Consumer interest in the farm to fork journey has grown considerably in recent years...
Consumer interest in the farm to fork journey has grown considerably in recent years, inspired by food safety scares and a desire to know how the food they are serving their families is being produced. Now, a growing number of farmers are joining the conversation by using blogs and social media sites to bring the story of the American farmer to consumers.
According to the American Farm Bureau’s 2010 Young Farmers and Ranchers Survey, nearly 99% of farmers and ranchers aged 18 to 35 have access to and use the Internet, and nearly three quarters of those surveyed have a Facebook page. Additionally, 10% use Twitter and 12% post YouTube videos.
The goal of all this increased social media traffic is to reach out to the public about agriculture. In fact, 77% of those surveyed view this type of communication as an important part of their jobs as farmers and ranchers.
Jeff Fowle, President of AgChat, an organization whose sole purpose is to empower farmers and ranchers to use social media, says that it is essential for farmers and ranchers to get involved in order to actively participate in conversations with the public. Participation, he says, will help rebuild bridges with consumers so that the level of trust that once was there can be reestablished.
“The majority of society is so far removed from the farmer/rancher, that they have lost an understanding of what we do and why we do what we do. We recognize that no two farms or ranches are the same and that farming is very diverse in nature. Well, diversification is going to be the key. Without a healthy, diverse agricultural system in this country, there will be no food, and we will become dependent on other countries to supply it,” says Fowle. “We cannot allow that to happen.”
In addition to reconnecting with consumers, social media is giving farmers and ranchers an opportunity to step back and analyze what they are doing, and view their work from the consumer perspective. For example, farmers are learning that things that seem mundane to them may be confusing to the public, and often misunderstood. This lack of understanding at the consumer level leads, says Fowle, to negative opinions about farmers and the agricultural system in this country. However, public questions lead to a plethora of topics in which farmers and ranchers can discuss, share, write about, tweet about, post on Facebook and talk about in a blog. Consumers become more educated, and farmers more empowered.
“The better informed the public is and the more we share our stories and build those bridges, the better off we’re going to be,” says Fowle. “When the general public sees legislation coming up that impacts agriculture, they’ll be able to say, ‘Hey, I can see how this will negatively impact my farmer or rancher and how it indirectly affects me,’ and then do something about it.”
Farmers are using the Internet as an important tool for accessing general and farm news too – 84% say they use the web in this way. For his part, Fowle says he uses farm weather sites the most frequently, checking them hourly and working accordingly. Also many farmers are using the Internet to connect field moisture sensors and irrigation systems to their cell phones and computers, which helps them monitor their volume of water more efficiently. Other farmers are keeping a close eye on the Board of Trade and how futures are running for various grains.
Meanwhile, AgChat is currently training farmers and ranchers to write blogs, shoot YouTube videos, and develop more effective Facebook pages. And they host several monthly online discussions featuring farmers, ranchers, consumers and public figures. The diverse dialogue that is taking place in these forums is changing how farmers and consumers relate to each other in a constructive way, says Fowle.
He adds, “It’s going to take an active group of farmers and ranchers from around the country showing the positive diversity that exists in agriculture to build communities to ensure a positive, long lasting, viable agricultural in the future.”
Jeff Fowle is President of AgChat and raises cattle and horses in Etna, California, near the Oregon border. Fowle and his wife and parents run just over 640 acres on their ranch. Visit http://agchat.org/ for more information on their weekly chats with farmers, ranchers and consumers.