connect to somebody in ag,” Person says. “On Twitter, in those 140 characters, you have the opportunity to say something that gives people that stop-and-pause moment.”

The Southeast United Dairy Industry Association uses an ambassador program to put farmers before the general public. Many of those ambassadors also now use social media to spread their message.

Started in 2001, the program is making a difference, says Cheryl Hayn, SUDIA executive director.

“What that does is it really puts a face on the dairy industry. We’re finding more and more it’s important to consumers to really put a face on the product,” Hayn says. “Having the dairy farmer speak directly to the public makes a real difference to the public.”

It’s a difference that positively impacts the industry’s bottom line — and its image.

“We do see some increase in sales results,” Hayn says, “but we also see an increase in general goodwill through this program.”

Social media takes on rust

Quite frankly, Kentucky Extension pathologist Don Hershman had no expectations when he started using Twitter in 2009 to alert farmers to information on soybean rust.

“I only have 24 followers at the moment, but that is 24 more than I thought I would have,” Hershman says.

He decided to give Twitter a try after talking to a computer-savvy friend.

“It is easy enough to do from my perspective, and it does give those interested ‘the bottom line,’ ” Hershman says.

This season, Hershman is taking the next step by offering even those outside of Kentucky a text message service through which they can receive weekly “bottom line” soybean rust risk updates during the season. The service is possible, thanks to a grant from the Kentucky Soybean Promotion Board.

“We are doing it to make it as easy as possible for people to stay in the SBR loop, but without having to go to a lot of trouble,” Hershman says.

The key is to provide short, easily accessible messages to busy business people, he says.

“I think social media will play a big role in ag in the future. Things are getting so big and complex that farm operators and others are having a hard time keeping up. If everything we give them is long and complicated, it will get lost in the mix,” Hershman says. “But if we can keep them informed using short status messages via Twitter, text messaging, hotlines, then they are more likely to stay engaged at some level.”

Where on the Web is Will?

Find Will Gilmer at:

The Dairyman’s Blog

“@gilmerdairy” on Twitter

“gilmerdairy” on YouTube

“Gilmer Dairy Farm” on Facebook

“Farm2U” on Facebook

Extra time online pays off

Will Gilmer looks at social media as a form of insurance.

“Instead of paying a premium of money, it’s paying a premium of a little bit of time,” Gilmer says.

The Alabama dairyman uses a blog, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to tell agriculture’s story to a broad audience. He started his blog in 2007. “At first it was just about what’s happening on the farm,” Gilmer says. “As more people started reading, I started tackling more issues.”

The focus is to expand the general public’s understanding of ag. “People just don’t understand agriculture anymore,” Gilmer says. “Our values are the same, but our methods are different.”

As to why he uses social media, Gilmer offers three reasons: Everyone else is; it’s a way to share ag’s story with a wide audience; and it’s an effective tool for shaping opinions. Social media also allows farmers to spread their message without taking time away from the primary task at hand: running the farm.

“We’re limited in how much time we can spend off our farm,” Gilmer says. With social media, “you can do a whole lot in a few minutes and reach a large audience.”

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CHAT THROUGH A MEDIA STORM: Southeast United Dairy Industry Association Executive Director Cheryl Hayn (left) believes the industry’s farmer-based outreach efforts helped them weather the BSE outbreak in 2003. Georgia Peanut Commission board member Joe Boddiford (right) wonders how such a program might have helped the peanut industry during the 2009 salmonella crisis.

This article published in the February, 2010 edition of SOUTHERN FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.