Farmers adopt social media tools

Kate PollardCountryman
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The power of the pen has been replaced by social media and it's allowing farmers to tell their side of the story.

Earlier this month, farmers across the nation rallied using email, by posting blogs and messages on Coles' Facebook page concerned with the retailer's support of Animals Australia's Make it Possible shopper bags.

The end result saw the animal welfare lobby group pull the bags, which were part of a promotional campaign to raise money, from supermarket shelves.

It's a small victory for farmers in a world where their social licence to operate is becoming increasingly regulated.

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The turning point for farmers to up-skill and learn how to use social media was the Federal Government's ban on live export to Indonesia in 2011.

It's not just about setting up an account, but learning how to share the story and message in a clear manner by engaging, not alienating, consumers.

In today's world, the ties many urban consumers had with their farming relatives have been lost and social media has been bridging the gap.

Facebook isn't the only social media forum farmers are tapping into - Twitter and YouTube are just as popular.

Every Tuesday night, AgChatOz host a discussion on issues affecting Australian producers on Twitter, where posts are limited to 140 characters.

More than 590,000 people worldwide have been reached.

Recent topics include the northern Australian agricultural industry, farming without owning land, volunteering in the bush, farm innovation and succession planning.

As a social medium, Twitter's reach is growing.

Farm lobby groups, the National Farmers' Federation and Pastoralists and Graziers Association are tweeting along with the CSIRO, Australian Women in Agriculture, politicians, public relations firms and individual producers.

Farmers are also turning to YouTube for information on new machinery, biosecurity, livestock and technology and to help promote what they do.

Parody music video, "I'm a farmer and I grow it" by the Peterson Farm Brothers in the US achieved more than 8.5 million hits.

According to UWA chair of agriculture Kadambot Siddique, up to 90 per cent of WA farmers use computers and the internet.

Many are isolated but to be successful entrepreneurs, they need to use new technologies.

"In WA there are around 4000 grain growers and all those households should have broadband or other systems which they use for emails and to download weather forecasts," Professor Siddique said.

"Many also have mobile phones and also have GPS, and variable rate technology."

Today's farmer is also operating in a global market where access to the latest data is important.

"If the farmer isn't well versed, then maybe it's his wife or children if they are part of the farm," Professor Siddique said.

Social media statistics from socialmedianews.com.au last month show there were 11.5 million Australian facebook users, an increase of 45,000 from the previous month.

It's the most popular social network in Australia, followed by YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn.

It's also helping farmers communicate with each other, including stud breeders such as Ellen Moffat from Kilayr Square Meaters, west of Esperance.

Ellen set up a facebook page for her stud in December 2010 to promote bulls, heifers, the history of the stud and success in the show ring.

Prior to that, she had never used facebook before.

"We've sold a bull to a buyer in Albany, then onsold him to a buyer in Pinjarra as well as some heifers, after posting pictures on our facebook page," Ellen said.

After a few quick lessons, Ellen said using the social media site to promote the stud was easy and they've had interest from as far away as the US.

"It's a great tool for showing our animals and promoting the stud and it's encouraged other breeders to do the same," she said.

Her posts include stud news and information on animal husbandry and stud management practices.

"I've also had lots of people send in messages wanting bits of information and knowledge, so it works both ways," she said. "What I like best is you can promote your message quickly to national and international audiences."

But Ellen said there was a downside to social media.

"You need to back up your information and not assume it will be there forever," she said.

"It can also be time consuming if you get hooked at looking at other sites. I log on once a week to check messages or add something new.

"Uploading pictures can be cumbersome but they are important and help tell the story."

May 2013 statistics - social media sites

1. Facebook - 11,534,540 Australian users/accounts (increase of 45,160)

2. YouTube - 11.25 million UAVs (increase of 250,000)

3. WordPress.com - 3.2 million (increase of 300,000)

4. Blogspot - 2.9 million (decrease of 100,000)

5. Tumblr - 2.9 million (increase of 100,000)

6. LinkedIn - 2.9 million (increase of 200,000)

7. Twitter - 2,167,849 active Australian users

8. Instagram - 1,083,924 active Australian users

9. Flickr - 880,000 (increase of 20,000)

10. TripAdvisor - 810,000 (decrease of 20,000)

11. Pinterest - 610,000 (decrease of 20,000)

12. MySpace - 290,000 (decrease of 10,000)

13. Yelp - 220,000 (steady)

14. Reddit - 185,000 (increase of 5000)

15. Google Plus - 100,000

16. StumbleUpon - 95,000 (steady)

17. Foursquare - 51,000 (steady)

18. Digg - 33,000 (steady)

19. Delicious - 31,000 (steady)

Source: socialmedianews.com.au

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