#onthefarm with Genny Christ

December 14, 2009

 This week’s #onthefarm took me virtually to Pennsylvania for a visit with @PAfarmgirl, Genny Christ. Genny is an agronomy educator for Penn State Cooperative Extension in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. Genny has a great blog that tackles agronomy, conservation and nutrient management. It’s a very good read, and I would recommend it for those wanting to learn more about agriculture. Along with Andy Kleinschmidt of Ohio State, who blogs at http://agvanwert.wordpress.com/, Genny is on the cutting edge of using the Web to share tips for farmers and providing background on projects she is working on.

I learned quite a bit about Pennsylvania ag during the interview, including the state’s connection to mushroom farming (thanks to @farmingmagazine for the excellent link to one of it’s articles during the chat!). Genny was an excellent guest, and she’s a good person to follow online.

Thanks to all those who followed the interview and who visit the blog to read the transcript.


n_web: Hi everyone, about 10 min away from this week’s segment with @PAfarmgirl. Quick bio coming in next couple tweets. Genny is an Agronomy Educator for Penn State Cooperative Extension in Cumberland Co, focusing on field crops and soils. She also focuses on nutrient management and NM plan implementation, and organizes field days and meetings for farmers. You can learn more about her and her writings at her blog: http://pafarmgirl.wordpress.com/ . Reason for me to interview Genny: crazy year for farmers. What did she learn as an agronomist? What are tips for 2010

n_web: OK, enough intro. Once @PAfarmgirl sends a tweet, we’ll get rolling with this week’s segment!

PAfarmgirl: I am ready to go!! Thanks for the

n_web: Q1: I gave a quick 420 character intro :) I’m sure you can tell us a bit more about yourself and what you do.

PAfarmgirl: I grew up on a tiny beef cow/calf operation in western PA. Went to PSU and focused on Animal Science and Agronomy. Now I work in extension educating anyone interested about crops and soils. & when I get a chance I do some animal education also

n_web: Q2: Can you give us a background on what type of ag is practiced where in Pennsylvania?

PAfarmgirl: PA ag is diverse. we have 3 major crop regions: southeast, north and Appalachian plateau, and the rest of the state. SE is warmer & most productive. N & Appalachian Plateau is higher elevations and colder. Major crops in PA based on dollars: grain corn, forages, and mushrooms. But PA is more a livestock state than a crop state. $513 billion Cattle industry, $183 billion hog industry

n_web: Q3: Mushrooms?!?! Never knew that. Can you explain how/why? This is uncharted territory for #onthefarm . . . Definitely want to cover livestock in a moment . . . the mushroom comment intrigued me though . . .

PAfarmgirl: I am not an expert on mushrooms but a few counties seem to be good at growing mushrooms, one farm actually grows them underground.

n_web: Q4: OK, sorry for my aside. What’s the status of the livestock industry in PA? How are farmers doing? Hanging in there?

n_web: via @farmingmagazine: More on mushrooms: http://farmingmagazine.com/article.php?id=3797

PAfarmgirl: The livestock industry is surviving. The economy is making it hard on everyone. It’s all about economics anymore. if you can stay out of the red or at least not in the red for long, you will survive. One challenge I’ve noticed is livestock mortality. More and more farmers are struggling to find ways to dispose of dead

n_web: Q5: Is the terrain one reason why PA is a livestock state? Or is it soils? Or weather?

PAfarmgirl: I think PA is a livestock state for all of those reasons. We have alot of very productive soils, but also marginal soils. I also think it has to do with the people and the “culture” its what their parents did so.

n_web: Q6: The “culture” comment is interesting. I guess some folks you talk to, their families have been there since Colonial times.

PAfarmgirl: There are alot of farms that have been in the family for generations. In addition there are alot of Plain Sect people. Farming is what the majority of them do. The farm is passed father to son

PAfarmgirl: n_web: Q7: What were some of the research projects you had in 09? What did farmers tell you about successes/challenges this yr

PAfarmgirl: PSU is working alot on cover crops and energy crops. I started my job to late in the season to be directly involved. Challenges in 09: the weather, the economy, proper inoculation of soybeans. We also saw alot of crop diseases this year. This year I will have some herbicide plots out on local farms. PSU also does alot of variety trials. successes I saw in 09: increased use of cover crops and conservation tillage.

n_web: Q8: Good transition: Talk about cover crops. Maybe I miss something, but it appears they are used more in your neck of the woods?

PAfarmgirl: Cover crops are very important!! They are something that is pushed by PSU, NRCS, conservation districts, etc. cover crops are very helpful in reducing erosion and improving soil quality. They are also great for winter manure applications. Here in PA manure is an issue, especially with the Chesapeake Bay, so cover crops provide another crop to receive manure.

n_web: Q9: So more PA farmers are using cover crops? Has it been tough to convince farmers? Or do they get it? And just takes time?

PAfarmgirl: Every year more farmers are definitely using cover crops. It has been a challenge getting some farmers to use them. Providing them with examples, field demonstrations, and facts about the benefits definitely help convince farmers. It also helps when they know someone who has planted cover crops.

n_web: Q10: What are you preparing to educate farmers on for 2010? Any tips you can share here, that help PA and US farmers?

 PAfarmgirl: I am focusing alot on soil conservation, nutrient management and scouting for diseases, insects, weeds. I do have a few tips to share: 1. soil test at least every three years, knowing what nutrients are in your soil is important. 2. scout, scout, scout – wasting $ on useless pesticide applications is bad for your bottom line ($$) and the environment. 3. accurately calibrate your sprayer and spreader for precise applications

n_web: Q11: What’s your goal in having a blog? Do area farmers read it? Is it an outlet for you to post current info you’re researching?

PAfarmgirl: I blog b/c I want to do whatever I can to educate people about agriculture. I enjoy being able to write about things I care about

n_web: Final Q: What’s the outlook for Pennsylvania ag in the next few years? Economy is tough, but what can farmers be excited about?

PAfarmgirl: I don’t really know if many farmers read my blog. The hardest part to blogging is getting people to realize you are out there. PA ag is very diverse and this will help us to survive and grow stronger. The ag industry in PA is focusing on providing a good quality, safe, product to its consumers. Farmers need to be excited about new technology and what it can offer them: money savings, increased yields, etc. Farmers also need to think about the environment. Many are already stewards for the environment and more are coming on board.

n_web: Thanks for your time today, Genny! This was fun. Know ya gotta run, but if you have a final thought or two, feel free to share.

PAfarmgirl: I appreciate the opportunity you provide me today and would like to thank all those who were following along!!

n_web: Yup, thanks to the followers, Hope you found it enjoyable! I’ll have the transcript on the blog over the weekend.


#onthefarm with Susan Crowell and Gary West

December 9, 2009

For last week’s #onthefarm, I chatted with two members of the ag media, Susan Crowell of Farm and Dairy and Gary West of The Capital Press. I’ve found these two writers and publications to be among the most prominent on Twitter, both in terms of sharing content and in having conversations with their readers and others in ag. So, I thought it’d be interesting to get their takes on big topics they’re covering (especially considering they are based in different regions), what their readers think of their content, how social media is playing a role in their content creation and curation and the discussion in journalism circles of paying for online content.

I thought it was a pretty darn good interview, as we get to hear from reporters who are covering the ag beats every day. Susan, Gary and all ag reporters do a great job of covering ag’s issues and in promoting agriculture, and it was nice to get their perspectives.

So, I’ll stop writing here and let you get straight to reading the Twitter interview. Hope you find it as enjoyable as I did!

