One of the greatest personal advantages to social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and YouTube is the ability to really connect with people, rather than just see them when I’m speaking. Relationships, built through shared experiences, have been growing through hundreds of conversations online.

#AgChat on Twitter has been a breeding ground for thousands of those conversations to spread the word about agriculture.  One of the people I’ve enjoyed connecting with through #AgChat is @farmerhaley, a Purebred Simmental, grain and hay farmer in Ohio who also goes by Mike Haley. He gave me a totally different perspective on the value of social media when I was challenging him about the need to speak up for agriculture in his local community.  Mike said “While I have always taken time to answer my communities and neighbors questions about agriculture, since I have been on Twitter I have gained more confidence and knowledge in how to talk to people about their questions or concerns.”Haleypix

So, if you want to know why a farmer ‘tweets’,  read on…

How long have you been engaged in social media and what got you started?

My wife and I were at the Ohio Farm Bureau Young  Agricultural Professionals conference in February 2009 and attended a session where Joe Cornely was talking about his experiences with social and ways that we could use it as farmers. When we got home we decided to try it, she set up a facebook account and I set up a twitter account.

What has been your experience with educating others about farming on Twitter?

My experience has been something like a roller coaster, some people engage with curiosity wanting to know more about agriculture, and some have engaged me trying to discredit what I say. I have even had other farmers ask me for information about my views on a subject so that we can both understand it better.

I also have engaged other tweeps (people on Twitter) on some of the misinformation that they were spreading around.  In some cases I have learned that I am the misinformed party, others I have found out we were both right under different circumstances. In the situations where I was correct, I was sometimes able to shed light on the other party, while other times they don’t care. In any case, I have found if I engage in a conversation with them some of the people that follow are willing to listen to my side as well, which is what matters the most.

How has Twitter given you more confidence in speaking out for agriculture?

Twitter has made me more aware of my surroundings and how other view what I do, both good and bad.  I have learned a lot about how to talk in a way that individuals not involved in agriculture will understand. While doing that, I have also learned that people do care about what I do and want to listen to some of the things I have to talk about.

I also have learned a lot more about the need to speak up. In some ways I feel this knowledge is more of a reason for me to be speaking for agriculture, rather than actually building my confidence.

Why do you think farmers should use social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube?

Most of us in agriculture live in small communities where most people already have an idea of what agriculture is about.  SM allows us to take a few seconds or minutes to educate thousands of people without leaving the farm, to take the time to educate the same amount of people by word of mouth would mean I would have to take time off to travel to a meeting, or invite people to come to me and take time off to show them around.  BUT, dont ever discredit the power of a personal touch; both methods are important.

What’s the greatest benefit to agriculture in using social media?

Think about the big bad wolf, the vilian in the fairy tale Little Red  Riding Hood.  Have you ever thought about what would have been the story if the wolf would have gotten his version of the story published first?  Farmers have a very important voice in how our food is grown and raised, but if we do not speak up about why, what and how we produce it somebody else may just do it for us, and we might not agree with what they are telling our consumers!

How does this translate to bottom line value for your farm?

I am currently the fifth generation of my family on this farm. I want to do everything to make sure that my family has the choice to continue to farm in generations to come.  If we dont speak our piece now, then we will not have anything but memories to tell in the future.

Still scratching your head about the business value for agriculture? Click here for some of the articles and radio spots with more facts about social media and the agrifood business. Consider this; the Humane Society of the United States or Sierra Club will be glad to have that conversation with people for you on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. Is that what you’d like to happen?