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TWEETING FARMERS

If tweeting farmers seems like a far-fetched idea, think again. Much of agriculture is now high tech and that includes farmers who are turning more and more to social media for a variety of reasons.

“Just like the rest of the population, farmers’ use of Facebook, blogs and other social media has increased and is now an important part of their business communication,” said Bob Ratliff, director of agriculture communications for the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

The Extension Service does not have social media training specifically for farmers, but Mariah Smith, an assistant professor in the university’s Computer Applications and Services Department, conducts social media classes for the general public. Smith is seeing more farmers in these classes.

“The use of social media among farmers does seem to be increasing,” she said. “Mississippi has traditionally been further behind in adopting newer technologies like social media since many rural communities lack high-speed internet access. As this access becomes more available, farmers and their consumers are trending more towards social media.”

Ratliff says the MSU Extension Service in conjunction with the governor’s office has a Broadband Initiative to help Mississippians adopt broadband technology in their business and personal lives. A large portion of the state’s population still lives in small towns and rural areas, and it can be difficult for private companies to justify the expense of supplying high-speed internet access to these hard-to-reach places.

“Extension is dedicated to developing new informational technology to help Mississippians gain access to the information highway,” said Gary Jackson, director of MSU’s Extension Service. “I’m excited about what this new initiative is going to do and how it will complement our instructional technology efforts. I think it will help educate the public about the importance of adopting new technology.”

The Extension Service is also assisting local communities by providing education, information and training to state residents on the usage and availability of high-speed internet and other technology-related topics. Smith teaches computer applications and services. In her classes she sees an increasing number of small, independent farmers who grow specialty crops and sell their produce through local farmers’ markets.

“They’ve begun using social media as a way to market and create visibility for their products,” she said. “The Extension Service offers several classes and workshops on using social media as part of our efforts to make technology relevant to farmers.”

The Extension Service also encounters a number of people who are in the agri-business or agri-tourism industry. These farmers use social media for a variety of things such as promoting a corn maze or agriculture field day or helping consumers understand how to use products purchased from local farmers, including blueberries, honey and other products.

“Farmers are using Facebook and Twitter to connect primarily with their consumers,” Smith said. “Facebook is used primarily to establish a relationship with the consumer. Many consumers are conscious of where their food comes from and many people want to buy locally. By using Facebook, farmers can alert consumers that the strawberry crop is coming in on this date and will be ready for them to pick.”

She added that consumers can in turn pass farmers’ information along to their friends on Facebook, thus farmers have a built-in advertising mechanism that doesn’t cost them anything. “Twitter is used less often but can be beneficial for quick news updates,” she said. “If consumers sign up for the Twitter account, the farmer can actually send the tweet directly to the consumer’s smart phone via text message. Twitter is often used for inside information, coupons or discounts that can be applied if the consumer is in the know.”

It’s also beneficial for farmers to access the latest research-based information on certain crops from the MSU Extension Service on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

More information can be found about the broadband initiative at www.broadband.ms.gov.

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