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“Today, most Americans are three or four generations away from the farm,” says Alabama dairyman Will Gilmer. “They’re dependent on a reliable supply of food products, but have no firsthand knowledge of where that food comes from or how it’s produced. My utilization of social media allows me to share my love of dairying and of agriculture with a much broader audience than just those in my local community and those in the farm organizations I belong to."
THE INTERNET and social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube can be useful tools to tell agriculture’s story to consumers, says Will Gilmer, Sulligent, Ala., dairyman.
Video viewed over 33,000 times
On the day he spoke at the Mississippi State University Agricultural Economics Seminar, “Connecting farmers and consumers through social networks,” the “Water and Poo” singing video on YouTube had been viewed more than 33,400 times.
Now, spreadin’ slurry ain’t a daily chore, we’ve got a big tank in which we keep it stored
until we can apply it on our land in accordance with a nutrient management plan…
“Today, most Americans are three or four generations away from the farm,” Gilmer says. “They’re dependent on a reliable supply of food products, but have no firsthand knowledge of where that food comes from or how it’s produced.
“There are so many myths and falsehoods being circulated about animal agriculture — the chemicals we use are harmful, the antibiotics we use are tainting our meat, milk, and poultry, animal wastes are fouling our water, and on and on.
“My utilization of social media allows me to share my love of dairying and of agriculture with a much broader audience than just those in my local community and those in the farm organizations I belong to.
“The Internet and social media allow us an unparalleled opportunity to reach more people, on a wider scale, than just locally. These media remove the barriers of time and distance and allow us a far broader dialogue with the consumer public.”
Gilmer, who grew up on the farm that was being run by his father and his uncle, says that when he enrolled at Mississippi State University, “I didn’t really expect I’d be coming back o the farm after I got a degree. I knew I could come back, but I just didn’t see dairying as my future.
“Later, when my uncle decided to get out of the family business, I asked my father if there was an opportunity for me to come back to the farm. Somewhere along the way, I realized I was missing farming — that it was what I really wanted to do. Dad told me he had made provisions for such an eventuality, but had made it a point to never encourage me to choose farming, that if I did, he wanted it to be 100 percent my choice.
“I’ve been back 10 years now. It’s a demanding routine — we milk at 3 a.m. and 1 p.m. every day of the year — and then there are all the related chores, planting and harvesting hay and forages, looking after the animals, and taking care of the business end of the operation.
“In 10 years, there are only eight nights that Dad and I have been away from the farm at the same time. But, I love it and now I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
By attending and being active in farm organizations, including the chairmanship of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee, Gilmer says he became more aware of, and concerned about, the public’s lack of knowledge about modern agriculture — and the many misconceptions promulgated by anti-agriculture groups.
“I talked with my parents about what we could do, in some way, as small farmers concerned about these unfavorable impressions of agriculture, to help create a more positive image of what we’re doing as dairy farmers specifically, but also to help consumers better understand what American farmers are doing to keep our people fed and clothed and to support a thriving export sector.
“More and more, people are asking questions about their food and about food safety, and I thought we could use the communications opportunities of the Internet and social media to help them fill in the blanks.”
Gilmer says he has participated in focus groups, where hidden cameras are recording consumers as they’re asked about their impressions of agriculture and farmers, and “it’s eye-opening to see firsthand how little the average person knows about agriculture and the production of their food.
“A lot of people have a romanticized image of agriculture as it existed a half-century or more ago, and think that we could return to that kind of agriculture and still produce enough to feed the world.