While some may still head to coffee shops for good conversation, Bill Rowekamp communicates through a moderated Twitter discussion called AgChat.
The two-hour online chats, on subjects such as crop insurance, cover crops and the media’s influence on agriculture, allow producers to interact with other producers – and with consumers, says the Lewiston, MN, dairy producer.
“The main benefit is just having a way of being able to interact. It’s pretty much a picture of what the real issues are out there. I think consumers get a truer picture of the people who are out here producing the food,” he says.
A newer tweet chat, called Haytalk, links people in the forage industry. It was founded by James Brown of the AgBoards Network, which created the HayTalk.com forum and RanchingForums.com, with help from graduate students Jesse Bussard and Ryan Goodman. Bussard and Goodman moderate the chat.
AgChat and Haytalk sessions begin with participants introducing themselves followed by questions on predetermined subjects. Questions are suggested by people within the respective chat’s “community.” Chat moderators keep conversations on track and constructive and choose which questions are ultimately asked.
AgChat participants from “both sides of the plate” exchange ideas and viewpoints about issues impacting agriculture today, says Michele Payn-Knoper of Cause Matters Corp., Lebanon, IN. She’s the professional speaker and farm advocate who founded AgChat three years ago to discuss issues such as sustainability, animal welfare, food-supply safety and water usage. The chats are managed today by the AgChat Foundation.
While AgChat addresses a more diverse group of topics and participants, Haytalk’s one-hour chats focus specifically on hay- and forage-related issues usually discussed on Haytalk’s forum, says Brown.
“We’re able to hit everything that most people in the hay and forage community are dealing with in one way or another, whether they cut hay, feed livestock or use rotational grazing,” he says. “It’s the sharing that really makes it thrive.”
Bussard, who encouraged Brown to start the Haytalk chat, says one of its surprising benefits has been the opportunity for serious global networking.
“We’ve had people from Australia, Canada and Mexico participate in Haytalk,” she marvels. “We’ve even had people participate from Europe. You can converse about pasture management, grazing management and hay-report issues. You learn about what’s happening in current events and in the industry.”
Even as these chats grow in popularity, the perception persists that social media is a domain best left to tech-savvy twenty-somethings. Payn-Knoper is quick to dispel that myth. “If you look at Twitter demographics, the largest user group is somewhere in the 35-45 or 50 age group.”
Sixty-year-old Rowekamp says it’s important – and satisfying – for more-experienced participants to share their expertise in tweet chats.
“I’ve got a lot of life experience,” says the 32-year veteran dairy producer. He raises 250 acres of alfalfa and 175 acres of silage corn for 350 dairy cows and 340 head of youngstock, using some of the newest ag technologies. (See our story, “Lined Bunkers Stop Spoilage.”)
“I’ve also learned enough through the years how to get my point across without sounding too scientific or condescending,” Rowekamp says.
Having access to that wisdom and experience is just another benefit of the tweet chats that younger participants appreciate, Bussard says. “They’re a wealth of knowledge and have so much to offer the online community. Who better to give us advice than the experts themselves?”
AgChat takes place weekly, alternating the third Tuesday of the month with its sister chat, FoodChat, from 8 to 10 p.m. (ET). Haytalk is held the first and third Thursdays of each month at 9 p.m. (ET). To get started, visit www.tweetchat.com, enter “AgChat” or “Haytalk” and click go.