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Farmers Say

Jan 19, 2011

Farmers on Twitter: hashtags over harvesters

They might be more familiar with harvesters than hashtags, but a growing community of Australian farmers are embracing Twitter as a tool to communicate, particularly in light to the recent floods.

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They might be more familiar with harvesters than hashtags, but a growing community of Australian farmers are embracing Twitter as a tool to communicate, particularly in light of the recent floods.

“I thought Twitter was something that movie stars and Shane Warne used and it had no purpose…but I’ve made some really good contacts,” admitted recent Twitter convert Grahame Rees.

Rees is a former sheep farmer turned teacher of low-stress stock handling and livestock marketing, with 300 clients, all farmers. He joined Twitter back in December. Already he has over 400 followers, and says he’s made several important agriculture contacts in the United States, where Twitter is widely used by regional communities.

You’ll find Rees, along with others of his rural brethren, gathered under the #AgChatOz hashtag every Tuesday between 8-10pm to talk about issues like the recent floods, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and farmer suicide.

The aim of AgChatOz — adopted from the American #AgChat — is to connect rural Australian communities online and help close the city-rural divide by providing a meeting place for weekly conversations between them.

Not that it’s farmer exclusive. Many people who live in rural communities, like farmer’s partners, winery owners, farming foundations and rural journalists all join in the AgChatOz conversation.

“It boomed just before the election when Tony Burke was on,” said one of AgChatOz’s founders, web designer Sam Livingstone. Voters were tweeting questions about agricultural issues and “to Burke’s credit, he performed. He asked and answered questions on there.”

Burke, the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, isn’t the only politician involved — MP Sussan Ley also interacted — but there’s a want for more interaction from local politicians.

“Joe Ludwig doesn’t have a Twitter account, but we’d love to have the federal Ag minister chatting with us,” said Livingstone. “We asked a staffer, but they said ‘we’re not interested'”, although Livingstone says he’s heard rumours of politicians asking for transcripts of AgChatOz conversations.

AgChatOz, created by Livingstone, Tom Whitty from CropLife Australia and agribusiness lawyer Danica Leys, was born out of frustration from local farmers at the failure of similar ABC Rural concept. The problem with the ABC Rural initiative was that the chat was held between 2-3pm, when paid ABC staff could monitor it, but no farmers or other agriculture people were available because they were working.

Last night, the first AgChatOz of 20011, the discussion topic was the recent floods and effects it has had on crops. The day before a list of questions was made available on the AgChatOz Facebook page, asking things like: have you been flooded to due to be affected by the floods? What is your immediate concern? Have people had enough rain to set themselves up well for 2011 crops? What crops have been hit hardest? Which foods can we expect to rise in price?

The questions make the chat easy to follow. “This is a photo of what used to be a cotton crop at Theodore”, tweeted Alison Fairleigh. “At the farm (Marnoo, Wimmera) at the moment, higher country, runs of quickly, had 7 inch, all dried out now, no stock losses” tweeted Dwain Duxson from The Farm Trader. “We got slammed by Hopkins River which runs through our place. Fortunately only lost fences,” said Anthony Kumnick from Greenvale Homestead. “Currently too wet to finish harvest. Remaining grain still standing will be shot and downgraded”, said Vana, a broadacre farmer in the Wimmera Mallee.

Last night mental health organisations Headspace Australia and ReachOut were involved in AgChatOz to talk about mental health in rural communities affected by flooding. It’s a topic that garners much interest in AgChatOz conversations, with a special AgChatOz being held last year solely to discuss mental health and attracting organisations like Lifelife and Headspace.

Although the AgChatOz hashtag was trending seventh in Australia yesterday, it’s still only a tiny percentage of the population engaging. “Rural people are going to be a long way behind the eight ball on things like that… there’s a lot to learn to use Twitter,” noted Rees.

The founders of AgChatOz are well aware of this, currently hoping to plan an event tagged along to one of the big agriculture field days or conferences, to help meet AgChatOz regulars and encourage and teach new people to join up. Obviously funding is currently an issue, with no money being made from AgChatOz and all the work running it performed by the founders for free.

But while Twitter is great at connecting rural and urban communities, it can’t just be superficial conversation, adds Rees. “There is some good discussion happening on Agchatoz, and a real will by people to do something, but it needs to go further. Otherwise, we’re just sitting down having a coffee and a chat in a cafe and it’s ‘see you same time next week’.”

14 comments

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14 thoughts on “Farmers on Twitter: hashtags over harvesters

  1. Danica Leys

    Definitely is a great piece Amber! Thanks for getting the word out about us! We really enjoy doing it, and it is going from strength to strength. Its just such a fabulous way for the agricultural community, who can be very geographically widespread, to engage with each other.

