Social media has benefited agriculture in many ways, according to Ohio Farm Bureau Communications Specialist Dan Toland. But farmers need to continue to use new and interactive ways to have direct conversations with non-farmers to continue to earn trust, he said.
Together with AgChat Foundation President and California rancher Jeff Fowle, who joined OFBF’s annual meeting via Skype video chat, Toland shared how a growing population of tweeting, blogging, Facebooking and YouTube-ing farmers have started to level once lopsided information posted online by activist organizations.
“HSUS and other activist organizations have been running online campaigns for years with little check or feedback from farmers – telling your story from their points of view,” he said. “But over the past couple years, social media has helped change this and provide a strong voice for the farmer.”
Research from the Center for Food Integrity’s 2010 Consumer Trust Survey shows the average American is increasingly turning away from traditional television and print media, while turning to the Internet, social media and niche networks for trustworthy information about food.
Seeing opportunity to increase the direct connections between farmers and non-farmers, Fowle, along with six other U.S. farmers, formed the AgChat Foundation in 2009, which now boasts a growing group of increasingly savvy farmer “agvocates” helping educate and empower more farmers to use social media to tell their stories. The foundation, found at www.agchat.org, also coordinates strategic campaigns to increase trust in and awareness about America’s farmers and ranchers.
Fowle and Toland both stressed the need for farmers to step out of their comfort zone and step up to the plate to tell their own story in their own words and to remember that listening is more important than lecturing.
“Chicken Little arguments from both sides of contentious issues aren’t getting us anywhere,” said Toland. “We need to take the time to listen to concerns from those who don’t farm and engage in productive conversation.”
Need help getting started with social media? View and download Ohio Farm Bureau’s Guide to Social Media.