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Up close and personal: Using social media to tell ag’s story

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Alabama dairyman Will Gilmer uses the Internet and social media not only to build a wide-ranging audience for the day-to-day goings-on at Gilmer Dairy Farm, but to create a more positive image for agriculture.

It’s a familiar story: The youngster who grows up on a farm, goes away to college with the notion that farming’s the last thing in the world he/she wants for a career, then has an epiphany — farming’s in my blood; there’s nothing else I’d rather do.

That’s Will Gilmer’s story: Third generation growing up on an Alabama dairy farm, off to nearby Mississippi State University with no real goal of returning to the farm.

“I started out in computer engineering,” he says, “but [he laughs] I quickly found that wasn’t for me.” As time went on, he — as have so many others — realized farming was what he wanted to do. After earning a degree in business and agricultural technology, he returned to the farm and for 10 years has been dairying in partnership with his father, David.

But although he gave up computers as a career, he is very much a part of the digital universe, utilizing the Internet and social media not only to build a wide-ranging audience for the day-to-day goings-on at Gilmer Dairy Farm, but to create a more positive image for agriculture.

On their farm, the Gilmers have 225 mature Holsteins, and about that many young heifers. Current average daily milk production per cow is 60 pounds with 3.5 percent butterfat. Their 600
acres of crops for hay or silage include bermudagrass, corn, oats, rye, ryegrass, sorghum, triticale, and wheat; primary pasture grasses are bermudagrass and tall fescue.

Despite the demands of twice-a-day milkings, herd care, and farm responsibilities, Gilmer has created a wide-ranging Internet presence, including a website, a blog, more than 50 videos, and frequent Facebook and Twitter posts.

“Ninety percent of what I do is ‘This is what’s happening on my farm right now,’ giving people a firsthand look at what it feels like to follow us around during any day on the farm,” he said at a Mississippi State University agricultural economics seminar.

“But these media also provide an opportunity for interaction with a much wider audience than in just my local area, for them to comment and ask questions, and for me to have a platform to address their concerns and misconceptions.

“Our hot button issues in dairying are hormone/antibiotic use, public concerns about pollution from animal wastes, factory farming, raw milk versus pasteurized, and organic versus conventional. I use all these electronic media tools to tell them that the milk we produce today is one of the most tested, safest products on the market.

“I also try to make a point,” Gilmer says, “of the continuity of farming over generations, and the progress that has been made by American agriculture in feeding more people, while using fewer resources and achieving greater efficiency — that we’re constantly trying to improve what we do, and that while ag technology and methods have changed, the underlying spirit of family farming and a way of life have not.”

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