e-growers make the world a smaller place
Hashtagging from the header
If someone told Queensland grower Brendan Taylor four years ago he would one day chat to American growers from the cab of his John Deere 8235R tractor, he would have laughed.
Today, he counts his smartphone as one of the most important pieces of equipment on his Darling Downs farm.
“Thanks to mobile technology, the world has become a small place,” Brendan says. “I use Twitter daily to talk to growers down the road, on the other side of Australia, and in the US. It’s an amazing way to communicate.”
Brendan is a fourth-generation grower and the third generation of Taylors to farm ‘Broadlea’, at Warra in Queensland. He started using Twitter in 2010 to follow like-minded people in the farming industry and has now more than 1800 followers and has sent more than 8000 tweets.
“Growers like talking to people and telling stories about what we do, and Twitter lets us do this in real time,” Brendan says, pointing to the hashtag #tweetsfromthetractorcab as an example of how growers around the country, and even the world, stay in touch.
“Mobile technology is portable and there isn’t much I can’t do on the phone – it’s the office in my pocket. We are glued to the tractor seat during harvest, planting or spraying, but thanks to GPS guidance systems, we now have both hands free so it’s the perfect time to tweet,” says Brendan, adding that, of course, safe operation is always paramount.
Brendan uses Twitter to interact with media, growers, grain traders and industry bodies such as the GRDC and AgForce. He has even used Twitter to make grain sales.
“It is a wonderful way of engaging with people who are interested in agriculture,” Brendan says. “We growers take a lot of what we do for granted, but tweeting photos from the paddock and information about our farm practices helps narrow the gap between growers and consumers.”
While he sees Twitter as an information sharing tool and a forum for growers to thrash out issues such as crop management, machinery breakdowns and agri-politics, Brendan says it also plays an important role in rural communities.
“Farming can be very isolating, but Twitter lets us connect. I think it plays an important rural health role. If a regular tweeter hasn’t been active for a while, other users will check in on them. It’s basically a support group, in your pocket.”
Brendan’s advice to other users:
- identify yourself with your real name and photo, and avoid engaging with anonymous users;
- the 140-character limit can distort tone so consider how a tweet may be perceived;
- you cannot take back a Tweet once it has been posted, so comment on issues you understand; and
- set up alerts on your smartphone to monitor if you are mentioned in tweets.
Tools of the trade
The first thing Mae Connelly does when she wakes up is check Twitter on her iPhone.
It is not an unhealthy obsession with social media, but an important part of the Farmanco grain marketing consultant’s job.
Mae works from home, at the farm she and her husband, Rohan Willcocks, operate in Pingrup, Western Australia. She jokes she has a mini ‘Chicago Board of Trade’ in her home office, with three computer screens, an iPhone and an iPad to keep track of the global grain market.
“I started using Twitter in 2010 to stay on top of what was happening overseas,” Mae says.
It opened the door to grain marketers around the world and has replaced the paid grain marketing wire service Mae previously used.
“I wish Twitter didn’t fall under the ‘social media’ banner, as it gives the false perception that it is just for socialising,” Mae says. “For me, Twitter is a really important resource for my job. I can access free, instant information from traders in the US or Europe. It’s almost like I am there.”
The Chicago Board of Trade closes at 5.30am WA time during summer, so Mae reaches for her smartphone as soon as she wakes up to read through tweets.
“Traders’ tweets reveal every event during the day, even activities that might not be reflected in the overall trends, so it gives me important detail and insight into the market.”
Mae also uses Twitter to share photos from the farm with urban friends and family, connect with Australian and overseas growers and contribute to the AgChatOZ forum.
“It’s important that growers have a voice in debates about issues which affect our industry,” she says.
“One of the challenges about Twitter – which is also the reason it is effective – is that you are limited to 140 characters per tweet. I am careful when I join Twitter conversations on topics such as GM, mulesing or live export as these are emotional issues and it can be hard to convey strong arguments in a single tweet.”
Mae’s Twitter advice to growers is:
- remember which country a tweet originates from (for example, if a US grain trader tweets ‘Wheat sales one million’, that means one million bushels, not tonnes);
- understand abbreviations used to condense messages (for example, in futures contract codes, ‘WZ’ means ‘wheat, December’); and
- use an app such as TweetDeck to organise your Twitter feed and monitor topics by hashtag, such as #USDA and #harvest2013.
A debating and business tool
South Australian grower Corey Blacksell likes detailed conversations, so it might be a surprise he uses Twitter to communicate. However, the 140-character message limit works just fine for Corey, who has an audience of more than 2200.
He recalls the first time he used Twitter: “It was like being in a crowded room where I didn’t know anyone. I had no idea what I was doing.”
Today, Corey uses Twitter to access breaking news and participate in debates. Corey says he understands not everyone will agree with the viewpoints he airs on Twitter, but on the other hand says he respects other tweeters’ opinions if everyone is contributing to a logical dialogue.
“Anyone who tweets real messages is worth following, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with what they say,” Corey says.
Debating aside, Corey says Twitter can be a powerful business tool. He recently tweeted a photo of his new 5000-tonne on-farm grain storage system with the words ‘open for business’, and soon had enquiries from grain traders and growers interested in buying and selling rye.
“Twitter opens up the world to agriculture – an industry that often works in isolation. Farming can be a lonely workplace, but Twitter has linked me to growers around the world.”
Corey often meets fellow tweeters at industry events and attends an annual ‘Tweet-up’ dinner at the Royal Adelaide Show.
Corey’s Twitter tips:
- ask someone you know on Twitter to ‘introduce you’ with a public tweet;
- being succinct is an art – take time to craft messages within the character limit;
- remember that Twitter is a truncated form of conversation so tone can be misconstrued; and
- it is social media, so use social behaviour.
More information:Corey Blacksell,