A little more than a year ago, Ohio farmer Mike Haley started experimenting with the social media forms called Twitter and Facebook – and became a part of an online Twitter discussion community called AgChat (see “Chatting About Ag”). Last August, he and California dairyman Ray Prock Jr. spearheaded a Twitter campaign to make the word “#Moo” one of the top 10 tweeted topics over one Sunday afternoon. They used Twitter to call attention to low milk prices and struggling dairymen.

And, just last month, he, Prock and two others they’d “met” through Twitter – Kansas grain and livestock farmer Darin Grimm and California rancher Jeff Fowle – started the AgChat Foundation. This non-profit group is dedicated to helping other farmers learn about and explore the world of social media, says Haley, who grows corn, soybeans and wheat as well as 150 acres of timothy.

“We were realizing some of the benefits (of social media), and that it was a good tool for us to open up without leaving the farm and share information about agriculture. We all separately were thinking of ways that we can expand or get more people involved and allow more people’s voices to be heard,” he adds. So they joined forces.

“We always relied on commodity organizations to share the story about agriculture and farmers ... but that’s not who people want to hear from. They want to hear directly from the farmer.”

Social media can put a face on agriculture, Haley believes, as well as help farmers connect with each other. “Farmers are a very wide and diverse group of people and we all have different views. But there are things that we can come together on and speak unanimously about.”

The AgChat Foundation, he adds, will focus on: 1) agvocacy (agriculture + advocacy) training – educating farmers on how they can use social media to reconnect with the general public, 2) strategic agvocacy coordination – providing industry-wide campaigns like #Moo to help bring an understanding of ag issues or concerns, 3) data analysis – using data to figure out where social media efforts have or haven’t worked, and 4) technology scholarships – providing farmers financial help and access to social media technology.
Right now they’re seeking seed money, but they’re also open to others’ thoughts and ideas.

So here are my thoughts: As I write stories, I always try to find a grower or two already using the practice, new variety or machine being discussed because they want to hear from each other. And at meetings, many enjoy breaks as much as sessions so they can exchange ideas and compare practices.

The AgChat Foundation founders are right on. They know that forming a strong global community of farmers – who are just 2% of our population these days – is valid and vital if farmers want to stay current, learn from each other, be heard by consumers and defend their livelihood. Farmers already using social media – even to sell hay – are profiled in our stories on pages 14-20.

To learn more about the AgChat Foundation, visit agchat.org.