Harvest is rapidly approaching, a season filled with measurements of a farmer’s success. Agriculture needs to look at yields in areas beyond the combines and choppers. One of those needing yield improvement is consumer understanding of agriculture. I’d encourage you to look at the millions of opportunities in social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Ning, et al) as a critical tool in improving perception measurements about the agrifood business. Why?

  • Networking: People with multiple decades working in agriculture have told me that they’ve never found a better networking tool than social media. For example, Twitter’s #AgChat on Tues., 8-10 p.m. Eastern, has brought together hundreds of people in the business of raising food, feed, fuel and fiber. In addition to discussing timely issues and educating others about agriculture, participants in in #AgChat regularly dialogue about what they’re doing in the field, the latest equipment, ways to improve practices and experiences in animal care.
  • Listen louder: Identify trends and thought patterns shaping opinion about what you do on a daily basis. Social media offers an early glimpse of emerging trends – and media outlets have been using tools such as Twitter to break news, as well as source it. Social media gives you the opportunity to really listen to people’s thoughts, needs and worries – and respond to them.
  • Share sound bytes about agriculture: Create greater understanding of what’s happening on the farm, in the field, the role of agribusiness and the challenges faced by those who produce food. In a society two or three generations removed from the farm – this is a critical business tool to ensure your long-term success. Don’t expect people to understand ag if you don’t tell them about it. Many of my speaker friends comment on the food facts I post on my Facebook and LinkedIn, noting their surprise. You’ll likely be surprised with the feedback you get from your social networking – people enjoy hearing about farm, food and your family.
  • Build collaborations: Many groups are interested in exposing misinformation campaigns and improving people’s critical thinking skills. For example, biomedical researchers and pet ownership groups have similar interests as agriculturists do in exposing animal rights activists. Broaden your circle and you may be surprised at what you learn – and who you meet.
  • Put a face on the plate: Connect with consumers and influencers – by the millions. Take two minutes a day to share what you’re working on your farm, in your agribusiness, or challenges in the business. If you’re not telling people, how do you expect people to know?  When I began tweeting a weekly food fact (there’s now #agfact Tues. and #foodfact Thurs.) back in January, I saw my followers begin to diversify. People are hungry for information about food and it’s a tremendously polarizing issue. The day the L.A. Times Food Section began following me was the day I figured out Twitter is a very useful business tool.
  • Engage in debate with people from different backgrounds: This is particularly true when misinformation is running rampant. Blogs and Twitter have taught me how single-minded some people can be in debates about sustainability, local food, biotechnology, organics, animal rights, urban gardeners, et al. Time spent in civil discourse is constructive if it  builds understanding of both parties’ opinions.  Frankly, it also provides reason to step back and assess if agriculture is too single-minded.

The yield potential is significant. An estimated 1.9 million tweets are sent daily. There are more than 225 million people on Facebook and it reached 150 million users nearly three times faster than cell phones. Do the math about how many opportunities you have to connect agriculture if 98.5% of those people aren’t actively engaged in farming. Call social media a fad if you wish, but know that agriculture is missing an opportunity to be proactive if you don’t take the time to harvest the benefits of  at least one of the tools. What’s holding you back?