#onthefarm with Pamela Bartholomew

March 14, 2010

For March 12’s #onthefarm, I visited with Pamela Bartholomew http://twitter.com/pj8seconds) with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture as a Agritourism Marketing Speialist. She works with farmers to promote their farms and businesses for visitors to come to the farm–whether the farms are wineries, pick-your-own pumpkins or farm bed and breakfast residences.

It was a very interesting conversation, as Pamela offered good insights into how Tennessee works with farmers who want to invite the public to their farms. It’s a lucrative industry, as Pamela noted that the Volunteer State’s 600 agritourism farms has a total income of $6.5 million in 2009. Check out the chat transcript below to learn more about how one state has been successful in promoting its farmers and their efforts in earning additional income by opening their farms up to the public.

Thanks for reading!

Nick

n_web: OK, Pamela is here, I’m here, @celestelaurent is following from whatever class she’s blowing off. Let’s begin! Q1 Give us some background on yourself and what you do.

pj8seconds: Q1 Grew up on a livestock farm w/cattle, goats, sheep, & pigs. Luv to show & raise Hampshire pigs. We have fainting goats 2. My family sells sausage from our pigs we raise. We are looking at selling it in local grocery stores.  I was a State FFA Officer, National Collegiate Ambassador, Sigma Alpha President n college. Graduate of @UTMartin n Ag Ed. Been working at TN Dept. of Ag almost 3yrs as the Agritourism Marketing Specialist.  I work w/farmers to help promote their Agritourism farm & work w/them on issues pertaining 2 their farm. We promote Agritourism through PickTnProducts.org , @PickTnProducts, and Facebook. Along w/other marketing.

n_web: Q2: OK, let’s start there: what is agritourism? Then we’ll get into Tennessee.  

pj8seconds: Q2 Agritourism is anything that brings people to a working farm. Agritourism=Pick Your Own fruits & veggies, cornmazes, on farm B&B, wineries, Christmas tree farms, educational tours…..  

n_web: Q3: How do you work with farmers for agritourism? I guess, walk me through the process of if a farmer wants to be in agritourism?  

pj8seconds: Q3 If a farmer is interested in agritourism all they would need to do is to get in contact w/ me or their extension agent. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture along w/ the Center of Profitable Ag has lots of reasorces. It is very important that a farmer does their on reserch to see if agritourism is right for them. You HAVE to like working with people to be involved in Agritourism. If u don’t like ppl on ur farm this is not for you.

n_web: Q4: What kind of resources does your office offer farmers? Some have had roadside stands for years. How is agritourism different?  

pj8seconds: Q4 We offer a yearly Agritourism Conference with great speakers and topics 4 new & experienced agritourism farmers. We have hands on regional workshops 4 agritourism farmers that cover topics such as safety, media relationas, marketing & more. We also have the Tennessee Agriculture Enhancement Program, which is a cost share program for farmers.  The TAEP cost share program can help agritourism farmers with restrooms, parking, lighting, educational pavilions, marketing….. Agritourism farmers who qualify can get 35% cost share up to $10,000 or 50% up to $15000.

n_web: Q5: What are a few things for farmers to consider when hosting visitors?  

pj8seconds: Q5 Safety should be the number one concern on an Agritourism farm. It is a working farm w/ working hazards.  Before you have the public on your farm look for attractive nuisances- anything that will be attractive to kids & dangerous. It is good to have farm rules posted at an Agritourism farm. Rules are not just great for kids, but also parents. Every Agritourism farm needs a safety plan in case of fire, injury, or bad weather. All employees should practice each plan. Proper handwashing stations around farm animal attractions is a must. It is a learning opportunity to tech kids about health. Let visitors to ur farm know what to expect & wear. They have no clue not to wear heels or to wear sunscreen.  

n_web: Q6 (@celestelaurent): Not all farmers have time/$ to be a full-time tourism site. Any advice farms w/ only occassional visitors?  

pj8seconds: Q6 Start small and start with something that fits with ur current farming operation.  If you don’t have time to put n2 Agritourism then it may not be for you. Agritourism is time consuming, just like farming. If you’re a fall Agritourism farm ur ENTIRE month of October is work 24/7.  

n_web: Q7: How have Tennessee farmers benefited from agritourism? What have been the Dept of Ag & farmers’ learnings?  follow up: Is the promotion of agritourism relatively new for Tennessee? For all states?

pj8seconds: Q7 Agritourism is a way 2 help build farm income. Many farmers look to Agritourism as another way to help them stay on the farm.  There are over 600 Agritourism Farms in Tennessee with an income $6.5 million dollars. That is up from $2.4 million in 2002. TN started a committee about 8 yrs ago for the main purpose of promoting agritourism and helping farmers. This committees goal was to “increase farm income and make a positive impact on rural communities in Tennessee.”  Many states do not have a person dedicated to Agritourism, like Tennessee does.

n_web: Q8: So it sounds like you’re seeing growth in Tenn of agritourism? Are most visitors from Mem/Nash/Knox? Or out of state?  Would you consider Tennessee on the cutting edge of promoting agritourism? What can other states learn from you?

pj8seconds: Q8 Many TN Agritourism visitors r from in state. Familys love to bring their kids out to the farm & create memories!  We do have many farms who get bus tours from out of state who stop for lunch or barn dance. We also see many visitors come to Tennessee for our on farm B&B and our 33 wineries.  

n_web: Q9: Are you encouraging the agritourism farms to use social media more? To market themselves? Positive/negative feedback on that?  