Take it easy, but take it,


n_web: We’ve got pubs from the Salems today: Capital Press from Salem, Oregon and Farm and Dairy from Salem, Ohio. Get going in a few! For this segment, I wanted to talk w/ a couple ag media and get their takes on trends in their biz and in ag.Once @capitalpress and @scrowell send a tweet, we’ll roll with this week’s interview.

scrowell: Ready and waiting…

capitalpress: Gary West from Capital Press checking in.

n_web: OK, here we go! Q1: Can each of you take a few tweets to tell us about yourself and your publication?

capitalpress: I’m Gary West, associate editor for the Capital Press, which covers agriculture in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California.

scrowell: I’m editor of @farmanddairy, weekly newspaper (avg. 150pp/week) w 30K circ in 44 states, but primarily OH/Pa/Ny/WV. I was raised on a #farm, and grad. from Kent State Univ; been with paper for 25 years (started when i was 10). @farmanddairy is not just dairy, but is gen. ag publication; major auction following and our classifieds kick butt (as does news). @farmanddairy founded in 1914; owned by local family, same family since 1930s. @smdarling (Scot Darling) is publisher

capitalpress: Capital Press has been around for 82 years. HQ is Salem, Ore. I’ve been here 4 years. Been a journalist for 20 years. And I’m the son of a crop duster, schooled at Oregon State University #gobeavs! We are family owned too, part of a small family-owned group of papers, most are general news papers though.

capitalpress: Shall we compare classifieds Susan?

scrowell: Ooo… Twash talk

n_web: Q2: What are a few of the big topics and trends that you’re covering right now?

capitalpress: Q2: Low prices for everything it seems. Milk, hay, potatoes, wheat… The economy dominates much of our coverage now. Seems everyone talking to farmers and ranchers is telling them to get out in front on issues, get involved, communicate. Animal welfare has been big out West too. Prop. 2 in California, and Issue 2 in Ohio have every state wondering who is next. Oh, and GMO issues. The legal fight over Roundup Ready sugar beets is big in our area where both seed crop and field crop grow. Water, or lack of it, is huge too, especially in California. ESA issues too, like salmon, wolves.

scrowell: Since we’re in OH, #Issue 2 (livestock care standards constitutional amend) on Nov. ballot was HUGE. It passed, if u didn’t know. Livestock care battle will con’t to be battle; we’ve also covered farmland preserv. issues for 15 yrs. right now, #farm finances are obvious issue for all commodities/livestock. Legislative/policy issues that affect #farm, rural residents, i.e. envir. always on our plate. Proud we led nation in coverage of Pigeon King Ponzi scheme (for real. check our archives). Affected r Amish/Menn. readers

n_web: Q3: So how do you stay on top of all these issues? Are you using more content from other sources? There’s a heckuva lot happening.

capitalpress: We have reporters in all 4 of our keys states and we do as much as we can when we can. Also have a lot of freelancers. We also are Associated Press members, so we get some copy from other member papers, but our 9 reporters do most coverage.

scrowell: w ltd. resources, hv to prioritize coverage. This is huge issue and I think future collaboration w others is critical

capitalpress: Susan is right, prioritization is the key. What stories affect the most farmers and ranchers. That’s where we focus.

scrowell: Also use freelancers. In fact, just looked thru my file last nite to find others to tap into. Quality is sometimes issue. We have 2 reporters (no, not a typo). think I’m not stressed?

capitalpress: There are also legal restrictions on how much we can interact with freelancers, which makes it hard to direct specific stories
scrowell: would lk to check out collaboration effort like @Publish2, particularly for online information. Aggregation as well as byline

n_web: Q4: What are your readers telling you about your content? I guess the No. 1 factor is circulation, both print and online. . .but I would imagine you get feedback directly. What are you hearing from them?

capitalpress: Q4: Our readers love us, which after 15-plus years at mainstream papers, that was odd to get so much positive feedback. But we face same circulation challenges other media do. Subscriber numbers sometimes slip. We aggressively work to keep ’em.

scrowell: Circ. is holding its own, unlike most newspapers. 08 circ. down only 1.3%; single copy sales up 3.8%. Our strength is our history/legacy of respect, trust. Readers call us ‘the farmer’s bible’

scrowell: @capitalpress Our circ. mgr just came from daily year ago, and said same thing, ala Sally Fields “You like me, U rlly like me!”

capitalpress: Most of our circulation is by mail. Rack sales are pretty small overall. We are continually working to make our coverage as relevant as possible so we are a valuable tool for farmers & ranchers.

capitalpress: @scrowell we here the “farmers’ bible” term out here too. #onthefarm
04:12pm Dec. 3 2009 EST

n_web: Q5 from @Tyne_Ag: “Do you see multimedia features being a good tool for farmers? Do they even watch or listen to those features?”

scrowell: from 7/09 3rd party readership survey, we basically discovered online readers are not our print readers. IMO, multimedia works, yes, but really hard to gauge how much. Trad. #ag readers not looking to Web right now. Web in general, tho, will be growing part of my newsroom. Is more today, than 12 mos. ago.

capitalpress: Multimedia tools are gaining in importance. Farmers and rural folks have been the slowest to adopt online tools, but growing. Age is a factor in that too. Our readers tend to be older than general news paper, as farmers also tend to be older. To Susan’s point of online vs. print we know the bulk of our online readers aren’t our print subscribers based on hours of use. But we also know that the environmental issues, food safety issues, the ag issues we cover of interest to more than just ag folks

scrowell: ditto RT @capitalpress: Age is a factor too. #ag readers tend to be older than general newspaper, as farmers tend to be older

capitalpress: We have to be ready though, for when the rapid adoption of digital happens. If we aren’t there and useful, they will leave us. Many of the businesses we deal with our taking their business online in some fashion. We can either help them, or wave goodbye.

scrowell: Hiring new copy editor/paginator right now. Must come w Web/SM skills

capitalpress: @scrowell is my SM mentor. She got me on Twitter, kicking and screaming though I was. That was a year ago.

n_web: Q6: Guessing that you’re operating on the inevitable that rural areas will have high-speed internet access in the near-future? And it will pay to have the online and SM presence once they discover it?

scrowell: Q6 You had to bring that up, didn’t you? High-speed access is a big, big issue for #farms.

capitalpress: Rural areas do have online access now, maybe just not in same way cities do. Cell phones, satellite, etc. I think the bigger issue is farmers who don’t have it now, or use it now, don’t know that the cost will be worth it for biz. Some farmers don’t use computers at all. Seems foreign to me. How can you run a business without a computer in 2009-10?

scrowell: Talked to h.s. jr. at @OhioStateFSR; told me he didn’t realize how imp. computers were until he climbed into equip. hello?

scrowell: @capitalpress Same guys who never know their cost of production (re computer use)

capitalpress: We think it will pay, but if we don’t learn from mainstream media that people will leave if we don’t adapt, then 2bad for us.

scrowell: maybe some of #farm media presence on web is for nonfarm audience (as in print). Web is here to say for #ag media. Period.

capitalpress: I think cell phones will be the digital future. And farmers already have and use those in abundance. Know a farmer without one?

n_web: Q7: OK, let’s talk SM. How are your publications using it?

scrowell: No formal protocol. Enc. reporters to use to Tweet quest. and engage world in conversation. We tout our links, but others’ too. @farmanddairy is on FB, but I’m ashamed to admit we haven’t updated in months. Resources to blame (I can only do so much) :) SM has increased @farmanddairy visibility natl’y; my own #farm and journo network incredibly. SM is becoming a news source all its own. Journos have to be in the arena

capitalpress: We post some of our news headlines on Twitter and Facebook. #agchat has been a good networking opportunity w/ ag folks. I use it to monitor news, ag and otherwise, and get a feel for issues people are discussing. @kmarikos our marketing manager is also pretty active on Twitter and Facebook. Connecting with university students & others. As I mentioned earlier, Susan got me onto Twitter. Didn’t want to do it. Was sold when I learned to use FB & Twitter together

scrowell: @capitalpress Good point about cell phones. Was just talking mobile app with our techie. But resources/priorities, once again.

capitalpress: Exactly: News breaks on SM now. RT @scrowell: Q7 SM is becoming a news source all its own. Journos have to be in the arena #onthefarm
04:12pm Dec. 3 2009 EST

scrowell: @farmanddairy reporter Kristy Foster also Tweets @fosterk96

n_web: Yes, I noticed you each have about 2k followers, that’s about 5% of your circ, right @scrowell? Some who didn’t know about u b4.

capitalpress: We did get some criticism for posting too many headlines. On our publication day we had a big batch going out at once. So we now only post a portion of our headlines, and it’s automated, so it may not always be the biggest or best stories, sadly.

scrowell: But SM also makes it diff to define line betw personal/professional time. I have personal FB, but don’t use professionally.

capitalpress: That line between personal and professional has got blurry. Made me very uncomfortable for a long while. Still does. That’s very tough for a journalist, who is taught to keep personal opinions out of reporting. Us old schoolers need a line!

