Social Agriculture

Farmers seeking the latest information on prices and crop conditions are more likely to check their Twitter feed before calling their broker as social media plays a bigger role in how producers are managing their farms and their positions.

Market participants around the world often use social media to share perspectives, insights and strategies. The U.S. farmer is no exception. Farmers have been accessing information about markets and opinions on a range of topics ever since rural areas have had internet and cell phone reception. Now websites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are becoming important information sources with the added benefit of being able to connect to a global agricultural network.

Karl Setzer, commodity trading adviser for MaxYield Cooperative in West Bend, Iowa, has been active in web-based farming communications ever since the co-op launched its website in the early 1990s. Setzer personally finds Twitter to be the most helpful of all the social media tools. It is transparent, privacy levels are easily set and the information is out instantaneously. Some people will even tweet trades they have done and why, he adds. With social media websites available on smart phones, farmers can be alerted to fast-developing trends and easily access markets even from their combines.

Tanner Ehmke, a fifth-generation wheat, rye and triticale producer in western Kansas, said his blog and LinkedIn have helped him converse with producers internationally regarding crop conditions and to get advice for particular problems. “It doesn’t replace the K-State agronomist, but for someone like me, a young farmer, I can talk to other younger farmers,” Ehmke says.

Both Ehmke and Setzer say it is hard to pinpoint any economic benefit from social media, but Setzer said the greatest benefit is the outreach. “A good salesman should have 12 points of contact a year with their clients. With social media – because my email column is syndicated and with the Tweets, we figured I have 1.7 million points of contact a year (with all clients combined). That’s a bare bones estimate,” he states

In the past few years internet connections have improved, Setzer says, and now most farmers have access to high speed broadband connections. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has helped with funding for broadband connectivity in rural areas which might not have otherwise attracted private investment in infrastructure building. Internet connectivity is so strong in some areas that it is superior to cell phones, particularly in isolated regions. Setzer said farmers might carry two cell phones from two different carriers because of cellular dead zones.

Setzer reports that he has about 1,100 followers on Twitter. While it is a great tool to get to know people and access data, he cautions that it is easy to get complacent. Twitter might feel intimate, but it is not a true personal connection. “What I say on the website, in an email, on Twitter is not any different than what anyone else said,” says Seltzer “You still need to keep the personal connections to avoid going from being a client to an account.”

Follow @tannerehmke and @ksetzergrains on Twitter to learn additional perspectives from Ehmke and Setzer.

Debbie Carlson has focused on commodities for much of her writing career. She spent more than a decade at Dow Jones covering the Chicago-based futures exchanges. As a Dow Jones editor, she worked closely with The Wall Street Journal and Barron's in planning commodities coverage.

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