pj8seconds: Q9 TDA had 3 regional workshops about How to Use Social Media to Market Your Farm. Now many TN farmers have Facebook Fan pages. Social Media fits every farmers marketing plan/budget, because its free! Social Media is a great way to keep customers thinking about your farm in the off season. Parents love to take pictures of their kids at a farm and post them on facebook-its great free advetising!  The Tennessee Dept. of Ag has got a great response using social media for promoting Pick TN Products to consumers.

n_web: Q10: What didn’t I cover that you’d like to mention or highlight?

pj8seconds: Q10 Pick TN Products & farmers can use facebook & twitter 2 let consumers know about what is in season, recipes, festivals, & more.  A great plus about having an Agritourism farm is having the opportunity to educate ppl about Agriculture. Great 4 the community! 4 every dollar spent at an Agritourism farm, an additionional $.85 of economic activity is generated.  2 find out more about TN Agritourism: PickTnProducts.org , @PickTnProducts, and Facebook.  

 n_web: This was great, Pamela. Really gave me (and I hope others) a look at how states can promote their farms and farmers. Thanks!  Thanks for your time. Best wishes on receiving good weather this year to get folks out to the farm!

pj8seconds: Thx 4 the opportunity to talk about all of the wonderful agritourism farms here in Tennessee!!!


#onthefarm with Joe Barsi

February 10, 2010

I had fascinating chat with Joe Barsi, @BerryGiant, last week for #onthefarm. I started following Joe during one of the initial #agchats. And I’m pretty sure he’s the only berry guy (farmer or industry) that I follow on Twitter. If you aren’t following him, make sure you do. He provides interesting tidbits about berry production around the world and has snapped some pretty cool pics of berry farming in other countries. I learned a ton about berries during our chat and I think several folks following the chat did as well. It was nice to step out of the row crop/livestock world for 75 minutes and get to know more about berries. I hope to do more of these types of #onthefarm subjects in the future.

The transcript is below. Enjoy!

Nick

n_web: Q1: Take 3-5 tweets to tell us about yourself and what you do for a living.

BerryGiant: Q1: I grew up in Watsonville, CA which is a large strawberry producing region. Went to Cal Poly and have a bs in agribusiness. Moved to Eden Prairie, MN after college and worked for C.H. Robinson a large 3rd party producing sourcing company. Lived in MN for 3 years and lived in Atlanta for 1 year. I sold our services throught the SE, so I got to see the country. Been back in CA since 1996. Married my high school sweetheart and have 2 children 10 & almost 13, yikes!!!! Joined Cal Giant about 5 years ago because I wanted to work for a company that farmed their own products. So you can say I way back 2 the farm. I understand the whole produce supply chain now & its nice 2 work 4 a Co. that produces their own #berries. I’m the VP of Biz Dev 4 Cal Giant. Cal Giant produced strawberries & has for  > 35 years. I was brought on 2 develop other #berries

n_web: Q2: What products does California Berry Giant Farms produce and where? Strictly CA?

BerryGiant: Q2: We grow, pack and ship #strawberries, #blueberries, #blackberries and #raspberries. Most of R own production is in CA & R economic engine is strawberries. We also have strawberry suppliers in FL & Mexico. CA produces ~85% of North America’s #strawberries and we grow them year round there, but as you know you must be diversified. Especially when you need to service large major retailers that expect to be supplied all year long.

n_web: Q3: Can you walk me through the US seasons for each type of berry? And their main production area?

BerryGiant: #strawberries grow in CA year round, but peak in April. They start in Oxnard (Dec-Mar), Santa Maria (Mar-Nov), Watsonville& Salinas (April – November/December). Mexico also produces Dec-Mar and Florida is Dec-March.

#blueberries are more complicated. It is very fragmented and production is usually six week windows. #blueberries are imported from South America November-March because North America does not produce during those months. In April CA and FL produce blueberries for 4-6 weeks. Then production moves up both coasts. FL, GA, NC, NJ. #blueberries on the West Coast go CA, OR, WA, British Columbia. The fragmentation makes it that much more complicated.

#blackberries are predominately grown in CA from May – September and then in Mexico from October through May. There are other states that produce great #blackberries besides CA. GA, ORegon, WA etc.

Keep in mind, I am talking about fresh market berries, not berries for processing (frozen). For the audience, #strawberries are the leader in the berry category followed by blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. For example, 70% of consumers purchased #strawberries last year on a weekly basis compared to 45% for #blueberries.

n_web: Q4: What are some of the challenges facing berry farmers? Does that span the “berry family” or is each berry unique?

BerryGiant: Q4: Great question. Each family member has their own challenges. Much like mine. lol #blueberry growers are facing lower processed prices which makes it harder to make $.#strawberry growers are challenged with rising input costs, land costs, water etc. Also, labor.

n_web: Q5: Is berry farming more “corporate” than other types of farming? Or is it more “family farming”?

BerryGiant: Q5: Another good question. There are 5 #strawberry companies that control >70% of the market, Cal Giant being 1 of them. However, all of those companies are made up of family farmers. 4 example, @californiagiant has 13 farming families that grow CA strawberries 4 us. & they R considered R partners. In fact, the Rocha brothers have been our partners for >20 years. Our competitors are very similar for the most part. Although we grow >70% of our #berries, our company is made up of family farmers. @californiagiant has 4 owners and we have many family members that work at the company in different capacities. We R family!

n_web: Q6: What’s your take (or the company’s take) on the rise in organic production? Do you see share increasing? On one occasion, I noticed #blackberries for $1 a carton, much cheaper than conv. blackberries. Why would that be?

BerryGiant: Q6: You mean organic blackberries? Assuming you mean conventional vs organic.

n_web: I mean organics berry production in general. But for my example, yes, I saw organic blackberries for $1. Couldn’t believe it.

