A NEW wave of farmers are breaking barriers in social media.
Jack River dairy farmer Marian Macdonald first turned to the world of blogging last year (www.milkmaidmarian .com) and tweets as @milkmaidmarian.
She told a captivated crowd at the Australian Dairy Conference at Lardner Park last week that blogging, Twitter and Facebook were all different ways for farmers to tell their story to the public.
But increasingly they have become instrumental platforms to counteract “propaganda” launched by animal welfare groups, such as the recent bobby calf transport issue.
“It’s a way to deal with crisis management,” she said.
Earlier this year, one Victorian dairy farmer told a radio station that calves were just a by-product for milk, creating an online backlash against the industry.
Rather than doing nothing, Mrs Macdonald saw it as a chance to use Facebook to change the situation and tell her own farming story.
“You don’t have to spend your life on social media to make a difference,” she says.
“It’s about telling people what you are doing on your farm and providing a balanced view of the industry.”
Fish Creek dairy farmer Graeme Nicoll agrees, but admits he is no “techno wiz”.
The Nuffield Scholar tweets as @Hoddlecows and blogs at www.montrosedairy.com.
“I initially set up a blog while I was on my Nuffield travels and it opened up my eyes at the potential of social media,” he said.
“I was getting 100 hits a day and I realised pretty quickly that I was connecting with more people than just my neighbours.”
He says social media can be used as a big “megaphone”, with the capacity to tell agriculture’s story to an enormous audience.
“In the beginning I came up with a marketing plan,” he says.
“My product is Montrose Dairy and my message is that we produce food and care for the environment and that rings true in everything I do.”
With 10 million Australian on Facebook, he says social media cannot be ignored.
“We are all advocates – just be positive,” he said.
But apart from advocacy, Mr Nicoll says platforms such as Twitter can be used as form of extension, providing information to farmers.
He says the Pastures to Profit group of Facebook is a great example of farmers sharing information on social media.
Mr Nicoll’s latest Montrose Dairy blog post ‘we are all in this together: weed control’ is an example of advocacy, extension and farmer-to-farmer information.
“Because these weed seeds are so easily transported in the wind we are also relying on our neighbours controlling these weeds on their land,” he writes.
“One landholder not managing their weeds will let the whole community down.”
Many producers at the Australian Dairy Conference were inspired by the potential of social media, but said they were restricted by their technology knowledge.
Australian Dairy Farmers’ Natalie Collard urged farmers to dip their toe into the online world, by starting with the successful Udderly Fantastic.
She described the website as Facebook for dairy farmers.
“This is a great way for people to start,” she said.
Meanwhile, marketing analysis group The Neilson Company’s Courtney Sullivan says research suggested consumers currently have a positive view of the dairy farmers, compared to other livestock industries - and that was extremely imperative to uphold.
“When consumers go shopping, they are less likely to scrutinise dairy labels – they will more than likely just glance at the expiry date,” she said.
“Dairy has a direct link with consumer health. People have positive associations about dairy’s quality standards, affordability and use of modern technology.”