Life on farms is shared across the world with dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy

Many farm­ers have em­braced so­cial me­dia to fos­ter com­mu­ni­ties and ‘agvo­cate’

Irish Examiner - Farming - - FEATURE - Eoin Mccarthy

We are now liv­ing in what some peo­ple call the dig­i­tal age.

Farm­ers to­day are sel­dom with­out a smart­phone or tablet, even when on a trac­tor or draft­ing cows from the pit of their milk­ing par­lour.

In many ways, soft­ware and tech­nol­ogy have be­come es­sen­tial parts of their lives, and have helped to re­duce the work­loads of the more ad­vanced farm­ers.

For ex­am­ple, they use tech­nol­ogy and apps to mon­i­tor cow fer­til­ity, to re­ceive no­ti­fi­ca­tions that a cow is calv­ing, and to mon­i­tor grass growth, all through smart­phones in their pock­ets.

But they prob­a­bly use the so­cial me­dia side of this tech­nol­ogy even more, for any­thing from post­ing self­ies or pic­tures of cows graz­ing, or videos of train­ing their six­month col­lie to round up ewes. This is per­haps their most en­joy­able ex­po­sure to dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy, be­cause it helps farm­ers to de­velop a sense of com­mu­nity, al­beit on­line rather than face-to-face Farm­ers as far apart as Cork and New Zealand share ex­pe­ri­ences and swap tips on feed­ing live­stock, where to get mo­tor in­sur­ance for their 17year old son or daugh­ter on a pick-up for rea­son­able money, and to look for rec­om­men­da­tions on lamb­ing cam­eras. It’s all up there on so­cial me­dia, much of it for pub­lic con­sump­tion, which is why many Ir­ish farm­ers en­joy posts by The Peter­son Farm Bros in Kansas (@pe­te­farm­bros) who have com­posed par­ody mu­sic videos on Youtube to help ed­u­cate their city friends about farm­ing, as they ‘Agvo­cate for Agri­cul­ture’. From Ire­land, there’s dairy farmer and au­thor Lorna Six­smith (lor­nasix­smith.com) whose lat­est pub­li­ca­tions in­clude Till the Cows Come Home. She milks 140 cows in part­ner­ship with her hus­band Brian James in Co Laois. She has com­pared us­ing so­cial me­dia to hav­ing a dis­cus­sion group in your pocket, some­thing which any farmer wel­comes, if they want ad­vice or help, or are iso­lated on their farmer and want to get more in­volved in the com­mu­nity, on­line or oth­er­wise. Lorna says it’s nice to dip in and out of so­cial me­dia, whether to pro­mote her blog and her books (which in­clude An Ideal Farm Hus­band) and to ‘agvo­cate’ by ed­u­cat­ing non-farm­ers about farm­ing, by shar­ing sto­ries and pho­to­graphs. “It’s a nice way to in­ter­act with oth­ers and stay in con­tact, to share ex­pe­ri­ences, to hear peo­ple’s re­sponses to our farm­ing meth­ods, and to see how things dif­fer in other coun­tries, and to get to know oth­ers,” said Lorna.

“I use In­sta­gram sto­ries to ex­plain and share what I am do­ing on the farm. I’ve had mums con­tact me to say their chil­dren love watch­ing my videos of the cows am­bling along, or of feed­ing calves. Twit­ter pro­vides me with news and in­for­ma­tion, as well as writ­ing and farm­ing chat. “Whether it’s in the mid­dle of the night, wait­ing for a cow to calve, and know­ing there will be oth­ers on­line to chat to, ask­ing oth­ers for ad­vice, or shar­ing good or bad news and know­ing oth­ers will con­grat­u­late or sym­pa­thise with you, there is def­i­nitely a strong com­mu­nity of farm­ers on­line.”

This com­mu­nity of farm­ers was help­ful dur­ing the 2018 sum­mer drought. “There is a huge amount of sup­port and ca­ma­raderie amongst farm­ers and thou­sands of their non-farm­ing fol­low­ers,” said Lorna. “This sum­mer, Aus­tralian farm­ers were ad­vis­ing Ir­ish farm­ers on how to cope with the drought, all via Twit­ter. There is def­i­nitely an at­mos­phere of friend­ship and sol­i­dar­ity. I have met many peo­ple that I now con­sider to be good friends, via Twit­ter.” Within so­cial me­dia cir­cles, Lorna Six­smith and Noel Clancy are as­so­ci­ated with the Ire­lands­farm­ers (@Ire­lands­Farm­ers) ac­count.

It’s a cu­rated ac­count, with a dif­fer­ent Ir­ish farmer cu­rat­ing every week. They share sto­ries and ex­pe­ri­ences from their farms.

“With 16,000 fol­low­ers now, and of­ten reach­ing two mil­lion im­pres­sions in 28 days, the @Ire­lands­farm­ers ac­count is prov­ing ef­fec­tive in shar­ing the Ir­ish farm­ing ex­pe­ri­ence all over the world,” she said. Ir­ish peo­ple farm­ing abroad are also in­vited to cu­rate, the ac­count has had farm­ers tweet­ing their week from Aus­tralia, New Zealand, Amer­ica and the UK. Cu­rat­ing the ac­count helps farm­ers im­prove pub­lic aware­ness of the agri­cul­ture busi­ness.

“It cer­tainly serves to show con­sumers how their food is pro­duced, as many peo­ple have be­come fur­ther re­moved from food pro­duc­tion. Ed­u­ca­tion and agvo­cat­ing are in­creas­ingly im­por­tant” said Lorna.

“There’s a good com­mu­nity spirit within the @Ire­lands­Farm­ers ac­count too. For ex­am­ple, Gill O’sul­li­van has cu­rated the ac­count, a num­ber of other cu­ra­tors trav­elled to her farm in April for the film­ing of Big Week on the Farm and to meet each other in per­son, and we all cheered when she won ‘Farmer of the Year’ re­cently.” she said.

“With

16,000 fol­low­ers now, and of­ten reach­ing two mil­lion im­pres­sions in 28 days, the @Ire­lands­farm­ers ac­count is prov­ing ef­fec­tive in shar­ing the Ir­ish farm­ing ex­pe­ri­ence ” all over the world

An­other house­hold name for farm­ers ev­ery­where, the Peter­son Farm Bros (50 mil­lion so­cial me­dia views and count­ing) are Greg (27), Nathan (24), Ken­dal (22), and hon­orary ‘bro’ Laura (18), who farm with their par­ents in Kansas.

The Whanganui re­gion of New Zealand is fa­mil­iar to many farm­ers in Ire­land and around the world be­cause they are fol­low­ers of So­phie Barnes, (@Sheep­ish­so­phie) who helps to run a sheep farm in this re­mote area. Lorna Six­smith, be­low, has com­pared us­ing so­cial me­dia to hav­ing a dis­cus­sion group in your pocket

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