BerryGiant: When there is not that big of a price difference consumers will buy organic. + organic production has increased faster than #organic consumers. Thus, the price spread is smaller.

n_web: Guess what I’m looking for is just your general take on organic & conv. production of berries. Will organic cont. to gain share?

BerryGiant: #organic consumers of berries are heavy users. In other words, not as many people buy #organic . @thepacker fresh trends notes, only 23% of consumers purchased #strawberries in the past year. #Organic berry production is increasing, but not as fast as consumption. I believe there is still solid growth opportuntities, but, I’m not willing to bet #onthefarm on converting everything to #organic. We are increasing our organic production though.

BerryGiant: Was visiting with the @wholefoods buyer yesterday and their organic berry category is growing nicely.

n_web: Q7: from @agropinion: “would love to know if/how immigration reform would affect berry production and prices”

BerryGiant: Q7: Another great Q. If we did not have the labor force to pick our berries, prices would definitely go up. In addition, the CA #strawberry industry is a large employer in the state. R state finances R alrdy a mess, w/out a decent labor force. CA would be in trouble. CA is the 7th largest economy in the world and a large part due to agriculture.

n_web: Q8: How does a berry guy use social media? Who are your targets? What are the benefits of using it?

BerryGiant: Q8: I did blog post awhile back on why I use Twitter http://bit.ly/dnj9jc. I have a unique role in that I get to travel the globe visiting berry farmers. I use SM to share my expertise and experiences. My targets are consumers and industry stakeholders. I joined twitter back in 2008, but I did not become more active until last year. I chose to focus on the #berry industry. The economist last week had a great section on social networking. All companies should be using some SMM as a part of their marketing program. It is not a silver bullet, but should be a big part.

n_web: Final Q: from @celestelaurent: “What do you wish all consumers understood about berries in their grocery store?”

BerryGiant: Final Q: wheh. Consumers should know that berry growing in general is very complicated and berry growers work very hard to work very hard to grow high quality, safe berries for your family to eat. #Farmers are the backbone of our company.

BerryGiant: A note, only 23% of consumers bought ORGANIC #strawberries in the past year. Over 70% of consumers bought conventional.

n_web: This was extremely insightful, Joe. Thanks for your time and patience in explaining the industry. New territory for most of us.

BerryGiant: Thanks for inviting me to join you this morning. It was my pleasure. DM me if you have any Q about #berries.


#onthefarm with Chris Raines

January 29, 2010

To change things up, I asked Celeste Laurent, a student at Western Kentucky and a former #onthefarm guest, to guest host this week’s chat. I was unable to follow along, but it looks like Celeste did a great job and had an excellent and insightful conversation with Chris. I was very happy to see so many of our aggie colleagues promote and follow the chat. I think Celeste brought in more chat followers this week than I have in the past two months!

Enjoy this week’s chat below. I’ll be back next week as your regular host. I like the guest moderator approach every couple of weeks, to keep things fresh.

Have a great weekend,

Nick

celestelaurent: We’re ready to get started with #onthefarm ! I’m guest hosting today for ur usual host @n_web and joined by guest @iTweetMeat

iTweetMeat: Hey hey!

celestelaurent: For those who don’t know him, @iTweetMeat is Chris Raines, meat scientist and Asst. Professor at Penn State

celestelaurent: Why don’t you start by telling us a little about yourself @iTweetMeat

iTweetMeat: So is this like a blind date or something? Anyway. I am a professor at Penn State Univ, and I work with farmers & meat plants

iTweetMeat: So lotsa fun stuff like marketing, meat quality, HACCP training, regulatory compliance (USDA FSIS), and classroom stuff

iTweetMeat: I grew up in the Northeastern US and kindasorta came “home” after way too too many years in college in OK and KS

iTweetMeat: Um, my favorite meat is lamb chops and I am also a Leo. What else would you like to know abt me?

celestelaurent: Sounds like work keeps you pretty busy! That leads into our first question: Q1 Why did you get involved with social media?

iTweetMeat: Yes, I manage to keep very busy!

iTweetMeat: Q1 I started exploring social media when I kept hearing about it during the Iranian elections. Thought I could use it to comm, 2

iTweetMeat: Q1 Traveling around, doing talks and traditional Extension “stuff” = $$$. Reg meetings are now webinars, so why not reg work?

iTweetMeat: Q1 And everyone seems to have a ? or 2 (and mny have heated opinions, too) abt the meat we eat; hence, here I am.

celestelaurent: You mentioned the $ issue in extension work..Q2 How has PA State embraced social media? Were u encouraged to tweet, facebook,etc?

iTweetMeat: Q2 Yes, $ is an issue, just as it is anywhere. How can I make an “impact” w/o having to travel? SM is a way.

iTweetMeat: Yet assessing the level of impact is the next big challenge — enter … SurveyMonkey!

iTweetMeat: As for other PSU’rs, I have few colleagues using SM, and I suspect there is a comfort level associated w/ it

iTweetMeat: i.e., I’m about the youngest faculty member on campus (or maybe am) and social media is something I’m OK with

iTweetMeat: Added to that challenge is that I am at a “transition point” in communications. I’ve got stakeholders who like SM, E-mail, blogs

iTweetMeat: …and others who only want “snail mail” and face-to-face workshops (the latter, of course, can’t be fully replaced IMO)

iTweetMeat: Oh, and no I was no rly encouraged to Tweet or FB or anything. My dept head blogs, so I started w/ that, too. & now I do this.