scrowell: My followers also incl a lot of mainstream journos I follo for journalism sake. @farmanddairy followers prob v. few print readers

n_web: Q8: Big discussion in journ. about paying for content online, whether it’s pay per click os subscr. What are your thoughts?

capitalpress: Our company policy is that we are a subscription site. We make some content free, but we need to pay the bills. Online content must be financed somehow, by ads or by subscribers or both, especially if advertisers abandon print for online. Our Classifieds and display ads are available for free, but news content is restricted. By that I mean classifieds are free to view. Someone pays to run them. The free or paid debate is far from settled or over though. It will continue to evolve. Problem is know one knows what “good” number are online for a publication like ours. We aren’t going to get Google or ebay

scrowell: In 08 we went to all nonpd online (prev. classified/auctions were subscriber-only). Monetizing Web is tough, but get enuf eyes there and adv. want to be there, too. Our banner ads work well. Key is creating niche/community/info presence that keeps ppl returning; adv. aren’t dumb. They want to reach those ppl too. @andyvance & @ABNLindsay at @ABNRadio do great marriage of trad/Web/SM #ag news, too (Ohio #farm media rocks!)

n_web: Q9 from @celestelaurent: “What advice do you have for aspiring ag journalists?”

scrowell: Write. Write and write some more. Whether in Web/SM/p.r./news, you will be writing. Period. Learn Web skills, and SM skills. Audio, video, I want it all. Readers want it all. Web visitors want it all. Get off the #farm. Expose yourself to other viewpoints. We’re not always right. Cheerleading doesn’t always help. Amazing number of “ag comm” majors never work for campus newspaper/radio. Why, oh, why isn’t that required???

capitalpress: My advice to all aspiring journalists is don’t do it. If you R stubborn enough to do it anyway, you may just love it. Ditto @scrowell on the writing and other web-photo skills. And be open to critique so you can improve.

n_web: Getting closer to PR rant time, but first: Q10 @animalag: Do u have tips 2 help individuals/orgs be good sources for stories?

scrowell: Return my frickin’ phone calls a.s.a.p. (oops that was a rant). Don’t push product. Offer generic sources for management tips, etc. Suggest names of farmers who use product/system/whatever.

capitalpress: Getting used to talking to media takes practice. I was very nervous about this interview. I’m not used to answering ??? Don’t make stuff up. If you don’t know answer to a question, tell the reporter than but offer to find out the answer.

capitalpress: And return calls quickly. Our deadlines are real RT @scrowell: Q10. Return my frickin phone calls a.s.a.p. (oops that was a rant)

scrowell: Best p.r. came after Hurricane Katrina. p.r. pro called w cell ph # of 2 dairymen affected, and best times to call.

n_web: Final Q, then rant time: So, what’s the future of ag media? Plenty to cover, but resources are limited. Is online the way to go?

scrowell: don’t have crystal ball. who envisioned breadth of Web even 10 yrs ago. It might be smthing else. We have to be ready

capitalpress: Online is a fact of life now. Just part of the media mix. And it’s great for niches, can be very focused and reach wide area. I hope there is still room for “general” ag publications like Susan’s and ours, but they may be even more niche than our niches. #

n_web: OK, what’s your one PR rant . . . (thankfully, I personally have not pitched Susan or Gary, but I am nervous nonetheless . . .)

scrowell: Bring story idea that’s about something breathing. Not a product, but how a farmer uses product. How mom benefits. News is @ ppl

capitalpress: I think Susan has it covered pretty well! I keep my rants against PR behind my closed office door!

n_web: Thanks so much for you time, @scrowell and @capitalpress. Very informative. Thanks for all you do to report on agriculture!

scrowell: this has been only slightly painful (wrong end of interview). Thanks, @n_web, for opportunity

capitalpress: Yes, thanks @n_web and @scrowell, this has been almost fun! And don’t forget, #gobeavs!

n_web: Hope we can discuss these ag media issues in person one day . . . Have a good day!

#onthefarm with Debbie and Debbie

November 23, 2009

For this week’s #onthefarm, Debbie Lyons-Blythe, a cattle rancher, and Debbie Borg, a row crop farmer, joined me to discuss some general thoughts on women in agriculture. We talked about women’s roles on the farm, their leadership roles with associations, the opportunities in farming and why they are active in social media.

Debbie and Debbie were fantastic (as all my guests are), considering that I think my questions and moderating duties were sub-par. I think owe them (and followers) another “Women in Ag” panel down the line.

At the end of the chat, I asked for people to submit any thoughts they had on women and farming. I received a handful that were quite personal. Thanks to nycUlla, firefighter89cpiersonkuber and mariclefarm for your comments!

Enough jibber-jabber. Hope you enjoy #onthefarm! As always, I appreciate any feedback to make this chat better.


n_web: OK, thanks for joining me today ladies. Hope we can learn some more about your farms and opps for women in ag today! Q1 in a sec. Q1: Give us some background on your family farm. Take a few tweets for that!

DebbieLB: I grew up near Manhattan, KS with my parents & sister. We all worked to raise Angus cattle. When i married, I moved. To my hubby’s family farm near a very small town in KS. We have five teenagers, 500 cattle, and lots of land in Ks tallgrass. I’m 4th gen. My hubby works in town, so I am day-to-day Labor & Management for our ranch!

iamafarmer2: 5th gen, 4 brothers make up the op. and I’m the only sister-in-law involved seasonly. Raise corn & soybeans, 100% no-till and background cattle. Most important crop on the farm: 2 daughters and 1 son. Also have served as President of the NE Soybean Assn. for the last 2 years

n_web: Q2: Let’s get right into the Women in Ag angle: How have women’s roles changed on the farm since you were a child? Q2 follow-up: have they changed? 

DebbieLB: women have always been involved…I hear stories of my grt-gma helping with hay harvest & then cooking the lunch for crew…the biggest change is that women are recognized more now…and publicly. I have no brothers, my sis & I just didn’t know any different! We drove tractors & farm trucks, fed cows & made hay.

iamafarmer2: I didn’t grow up on a working farm -had acreage and raised sheep for 4-H project–so not sure. mother-in-law tells me what she used to do and it doesn’t sound much different than what I do-except the equip is so much bigger

DebbieLB@iamafarmer2 I agree…technology has made it easier for women–less brute strength needed!

n_web: Q3: So, it sounds like it isn’t too much diff. But I would guess there are some misconceptions you hear? Any you care to share? 

DebbieLB: misconceptions?? I think women in any relationship are more a partner today than in previous generations. True in farming too. At my ranch, decisions R made together with Hubby & me talking about options. We each have our own strengths to share. Maybe another misconception is that a woman is all or none, in terms of involvement.

iamafarmer2: Q3  HMMMMM…YES, does the women rlly play a role YES, not just making lunch but involved in the decisions– marketing has become so important and information available and used in making the decisions. Ditto to @DebbieLB most all decisions r made together but know that’s not true on every farm

n_web: Q4: What’s the toughest thing for women to overcome in agriculture?

DebbieLB: when the phone rings in evening & caller asks for Duane (hubby) then asks about bulls 4 sale…Duane hands phone back to me! that’s not really tough, but sometimes is frustrating that caller assumes that Mr. is the one to talk to. we try to laugh!

iamafarmer2: the courage to stand up, be heard and be involved–at most assn. meetings it’s dominated by the male population

iamafarmer2: Well said RT @DebbieLB: maybe another misconception is that a woman is all or none, in terms of involvement.

iamafarmer2: LOL RT @DebbieLB: when the phn rings in evening & caller asks 4 (hubby) then asks abt bulls 4 sale…Duane hands phn back 2 me.

So true @DebbieLB- those are things you LOL and hope that maybe it’ll be different for our daughters

DebbieLB: I agree at mtgs, but I am lucky, the glass ceiling was broken years ago. Women are very prominent at NCBA or KLA mtgs nowadays. I go to the meetings & get involved because I’m the one doing the ranching. Hubby works in town & does my chores I’m gone.

n_web: Q5: Let’s talk about leadership. UR both a part of farm assoc. Have you experienced any problems in being a woman and a leader? “Problems” probably wasn’t the correct word choice there. 

