Social media can be both farmers friend and foe, so how can you make sure you get the best from it? Hannah Binns reports.
The Covid-19 pandemic has seen social media become an increasingly popular and sometimes vital tool among farmers to communicate with consumers, advertise businesses as well as share industry knowledge and stay in touch.
As seen with Farmers Guardian’s annual 24 Hours in Farming campaign, it can provide a shop window to the industry and helps satisfy the public’s thirst for knowledge about the sector and the people who put food on their plates.
Throughout the last 12 months and three national lockdowns, social media has been abuzz with educational initiatives such as Linking Environmentally Friendly Farming’s FarmerTime initiative and lockdown learning schemes which see farmers engage with young people.
Utilising digital platforms, campaigns spreading positivity about British food and farming, such as #Februdairy, have been able to reach wider audiences as well as foster a sense of togetherness within the farming community.
Cambridgeshire sheep and arable farmer Tom Martin has reignited his #CheeseADayChallenge for 2021 on Twitter, which encourages participants to taste a different cheese everyday throughout February and tweet their reactions about it.
He said: “While I am not a dairy farmer, it is important we pull together as one farming industry and support each other.”
The pandemic has also seen the rise of the ‘ag influencers’, with the public taking a vested interest in rural experiences.
Data from Holland Country Clothing found there was a 106 per cent rise between February 2020 and February 2021 in Google searches for ‘being a farmer’.
Matthew Holland, of Hollands Country Clothing, said it was good to see how young farmers have modernised the profession.
He said: “The success of the UK’s young farmers, and their popularity on social media, is going a long way to make UK farming feel younger and fresher than ever before.
“Attitudes are changing, with more young people seeing farming as an attractive career and one which lets them get back to nature.”
Warwickshire mixed farmer Charlie Beaty, who can earn up to £74.59 per post from Instagram according to the research, added: “Social media is a strong tool, not just for being honest, transparent and open with consumers, but providing a space for farmers to communicate and learn tricks of the trade, as well as see each other’s farming systems virtually.
“While social media often focuses on the ‘good’, agriculture is getting a lot better at highlighting the bad and this is something I try to focus on.
“If I am having a rough time on the farm, it can help to see others on social media having similar issues, rather than feeling like I am failing while everyone else is doing an amazing job.”
But despite the research Ms Beaty said she had never ’earned a single penny’ from posting on Instagram.
Recent years have also seen farmers use platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to lobby policymakers and share their thoughts on agricultural news.
But those speaking to FG said there was a danger ‘anyone can become an expert’ when posts go viral, with users quick to share their opinions without understanding the wider context and the implications their posts can have.
In December 2020, Herefordshire farmer John Price was trolled on social media when environmentalists circulated images of work he had carried out on a stretch of the River Lugg.
While he has in part been cleared following an investigation by the Forestry Commission, social media was awash with negative and abusive comments, the majority of which will remain on the platforms indefinitely.
There is also a dangerous side to social media, with safety sometimes compromised as users compete with each other for ‘likes’.
Earlier this month, a TikTok video showing a young child being lifted on the front of a telehandler sparked an industry uproar.
Elizabeth Creed, an independent consultant and vice chairwoman of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health Rural Industries Group, said the video made her feel sick.
“It is hugely disappointing to see videos like this on TikTok depicting illegal behaviour and people’s reactions when we have so many on-farm child deaths,” Ms Creed said.
“To say your child had been asking you to do it all day is not an acceptable excuse.
“People have no place calling themselves farmers in a professional industry if they are posting content like this as it lets the whole industry down.”
(Source: Carl Eden, digital PR and outreach manager at Dark Horse)
In a Farmers Guardian poll of 576 social media users, 66 per cent said they thought it was acceptable to call out other farmers on social media for ‘environmental vandalism’.
It came after two images tweeted by Tewkesbury arable and sheep farmer Jake Freestone, appeared
to show a hedge that had been ripped out, sparking a debate on Twitter about the ’correct’ way to manage hedges.
Mr Freestone tweeted: “As a farmer this makes me absolutely fuming. No excuses for this sort of environmental vandalism.”
Norfolk farmer Jake Fiennes questioned if farmers should call other farmers out over bad practice.
He said: “[It is] something rural cultures have never done in the past, perhaps time to change.”
Favouring the idea, Christopher Price, from the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, tweeted: “Yes.
"On the basis of my entirely subjective anecdotal assessment, farmers have more respect for the views of other farmers than pretty much anyone else.”
But others were unsure if calling out peers would be the right approach, with concerns it could give critics ammunition without any prior knowledge or understanding of the wider context behind situations.
Tom Dye, chief executive of Albanwise Farming, said it was always important to ‘know the full story before wading in’.
Andrew Elsden (@farmfriendlincs) added: “Provided it is accurate, fair criticism and not vindictive
in its nature, I have no issue.
“We have to remember that there are people struggling to make a living behind these actions and all our tweets can have consequences.”