Social-media use among farmers

A decade ago, it was unheard of for farmers to use social media to obtain industry news and generate communication among other farmers and the public.

What a difference time and technology make. Today, it’s more and more common to see farmers joining the social-media world to connect with other farmers and to reach out to the public to educate them about agriculture.

According to the American Farm Bureau’s 2010 Young Farmers and Ranchers Survey, nearly 99 percent of farmers and ranchers between the ages of 18 to 35 have access to and use the Internet, and nearly three quarters of those surveyed have a Facebook page, while 10 percent use Twitter.

"Social media is a great way to connect and learn from others about ideas and practices that can improve farm operations," said Anne Mims-Adrian, Alabama Cooperative Extension System associate director of information. "Often, farmers connect with people they would have never been able to before. They’re able to educate people outside of agriculture and support the agriculture industry using these new online tools."

The Alabama Farmers Co-Op Cooperative Farming News states that there are many ways farmers benefit from using social media, including:
  • Sharing information and ideas with other farmers and learning from other farmers, ranchers and associates of agriculture
  • Providing quick, responsive networks and communities for farm use and important emerging issues
  • Marketing farm and ranch products
  • Connecting and interacting with consumers – creating conversations and relationships with them
  • Allowing agriculturalists to share positive information
  • Educating people who are not associated with agriculture
  • Widening the scope of local farmers
So, what are some farmers and people in the agriculture industry using social-media to communicate about?

Michele Payn-Knoper, a community catalyst, agriculture advocate and food connector, is the creator of #AgChat, a thought-provoking weekly Twitter chat for people in the business of raising food, feed, fuel and fiber. During the chat, participants share their viewpoints about issues impacting agriculture, such as sustainability, antibiotics, agronomy, animal welfare, bio-energy and more. You can join the conversation every Tuesday from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. EST.

To help farmers stay up-to-date on the latest industry news and current trends Janice Person from Monsanto Company, put together a list of the “Top 10 Twitter Lists to Follow about Agriculture.”
  • Row Crop Farmers – a list of individuals who have been listed as growing row crops
  • Two lists of AgChat Foundation: Board of Directors and the Advisory Board – A group of people building an effort to empower more farmers to tell their individual stories
  • Folks from ACFC10 – a list of people who are attending the first AgChat Foundation training conference
  • Ag Media list – a list of working media and other communicators who tell agriculture stories for associations, companies or other organizations
  • T-lists on Agriculture – an aggregator that uses data on all the lists about agriculture and then pulls a list of some of the folks they think are the most influential by virtue of having been listed multiple times and tweeting about the following: #AgChat, #Farm, Food, Farm, Farmers, #Ag, Corn, Farmer, Agriculture, #Food, Dairy, USDA, Beef, #ThankaFarmer or Meat
  • Agvocate list – a list of agriculture advocates
  • Ag Women – a list of women in agriculture
  • Ag Bloggers – a list of people who are telling their stories through blogs
  • Ag Media Summit – a list that was used to build familiarity around the attendees of the Ag Media Summit. (You can find many Twitter lists that have been created for specific events.)
Facebook has also become a popular social-media outlet for farmers and agriculture organizations. Many are using it as a marketing tool to help sell their produce or share industry news.
  • Ohio Farmers Feed US – shares industry news about how farmers are caring for animals and the land, and giving back to the community
  • Three Sisters Garden – shares information about their specialty vegetable farm for sale directly to restaurants in the Chicago area
As social media continues to become more and more popular, I will be curious to see if more farmers will use it and to what extent. In the meantime, what do you think about the use of social media in the agriculture industry? Do you find it to be a helpful medium or not?

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2010 Food System Summit

Can we trust our food?

There’s no doubt that America’s food system is complex and progressive. The process of getting food from farm to fork is extensive. Because of its vital importance, an annual summit is dedicated to learning from and bettering the methods by which we obtain our food.

The Food System Summit addresses food animal well-being, food safety, food industry technology and innovation and nutrition and health. The highlight of the event is the Center for Food Integrity (CFI) Consumer Trust Research Survey – a nationwide benchmark of current U.S. consumer opinion regarding trust in the contemporary U.S. food system.

According to its website, CFI was established in 2007 to increase consumer trust and confidence in the American food system, with the primary mission to promote dialogue, model best practices, address issues important to consumers and serve as a resource for accurate, balanced information.

This year, the summit was October 5 and 6 in Chicago.

Summit Feature Presentations Included:
  • What Women Want: New Research about Beef Shopping and Implications for the Food Industry
  • Religion’s Role in Framing the Discussion of Animal Well Being
  • The Benefits of Modern Food Production in Today’s Economic Environment
  • Technology and Today’s Food System – Cautions and Counsel
Listen to audio clips of news interviews with summit presenters.

The seminars are thought provoking and offer participants, comprising farmers, ranchers, processors, government and company associates, an opportunity for dialogue, though what most people are interested in is the annual survey that measures consumer opinion regarding food-production, transportation/handling and other issues.

Participants rated some questions using a 0-to-10 scale; “0” meant they had no concern about an issue and “10” meant they were very concerned about an issue.

The survey was conducted in August and polled 2002 people, 60 percent female and 40 percent male, using Survey Sampling International’s consumer Web panel (sampling error at 95 percent confidence level +/-2.2 percent).