DebbieLB:  I am the 3rd woman president of Ks Angus Association, 1st was my mom, then a good friend. I am in leadership in Ks Lvstk Assoc.. again, my mom was 1st woman pres of KLA. I have no probs @ mtgs feeling comfortable or a vital member. It is when I come home that things r tough. As a woman, I still am expected to be a good housekeeper, feed family, & do the work. My own expectations? I think women are being accepted more and more as advocates, experts & involved managers.

iamafarmer2: LOL Generally no. I would be the first for the NE Soy–but when I have-VERY frustrating. most often I really enjoy my involvement and it is no problem

iamafarmer2@DebbieLB completly agree on all the other stuff–especially the clean house

n_web: Q6: you both mentioned you have daughters. What’s your advice to them about considering staying/leaving the farm? 

DebbieLB: my oldest daughter is in college at KSU…my advice to her has been to do what makes you happy! ranching is hard work…. I encourage all women who want to farm/ranch to go to college…take lots of science, communication & tech classes.

DebbieLB:  I go into mtgs or talk to other ranchers knowing I am a BEEF PRODUCER not a WOMAN beef producer. The attitude is so “yesterday.” Farming is hard work, but if you love it, go for it! It is a wonderful way of life & a great way to connect with family.

iamafarmer2:  I believe there is so much opportunity in AG–people will always need to eat–the rewards are awesome

iamafarmer2:  great point @DebbieLB it is a WAY of life and your business

n_web: Q7: Are those tough conversations? Are those conversations different from when you were making the decision w/your fam?

DebbieLB: which conversations? with my daughters? They are the same I have with my sons. My daughters are oldest 18, 16, sons nxt 15,14,14.

n_web: Q8 from @phildawgkey: what can we do to “help advocate the bright children stay in rural places and ag?” 

DebbieLB: great Q8: we need the best to farm. Bottom line: must make money & provide for family. next, must be happy–preserve this life. I think it is important to provide a means to pass on the farm to next gen. Estate planning discussions important now. Get the younger gen involved in decision making–not just providing labor. My kids & I work together after school a lot! They need to fill important and a vital part of the farm. Making decisions will also show them the realities of farming/ranching.

n_web: Sounds like the true definition of family farming!

DebbieLB:  Q8: reminds me when we came home to hubby’s farm. An old neighbor was really mad at us. He said we were taking income from him. I responded that we were the future and to keep farms vital in KS, people like us HAD to come back & farm.

n_web: Q9: Do you think more young adults are realizing the upside of farming? That they want to stay? Is that a trend worth watching? 

DebbieLB:  I saw a study recently that said adults change jobs/careers today about 8 times in their life. Farming isn’t an easy option. farming requires huge inputs of money & hard work. Young people will come/stay because of the satisfaction. But need support.

iamafarmer2: Q9 at the local community college AG enrollment is up 22%. Of course the trend is worth watching–it’s our future

DebbieLB:  NCBA has created a Young Producers Council, Farm Bureau has a program for young farmers & ranchers…important support! We R doing what we love: it is what we think is best for our family, the land & the animals we own. Hope some of my kids ret

n_web: Q10: You both are involved in Twitter and each have a blog. Why? What’s the benefit? Any “lessons learned” you can share?

DebbieLB:  I tweet to reach out from my little rural life to others in ag & consumers of my product. I blog for the same reasons. This is a global society but if we don’t reach out to tell truth about food production, someone will tell their version. 

iamafarmer2: Q10 Ag must get their story out and SM has allowed me to do that way beyond the coffee shop. 

DebbieLB: I love the #thankafarmer campaign this week. Perfect use of SM for Ag. A wise man once said (@TroyHadrick)… “The work I do online is probably going to have as big an impact on the ability of my kids to {ranch} as my work outside.” 

iamafarmer2: Q10 if farmers and ranchers aren’t the ones talking – then someone else will. The whole reason I started using SM was to protect our current practices so that my kids can farm if they want to 

n_web: Q11: What else is on your mind? What didn’t I ask that you’d like to address here? Particularly about women in ag . . . 

DebbieLB:  Q11: only that women can do anything…Technology & equip has made farming less physical, more scientific! used to be I felt I had to prove myself–bucking hay bales, carrying buckets, etc. Now there are no physical obstacles.

iamafarmer2: Q11 Hope that any female who is interested in ag pursues the path–the greatest industry I have ever been involved with. 

n_web: So SM is an empowerment tool? Do you feel like you’re making a difference?

DebbieLB:  I hope I’m making a difference w/ SM. I get lots of non-ag comments on my blog. That is who I write it for. I gain info too!

iamafarmer2: I don’t know for sure if I’m making a difference–but try to everyday and SM has made it easier to tell our farm story.

n_web: Thanks so much for your time today, Debbie and Debbie. Very insightful. Esp. after my crap-tastic moderating today . . .  Keep up the great work of sharing ag’s stories! 

Post-chat coments:

n_web: OK, if anyone following us today would like to share a story about their grandma/mother/wife/daughter and farming, please do now. 

nycUlla: my mother is the most brave & hard working woman I know. So many great stories. We always worked together as a family.

DebbieLB: THAT’s what it’s all about! RT @nycUlla #onthefarm We always worked together as a family.

firefighter89:  @n_web my daughter is 8 and I can already see the love of ag-she is always helping me & her Dad with chores & she really 

DebbieLB@firefighter89 Thx for sharing abt your daughter! I love having kids help w/ farm chores!! 

cpiersonkuber: Role of ag #women extends beyond the #farm R&D science, marketing, journalism, distribution, education; all #ag areas incl women 

iamafarmer2: Very well said RT @cpiersonkuber: Role of ag #women extends beyond the#farm marketing, journalism, dist. ed all #ag areas –

mariclefarm:  I appreciate the warm welcome I have received with ag association work as a young female ag advocate

#onthefarm with Gene Hall

November 15, 2009

For Friday’s #onthefarm, I chatted with Gene Hall, director of public relations for the Texas Farm Bureau. I picked Gene for this because: I wanted to talk with someone from Texas; I haven’t visited with a Farm Bureau representative since August with @agripundit; the Texas Farm Bureau is trying to get its producers involved in social media to tell ag’s story; and Texas just recently passed Prop 11, a property rights bill that the Texas Farm Bureau supported.

I thought the scope of the conversation would lean toward policy, such as Prop 11, but I was pleasantly surprised that we talked about public relations and how farmers can tell their story in the media. Gene had a couple great lines (as all of the #onthefarm guests do). I think this was my favorite:

“A young farmer blogging on a regular basis would be communications gold.”

I think there are a few farmers blogging (check out the Blogroll on the right). But I think Gene’s point is that agriculture’s needs a few farmers consistently blogging every single day. That’s hard, as many farmers’ schedules are packed with 12-16 hour days as it is. If one farmer in each state could pick up blogging though, it’d be a great way for agriculture to connect to non-aggies.

OK, enough commentary from me. Here’s the transcript of the interview, with Gene’s tweets condensed, and some of mine rearranged to match Gene’s answers.

As always, let me know if you have any suggestions to improve.




n_web: Gene is in PR with Texas Farm Bureau. You can learn more about TXFB here: www.txfb.org. You can also read TXFB’s blog: http://www.txfb.org/TxAgTalks/. Hey Gene! Thanks for joining me today. Q1 coming up in 2 minutes!

TxAgPRGuy: Looking forward to it. 

n_web: Q1: Tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do for Texas Farm Bureau. Take a few tweets!

TxAgPRGuy: I am a Texas Aggie, a former television reporter and with Tx Farm Bureau 32 years – the last 19 as director of PR. I live in Waco, our HQ location. I have 3 sons and a brand new granddaughter. I am passionate about Tx farm and ranch families. Our mission is to tell the story of Texas agri and the people of the land. We are politically active. We focus on the issues. We, like others, are striving to make our organization relevant in new age of communication. Remember, I once shot 16mm film! 

n_web: Want to get to the communication part in a few. Q2: Why is the organization important for farmers? What do you do for them? 

