The Big Picture: The internet is all a-twitter

A GLOBAL VENUE FOR TELLING AGRICULTURE’S STORY

THE INTERNET HAS quickly become an invaluable tool for farmers across the continent. Besides getting up to the minute information on market prices and weather, the internet can also help you identify the weed in your field or which wheat variety to plant next year.

Unfortunately, farmers are also subject to all the same time sucking draws of the internet just like everyone else. There is  email to write, news to read, games to play and spam to filter. If you’re not careful, the internet can quickly become more of a time waster than a time saver.

The initial reaction many have when it comes to social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook is that they fall into the time waster category. However,  immediately dismissing these sites may mean missing out on a lot of great opportunities to converse with farmers and non-farmers alike.

WHAT IS A MICRO-BLOG?
Twitter.com is a site that allows you to create a profile and post updates. Those interested will follow you and your updates will show up on their own twitter pages. It’s called a micro-blogging service because your updates must be less than 140 characters long. These short little updates, called Tweets, are posted in real time and unlike Facebook, everything is completely public.

The key to making twitter useful is in who you follow and who follows you. Although many tweet about mundane things like what they had for breakfast, others tweet about much more valuable things like posting links to what they’re reading about GM crops, how they’re supporting local farming or how harvest is going in their area.

TAKING THE PULSE
Twitter is also great for taking the pulse of the nation on a specific topic. For instance, a quick search on twitter can tell you what people all across the country, the continent and the world are saying about high fructose corn syrup or genetically modified wheat.

MEANINGFUL CONVERSATION
But it’s more than large scale searches and discovering what the world is saying about any particular topic. Twitter can also facilitate meaningful discussion. Rebecca Hannam, an avid twitter user and agricultural business student at the University of Guelph describes twitter as “the coffee shop or newspaper of tomorrow.” The Nebraska Corn Board, also on twitter, says that twitter can help farmers “get their message out and share their story” and they encourage farmers to join because consumers who may be disconnected from the farm, want to hear about agricultural issues from actual farmers.

Currently there are lots of farmers on twitter from all across North America actively ‘tweeting’ about agriculture. Some farmers tweet about what’s happening on the farm giving updates on harvest, milking, rainfall and new machinery. Other farmers engage in conversations with non-farmers about everything from organic agriculture to local food and why good soil is so important.

While it’s true the internet can waste your time, consider checking out twitter.com. A 140 character-long Tweet doesn’t take long to type and the results can be valuable. With so much confusion about agriculture and the rising interest non-farmers are showing in where their food comes from, now is the perfect time to explore new ways to have a conversation about what it is that we do on our farms. With farmers in the conversation, issues are taken out of a global context and grounded in the real world.  More information direct from the source may bring perception back to reality and that is not a bad thing. •