celestelaurent: We’ll move on to Q3: You mentioned earlier that everyone has a question or 2 on meat. Do u get more q’s from ag ppl or consumers

iTweetMeat: Q3 — Consumers or farmers? I think it’s about a 50% farmer, 25% chef/meat purveyor/similar, and 25% consumer.

iTweetMeat: How animals are raised, food safety, meat quality — general “themes of the questions” I get

celestelaurent: We’ll run with @NEFarmBureau ‘s question as Q4: Do you think today’s consumers know how to prepare meat?

iTweetMeat: It sure is a great food value, and no, I don’t think many are up to speed on cooking roasts

iTweetMeat: But that brings up an interesting point in the observations I’ve made of “ag” and “them”

iTweetMeat: Some of today’s consumers are super-aware, and others are abysmally unaware.

iTweetMeat: And there are scads of “experts” on food circulating who may be thought of as “today’s consumer”

iTweetMeat: Is my rambling making sense? I think many have a little “gourmet” in them. Yet, fewer have practical foodsafe know how IMO

iTweetMeat: I’m just thrilled there is so much interest in food! Shows ppl really value it.

celestelaurent: Makes sense to me lol For Q5: Why don’t you share some food safety misconceptions you’ve encountered via SM

iTweetMeat: Q5 – I’m not sure where to start. The grassfed issue is of course a biggie.

iTweetMeat: The concept that, in a recall, the total lbs. of recalled meat is *not* all contaminated. Just takes 1 bug per lot.

iTweetMeat: IMO, scariest info I’ve seen r from people touting rare grassfed ground beef, the accolades of raw milk, all w/o addressing risk

iTweetMeat: So what else we got? Must catch a plane for #NCBA10 in a little bit!

celestelaurent: We’ll move on to our next moderated question: Q6 Tell us about #meatcamp What is it, how did it start, etc…

iTweetMeat: Q6 Ah, #meatcamp. I wanted to do a meat chat, and so did my new friend @CarrieOliver. We put our heads together and there we go.

iTweetMeat: #meatcamp We can contribute very different ideas and info abt meat. So great to see so much interest in meat as well.

iTweetMeat: Now we have #meatcamp Thurs 8pET; topics vary, often at the request of “followers.” Thus far topics have been very basic.

iTweetMeat: The simpler the broader-reaching. It gets people talking about beef, pork. About how sausage is made. To appreciate meat as well.

celestelaurent: Is most of #meatcamp -ers ag or consumer? We’ll tie in q from @nel1jack :How do u tell who is farmer/producer & who is consumer?

carrieoliver: @iTweetMeat lol how is teaching ppl beef is like wine, diff’t breeds, diets, region etc = diff’t flavor/textures basic? #meatcamp

iTweetMeat: Yes, the tricky question. I can only tell by bios. Wht I am noticing is how people define “ag” difftly

iTweetMeat: I think of “ag” as a food/fiber producer. Others address “ag” as a certain scale/scop of production. It’s tough

celestelaurent: Using last 10 min to squeeze in our last 2 audience q’s: from @JMJLaurent Should we teach SM as part of our 4-H/FFA projects?

iTweetMeat: I think so … just like we teach public speaking now. It’s an important comm tool that won’t go away soon!

iTweetMeat: It’s new enough that quite possibly SM strategies/audiences could be a project in itself?

celestelaurent: Our final audience question is from @NEFarmBureau “What cut of meat does @itweetmeat‘s family enjoy most often?”

iTweetMeat: LOL. Most often? Well right now it’s #pork b/c that’s what I’ve got in the freezer. I’m low on beef and lamb.

iTweetMeat: I like having the “whole animal” in the freezer — that way there’s always something different from yesterday to cook ;)

celestelaurent: I think my mom has the same approach lol That does it for the moderated q’s. Anything you’d like to say in closing @iTweetMeat ?

iTweetMeat: Well thanks for asking me to do this! I have to run a few errands, then off to San Antonio I go! #NCBA10

iTweetMeat: Really the flurries this morning make Hill Country seem really nice!

celestelaurent: I want to thank @iTweetMeat for joining me on short notice & fitting this in before heading to #NCBA10 He’s a great #agvocate !

iTweetMeat: Thanks all! Bye!

celestelaurent: Next week you’ll have usual host @n_web back for more ag convo. Both he and I will post transcript from today’s chat on our blogs

celestelaurent: Safe travels @iTweetMeat ! Don’t have too much fun at #NCBA10 lol 

celestelaurent: I also want to thank all the audience members who were involved today. Lots of great q’s/discussion made for great convo!

n_web: Big thanks to @celestelaurent and @iTweetMeat for participating in #onthefarm today. Looked like a great chat! I’ll be back next week.


#onthefarm with Shaun Haney

January 27, 2010

I went north of the border for last week’s #onthefarm, as I visted with Shaun Haney of Haney Farms and www.realagriculture.com. Shaun was one of the first people I started following on Twitter and he brings a unique perspective as a farmer, businessman and ag Web site operator. Honestly, I have no clue where he finds the time to do all of that–and do it well.

We had a very good conversation about Canadian agriculture and his thoughts on social media in agriculture. I could have spent another 2 hours asking questions about Canadian ag. But below is a crash course for ag in Alberta at least.

Hope you enjoy the transcript, and, as always, feel free to pass along feedback to make it better.