TxAgPRGuy: Farm Bureau provides a collective voice for farmers and ranchers. We pay a lot of attention to policy development. We know at the end of PD what they are for. We represent their interests in Austin and DC. Lobbying. We also have a PAC-AGFUND. Again, our grassroots is involved in PAC decisions. In PR, we use various comm products to move the agenda and tell the story. We have many publics to comm with. Members, farmers, opinion leaders and others. One voice on the farm is just one. Through FB policy, we can speak with authority and influence. A trade organization like others. 

n_web: OK, let’s move to the PR. Q3: What media do you use to connect? Is MSM still the best to connect to public? Or is that changing? 

TxAgPRGuy: Our recent research says TV is still King, newspapers still relevant, but the web is gaining. We pitch a lot of stories to MSM. We were big on video news releases in the past but we do most of that on the web. I am a student of the Obama campaign on that. When it comes to comm w farmers/ranchers, it seems print is still best. Costly though. Broadband is still challenge for rural tx. More of our members are online. We’ve equipped our cnty pres with laptops and use email. We are organizing a social media team. In short, we are aggressive on all the available channels of communication.

n_web: Q4: So is the Web more for your city cousins? Until high-speed reaches more rural areas? Is that a possible strategy? Follow-up: what’s been the response from farmers/ranchers on your Web presence?

TxAgPRGuy: That is the idea behind the blog and optimizing our site for searches. We are hoping to increase our profile in that way. Not to minimize the potential of using the web and sm to comm with farmers and ranchers. Definitely growing in that regard. Farmers who’ve looked at the web are intrigued. Some intimidated before trying. Those we’ve persuaded to try Facebook are fascinated. We have launched the Texas Ag Challenges Team. Farmers and ranchers who will use soc med and MSM to deliver our messages. We are very excited about the potential of that. We know the public wants to engage farmers. More engagement, less “education.”

n_web: Q6: Can you explain the “intrigue” comment? For most people, it’s unthinkable not to be connected somehow. Follow-up: This may go back to the broadband challenges. Not many may know high-speed and wireless are hard to find in rural area.

TxAgPRGuy: I think the lack of broadband in rural areas has put some of our people behind the curve. That’s being addressed now. And some of our people are older and less familiar with computers. We are addressing this with substantial investments of our own. To explain, I think many of our members are getting the idea of just how powerful a tool this all is. The younger members get it. We are moving forward. I like where we are but perhaps a little behind the “city cousins” as you put it. Get a group of farmers together to talk PR, and they will say “education.”

n_web: This goes back to your engagement comment, right? 

TxAgPRGuy: It’s been a challenge to move them to “engagement.” The idea is to get our members to talk about what they do on the farm. Not just issues but day to day activity. Getting the public to understand why we do what we do will come from engagement.

n_web: Speaking of the city: Q7 via @osuextensionguy: How has growth of 20 major Texas metros affected perception of state ag issues? 

TxAgPRGuy: A real challenge. Tx is one of the most urban states in US despite wide open spaces. With city folks 3 generations from farm, we have a disconnect. That’s why the web and soc med is such an important tool. We are working toward vid and other info on the website, driving traffic back to view. We are just getting started on that. This can be issues related, but I don’t want to overlook the human interest and other stories with which farm life is truly rich. We have a tremendous weight of negative coverage to overcome with people who no longer have a personal connection with farm life 

n_web: Q8: Along those lines, how do you feel ag coverage is in the state? Is it stereotypical? Does it fit a certain narrative? 

TxAgPRGuy: When I came to TxFB in 1977, there were 24 radio farm directors. Now 3 or 4. We started our our radio net in 2001 to address this. Most of the ag coverage now is aimed at consumers. It tends to be formulaic and sensational. Growing our on coverage via the website is a partial solution, but for the immediate future we will need to cultivate the MSM. We have an active message development program. We have to remember that the concerns consumers have are real. Addressing honestly.

n_web: Q9: So how are you doing that, cultivating rel. with MSM? Can you share tactics? Are other FBs doing this too? 

TxAgPRGuy: In working with media, my rule is address the reporters needs. Be considerate of deadlines and needs. But don’t forget the message. I’ve never bought in to media bias that much. A lot of it is ignorance of the way modern ag works. Yes, I think most FBs are doing this. Relationships with people. The reporter that gets what she needs will put you in the Outlook 

n_web: Plus, reporters have 15 inches or 90 seconds to tell a story . . .

TxAgPRGuy: We teach that in our spokesman training course. We can take a lesson from politics, where “the message of the day” of emphasized. TV, radio and even newspapers to certain extent are poor mediums for heavy detail. Hit the important stuff. Personal experience. Editors ask – How does this affect my readers? And, Is it interesting. We have to find ways to make our stories interesting. Texas is a big state – planting corn if Rio Grande Valley in Feb. June in the Panhandle. Much diversity. Varying climate 

n_web: Q10: But the Web is where you can go into detail. Are you encouraging the younger farmers/ranchers to blog? 

TxAgPRGuy: Yes, we are beginning to teach that. We hope that some of the superstars on the Tx AG Chal Team will be inspired to do that. A young farmer blogging on a regular basis would be communications gold.

n_web: I tell FFAers: start writing. In the corporate world, there are a ton of bad writers! You can stand out asap!

n_web: Q11: OK, let’s spend the last 10 min hitting the issues TxFB is working on. Looks like you’re rolling already. Go ahead! 

TxAgPRGuy: National issues like cap and trade are very big with us now and estate taxes reform is getting traction again. The est tax reform would cut tax on estates to 35% over $5 million per person in the family. That would take care of most farmers. If we don’t act on est taxes this year, we revert back to the old formula. 55% and exempt only $1 mil. Farmers have high value in land equip and livestock but not cash to pay estate tax when prim owner dies. We lose farms this way. On cap and trade. I still can’t believe we are seriously considering this. Other nations will be only too glad to supply our food. And burn a lot of fossil fue doing so. We really need to be thinking about those 9 billion mouths to feed in 2050.

n_web: Q12: What about trade? Texas has ports. What would free trade agreements (or lack of) mean to the state? 

TxAgPRGuy: The hostility of the current admin on trade is troubling. We need free trade agreements. NAFTA has been a boon to Texas agri. We will always have trade disputes, but the agreements give us a framework for working them out. Someone once said – Free trade is the greatest gift a government can give its people, but one that is always unpopular. Paraphrase. We export a third of crop production. Think of the jobs and econ activity that generates. We must have open trade for ag to prosper.

n_web: Q13: Time is almost up. What else is on your mind? What did I miss asking? Parting words? 

TxAgPRGuy: I appreciate the opportunity. We all need to use our combined Twitter and socmed networks to spread the message! 

featherchick@n_web and @TxAgPRGuy  Jeannine here from Illinois/Indiana AgriNews, can u address value of talking to/utilizing ag media? Thx. Do u consider ag media to be of value to you or not so much? 

TxAgPRGuy: If we have time-most ag reporters/writers today connect with non farm audiences in a social way. the only way for them to survive. This is sometimes a powerful way to reach audiences who have a personal relationship with someone they’ve never met! We should continue to cultivate these because they are a connection to the past, and farm life, that many know they’ve missed. That’s the way farm writers and bcasters have survived. Jack Dillard in Shreveport and East Texas is a good example. I consider farm media very valuable to what we do. connection with farmrs and consumers 

n_web: That’s a good point, Gene. I see more ag media on Twitter and blogging. Gets their reach beyond trad. ag aud. Ag media does a more than fair job in covering agribiz. Helps my company and all others connect to farmers 

n_web: Gene, thanks for the time. Hope you find it worthwhile. I think we’ll call it a day early! Got a Johnnie Walker waiting for me. 

TxAgPRGuy: If that’s it…Thank you all! Gene 

n_web: Thanks to all who followed. I’ll have the transcript up over the weekend.

#onthefarm with Don Stotts

November 6, 2009

For Thursday’s #onthefarm, I chatted with Don Stotts of Oklahoma State’s agricultural communications department. Don is one of the few university ag folks that I’ve found on Twitter (please direct me to more if you have suggestions), and I was interested to get his perspective as a member of a land-grant institution—what’s happening at Oklahoma State, trends the school is seeing in program popularity, and what the future may hold for ag schools.

While the conversation tilted heavily toward Oklahoma State, I think there were a couple interesting items to pop out of the chat that are worth watching.

Ag Econ majors, focusing on rural and economic development, are popular at OSU. I know this area is very important to many farmers: keeping and bringing more jobs to rural areas.

