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The rewards of representing agriculture online aren’t as concrete as corn in the bin or weed-free rows. But when Darin Grimm read this response to one of his friend’s (Ohio farmer Mike Haley) blog posts, it warmed his heart:
“I’m a mother of two living in New York and was appalled at what I saw on that video. After viewing the abuse of those helpless cows, I felt we were all being lied to by the farm industry, and that consumers are being lied to and used to the fullest. Your blog truly put my mind to rest or at least to ease. Please keep up the good work.”
Encouraging fellow farmers to tell their stories to the public online has become a second calling for this Morrill, KS, grower. Grimm describes himself online: Combining my passion for technology and focus on data/metrics with a farm operation where we raise corn, soybeans, wheat, sunflowers, and have a cattle feedlot” (http://daringrimm.wordpress.com/ and http://twitter.com/#!/KansFarmer).
His passion for information dates back to the dawn of precision agriculture. His dedication to data brought his operation into the space age, and consults for others to use data more precisely.
“Data is all about trying to learn from numbers to be more effective. Reaching out to consumers online excites the same drive and passion because it’s the only way I know how to improve consumers’ lack of knowledge.”
Consider the Mommy bloggers. “I consider them to be a ‘key influencer’ for agriculture,” Grimm says. “They tend to be on the coasts, disconnected from agriculture. To identify accounts that shape a lot of food-buying opinions, we use a ‘wisdom of the crowds’ concept. The more people that have added you to a subject list like ag or mom, the more influential you must be in that community, and that’s why I want to track their activity.
“It’s important to understand how they feel even though you don’t agree with it if we want to be effective in educating them.”
He’s identified the top 100 Mommy bloggers and twitter users, inviting them to #Foodchat, a chance for farmers and consumers to connect, and sister chat to the ag-focused #AgChat.
Grimm is a founder and the treasurer of the AgChat Foundation (http://agchat.org), an online agricultural community dedicated to helping the non-ag public understand “what we do,” he says. He’s one of six farmers on AgChat’s 13-member board. The foundation aims to empower agriculture’s voice through social-media training. “And we represent all of agriculture, not just one segment.”
Grimm encourages crop farmers to be aware of animal-welfare issues that sometimes dominate online agricultural conversations. “Livestock is the No. 1 customer for corn and soybeans,” he says. “If we allow livestock production to be moved elsewhere, our livelihoods will suffer dramatically.
“You can look at the same issue in reverse: Why should livestock producers care about consumer GMO concerns? All segments of agriculture are interrelated,” he says.
Grimm used his data skills to identify influencer lists as a reflection of what’s being said online about vital ag topics. Always trying to raise ag’s profile online, he helped organize several efforts to make agriculture a twitter Trending Topic (most-mentioned tweets).
Grimm helped AgChat mount a foodthanks campaign, urging online ag community members to use the foodthanks#: “Share the message that farmers are ultimately where thanksgiving comes from.” By Thanksgiving, 4,665 tweets were sent by 1,216 people. A new foodthanks website received almost 2,000 visitors in just one week, thanks to social-media promotion. He notes that traffic from the foodthanks Facebook page to the foodthanks website was more than twice as high as traffic from twitter.
He encourages fellow farmers to use social-media tools and personal advocacy to reach out to “one person at a time, from the heart,” he says. “Just devote 15 minutes a day to it. With today’s smartphones, you can snap a picture or post something while you’re in line at the elevator. I don’t envision using social media as one more chore at your desk after a long day.
“It took me 20 minutes to post ‘Why I grow corn’ to my blog (http://tinyurl.com/WhyIGrowCorn) and reached almost 200 people.”
Online dialogue “doesn’t all have to be heavy conversation; a video of a Nebraska farmer’s daughter singing in the combine cab while harvesting got a lot of shares and comments; those are the things we need as well.”
Educating the non-farm public requires good listening skills, Grimm says, along with some basic video-shooting and online skills. “It’s all about building relationships,” he adds.
“With so few people directly connected to growing their food, social media is a vital component in helping them understand today’s farm business. It’s easy for the online public to attack corn farmers for being evil; but it’s hard to blatantly attack me personally for what I wrote, and that gets to the whole point of social media,” he says.