Friday, February 26, 2010

Ranch and Farm Technology

Farmers and Ranchers add Social Media to Farm Chores

Boise--Allison Touchstone of Boise works for the U of I Agriculture Extension office and she's connected. She's constantly in touch with her Future Farmer of America members and other like-minded folks in the agriculture world by Facebook.

"Facebook is a powerful networking tool," she says in an interview conducted from Facebook chat. "The potential is limitless, the younger farmers that are more tech-savy are in and in touch. I would like to see more veteran farmers participate and network this way for mentoring young farmers."

From cell phones, smart phones, PDAs, laptops and desktops, billions of people connect to the Internet each day to access instant information. On Google alone there are more than 250 million searches each day.

With a nod to the increasing prominence of social media in people’s lives, Google’s search results include links to blogs and Twitter posts. The opportunities that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter provide to connect directly with—and even influence—individuals and communities that would otherwise be unreachable because of time or geography are not lost on agricultural producers.

According to a 2009 American Farm Bureau Federation survey of young farmers and ranchers, among the 92 percent of farmers and ranchers aged 18-35 who use computers, 46 percent regularly plug in to some form of social media.

While a number of growers use social media to connect with fellow producers and ag supporters, many are engaging in conversations with people who hold different opinions, but who want information straight from the farmers’ mouth, or keyboard. And considering the numerous activist groups who use social media to plant seeds of doubt about modern farming, their presence is vital.

It is also powerful, as a Google Update search of the phrase “yellow tail,” as in Yellow Tail Wine, shows. News earlier this month that Yellow Tail Wine was donating $100,000 to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) got farmers and ranchers buzzing, blogging, Facebooking and Tweeting. Numerous posts were made to Yellow Tail’s Facebook page, the newly created Facebook group “Yellow Fail” gathered more than 3,200 fans and the donation was the topic of many blog posts and updates on Twitter.

Most of the posts focused on three main points: people enjoy the company’s wine but will think twice about their future purchases; requests to the company to reconsider the HSUS donation; and suggestions that the company focus its donations on local animal shelters.

Facebook, Twitter and blogs weren’t the only social media stages on which this drama played out. South Dakota rancher Troy Hadrick’s YouTube video has been viewed more than 8,000 times. In the 53-second video, Hadrick, standing with his cattle, tells of his frustration with Yellow Tail’s donation and pours a bottle of the company’s wine into the snow.
Hadrick now says checking fences and facebook is part of his daily routine. "Both are now on my chore list. We do these things to advocate and educate about agriculture off the ranch and we're finding that they have just as much impact as the work we do on the ranch."

“They are paying attention, folks!” blogger Amanda Nolz wrote in the Beef Daily Blog. “It will be interesting to see what they do next as a result of this massive response from agriculture standing up against their partnership with HSUS, an organization with a main mission to abolish meat, dairy and eggs from the American diet, while putting farmers and ranchers out of business.”
Yellow Tail ultimately went ahead with its donation, emphasizing that the one-time contribution was made to HSUS’ Animal Rescue Team and will be used to help animals in disasters. However, the winemaker announced last week that it would not donate to HSUS or any other political group in the future.

Through an effort that started off with a handful of 140 character-or-less Tweets and a few postings on Facebook, farmers and ranchers put an international company on notice and changed the course of its future donations. "I'm excited that Yellow Tail finally realized the mistake they made and acknowledged that they will never again support the HSUS or any other political animal rights organization," said Hadrick. "It goes to show that when we work together in agriculture we can make a big difference."

“The social media doesn’t have that. It’s individuals expressing their opinion and what’s interesting is consumers are part of this dialogue.” For these reasons Truitt said it’s critical that growers put themselves out there. “That means get online and get on board,” he said. “It doesn’t even cost any money, so all it takes is a little bit of time, a little bit of education, and once you do that you’ll find that you can become part of a conversation that reaches consumers in a new way.”

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