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Farmers: the group who use social media the least, needs it the most

Next week, an estimated 2,000 farmers, growers and agriculture stakeholders in Delaware and the surrounding region, will attend Delaware Agriculture Week, January 12-16, 2015 in Harrington, Delaware. The event will use a hashtag #DEAgWeek.

Attendees will hear about the latest research from Extension professionals. They will be exposed to new tools and technologies to help them farm more efficiently and more ecologically. They will learn specific techniques. Delaware Ag Week is a substantial platform to learn how to do it all better.

  • How to apply less pesticides, herbicides and fungicides through IPM techniques, cultural rotation practices, cover crops
  • How to protect the environment through better nutrient management practice
  • How to use water efficiently through precision agriculture & irrigation management

If last year is any indication, few, if any, will go on social media to share what they’ve learned. With this large of a crowd, #DEAgWeek should proliferate and trend. But I suspect only a handful of people will use the hashtag in a live tweet.

And that’s a shame. For on social media, anti-agriculture voices are strong and active. New generations, who are only getting their news from mobile devices, are being told modern agriculture is harmful. There is a lack of positive information. A lack of balance.

The lack of social media balance isn’t for a lack of smart phones.

Many farmers have smart phones. In rural areas like Kent and Sussex County where Broadband and high speed Internet is all but spotty, smart phones are often the only reliable means of connecting to the Internet. Farmers use them to access weather updates and use apps that work in tandem with GPS and other technologies. Of course, they are used as telephones too!

But Twitter? Forget about it. Particularly with older generations, there is an inherent reluctance to use social media. They consider it silly. Superfluous. Superficial.

Last year, I gave a social media presentation to a group of about 100 of poultry growers. When asked who used Facebook, a few hands went up, mostly from women. Rephrasing the question for Twitter or blogging, zero hands went up. “You mean to tell me I have to learn this Twitter thing?” one retorted. His hands folded across his chest, I could see he was having none of my argument. Others shared his posture. He spoke for many of them. They weren’t interested.

Then I showed them pictures from the Internet. Many pictures, and they weren’t pretty pictures either. “This is how you are being defined on social media,” I offered. They began to lean in. Yet, even with the ubiquitous usage of ‘factory farm’ and ‘frankenfood’ terminology, replete with mad scientist and hypodermic needle imagery, getting on board with social media remains a very big leap of faith.

According to the Center for Food Integrity, which surveys consumer attitudes about food, a key factor in building consumer trust rests with the opportunity to meet the farm family who produces the food. The tremendous success of farmer’s markets proves how important this relationship is in building trust and confidence. These markets provide an opportunity for people to ask questions about how their food is grown. Concerns about GMOs or applications of pesticides are often mitigated if the consumer feels the farmer shares their values and has used best practices to bring healthy crops to market.

Relationships on social media can be built in the same manner. We need the voices of family farmers in the social arena to share their positive agriculture stories and images.

Social media can be a tough sell for farmers of a particular generation. There is nothing wrong with preferring old-fashioned interactions. A handshake, the kind of mail with a stamp on it, a conversation instead of a voice mail message. There is real validity in face-to-face interaction.

But the fact remains, a whole new generation of consumers are growing up on and learning about agriculture from social media platforms. What they learn about agriculture is not always positive and seldom accurate. Misinformation is accepted as fact and spreads unchallenged. For balance and fairness, the voices of farmers and farm families need to be part of this new way to converse and market goods. Social media is not going away.

So, Delaware farmers, consider downloading that Twitter or Instagram app. Share one new thing you learned from Delaware Ag Week. Use the hashtag #DEAgWeek. I’ll settle for just one attempt. One teensy, tiny tweet!

There’s a team of us that will be on the look out for that hashtag, ready and eager to share your family farm good news to the world!