The ag school awards $600,000 more in scholarships than the next closest school. That’s amazing. I’ll have to look at the other land-grants for comparison. But the takeway from that is that the schools and the alumni recognize the role ag plays in the United States and globally.

Finally, as Don mentions below, the future for land grants looks like more collaboration among schools and states to address societal and economic issues.

Hope you enjoy reading. And as always, let me know if you feel there are ways to improve it.

Thanks for reading,


n_web: Hey Don! Thanks for joining me today. Let’s get started. Q1: Tell me about what you do at Oklahoma State. Take a couple tweets.   

osuextensionguy: I’ve been at #okstate since 1987 overall. In that time, my work has encompassed print, broadcast, more. My work in News and Media Relations encompasses local, state, regional, national and international efforts. I’ve been printed about everywhere, publications large and small, et al. I’ve worked with all facets of the land-grant system. Call me writer, editor, marketer, with broadcast thrown in at different times. Former Ag Comm Services director (the dark side!).

n_web: Q2: Give me a little background on OK State and then its ag school. 

osuextensionguy:  #okstate has 5 branch campuses, with the main one located in Stillwater, halfway between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. College town! OSU has about 32,000 students, overall. It’s a Truman Honor Institution, one of only about 15 in the US. Ag played a major role. One of the highest totals of Truman Scholars in nation. Quite a few are from Ag Econ; at one point, for several years in a row. The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources has 2,041 undergrads and 461 graduate students. There are actually more graduate students than the official #. They multidisciplinary and so are counted differently. Big college emphasis on advisement and working with students to attain their personal goals. Huge Student Academic Mentor program. 41% of OSU ag students engage in study abroad. President of Ag Careers was up the other day, called it “critical” to do this.

n_web: Q3: what’s the most popular program in the ag school right now? Any trends you see?   

osuextensionguy: Animal science is always popular, and is the largest department. They are seeing more and more non-traditional students. Big spike in natural resources: Wildlife ecology and fire ecology, in particular, along with traditional forestry. Ag Economics is quite popular. A lot of students interested in the rural development and economic development options. Have one of the largest and most decorated ag communications major programs in the US. Very popular. Plant and soil sciences continues to draw. Students enjoy the cutting-edge science in the classroom, and many opportunities. Horticulture has always been big. We’re a big gardening and turfgrass state, with ties to industry, homeowners and sports.

n_web: Q4: Has OSU seen any good success stories from grads in the rural and econ. development area? Maybe the better Q is: “what are some good OSU grad success stories, no mater the area?” But part in rural dev, for me. :)

osuextensionguy:   Academics receives great public support. We give out nearly $1 million in scholarships to OSU ag students every year. The next closest college on campus trails by more than $600,000 in terms of scholarships awarded. Generous support of ag donors. Tons of alumni successes. Many of Oklahoma’s industry leaders are alumni, in both ag and other endeavors. Many state and national legislative leaders are OSU ag graduates. Longtime leader of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission. Many others. My sister is an ag ed graduate. She is the vice president of a bank. (No booing; her bank is one of the good ones). We’ve got OSU ag alumni working w/ Oklahoma’s 39 tribal nations. Some of the nation’s leading researchers have an OSU ag tie.

n_web: Q5 from @rebeccahannam: what’s unique about OK State? To the audience: Please, no jokes from OU or Big 12ers out there!  

osuextensionguy The college part does very well, as do our two state agencies: Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station and Oklahoma Coop Ext. Given what is going on nationwide, it might be the level of support re: the land-grant mission, esp. county based Extension. Our county based Extension educators and area, district and state specialists are generally very well received. The Division of Ag Sciences and Natural Resources accounts for 37% of the research expenditures at OSU, all of it practical. We host a number of national website, such as Breeds of Livestock. We are home to the National Institute for Microbial Forensics and Food and Agricultural Biosecurity (NIMFFAB). Thinks CSI- Ag. NIMFFAB works closely with FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, state and local law enforcement, et al. Important work. NIMFFAB helps train law enforcement scientists who to determine what is natural or manmade, ag-related crime scene mgmt, et al.

n_web: Q6: You mentioned 41% of ag students study abroad. Is it encouraged? Why does OSU believe this “critical?” Follow-up: Do you know if other ag schools are encouraging study abroad?

osuextensionguy:   Very critical. Ag is very much part of a global marketplace. What happens abroad has an effect in US. Excellent training. In terms of research, shared studies abroad give heads-up to solving problems here in US. Ex: Parts of Africa = Southern Plains. A number of Colleges of Agriculture are striving to turn out graduates who can help industry compete globally.  Here is tidbit: Grab your school-age child and go to OSU’s digital diagnostics webpage for entomology. Educational and fun. Agriculture is becoming increasingly complex, with as many social considerations as technical. More and more laws as well.

n_web: Q7: from @Fastline: “what do you say to ppl who say I don’t need an #ag degree to farm? I hear that a lot”

osuextensionguy: If you don’t get a degree, at least frequent Extension meetings, where science-based info is turned into practical programs. It’s possible to farm without a degree. But education gives one a leg up in dealing with new technology and other pressures. Example: Cattle that have 3 or more bouts of disease produce lower-quality meat. That’s recent OSU ag science at work.

n_web: Q8: I really like the SUNUP pieces. Can you talk about those and, really, OK State’s overall ag presence on the web and in SM?

osuextensionguy SUNUP is our ag TV show. It was on the air originally for 16 years, off for several and now has come back. Available on the Web. SUNUP topics are ag specific, practical, with an emphasis on helping producers w/ key decisions. Latest info, easy to access. SUNUP has feature stories, seasonal emphases, markets, and even shop talk where “on-the-farm engineers” can pick up hints. You can view it on the Web at http://www.dasnr.okstate.edu I tweet direct links every Monday after weekend show on TV. On average, more than 1.05 million people attend 22,500 Ext. educational meetings, demos, and conferences in Oklahoma annually.

n_web: Q9: Do you see more schools taking to the Web to reach farmers?

osuextensionguy: The Web is used to enhance traditional Ext. face-to-face meetings, w/ more and more happening online all the time. Interactivity is the key. People can ask questions directly, view relevant publications, watch videos, sign up for meetings… It’s like peeling the layers of an onion: You go as deep as you need to go online. It’s individualized to person.

  n_web: which means the school and the Ext. will be producing more and more content . . . funding needs to stay up then, right? 

osuextensionguy Always a challenge, the funding issue. The goal is to provide useful programs during good times and bad. Content is the key. Basically, Division of Ag Sciences and Natural Resources looks to add value to people’s lives. Land-grant mission, right there.

n_web: Q10: We were very specific to OSU ag here, but what are your thoughts on the future of ag schools/Ext. in general? do you see more collaboration among schools and states? More study abroad? More specialized programs?

osuextensionguy Live the land-grant mission. Schools must remain true to self and work on concerns/issues of residents, statewide & regionally. More and more. It’s as much a funding issue as anything. It takes a multidisciplinary approach given today’s complex issues. Ex: OSU Biofuels Team is made up of scientists and engineers from several OSU colleges, as well as OU, Brigham Young, others. Ag leads the biofuels charge. OSU’s efforts have led to programs provided for U.S. Legislature, others, by direct request. Okla. Gov. created a bioenergy center that brings together OK State, OU, and The Noble Foundation. Lots of interest and support.

n_web: Q11: Last one: anything you’d like to cover that I didn’t?  

osuextensionguy If you want to see some of our crop research results? Visit http://croptrials.okstate.edu/ Interested in entomology, for production and/or fun? Visit http://www.ento.okstate.edu/ SUNUP has 6,114 new viewers in last six months. Doesn’t include youtube, just direct to the OSU website. Watch. It’s pretty good.  

n_web: Don, thanks so much for the time today! Great to learn more about what’s happening at one of our fine land-grant institutions. 

osuextensionguy Thanks, Nick. It was fun. Now if I can just take care of my digitlexia and do away with typos. And, of course, “Go Redbirds!”

n_web: Thanks to those who followed. Hope you found it enjoyable. I’ll have the transcript on the blog tonight or tomorrow morning.  

n_web: If I can keep this going long enough, maybe I’ll be able to hit all of the land grants . . . I’m aim for the Big 12 for now :)  

#onthefarm with Ray Prock

November 1, 2009

On Oct. 30, I interviewed Ray Prock (@RayLinDairy) for #onthefarm. Ray is the second dairy farmer that I interviewed. When I interviewed Will Gilmer of @gilmerdairy back in August, the dairy industry was undergoing some tough times. Ray confirmed times are still tough two months later, especially in California, where Ray and others are dealing with stricter regulations than the rest of the country. Ray was also very open about his family farm, which is run in two states by he, two brothers and his father. I hope it gives you a glimpse into a modern farmer’s operation.

