Social media we know is now part of everyone’s lives - no matter your age, occupation or location. But it is more important than ever that those in farming embrace the limitless possibilities these platforms can have to really help diminish the isolation agriculture can bring.
There seems to be some sort of farming revolution taking place.
Industry figures and members of the farming public are taking to social media to tell the world what they do - and they’re not sugar coating it for the purpose of popularity, they’re giving you the raw, unfiltered, everyday happenings of farm lives.
With more and more voicing their passion for their job and more aptly, their whole livelihood and lifestyle, this new enthusiasm is catching.
It helps with numerous issues farmers face.
Firstly, it creates a connection between those who eat the food and those who produce it. Never has there been more interest and discussion about food production and its need for transparency and with voices loud and proud on Twitter, it can only be a positive that farmers themselves are beginning to say ’here’s what we do, here’s why we do and here’s why we love it’.
Secondly, the isolation that can devour many in the industry can undoubetedly be helped by being socially active.
The ups and downs that happen in one day on-farm may feel very personal - and upsetting - to you, but browsing through some of the tweets and pictures that are sent out everyday from the rural community, you can soon see that you are most definitely not alone.
It also enables more delicate and taboo topics to be discussed - mental health being a subject that’s becoming more and more conversed about and rightly so.
Below are four characters from the farming community whom people look to daily for their inspiration, and it is people like these who will help to change the lives of others in the industry - big or small, the support is of great significance.
Will Evans (@willpenrievans) won the Digital Innovator of the Year Award 2017 at the British Farming Awards for the innovative and fresh way he has used his online presecence to influence farming.
Below he tells us how he believes being socially active has helped the farming community.
"Social media is a brilliant resource for farmers for many different reasons, but one of the most important is its way to overcome social isolation.
Many of us don’t get off our farms for days and weeks on end sometimes, but knowing you can still share your highs and lows with like-minded people from all around the world is something I never cease to be amazed by.
I’ve made great friends through social media, who’ve now become friends in the ‘real World’ too."
Tweeting as @JRfromStrickley, James bares all from life on his organic dairy farm and believes honesty is the best policy.
"Writing about why I decided to share my story on social media couldn't be timelier given that we are currently in the middle of #FebruDairy, the dairy industry's hashtag which is being used to promote positive images and stories across all types of platforms.
Sharing the story of my farming life was one of the main reasons for joining twitter in the first place. There was countless people telling the story of dairy farming and yet, it wasn't their story to tell. I was the one getting up at five o'clock on a cold and wet winters morning, and I was the one who could watch a beautiful golden sunset from the top of one of our meadows.
Tweeting with a personal slant keeps it real. People can see similarities with their own lives and it gives them a connection with the farmer who's produced the food they may be buying. As they're reaching for that bottle of milk or wedge of cheese from the shelf, I hope they will pause for a short moment and think of the sunset they saw on their twitter feed. It just might make them buy an extra portion, or switch to a British supplier.
Twitter has brought me closer to the rest of the world and not just in agricultural terms: It has given me a direct connection to the consumer. It's opened doors for myself and the family farm to some fantastic opportunities and has also given me some wonderful lifelong friends.
Twitter has made me realise what a wonderful job I have - how lucky I am to be able to do something I love in such a beautiful part of the world.
It's the drip feed of positive information and real farming stories that will make the difference. Forcing a message onto someone is always a turn off so keep it real and keep it positive with some decent images they will remember.
Collectively, we can make a real difference to our great industry."
Simon Haley set up the extremely successful Farmers of the UK account, which now boasts 29,000 followers.
"The account started in January 2014, so to date there have been 212 weekly hosts of the account.
"It was started and it exists to showcase the diversity of the British rural industry across the food, farming and countryside sectors.
"I wanted to allow people to follow an account that offered 52 different perspectives throughout the year of life on a farm or across rural enterprise.
"For those who are on twitter and perhaps don’t know anything about our industry, this would then give them great variety across the different sectors, with a voice that was honest, emotive and raw - direct from the farm rather than filtered through a lobbying or membership organisation.
"I think its popularity comes from the fact it is community-based. The hosts take full control, I don’t interfere or direct content, it’s totally up to them whether they use the account that week for promotion, info sharing, or networking. So this puts indirect pressure/responsibility on them to represent their sector within the industry on behalf of their peers and so the bar is raised to put out interesting, informative, engaging tweets.
"Also, we are nosy, we like to see what others are doing, how they run their farm or diversified enterprise. And with that, a problem shared is a problem halved. Or alternatively, this is a window for these hosts to have a week in control of an account with close to 30,000 followers and feel at the top of their game, proud of what they do and wanting to share that with others.
"I’m really pleased it’s still received well, and happy to keep running it."
Lorna (@Irishfarmerette) is a dairy farmer an author who is currently writing her fifth book, Till' the Cows Come Home.
"Twitter is like having a discussion group in your pocket.
I know that farmers working on their own enjoy the company of social media as it really helps to prevent feelings of isolation. People talk of FOMO and how they experience depression seeing posts on social media about other users wonderful lives, but farmers tend to be more grounded and realistic. They share the good and the bad and they forge good friendships on social media. Social media works around the clock too, so if you think you're the only one up at two in the morning waiting for a cow to calve, they just have to check Twitter and there will be lots of people to chat to.
With the increase in radical veganism and attacks by animal rights movements, social media provides an important vehicle for farmers to share the truth, to explain their farming methods and for consumers to be informed. Curated accounts such as @IrelandsFarmers, @FarmersoftheUK @SmallholdersIrl are a great help in sharing individual and very different farming stories to large numbers of followers. As many people are losing connections to the land (it's not that long since many Irish city children visited grandparents on the farm regularly but event that's becoming rare now), it's important to show how food is produced. I think, we as farmers, are so close to food production and all the regulations, that we forget others don't know these things. I remember being shocked when a friend asked me if there was any possibility of there being antibiotics in the milk she purchased and as she is quite knowledgeable about horticulture. I thought if she doesn't know, then thousands of others don't either so I wrote a blog post, explaining the number of controls in place to ensure that there is no risk of antibiotics in milk. It's still one of my most popular posts which proves my theory.
How can farmers increase the chances of people finding out such information? Every time someone asks you a question you haven't been asked before, it's very probable that others are googling the same question. If we write blog posts providing the answers, it can only help get the messages out there.
Social media is also important for increasing sales. Farmers who sell directly to the customer be it cheese or meat at the local market, have a farm shop, or indeed, like me with selling books, will sell more of their product. Why? Because people still like to buy from people they know. It's not all just brand awareness, it's about getting to know the story behind the brand and in a personal way by chatting to them on Twitter or reading their blog and finding out about their production process.
However, even for farmers not selling directly to a customer but to a larger supplier, e.g. dairy farmers supplying milk to a milk processor, they have a part to play in building trust in that product and in the industry as a whole.
Personally, I've made lots of friends through Twitter, Facebook, blogging and Instagram, meeting many of them in "real life" later. I'd go as far as to say that 90% of the new friends I've made in the last five years have been through social media. I find it great for finding answers to questions too, be it looking for someone's opinion on a new product for a calf, how to splint a broken leg on a young goat kid or as I'm a writer too, getting to grips with the learning curve of publishing.
People are often nervous going to an event or a conference but by finding out on social media beforehand who else is going, they can arrange to meet. I'm not the type to be nervous but I do love tweeting using the hashtag at events, seeing who else is there and arranging to catch up. You've already checked out each other's bio so effectively the introductions have happened and a great conversation follows."