Farmers are a social bunch – how Twitter is changing their world

August 12, 2016

Twitter handle – @VicNotill

When a group of like-minded farmers formed the Victorian No-Till Farmers Association in 2002 they were looking for a way to share information and provide support to others who wanted to grow better food and fibre through improving soil health.

They hosted paddock walks, machinery demonstrations and an annual conference to bring everyone together to discuss new ideas and innovations through no-till farming and retained stubble farming systems.

Fourteen years later, Vic No-Till is the largest farmer network in south-east Australia, with the uptake of no-till and controlled-traffic farming advancing dramatically in that time.

Although Vic No-Till still hosts paddock walks, demo days and an annual conference, its growing member base has a new way to share ideas, support farmers and bring people together – and it’s all done in the palm of their hand.

In the past three years, the information exchange on social media between farmers via Facebook and particularly Twitter has grown exponentially within the Vic No-Till network.

Vic No-Till’s Twitter account is followed by more than 3100 people and its Facebook page, 1500, with new people connecting every week. During the month of its 2015 conference, Vic No-Till’s tweets made nearly 91,000 impressions – which means they appeared in more than 91,000 Twitter streams.

Bordertown grower Ted Langley says Twitter was made for farmers. Ted farms his family’s land in south-east South Australia; predominantly cropping with some sheep for prime lamb and wool production. His cropping system is 12-metre zero-till controlled-traffic.

Ted says Twitter provides an instant database of real people who are trying the exact same farming innovations as he’s trying and gives him access to an incredible amount of intelligence relevant to his zero-till system.

Lismore farmer Nick Shady says Twitter’s key strengths for farmers were connecting people from around the world, providing a support network of like-minded people and being a source of new ideas and innovations you can’t access via mainstream media.

“Farmers, no matter where they are, are all facing the same issues. And even though we’re farming in different parts of the world using different methods and technology, through Twitter you can find others with similar issues and similar views. If you’re just living on mainstream media you don’t hear different ideas from different people – it’s Twitter that gives you that broader view.”

Swan Hill grower Leigh Bryan says Twitter, which he has used for the past two years, has opened his eyes by giving him access to some of the most innovative and forward-thinking farmers around. He says the best aspect is the networking and sharing ideas.

“I like Twitter because you’re seeing how others are doing things and questioning your own methods. I find it’s a good mix of laughing at each other and learning from each other.”

 

Ted Langley, Pine Hill, Bordertown SA

Twitter handle – @Big_roo1

Ted joined Twitter three years ago while at an ag conference. One of the grain marketing speakers said he posted a market update each morning on Twitter and Ted thought it would be a great way to keep in touch. The fact it was free made it even more attractive.

He was rapt at the 2015 Vic No-Till conference to recognise a face of someone he was exchanging ideas with on Twitter who lives 10 hours away.

“He recognised me as well, and we had a good chat like old school friends. At the same conference two blokes were sitting next to each other and both tweeting about one of the speakers then realised they were sitting side by side. It’s just great when this happens.”

He describes Twitter as a ‘big expansion’ of how farmers used to catch up socially.

“We’re still catching up socially, but now we’re catching up with people right across the country and overseas, not just the people in our immediate geographical area. Socialising is how good ideas come about – you have an idea and bounce it off others, they put in their ideas, and then you can develop those ideas to come up with new ways of doing things.”

Ted believes Twitter suits farmers because tweets are limited to 140 characters.

“Being the way we are, male or female, farmers might battle socially a bit and Twitter gives the option of just saying one sentence or a one liner and you don’t have to ramble on. You can make one little comment and that’s it. You’ve got your message across and you don’t need to say any more.”

Ted sees one of the biggest advantages of Twitter is that it enables people to travel the world.

“A farmer anywhere in the world, England, France, the US, can tweet a close up of soil and plants, you have a very good idea of what you’re looking at and can relate straight to it. Even though farming is different in every area, there are a lot of similarities, and you can just learn so much. You wouldn’t be aware of all the different ideas, angles and things people are trying worldwide if it wasn’t for Twitter.”

Ted follows around 1000 people. He goes through his list every six months to edit who he’s following, and culls people who might not be tweeting or who aren’t tweeting information that’s of interest to him.

He says it’s important for people to have an easy to remember Twitter handle and an accurate profile that says where they are from.

“If you know where they’re from, it’s a lot easier to relate their tweets back to your own situation, and work out if what they’re doing on their farm is something you could try on yours.”

If he encounters a problem or has a breakdown out in the paddock, he’s only got to send out a tweet and within 15 minutes he’s got blokes across the country trying to help.