For the second part of the interview, we discussed Ray’s involvement in social media. Ray is an avid user, and he gives great reasons why aggies should get involved.

On a personal note, I really want to thank all those who followed the interview on Friday afernoon. I’m glad Ray and I were able to keep your attention for 90 minutes. Ray gave you quite a few good lines to retweet!

So, here’s Friday’s #onthefarm. I apologize that I moved it from Thursday to Friday on short notice, and that it took more than two days to get it posted to the blog.

Oh, and make sure you check out Ray’s blog: http://raylindairy.wordpress.com/



n_web: There’s Ray. Thanks for joining me this afternoon. Let’s talk some dairy and social media. Q1 coming up. Q1: Take a few tweets to give a bio and some background on your family dairy farm.

RayLinDairy: Thanks Nick I appreciate the opportunity that this gives farmers like myself to let ourselves be heard through. I am a 2nd generation dairy farmer in Central CA. My parents started the dairy in the early 70’s. We currently milk ~425 cows in on the dairy & farm ~130 acres with ~50 acres of pasture. On the farmground we raise Corn Silage, Forage Silage (Oat/Wheat mixture), & R currently cutting the 3rd crop of the yr Sudan. We also raise our own Alfalfa & Oat hay on a ranch near @jefffowle in Klamath Falls, OR on ~450 of the 1200 acres we have there. I manage the dairy portion of our operation and have 2 brothers along with my Father involved in the whole operation

n_web: Q2: Interesting, farming in 2 states. What’s that like? Can you share the strategy behind that?

RayLinDairy: Land cost was the biggest factor we needed to grow the operation to handle bringing in another family member. Diversifying was an added benefit the ranch needed a lot of TLC and we are finally seeing the benefits of that being done. The quality and quantity of feed coming from there has increased drastically with balanced fertilizer and soil management. As far as cost the 1200 acres in OR was purchased for the same $ 60 acres in our are would have cost

n_web: Q3: Can you explain the dynamic of your family operation? I’m guessing dad has a lot to say in what the boys do? :)

RayLinDairy: Q3 yes we are dealing with the new way versus old right now i.e. To me the computer is a tool to Dad it is a “Gizmo.” We are currently trying to work through a transition plan to move into a new “era” of management. I tend to manage the dairy or cow portion my brother here handles the farming and dad works between K Falls and here. The K-Falls operation is handled by another Brother.

n_web: Q4: So last time I chatted with a dairy guy (@gilmerdairy) for this, times were tough. Have they improved over past 2 mos?

RayLinDairy: There is light at the end of our economic crisis tunnel. Biggest question now is can we get there? We R so far behind we’re running out of equity to borrow against. Most dairies right now R getting to the end of the credit rope

n_web: Q5: What have you done to hang in there? Can you give specific examples?

RayLinDairy: We had already leaned out in prev yrs by doing as much repair work in house I handle 98% of the dairy equipment repair. Cutting the middleman out of our hay buying helped also. Otherwise it was just watching the bottom line.

n_web: One or two more Qs on dairy and then on to SM: Q6: What rules/regs do you abide by that would surprise non-aggies? I guess the point of that Q is to learn more about what you have to do as a farmer to bring dairy products to my table.

RayLinDairy: In our area of CA we just recently came under new Environmental regulations that are the tightest in the nation. The estimated additional costs 2 the avg dairy is ~$30-40K yr & this is unrecoverable because we don’t set the $ we sell R milk 4. We also have extensive food safety regulations to meet Dairy is most regulated food source from harvest to consumption. The milk Parlor on a dairy is inspected similar to restaurants and food processing facilities. I failed to mention the Environmental regs cover both water and air quality. To meet the environmental reg we have installed several measures to contain water on our facility for reuse.

n_web: Q7: so does the add. costs mean the dairy industry is struggling in CA? Can that mean you’ll see an exodus of dairy from CA?

RayLinDairy: Q7 More than likely most new dairies will be built outside of CA. 4 example Hilmar Cheese Co’s decision to build a plant in TX. Dairy is struggling nationwide. CA’s cost of production advantage is rapidly eroding if not gone completely.

n_web: Q9: Let’s turn to some positive stuff: You’re active in SM. What got you into it? Are  your brothers interested? What’s the value?

RayLinDairy: SM addiction started w/ a webinar from Dairy Marketing Inc. and then @mpaynknoper threw more fuel on the fire. No one else in the operation looks at a computer or technology the way I do. The value isn’t 4 me personally or my biz directly however Ag in general so as to help the public understand why we do what we do. SM for me is the easiest way to connect with the most people rapidly I can connect with more ppl here daily than @ a supermarket. I am actually refocusing on relationships & the convo that comes from them in my SM activities. SM also allows many like minded individuals take down geographical barriers and collaborate on projects

n_web: Q10: As a farmer, do you feel a bit rejuvenated by SM? As in, you have more control over your story now?

RayLinDairy:  SM makes it easier for me to be an advocate for Ag & farming and still stay on the farm to manage my business. If I had to travel to meet as many people as I have through SM I would not have time to do my daily job or have family time. SM is allowing the Farmer to get their voice back and reach out beyond their fencelines to all parts of the globe. SM has also made new connections on a local level i.e. the trip @modesto6 & his family made 2 my dairy & the resulting video. In short I think SM is one of the best things to become available to Ag & farmers

n_web: Q11: You are a part of a new group, @Farm2U. Can you explain that? I think it goes back to your “geographical/collab” comment …

RayLinDairy: Q11 Yes @farm2u was born out of a collaboration between @farmerhaley @kansasfarmer & I. The idea is to allow a person to connect to a farmer easily with no politics or hard sell just relational convo. We have also worked together to help focus our message through SM. Funny thing is we have never personally met. We were looking into a “list” style project long B4 Twitter Lists among other projects

n_web: So @Farm2U sounds like it’s more of a “customer service representative” type of SM. Fair to say?

RayLinDairy: Yes exactly. The team concept behind @farm2u is to spread the workload and to hopefully not affect our personal SM efforts. The @farm2u account is also strictly a from the “farmer” by the “farmer” project

n_web: OK, I like audience Qs, so I have two and then we’ll let Ray get back to providing our dairy products.

n_web: Q: (wished to remain anonymous): can you address today’s veal slaughterhouse news, how to create value 4 male dairy calves?

RayLinDairy: Through the use of technology and science we are moving towards more Artificial Insemination products that are sorted for sex. Through the use of this technology & w/ the combination of a better market indicator system the number of male calves should B <

n_web: Q from @JeffFowle: “Does Ray think the current Herd Reduction will be more effective than the last? Why or why not?”

RayLinDairy: The herd reduction program IMO is a band aid and the true problem is to create a system w/ better market signals 2 the farmer. If we can get the correct market indicators the supply should be indicative of the signal. We need a method of clearing the market when the supply is out of control

n_web: OK, last Q: Anything else you want people to know about? Your time to pitch!

RayLinDairy: Just that we as farmers using SM are here to answer questions about how we raise/grow food. We as farmers/ranchers care greatly about our animals, our environment, and our communities.

n_web: Thanks for your time today, Ray. Educational as always. Sorry I kept you around an extra 30 min. Hope everyone enjoyed it!

RayLinDairy: No problem Nick I am more than willing to do my part to help others learn about how I farm.

RayLinDairy: Thanks @n_web for #onthefarm it is a great idea to get a farmers perspective

n_web: Thanks to all who watched. I’ll have the transcript up on my blog over the weekend, probably Sunday night. Have a good one!

#onthefarm with Celeste Laurent

October 21, 2009

The National FFA Convention started this week, so I thought this week would be a great time to highlight the association and youth in ag. The idea came to me late, so I wasn’t able to plan for an interview with @nationalffa. But, I knew there are plenty of aggies out there who are FFA alumni, so I knew the resource pool is deep.