Nick

n_web: Thanks for joining today, Shaun. You’ve been busy lately, but let’s start off w/ a couple tweets introducing yourself, ok?

shaunhaney: I am Shaun Haney. I live in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. (2 hours south of Calgary). I run a family seed business which produces, conditions and retails certified seed. I also run Realagriculture.com which focuses on issues and insights in agriculture.

n_web: Q2: What seeds does the family produce and sell?

shaunhaney: We produce a full line of spring wheat, winter wheat barley and triticale. We sell all types of cereals, corn and canola. We clean canola seed for different seed companies.

n_web: Q3: What are the major crops in your neck of the woods? The ones you listed as part of your biz, I’d imagine :)

shaunhaney: this area is very much focused on the beef feeding sector. Lots of silage crops and feed grain. Major silage crops are corn, barley and triticale

n_web: Q4: Can you recap the 2009 season in Canada? And what are the trends you’re seeing as we head into 2010?

shaunhaney: We had many of the same challenges in canada weather wise as you did in the US. Harvest was a challenge. There is a lot of concern over volatility in the commodity market. We are very concerned about the depreciation in the US dollar. As an exporting nation the currency level is very important to Canadian farmers in grain and livestock.

n_web: Q5: What nations do the majority of Canadian crops and livestock get exported to?

shaunhaney: The US is our major export market for livestock but the impact of COOL has been very negative in some cases. In terms of crops, lentils and other pulses are shipped to the Middle East and India. There is alot of malt barley that is exported to the US as well. The Canadian and US markets are very tied together. We also import things like corn to Canada for livestock feed. Canada and the US need to work on getting their trading issues settled. (COOL, dairy, etc).

n_web: Q6: Can you explain COOL in 3 tweets? I know I’m asking you to maybe do the impossible with the COOL request . . .

shaunhaney: It is American legislation to make it mandatory to show where products in American grocery stores was produced or processed. Causes issues when we are dealing with such large trading partners like Canada and US. Here is a link to a USDA video explaining COOL from the american perspective http://bit.ly/70hUIk

n_web: Q7: And Canadian producers do not like COOL, I take it? How is this impacting the beef industry there?

shaunhaney: Because the industries are so tied and complimentary. It’s making it difficult to ship fat cattle to US plants in the NW. Processors are trying to not incur costs and deciding to not kill Canadian cattle. Report out this week that some US grocers are starting to see the benefit of marketing Canadian beef in US stores. It’s just adding costs to the system and causing friction between the two, The American Meat Institute is also against COOL.

n_web: Do you have a link to that report? Interesting . . . I wonder if it’s because of media attn on the US industry?

shaunhaney: Here is the link to one of the AMI cool stories http://bit.ly/7VDvGM

n_web: Q8 from @ruthseeley: “what do you think of the local proposal to start growing poppies in this area (Alberta).”

shaunhaney: I think that it is has good potential. I have heard several stories about the project. My neighbor is involved in the project. The fact we have irrigation probably lends itself well to growing poppies for non-opiate production.

n_web: Q9: Let’s talk SM. You run realagriculture.com. Give me some background on that: when, why, focus of content, who, etc.

shaunhaney: I started RealAgriculture.com a year ago. I wanted to focus on providing video and audio to keep agriculturalists informed. We focus on talking to people that have neat stories , educational segments and tradeshow and conference coverage

n_web: Q10: I really enjoyed the recent tradeshow coverage online. How has the response been to that?

shaunhaney: We really try to bring farmers twist to media by covering the issues from the producers viewpoint. By making content for producers it is amazing how the industry also enjoys the content. About 20% of our traffic is from the US. Many similar issues that producers have to deal with.

n_web: Q11: What’s your favorite SM tool?

shaunhaney: I would have to say that my favorite SM tool is twitter. I have made so many friends on twitter it really does amaze me. I use Facebook and linkedin lots as well but in reality twitter has fostered some really strong friendships. I use to use friendfeed all the time but since facebook bought it I haven’t used it much. Kind of repetitive. Twitter is realtime. For example #onthefarm and #agchat.

n_web: Q12: How can US and Canadian growers/producers work closer together on ag issues? Is SM helpful to do so?

shaunhaney: I think SM allows us to ask each other questions to better understand each other. I get tonnes of questions from people in the US about things and I ask questions as well. The SM agriculture community is very strong, supportive and focused on informing people internally and externally. With SM you can interact directly with the source. I can tweet @JeffFowle and ask questions about ranching in US for example. I can tweet @JPlovesCOTTON to find out more about cotton.

n_web: Final Qs: Your (unbiased) picks for the Stanley Cup & the Gold Medal? I’mreeeeally excited for the Olympic hockey (and curling!)

shaunhaney: Normally I would pick the Flames because I am a season ticket holder but I think its the Blackhawks. For the hockey gold medal … Its CANADA all the way for gold.!!!!!!! Yeah I said it.

n_web: It pains me to agree with you on the Hawks . . . Memories of the late 80s/early 90s Blues-Hawks games. Larmer-Roenick-Goulet

n_web: Sorry, one more Q: What didn’t I cover that you’d like to tell everyone?

shaunhaney: I would just like to finish up by saying that I encourage all US producers and industry people to try and learn more about Canada. Our countries have much more in common than you maybe realize. The western US and Western Can. are very similar. Same goes in the east. Our practice ans issues are very common and we need to work together

n_web: This chat flew by! Could keep this going for another hour. But you have content to upload so we’ll call it a day. Thanks! Many thanks to Shaun for joining me in the middle of tradeshow season in Canada. Make sure you check out realagriculture.com.

shaunhaney: Thanks for the opportunity to participate with #onthefarm I had a great time. Please check out http://www.realagriculture.com and http://www.haneyfarms.com


#onthefarm with Nathan Winters

January 18, 2010

I had a great #onthefarm conversation with Nathan Winters on Friday afternoon. Nathan biked across the United States from Maine to Washington in 2009. Along the way, he visited dozens of farmers in rural communities in the hopes of collecting enough material for a book. Even though our chat only lasted an hour, I firmly believe he has a heckuva book idea, and I hope he has success in publishing it. The idea seems rather unique, so I think that it has a good chance of getting picked up. If you’d like to contact Nathan for a sample chapter, please do so via his Twitter handle, @follownathan, or his Web site, follownathan.org.