Research Highlights:
  • Early adopting consumers prefer online sources for information about the food system, followed by friends and family and their local television station.
  • Traditional media sources, including newspapers and radio, were least preferred by early adopting consumers.
  • Consumers view non-governmental organizations as the most credible sources about the humane treatment of farm animals.
  • Following non-governmental organizations, consumers view farm-animal veterinarians and university experts as the most credible sources of information about the humane treatment of farm animals.
  • An average rating of 6.94 was given to the question, “I trust food produced in the U.S. more than I trust food produced outside the U.S.”
  • An average rating of 5.31 was given to the question, “I don’t care where my food was produced as long as it is affordable, safe and wholesome.”
  • An average rating of 6.05 was given to the question, “The FDA strictly regulates the use of antibiotics given to animals raised for food.”
  • An average rating of 7.22 was given to the question, “I would support a law in my state to ensure the humane treatment of farm animals.”
  • An average rating of 6.25 was given to the question, “The use of herbicides and pesticides increases crop yields and crop quality, which means lower prices at the grocery store.”
There is less concern about food prices this year than the past two years, more confidence in the safety of food and more consumers feel that they have access to information about food origin, production and safety. 

The ultimate goal is to learn from the research findings and improve upon areas of concern.

“We are all stakeholders in our nation’s food supply – one of the safest, most abundant and most affordable in the world,” states CFI.

As the CFI continues its yearly survey and seminar, it will be interesting to witness how American consumers adjust or maintain their food-system perceptions.

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Soybean seed to be sold by count

As soybean seed prices increase, so has the switch to sell seed by the count.

Both Syngenta and Monsanto recently announced that they will sell all o
f their soybean seed by the count for the 2011 growing season – moving away from selling seed by the pound.

When selling by weight, farmers do not know how many seeds are in a bag. And, with soybean seed becoming more expensive, it is important for farmers to not buy more than they need. Selling seed by the count allows them to make better business decisions.

Corn has been sold by the seed count for nearly 45 years.

Beginning in 2011, Syngenta will sell its soybeans based on 140,000 seeds per unit in all packaging types. Most of the bags will weigh between 40 to 60 pounds with a maximum weight limit of 63.6 pounds.

“The move to sell by seed count helps farmers determine costs and will create more accurate orders,” said Doug Tigges, Syngenta Seeds soybean product manager. “That would allow for better management of inventory and could reduce the amount of returns for the company.”

Monsanto’s United States Soybean Product Management Lead, Jennifer Ralston, agrees, “The farmers like it,” she said in a Missouri Farmer Today article.

Monsanto started selling by count in 2009 and required seed companies to sell its Roundup Ready to Yield soybeans in 140,000 seed units. In 2011, they will sell all of their soybean seeds by count.

For farmers and seed companies, selling by count seems to be a win-win situation.

According to the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA), the National Conference on Weights and Measures recently passed a vote to standardize testing methods and procedures to verify seed count labeling, which will positively impact farmers and seed companies.

"The manner in which seed is purchased and sold has significantly changed in recent years and this vote will help provide regulatory uniformity for seed testing," said Andy LaVigne, ASTA president and chief executive officer. “It will have a positive impact on seed companies’ and farmers’ bottom-lines.”

As the benefits to selling soybean seeds by the count continue to outweigh those by weight, it will be interesting to see what other seed companies will follow in Syngenta and Monsanto’s footsteps.

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Apples – A fall industry staple

Autumn is prime apple picking season.

And though it seems like there’s an abundance of apples everywhere you turn lately, many apple growers in pockets of the country are experiencing hardships.

The USDA projected a 4 percent deduction nationwide.

New England states, such as Maine and New Hampshire, have witnessed a 20 percent reduction in their crop, according to a story.

Unusually warm temperatures caused apples to blossom early, but the weather became significantly colder in mid-May, which caused apples to scar, turn black and/or rot.

"I haven't seen anything like this," said Geoffrey Njue, a fruit expert with the University of New Hampshire's Cooperative Extension, who noted that frost insurance is available to fruit growers but not often utilized.

In Vermont, legislators expedited permits for temporary foreign workers to harvest state apple crops to increase the profit potential of their state’s harvest.

“An entire season’s work was at risk, and crops don’t wait for paperwork,” said Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, as reported in The Epoch Times. “I’m glad we found a commonsense solution for a happy ending after this close call.”

The U.S. apple industry is most often overshadowed by commodity crops like corn, soybeans and wheat, but is deserving of more recognition:

U.S. Apple Industry Facts (U.S. Apple Association)
  • Washington is the nation’s top-producing state of 36 apple-producing states
  • There are about 7,500 apple producers nationwide
  • The industry is valued at more than $1.6 billion/year
  • The Red Delicious apple is the most grown followed by Golden Delicious
  • Sixty-three percent of the apples grown are sold as fresh fruit with the remaining processed into apple products
  • The U.S. is the No. 2 global apple producer
  • One of every four apples harvested is exported
Apple growers in Ohio fared much better than their counterparts in New England. A dry summer led to a peak growing season and early blooming crops. As quoted in the Mansfield News Journal, "The harvest is probably a third of the way through. The crop is very early this year," said Bill Dodd, president of the Ohio Fruit Growers Association. "We're looking forward to a successful season."

Ohio Apple Industry Facts
  • Apple production for Ohio stands at 2.5 million bushels this year
  • Ohio apple growers produce up to 100 million pounds of apples each season
  • Ohio produces about 40 different varieties, some Ohio originals
  • Ohio ranks 10th in the nation for apple production
  • Ohio’s industry value is about $32 million
For a listing of Ohio apple orchards, click here. Because apples are the most varied food on the planet, with more apple varieties on record than any other food, the apple industry is important socially and economically. It certainly has a longstanding history and will forever remain respected worldwide. Have you visited or plan to visit an orchard this season? What’s your favorite apple?

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