But one person, Celeste Laurent, stuck out in my mind. First, I knew she was a student Western Kentucky University, so the youth part matched what I was looking for. Second, I’ve followed her for a while on Twitter and have picked up on her commitment to advocating for agriculture, particularly at WKU. Third, she said she’s missing her first FFA Convention in six years, so she could discuss her experiences with FFA and in Indianapolis. And fourth, I knew she followed #onthefarm, because she’s tweeted from class that she’s following the interviews instead of the professor!

So Celeste and I talked about her ag background, her experience in FFA, the best parts of FFA Week and what she thinks about the future of agriculture from a young adult perspective.

She was another great interview. A couple things stood out for me:

Ag is in good hands. Every FFAer I’ve met has been polite, well-spoken and passionate about promoting agriculture. It was only an hour-long Twitter interview, but Celeste exhibited these characteristics.

FFAers have their stuff together. Celeste and her friends have taken upon themselves to become subject matter experts in things they’re passionate about. You’ll see that below with Celeste’s commitment to bring awareness about H1N1.

Like Mike Ver Steeg from last week, Celeste had a couple one-liners that should be standard messages to insert into conversations. Maybe I’m new to seeing these messages, and they’ve been around for a while, but I think they are a must-have for aggies.

OK, enough blabbering. Here’s this week’s #onthefarm interview with Celeste. As always, let me know if there’s something I can do to make this better.

Oh, one more thing: Ag pubs: Check out her blog at www.celestelaurent.com. She’s wants to be a journalist!



n_web: It’s National FFA week, and I figured FFA would be a bit busy . . . so I decided to tap Celeste, who’s been to FFA 6 times. We can get her perspective on FFA week and what the assoc. has meant to her. Also to talk about being an colleg ag student. Celeste is a student at Western Kentucky U. You can learn more about her at her Web site: http://celestelaurent.com/ . OK Celeste, are you ready to get started?

celestelaurent: Ready to go!

n_web: Q1: I gave a short intro, but tell us a bit more about your background. Take a few tweets.

celestelaurent: I grew up on a family owned beef cattle operation in West KY. My 4 siblings & I show pigs & started raising our own in 2006. I always loved the livestock industry & through FFA’s speaking contests & workshops I was able to share that love with others. I served as chapter president, regional president, and ran for state office in 2007 & was blessed to be elected State Secretary. Life after FFA was learning to tell ag’s story w/o a blue jacket at WKU. I now double major in animal science & journalism.

n_web: Q2: Tell me a bit about FFA, high-level stuff first. Good background for our non-aggie friends.

celestelaurent: FFA is largest youth leadership org in the world with over 500,000 members from all 50 states, the Virgin Islands & Puerto Rico. FFA centers on ag education in the classroom, the SAE (Supervised Ag Experience or “project”) and FFA competition/involvement. Not all FFA members are farm kids. Many are interested in veterinary medicine, floriculture, landscaping, biotechnology, etc…

n_web: Q3: That’s something I just found out this yr. Can you talk about the rural/suburban/urban makeup of FFA? What things can a rural chapter and an urban chapter have in common?

celestelaurent: Rural chapters focus on adding to the farm background most kids already have through communication, leadership, service.  Suburban chpts find common ground btw farm kids & urban kids. They allow students to teach each other by sharing experiences. Urban chpts focus on ag in urban areas (greenhouses, floriculture, meat science) & how they can fit into the industry from a city. No matter the location all FFA chapters focus on developing premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through ag ed

n_web: Q4: What drew you to be an FFAer? What made you stay active in the association?

celestelaurent: My mom was a state officer in Louisiana so she convinced me to pay my dues. I had a great ag teacher who kept me motivated. My ag teacher “informed” me that I would be competing in a speaking contest & attending national convention as a freshman. The opening session of that @nationallffa convention was inspiring. I set 3 goals that day: 1) Represent KY on the national stage 2) get my American Degree 3) run for state office Proud to say I achieved all 3 of them!

 n_web: Awesome! Speaking of . . . Q5: I hear there’s this FFA convention happening this week in Indianapolis? What’s that all about? :)

celestelaurent: The greatest week of the year! lol National convention allows members from across the country to meet & compete on national level. Career show is packed w/awesome ag companies, FFA sponsors, & colleges. Great chance 4 members to network within industry. The sessions are amazing! National officers inspire & speakers motivate. So sad I’m missing Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs this yr! If ur in Indy this week u can’t help but be inspired by the blanket of blue jackets downtown Looks like the future of ag 2me!

n_web: Q6: What was the best part of the convention for you? Most rewarding? And what can they do to make it better?

celestelaurent: I LOVE listening to the National Officers retiring addresses. Even if I’ve never met them I’m still touched by their words. Most rewarding: carrying the KY flag into a session. For that 10 minutes I was the face of KY FFA to thousands of ppl! National Convention is so awesome I don’t know what would make it better….that’s a tough one!

n_web: Wow. I’m impressed by every FFAer that I’ve met (incl. you via Twitter). All of you are honored to be a part of the association.

celestelaurent: It is an honor. Every time u zip up ur FFA jacket u maybe the only face of ag someone ever sees…that’s a lot of responsibility!

n_web: Q7: Let’s talk about life after FFA: you mentioned earlier you have to promote ag w/o the blue jacket. How do you do that at WKU?

celestelaurent: It took some getting used to! I was so accustomed to being “State Secretary Celeste” that I forgot how to be just plain Celeste! I really dove into my journalism studies. In FFA I gave a speech to 1000 ppl max. Through writing I can touch so many more! I also got really involved in the WKU Block & Bridle Club. It focuses on the same things as FFA but specifically for animal ag. I am also still active in the KY FFA Alumni. I volunteer at the State Convention as the public relations intern.

n_web: Wow, you’re still pretty darn active. 

n_web: Q8: As a student you may have a fresh perspective: what’s your sense of the future of ag? What are the “kids” saying nowadays?

celestelaurent: We know its up to agriculturalists to create ag’s future. If we “just farm” we won’t have any control, we have to advocate too! Each of my friends has a soap box: for me its “Call it H1N1” for my roommate its “EAT BEEF” & for another its defend. So many more students want to be ag lobbyists. Its great to see they realize the need for ag’s voice in the political realm

n_web: Interesting. So you each take a topic area and decide to become the most knowledgable about that? I guess you share that info 2?

celestelaurent: Each stays up to date on the topics we’re interested in. I dk as much about BEEF as Molly so she handles the e coli q’s. Even prof’s email me w/”they’re not calling it H1N1, what do we do?” lol When a campus reporter needs a source I know who 2go to.

n_web: That’s great. Sounds like you’ve got a nice idea there. It’s all about making yourself available to answer ag questions, right?

celestelaurent: Exactly! Ive learned during the H1N1 stuff that few reporters know who 2call for ag source. No wonder many don’t get whole story!

n_web: Q9 from @lemonthyme5, Tuscola, IL FFA Chapter: “What are her plans for the future? I love to hear of student aspirations!”
celestelaurent: I hope to write for an ag publication. I’m not picky lol I love animal ag & I love keeping youth involved in ag. So long as I’m helping one of those two groups I’ll be happy!

n_web: Well, I hope there are a few ag trade pubs out there following this . . . maybe you’ll land another internship through Twitter :) OK, final Q: is there anything else you’d like to add? Something I missed that you’d like to say?

celestelaurent: Don’t be afraid to talk 2 journalists If u see a reporter at an ag event go talk to them. Chances are they’ll appreciate the help

n_web: Thanks a ton for joining me bright and early for this. Great insight into FFA and what’s happening with ag youth. I wish we had more time to chat! Best wishes with school and promoting ag! Folks, it sounds like we have a great agvocate here!

celestelaurent: I’ve enjoyed it! Hope the followers did too. Make sure to follow @nationalffa and @ffaeditor for continued convention tweets. Thanks, I’ve really enjoyed visiting. Thanks a lot to @lemonthyme5 for submitting a question!

celestelaurent: Gotta head to class, wonder what my journalism classmates will think when I tell them had a “twitter-view” this morning lol

n_web: Well that was a fun one. Hope those following enjoyed it.