Hay & Forage Grower recently asked me, as a Georgia hay grower, to review Internet ag forums and offer my observations regarding the advantages, pitfalls and value of using them.
A forum, or message board, is an online discussion site – a type of public journal to communicate any number of interests or ideas. It can spark questions about equipment, crops and the agriculture market as well as cultivate social bonds and interest groups.
I explored several frequented ag forums, including AgTalk, HayTalk and TractorFocus. Most were similar, yet had differences that made each site beneficial in its own way. Ag forums’ big advantage: They help find information fast – just be careful to check that information out before acting on it.
Forums are designed to be browsed, but if a person wants to post a thread or comment, he or she will have to sign up first and then log in to the site. The process is easy and opens more interaction and use of the sites’ services.
After posting several questions, comments and research, I’ve found that the ag community from all over the U.S was more than willing to respond. One Pennsylvania farmer had problematic soil conditions closely related to a problem I had two years earlier in Georgia. Other discussions included which chemicals to use on certain crops, how drastic weather changes had occurred in the U.S and equipment troubleshooting. Within hours to one day I had enough information to find solutions.
I also learned how essential it was to become part of a group specifically tied to one’s occupation or interest. Dairy farmers had their own language, while cotton farmers liked to discuss the market a lot. Wheat was a universal topic, and I enjoyed picking the brains of farmers from Kansas to Maryland to North Carolina.
All forums are not the same. HayTalk is a great site primarily for crops and forages. Members are experienced and advanced, focused on hay prices, types of alfalfa, corn, cotton, soybeans – the list is a mile long. AgTalk, another good site, was user-friendly and fun and easy to follow. TractorFocus covered info and answers on nine tractor companies’ makes and models. It gave pertinent, fact-based knowledge and is a very useful and surprising site to explore.
Be wary, however. Don’t take responses and comments for fact on any forum. Use other forums to ask the same questions and compare responses. Get to know what names frequent forums most often to get a sense of who writes comments knowledgeably, and then research their answers. Most farmers who respond and know their subjects well will add links to research from local universities or books written by experts.
I quickly learned that, to get the most from forums, I had to have a thick skin. In three ag forums, I received some scathing responses and rude messages that had little to do with my posts. I learned to take those with a grain of salt and move on.
Using ag forums was fun and very useful; a way that helped me gain knowledge while I communicated through the ag world. It was challenging and required patience on my part, but the key to using the forums was taking it easy and enjoying being part of an information community so large and in-depth.
Editor’s Note: Check out our new forum at letstalkag.com!