Tweeting from the tractor cab

Do you hashtag from the header, or tweet from the tractor cab? Social media lets grain growers join a global conversation

Photo of iPad in hands and harvester

Social media is becoming a popular means for growers to communicate and share knowledge and experiences.

PHOTO: Evan Collis

Maybe you got an iPad for Christmas. Maybe you made a New Year’s resolution to become smartphone-savvy. Or maybe you keep hearing about social media and want to know if it’s for you.

Twitter is one of the most popular social networking tools. Founded in 2006 and publicly listed in November 2013, its ‘micro-blogging’ concept allows users to send short messages (tweets) of 140 characters or less. According to Twitter, 500 million tweets are sent every day, with 76 per cent of tweeters using their mobile phones to do so.

The real-time nature and accessibility of Twitter has positioned it as a communication tool for a growing number of Australian grain growers.

New South Wales agronomist Greg Condon, of Grassroots Agronomy at Junee, was initially sceptical about Twitter, believing it was “just for people with too much spare time”. He finally gave it a go last year and was so impressed at the ability to share information instantly that he now encourages his clients to use it.

“It is a great forum to share photos and information about the season, crop performance and disease concerns,” Greg says. “It won’t replace other, longer forms of communication, such as our newsletter, but it serves a purpose as an observational tool that is free and easy to use.”

Greg says although some of his clients were also sceptical, about half are now using Twitter, with tweets ranging from rain updates to technical questions.

‘Twitt-ionary’

Twitter: a free social messaging tool through which users can send brief text updates – or ‘tweets’ – of up to 140 characters in length (you can start an account at: www.twitter.com/login).

Avatar: a Twitter user’s profile photo, which appears next to each tweet they post.

DM (direct message): Twitter users can send a private message to someone they follow.

Follower: someone who subscribes to your Twitter to receive your updates. Likewise, if you ‘follow’ someone, you will see their messages on your personal timeline.

Handle: your username on Twitter.

Hashtag: prefixing words or phrases with a hash (#) creates a ‘community’ of relevant posts.

Tiny URL: one of the free services that shortens website addresses to reduce characters.

Troll: a user who posts inflammatory, abusive or off-topic messages.

TweetCaster/HootSuite/TweetDeck: Apps to organise your Twitter newsfeeds.

“One of our clients, who is a contract windrower, tweeted some of his stats and a US grower tweeted back suggesting changes to the equipment settings. As a result, he has made 10 to 15 per cent fuel savings.”

Chatting about ag

Many Australian grain growers participate in Twitter conversations, which are linked by a common hashtag (#) such as ‘#tweetsfromthetractorcab’ or ‘#harvest2013’.

Every Tuesday night from 8pm to 10pm (EST) many can be found tweeting about rural issues in the #AgChatOZ online forum.

Founded in 2010 and based on #AgChat in the US, AgChatOZ empowers rural Australians to tell their stories and engage with the public on the process of getting food from paddock to plate. 

The AgChatOZ cofounder, Victorian Farmers Federation public affairs adviser Tom Whitty, says the concept boomed when media and politicians were invited to join the conversation one evening before the 2010 federal election.

“Halfway through the evening, Tony Burke started tweeting back to growers’ questions. He engaged for an hour on issues such as the Murray–Darling Basin Plan and sustainable farming,” Mr Whitty says. “It really showed growers they could use social media as a direct engagement tool with key decision-makers.”

AgChatOZ now has 7000 followers – 62 per cent are rural and 38 per cent are from metropolitan locations. GM crops, seasonal outlooks, farm safety, technology, animal welfare, floods, droughts, depression and succession planning have all been on the virtual table. There have even been spin-off conversations about rural mental health to provide support and resources.

Tom says topics on women in agriculture and farm profitability are among the most popular, but the biggest-ever conversation was just before the 2013 federal election.

“We reached 930,000 people and #AgChatOZ ranked as the second-highest hashtag in Australia, and even trended in the UK, US and some countries throughout Africa.”

More information:

Tom Whitty,
twhitty@vff.org.au
,

@tweetingtwhitt;

AgChatOZ,
www.agchatoz.org.au,
@AgChatOZ,
www.facebook.com/agchatoz

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