Opinion Column

Love of social media growing among Simcoe County farmers

Brittany Doner-Gilroy, Special to the Examiner

When aphids began popping up on soybean leaves across Simcoe County and Ontario, local farmers took to social media.

Following #Aphids on the popular social media site Twitter, many farmers shared photographs of the small sesame seed-shaped insects, announced the locations at which the crop-damaging insects had been spotted, and even offered tips and advice on how to handle the pest.

Twitter is often abuzz with farmers, agronomists, and other agri-businesses sounding an alarm on severe weather warnings, urgent pest control, changing weather conditions, commodities market pricing, and policy developments related to food and agriculture.

After noticing a lot of misinformation online discrediting farmers and agricultural practices, farmer Andrew Campbell, a former journalist and founder of Fresh Air Media, took to social media to change the conversation.

"I found a large group of consumers were interested in knowing what was taking place on farms, but the conversations occurring contained a lot of untruths and propaganda about farm practices," said Campbell, a dairy and crop farmer. "So I shifted my focus to posting things we are doing around our farm; most of the time with pictures, to highlight the care, attention, and daily life of a farmer."

For Ed Hanson, a grain farmer and fertilizer sales representative for CanGrow Crop Solutions, Twitter was also a way to share accurate information with potential clients, other farmers, and the public.

"Originally it was a way to share our view of environmentally sustainable agriculture with our existing customers, but it turned into a much larger opportunity to communicate," said Hanson. "Folks who follow along, and who we follow, are usually like-minded in some capacity, whether it's an equipment option, fertility, or application method someone out there has already done it and can share their knowledge--it's become a collaborative learning experience."

In farming, time is money. As such, many farmers and agri-professionals have come to appreciate the ability to instantaneously share and receive information, including videos, photos, links, and comments.

"I often post questions before we try something new to find out what the experience is from other farmers," said Campbell. "In the past, the advice received has saved us time, resources and headaches; learning from others' mistakes and successes." 

Accessing real-time information on potential issues and sharing in discussions about tested solutions has allowed many farmers to significantly improve their crop yields and business outcomes.

"Twitter gives us up-to-the-minute market access, as well as real producer feedback across North America and the world," said Hanson. "This has been critical in making commodity marketing decisions, especially during volatile times. Faster feedback on pest infestations triggers us to take fast action; possibly saving crops from invasive species of weeds or insects."

With many farmers working long hours, alone in remote locations, social media sites like Instagram and Twitter also offer a rare opportunity to socialize.

"The information is good, don't get me wrong, but farming can be a lonely occupation when you spend days in a tractor cab or moving cattle around," said Campbell. "The community you build online does remind you how many farmers are in the same situation as you, going through the same issues, and doing this for the same reasons."

Campbell, who specializes in the agricultural applications of social media, suggests that even skeptical farmers will be pleasantly surprised by the usefulness of social media.

"The apprehension I see usually comes from the idea that 'no one wants to hear what I'm doing' or 'I don't want to know what someone is having for lunch'. The beautiful thing about Twitter is those are easy issues to get around," said Campbell, who recommends simply following along with people you are interested in to see what they are doing. "No tweets are required, and if you find someone is posting information that isn't relevant to you, it is easy to unfollow them."

Campbell said that he would hate to see a farmer miss an opportunity to follow along with dozens of great farmers, because they are deterred by a handful of posts deemed irrelevant.

Hanson also hopes to see more farmers join in the conversation, and has found Twitter a useful source for daily information, including market news, weather, equipment, like-minded folks, sports, comedy, and other inspirational topics.

The best way for new Twitter users to follow conversations on hot topics is by searching for a hashtag or pound symbol (#) in the search bar. Recommended hashtags include: #harvest15, #hay15, #plant15, #farm365 #farm24, #SimcoeCounty

You can also make some friends by following Andrew Campbell (@FreshAirFarmer), Ed Hanson (@Monaghanson), and the Food Partners Alliance of Simcoe County (@FPASimcoeCounty).

Food Matters is a monthly column addressing a variety of relevant topics concerning the food system in Simcoe County, as identified by the Simcoe County Food and Agriculture Charter. Topics may include: healthy eating, food access, and hunger; food and skills development; farming, the environment, and farmland protection; food and economic development; education and employment; and food and culture. For more information, visit www.fpa.simcoe.ca. Brittany Diner-Gilroy is a project consultant with the Simcoe County Food and Agriculture Charter. 

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