I highly recommend checking out his photo albums on flickr. Amazing stuff, and as I note in the chat, I think the phot album could be its own book about rural America.

I discovered Nathan via Twitter during an #agchat. He’s a regular contributor and provides good insight. Make sure you follow him.

Hope you enjoy the chat!

Nick

n_web: Next couple tweets will be links and background before we start. Nathan biked cross-country in 2009, from Maine to Washington to get a first-hand look at ag. Check out: http://www.follownathan.org/ for more info on Nathan and his journey. And make sure you check out his photo collection on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/22002817@N04/sets/72157622568988136/. I love the photos. Fascinating stuff. Great images. Could be its own book!

follownathan: Thanks for the #onthefarm intro biking across America getting familiar with #ag was the opportunity of a lifetime

n_web: OK, looks like Nathan is here, but a couple more minutes before we roll. Woofing down lunch . . .

follownathan: I am currently writing a book and many have requested a photo book as well. Could prob write 4 of them ;)

n_web: Q1: I gave a 140 character intro, but please take a few tweets to give us more on your background.

follownathan: Q1 originally from Lancaster County, PA, 30 yrs old and live in rural #VT tech background with passion for #ag #food and #travel. Biked 4300 miles across America to get on and meet farmers of all types and sizes and ask questions – best experience ever.

n_web: Q2: Why would you want to bike 4300 miles? And why did you decide to focus only on farmers?

follownathan: Q2 trekking America at a slow pace was my dream. I originally wanted to walk. Biking was perfect fit. I met with much more than farmers and ranchers. I met with consumers, coops, markets, drunks at dive bars… you name it! I also spent a good look at #climate issues & sustainable #ag as they seem 2 go hand in hand. I’m passionate about all of this.

n_web: Q3: Before you began, what were some of your preconceived notions about farming? And what were you hoping to accomplish?

follownathan: Q3 Good Q – Thing was that I had very little preconceived notions of #farming because like many… I was disconnected from them. I’m willing to say that I was charged in the way of all big #ag is bad #ag – Through education and experience I know different. What I wanted to accomplish was a platform where people could share my experiences from all over using #SM and I did just that. But most importantly I wanted to live my dreams and get the answers to the questions about #ag /#food I had swirling in my head.

n_web: Q4: without giving away the premise of the book, can you list 3 or 4 of those questions here? check that, not the premise. I meant the “hook”

follownathan: Q4 Why do we need authors such as Michael Pollan to explain where food comes from? How food get so complicated? Why is my hometown in Lancaster, PA and many like it turning into one giant strip mall? What happened to all the family farms? Why do we have such a strong disconnection between the farmers that produce and the people who consume. My favorite was “What is your message to America?” As you can see here I got many great responses http://bit.ly/iepdh (expand )

n_web: Q5: How did farmers answer those questions? Did answers vary according to production practice? Or were their thoughts similar?

follownathan: Q5 more than production, practice or region their answers varied based simply on personality types. Farmers have great personality. In my experience most farmers were more than willing to answer my Q’s and some even eager. I always felt welcome.

n_web: Q6: Can you list the states you visited & the various farms & what they grew? Any places that you’d like to mention as the best? Just a quick rundown of various farms, not every one!

follownathan: Q6 here is a map of my route http://bit.ly/7qdJbz.  But yes I would love to share a few farms that I visited. Grassland Farm in Maine (dairy)- Wellspring CSA in #VT (veggies) – Amish farm in #NY (diverse). Tantre Farm (Diverse) MI – WIld Rose Dairy WI- New Forest (permaculture)WI -Blue Blanket Farm (Wheat) SD and many more. I also spent good times over beer with ranchers at VFW’s, Honky Tonk Bars and fishing the Yellowstone River.

n_web: Q7, from @agropinion: “Where was the strangest place you slept? What kind things did people do for you on your journey?”

follownathan: Q7 strangest place was in rural OH it was called the “funny farm.” But even that turned out to be a great experience. People did many wonderful things for me! Food, supplies, conversation, motels, even money. I never had expected the generosity. People need to start trusting their fellow Americans! This is a great country with GOOD people who will help if you ask.

n_web: Q8: What did people say when you told them what you were doing? Especially as you mostly focused on farmers? Were they appreciative of someone telling their story? Or did they think you were nuts? :)

follownathan: Q8 Farmers appreciated having me come visit and share their realities and communities were excited to have me IE #ithaca and #MKE. But many people especially in the plains thought i was absolutely nuts. People don’t do alot of biking in 40 mph headwinds. Best perk was walking into a bar and getting all the beer and food you can handle for free. Happened to me often :) I guess wearing normal clothing and not spandex made it easier for people to get chummy with me.

n_web: Q9 @KyFarmersMatter: “Do you feel you have full view of farming & culture w/o visiting the South? Diff. culture, no?”

follownathan: Q9 Awesome Q and something I think about all of the time. This country is so big and I obviously couldn’t see and do it all. good news is as you can see here http://bit.ly/7kayYc. I have been around the block 49 states in fact. HOWEVER! from an #ag standpoint I’d like to visit more places I didn’t get to. Perhaps a second journey and another book :)

n_web: Q10: You visited dozens of rural communities. Do you have any insights on rural America and future economic development?

follownathan: Q10 I think it is simple. Support, preserve & visit your local farms. It is a win win situation for everyone involved. Not trying to brag… But #VT is a tremendous model for creating a vibrant economy through #ag in rural communities.