“I was having trouble filling urea evenly with a three-point linkage spreader, and tweeted my frustration. It wasn’t long before I had farmers sharing their tips with me who’d had the same trouble, and I was able to solve the problem quickly by seeing what others had done and trying it for myself.”

He says Twitter was also an important tool for machinery dealers, with so many farmers sharing their alterations and modifications on brand new machinery as they adapted their equipment to fit more effectively into their system. “All the little improvements you find on twitter, when someone shares a simple adaptation on the machinery side of things, it’s really valuable – not only for other farmers but for the dealers who get a better understanding of problems people are encountering and how they can fix them.”

Nick Shady, Lismore, 75km southwest of Ballarat

Twitter handle – @Nick-Shady71

Nick’s family farm is near Lismore, about 75 kilometres from Ballarat. He has gone through many changes during his farming life and is now cropping around 800 hectares of his own, share farming another 240 hectares and contract truck driving, harvesting, sowing and spraying. He utilises the latest technology and research to improve his no-till farming system and turns to social media, mostly Twitter, to learn new things.

When Nick purchased a smartphone three years ago, he signed up for Twitter and hasn’t looked back. He has a finger in lots of different pies, from managing his farm to running a business consulting company to co-authoring a book ‘Who Gets The Family Farm ‘ with his wife Ayesha Hilton to raising awareness for mental health and suicide. And he finds Twitter invaluable in sharing information and connecting with others.

He also uses Facebook, although he finds Twitter suits him a lot better.

“Twitter helps you reach people you wouldn’t normally be able to reach. In the past you’d have to mail out something to reach someone. Then along came email. Then the Internet. But now we have so many quick and easy ways to reach people – Facebook and particularly Twitter. It’s a worldwide conversation and it is a good place for like-minded people to discuss issues.”

Nick says when smartphones came along, it meant he had something else to do during the long hours on the tractor apart from listen to the radio.

“You can have a conversation with so many different people on so many different subjects, all at the same time. It’s a place where you can get instant feedback. You can also use it to advertise and promote things, which we’ve done for our book.”

He says it provides a social outlet when you’re busy on the farm and not out and about seeing people.

“It’s really good to have that social connection when you’re on the tractor at night. I also enjoy reading articles from around the world – articles you wouldn’t come across if not for social media.”

On more than one occasion Nick has learnt something he’s incorporated into his farming business.

“You’ll see something you haven’t thought of and then it gets you thinking about how you might be able to adapt that idea to your own farming. I’m definitely one that’s all about continuous learning, and social media is a place where you are always learning something new.”

Nick has around 800 followers and follows nearly 2500 others, and manages his Twitter feed by having a cleanout now and then. He says it’s important that people share both the good and bad experiences because you never know who it might help.

“Last year I had a disaster with my air-seeder, something that was so far out of the realms you wouldn’t think it could happen. But you’ve got to put it out there so others can learn from your mistakes. Then if people want to know if someone’s experienced the same thing, someone will remember you had a drama and will tag you and say have a chat to this bloke. And the connections and conversations just keep on going.”

 

Leigh Bryan, Swan Hill, Mallee

Twitter handle – @leighjbryan

A fifth generation grain grower on a 2400 hectare family farm at Swan Hill, Leigh signed up for Twitter two years ago after his agronomist recommended he might find it interesting.

He has gained so much from his Twitter network that he’s keen to see Twitter handles included on name tags at conferences to help people make quicker links in their heads between the real person and the one they’ve been conversing with in the virtual world of social media.

Leigh says Twitter has broadened his horizons, absolutely.

“It has been great to see the challenges other farmers have encountered and how they have overcome them.”

It has also changed the way he farms.

“Yes, if I’m honest, it has. Watching some of the best farmers in the world go about their business has made me want to be better at how I do things. It’s quite motivational actually.”

Leigh tweets a mix of ‘farm-related stuff and absolute drivel’ and will sometimes float an idea on Twitter to see if anyone has tried it before or if they can see a flaw in his idea.

“Both good and bad feedback can be helpful. What I like is the sharing of ideas and just chatting about rubbish with a group of people who are doing pretty much the same things as you, day in, day out. I’ve been told by some non-farming followers that we seem to be speaking a foreign language with all our unique farming words and acronyms, but that they still find it interesting to follow along.”

Leigh says a lot of conversations also happen behind the scenes. “A lot of the interacting that goes on is actually though direct messages. Some very interesting conversations happen by direct message, it’s great.”

Leigh admits he does have trouble keeping up with the 1018 people he follows, and is not sure how to solve that. But when he’s busy he just ignores it, and interacts when it suits him.

“I find it’s a good mix of laughing at each other and learning from each other. I have made connections with people I never would have without it; some I regard as quite good friends now.”