Growers are increasingly using smart phones to connect with social media and bring experts to their paddocks for support in solving disease and pest management problems and they can now do this in a “big” way thanks to the Grains Research & Development Corporation (GRDC).
GRDC Grower Services Manager North, Sharon O’Keeffe, said there was a growing trend in agriculture to source information online and this had been one of the motivators for the recent development of the GrowNotes Alert tool.
A joint project between the GRDC and Agriculture Victoria, GrowNotes Alert is the first nation-wide system designed to alert growers and industry in real time to pests, diseases and weed outbreaks requiring urgent attention.
It is part of a growing digital offering from the GRDC, which has a strong Twitter, Facebook and YouTube presence and recently added an Instagram account to their platform of information options for growers.
“Agriculture can be a lonely job at times and when you have a problem or an issue you can feel very isolated. I believe digital networks bring the advice of your peers and the expertise of researchers to your paddock in a very immediate way,” Ms O’Keeffe said.
“For example you could post a photo of a crop disease on Twitter and have immediate feedback from your network and GRDC researchers and that brings an unprecedented level of support to growers in the paddock.”
She said images were a vital part of information sharing online, which was why the project was offering a complimentary macro lens to growers, who signed up to the GrowNotes Alert service.
GRDC Grower Services Manager North, Sharon O’Keeffe believes digital networks can bring the advice of peers and the expertise of researchers to growers in the paddock.
“We have macro lenses available for a limited time and these lenses allow growers to take high quality, close-up photos of pests or diseases with their smart phone.
“They can then send in these magnified images using the GrowNotes Alert app or web portal, making it easier for our researchers to identify problems and ensure they get accurate information back to growers or agronomists.”
Ms O’Keeffe said the tool, like social media, was a two-way vehicle for information sharing, with the GRDC able to utilise it as a valuable method of identifying, understanding and responding to growers’ issues in a timely way.
“These digital connections, whether they are through apps, online or via social media platforms, importantly represent ways to find out what is happening in the paddock and get quality research information where and when it is needed on the ground.”
Project Leader, National Diagnostic Networks for Agriculture Victoria, Chris Pittock, has played a pivotal role developing the GrowNotes Alert app and said industry had been quick to recognise the benefits of the system with national alerts receiving close to 58,000 views.
“I think the real advantage is that GrowNotes Alert can be tailored so growers just receive alerts relevant to their geographic region and crop type,” Dr Pittock said.
“The immediacy of information exchange is one of the greatest benefits and we can get ‘calls to action’ out in a very quick, very responsive way. In the same way growers or agronomists can let us know what is happening in the paddock in terms of diseases and pest surveillance.”
Regardless of whether it was posting images or seeking the advice of peers and research experts, GRDC social media specialist Liam Ryan said growers were increasingly online.
“GRDC’s social media following has more than doubled during the past 12 months with the appeal for growers being the immediacy of information exchange and knowledge sharing, via their smart phone or tablet,” Mr Ryan explained.
“We saw this in action during the 2016 winter crop where increased disease pressures spurred a flurry of conversations on crop agronomy and control measures from growers, advisors and researchers across the country.
“Increasingly these growers turned to social media, in particular Twitter, as their news source for local production issues and to share advice or experiences. It showcased the valuable role digital channels play in agriculture and how important it is to be part of that knowledge sharing network.”
Mr Ryan said despite some urban perceptions, the rural sector was a proficient user of social media and an industry quick to embrace technology that had the potential to benefit productivity and profitability.
“Around 60 per cent of our growing audience are in the 18-34-year-old bracket, with Twitter the most heavily used platform because of its capacity to act as a live newsfeed and foster conversations across the industry.
“We’ve seen the same audience growth across the GRDC Facebook page. About 40 per cent of our following is in the 35-54 age bracket, but that doesn’t mean the content isn’t being seen by growers who are even older. I think one of the most common things I see on the GRDC Facebook page, particularly where innovative machinery or technology is showcased, is people tagging family members or friends with the request to “show Dad”.
“I find it really heartening, because social media is largely about connecting people, so in an intergenerational sense ‘show Dad’ is just another example of the extended reach that organisations like the GRDC can have via social media.”
Growers keen to share their photos or content with the GRDC audience are encouraged to tag GRDC using the Twitter handle @theGRDC as well as the hashtag #GrowNotesAlert. The GrowNotes Alert handles on Twitter are also active and are @GNAlertNorth @GNAlertSouth and @GNAlertWest.
To sign up for GrowNotes Alert and take home a complimentary GRDC macro lens, follow this link.
Sharon O’Keeffe, GRDC Grower Services Manager North
0409 279 328
Toni Somes, Senior Consultant, Cox Inall Communications