n_web: Q11: Book promotion time. You’re in the process of writing, no? Have you had any luck w/ publishers? What can aggies do to help?

follownathan: Q11Thought you would never ask ;). I’ve written 9 chapters so far. A sample chapter is available upon request &will B posted online soon. I have had some interest from agencies and pub outfits. It is a process. Sending out proposals next week. If any #ag or #food people know anyone in the publishing industry please do an intro and you never know… In the meantime tell friends about me / website, read my work and leave a review as seen here http://bit.ly/4KEa35.

n_web: I love the photos. Hope that gets its own book some day. . .

n_web: Final Q: what didn’t I cover that you would like to say? What’s on your mind for the next 3-5 tweets?

follownathan: Final Q: My bottom lines are buy local, support family farms and trust your local Americans. I strongly urge people to do the things they dream about doing. It will create a plethora of opportunities. We need to stop labeling people as this or that. We need more people being people then we will see change where needed. Don’t make #ag or #food judgments w/out taking the time to get information. And darn it! Do what feels right.

n_web: Really appreciate your time today, Nathan. Hope you enjoyed this. Best wishes on your writing and lining up a publisher! Make sure you check out @follownathan‘s site: follownathan.org

follownathan: It was my pleasure. If anyone wants to reach out and continue this convo plz do. Sharing and learning is my MO. If you would like a PDF copy of a sample chapter please at reply me #ag


Farmers Produce Record Corn, Soybean Crops

January 13, 2010

Just wanted to share this link from a story I wrote for the Monsanto blog, Beyond the Rows. I mention it in the post, but I will restate it here: if you have 5-10 minutes, check out the final dozen pages or so of the USDA annual crop production report. It gives a great overview of the month-by-month weather conditions in each region and how each crop fared in 2009. I think it really shows how many challenges farmers across the country faced last year.

http://blog.monsantoblog.com/2010/01/12/2009-usda-crop-summary/


#onthefarm with Mace Thornton

January 6, 2010

For the first #onthefarm of 2010, I asked Mace Thorton (aka @AFBFMace) to join me. He works in public relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation’s largest farm organization.

Next week in Seattle, the AFBF will hold its 91st annual convention, so I thought it would be a nice preview of what AFBF is up to and what Mace is looking forward to for the convention. Very interesting interview. One of the things that jumped out at me was how Mace is noticing more farmers adopting social media–and making it part of thier business plans (see Q9). A good example that has been passed around lately is Chris Chinn, a Missouri hog farmer. She produced a YouTube video for a “behind the scenes” look at her family’s hog farm. The new methods of communication are allowing farmers to hold conversations with non-farmers.

Before you get to the interview, I’ll highlight that you can follow all the action from AFBF’s Seattle convention by checking out www.fb.org, following the #AFBF10 hashtag on Twitter or meeting Mace and many others at a tweet-up at the Monsanto booth on Sunday at 3 p.m. or Monday at 8 a.m. You can find out who’s attending here.

Thanks for reading!

Nick

n_web: Q1: Thanks for joining me today. Give me a little background on yourself and what you do for American Farm Bureau.

AFBFMace: Grew up on a VERY small hog farm in NE Kansas. I like to say it was free-range pork before free-range pork was cool. Studied journalism at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. Worked at a couple Newspapers in Kansas before starting with KS FB. Started with Kansas Farm Bureau in 1985 and then joined staff of AFBF in 1990. Been here ever since. Today, work in lot of areas: PR, media relations, speechwriting and issues managment. Love working with Farm Bureau volunteers!

n_web: Q2: What are your main responsibilities for AFBF? We’ve seen you active in SM . . . what else do you do?

AFBFMace: I spend a lot of time monitoring issues and assisting with the general flow of PR strategies and tactics at #AFBF. Social Media has stormed onto the scene within this past year to become a vital communications tool. Get involved in everything from news releases to assisting AFBF President Bob Stallman with his speeches. But most of all, it is a pleasure working with all our committed Farm Bureau members who are high-end communicators thru SM.

n_web: Q3: What’s the background on AFBF? What is its mission? All 50 states have a FB, correct? AFBF represents all FBs, right?

AFBFMace: AFBF is nation’s largest general farm organization. We represent producers of all ag products, of all sizes and from all regions. AFBF a true grassroots org. Every policy in our book, given time, could be traced to indiv. farmer at state or county FB level. Depending on state, scientific surveys show that between 7 or 8 out of every 10 farmers in U.S. is a member of Farm Bureau. We are recognized as “The Voice of Agriculture,” but it is our combined grassroots voice that makes us effective.

n_web: Q4: That’s interesting on the policy statement. Can you give an example or two, whether it’s “big” or “small” policies?

AFBFMace: In general, our policy positions tend to take position that is for the overall good of production agriculture in general. It is amazing to have such diverse group of farmers involved in policy process & result in a comprehensive book of positions.  Farm Bureau members do not always agree on every issue, but it is amazing how differences — region, crop, size — are put aside. Culmination of our policy process is coming up…this coming week in Seattle at AFBF’s 91st annual meeting #AFBF10.

n_web: That gets to Q5 from @Mica_MON: “how do you manage the different interests of members? Have to imagine there are conflicts?”

AFBFMace: First there must be a recognition of what we can do that is best for THE WHOLE of American agriculture. Grain producers do not always agree with livestock producers, but more often than not, they rise above the fray. We like to think of ourselves as that big tent ag organization, where ideas can be debated, deliberated and approved. And, when there is disagreement, our grassroots structure allows individual members to state their case and work for change.

n_web: Q6: So there’s a small meeting happening in the Great Northwest next week . . . can you talk about that a bit?

AFBFMace: Our 91st annual meeting will be held in Seattle. Farmers, ranchers, growers from all across the land will gather there. We like to think of it as great big reunion of the Farm Bureau family. Conferences. Trade Show. Headliners. And policy setting. We are also planning an on-site tweetup or two during the meeting. All tweeps on site can join in. Expecting about 4,500 people to attend the meeting, but won’t know until all is said and done. This is the beginning of our policy year and sets the positions that will guide the American Farm Bureau throughout 2010. But our ability to represent ag all boils down to our most basic unit…the country Farm Bureau. That’s where it all starts. Have not been to Seattle for a while, so it should be a great meeting. And looking forward to seeing a lot of tweeps in person

n_web: Q7: How has/will technology change the annual meeting? I’m guessing in the past it was a chance to share info once a yr. Farmers are on twitter, facebook, blogs, etc. sharing more info than ever. So, guessing just means more info is shared?

AFBFMace: We always wrestle with the immediacy of modern communication and the fact that we set policy positions once a year. What technology has done for us is open up new and additional avenues of communication with our members. Our BOD is comprised of state Farm Bureau presidents. They do great job of interpreting policies as they hear from their mems. Communication and the new tools at our disposal have made us an even more responsive organization, in my opinion. We are able to mobilize our grassroots members in ways we only dreamed about before. It allows us to share late-breaking information and get it into the hands of members at the farm level, who can use it. An organization is only as good as the commitment level of its members, and we have some of the most committed I know of.

 n_web: Q8: Are you finding some of the info is info overload, or are the members embracing the quicker flow and amt of info?

AFBFMace: In this day and age, there is a risk of info overload. Being able to discern what is useful, topical and relevant is vital. Farm Bureau members on Twitter and Facebook, for example, are very open to the latest and best info we can throw their way. It has made those of us who are “professional” communicators become better and to be more relevant. Our members have ample sources of info at their disposal already. Keeping the huge mountain of info in perspective is our goal. And we are communicating differently. Engaging on top of educating. Farmers and ranchers are taking it that extra step.

n_web: Q9: Farmers realizing they need to become part of convos. I like what @shaunhaney said: 2010 is yr of “Telling our story” Agree?

AFBFMace: Very much agree. For years we have talked about helping farmers do a better job of telling their stories. Now it is happening. Through social media. Through public TV shows like America’s Heartland. Through personal engagment at the local level. Engaging with consumers really has taken form in a big way. #agchat is part of that, but we can see it all across the board.

n_web: I think it should be stressed that in this convos, farmers can’t take the criticism too personally. Take convo as opp to explain

AFBFMace: More and more farmers are making engagement and communications a part of their formal business plans. A PR person’s dream. Ag has always been criticized. But clearly, our farmers today are rising above emotion and communicating about their values. Charlie Arnot of the Center for Food Integ put it best in a recent conversation. People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. That is our ag comm philosophy in a nutshell.

n_web: Q10 from @NEFarmBureau (prob relates to next wk’s meeting): “What public policy issue concerns you the most as 2010 begins?”

AFBFMace: Issues? There will be a lot. Start with our opposition to Climate change legislation. Even USDA says it could cut our food and crop acres by 59 million acres. We have grassroots #DontCap our Future campaign to oppose climate change legislation. FB Members have responded bigtime. We also want to ensure that while all Americans have access to healthcare, that we maintain structure of our PRIVATE system. We also hope to see progress in areas of trade, labor and regulations that impact our farmers and ranchers on the ground. With estate taxes roaring back to life after 2010, we will push hard for reform in that area to protect family-owned ag. Water is a big issue. We see that in California right now. It will continue to present a challenge on availability side.

n_web: Q11: You have a unique perspective being in DC and repping 50 FBs. What opps/challenges do u c in next 5 yrs for all of ag?

AFBFMace: Our mission at Farm Bureau is to enhance and strengthen lives of rural Americans and to build strong, prosperous communities. Rural development must continue to be a focus. Technology is going to be a huge help in that area. The need to continue to speak out above the values that drive our commercial scale producers. While tools our producers use today are different, their use is still guided by the same rock-solid values of their ancestors. Opportunities are ahead like never before to really forge that deeper understanding with consumers, and I think we will do it. I think you will see Farm Bureau members become even more active and visible on a lot of fronts…thanks to new comm tools. They will do an even better job of engaging on topic of WHY they do WHAT they do.

n_web: Final Q: What didn’t I cover that you would like to point out to folks?

AFBFMace: I am hopeful that everyone will have a chance to hear, if not in person, AFBF Prez Bob Stallman’s speech next week. We will post. It will be available at www.fb.org, as will the full annual meeting info and details as the news becomes available. Looking forward to hearing NFL great Terry Bradshaw at our meeting too. See what he has to say about ag.

n_web: Q from @Porkchop1950: What is the best way for non-ag producers who are active with farmers and ranchers to get involved?

AFBFMace: Let farmers know you care. Ask to visit a farm and ranch and be open to learning about what they do. Help by speaking out on issues that also go beyond ag — like economic, trade, environment. Keep farmers in mind. Help spread the word with your neighbors, friends and colleagues that U.S. food is best and most abundant in world.

n_web: Thanks a ton, Mace. Good info to share. Best wishes on a successful #AFBF10. Sorry I can’t make the big tweet-up!

AFBFMace: Thanks, Nick. It has been a pleasure. Look for a ton of tweets next week from “sunny” Seattle, as the FB family gathers. Follow #farmbureau for a direct feed of our timely information.


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