    Great to see all the positive feedback also. However, George, not sure I understand your point? All you have to do is look at my bio on twitter, and you will see my interests? Which, just FYI, have absolutely nothing to do with CropLife Australia, although I do believe this is a very worth organisation. Would love to chat with you further if you are concerned about this? Alternatively you may like to join in the conversation yourself to see what it is we are really about. We’d love to have you, or anyone else interested in connecting with agriculturally minded people.

  2. george

    Why not mention what the original intention of #agchatoz was all about.
    Check out CropLifes annual report.
    “CropLife Australia is the voice and advocate of the plant science industry in Australia. As the industry’s peak body, we progress the interests of member companies by engaging with decision makers and other stakeholders and INFLUENCING the development and implementation of government policies.”
    “In Australia and globally, the plant science industry has many good news
    stories to tell. Our issues are often the subject of interactive debate initiated
    by activists, which are rarely balanced or based upon sound scientific
    assertions. At CropLife, one of the main reasons we first dipped our toe into the
    social media pool was to track and counteract the misinformation campaigns espoused
    by our critics.”
    “The instantaneous nature of social media affords us ideal forums in which to promote and defend our positions”

    Well I think it stinks that the founders of #agchatoz dont declare their interests on an ongoing basis.
    But hey there’s no rules in twitterverse

  3. Becker Underwood

    Great article about a great discussion group #agchatoz. Becker Undewood have had great discussions over the months and as a manufacturer of ag products, we feel it’s a good way to get involved in the rural community in a non-commercial way. Farmers can feel comfortable asking the questions they wouldn’t normally ask as they know there won’t be a hard sell for products afterwards. Keep up the good work to all who run agchatoz and we look forward to tweeting through the year.

  4. The Farm Trader

    Great article and thanks for the plug, we are a website dedicated to Ag http://www.thefarmtrader.com.au and have our own social media segment called Farm Talk, we have been running for 4 months now and have created an audience of around 500 contributors so far. Ours is basic in comparison to twitter but all post can be viewed by anyone. I am still amazed as to how many Ag people aren’t on twitter, I could name 3 people within 100 of me (at Yarrawonga Vic) that are on Twitter and less than a that for 100km radius of our farm (Marnoo, Wimmera, Vic). So plenty of scope for more.

  5. Vana

    Great article Amber, I am just new to twitter and found agchatoz by accident. I have embraced both the interaction and information which is shared.
    Lastly I am a farmers wife, and my husband is a farmers husband. Time we forgot about being “gender tender” & concentrate on the serious issues around farming into the future in a sustainable way. As farmers we should all support each other, not judge each other. Which is why agchatoz is so fantastic. Especially now with many farmers facing a mirid of problems brought about with the floods. This could well be a fantastic medium for support etc. Keep up the good work…

  6. Tom

    Thanks for the article Amber! I am @tweetingtwhitt – one of the original co -founders of #AgChatOZ and I must say seeing articles like this really prove that establishing a social media network is worth it. When we started the initiative, we wanted our sessions to have the ability to engage directly with farmers, regional communities, politicians and city folk. I am proud to say we have done exactly that. #AgChatOZ has now also become so much more than just a Tuesday night banter session. Twitter users (and Facebook users) are constantly using the #AgChatOZ hashtag to talk about any rural, agricultural issue, natural disaster or farmer related topic. We have seen farmer’s markets relish the opportunity to join as well as bringing together a range of people with starkly different views.

    On behalf of myself and the co-founders of #AgChatOZ, thank you to all of you for continuing to participate and in allowing us to execute what twitter is all about – having real time conversations! 🙂

  7. ben_hr

    Good piece Amber. If you’ll forgive the gratuitous promotion, we hold Healthcare and Social Media Australia and New Zealand twitter chats on Sunday nights – #hcsmanz. We were partly inspired by the #AgChatOz tweetups. Some more info at Croakey:

    http://blogs.crikey.com.au/croakey/2010/12/13/announcing-a-new-venture-in-social-media-and-health-care-and-some-concerns-about-amas-efforts-in-this-space/

    I think these twitter chats have quite a lot of potential. They bring together disparate groups to share ideas and stories. I’ve learned a lot from the ones I’ve participated in.

  8. Drag0nista

    Great piece Amber! It’s good to see #AgChatOz get the exposure it deserves. I’ve watched this Twitter forum flourish since its inception and as far as I know, it’s still the only weekly Twitter forum that takes place in Australia. #AgChatOz has shown how a community of similar interests can spring up in the Twittersphere and deliver tangible benefits to participants in terms of information, advice and networking. Well done to you and to the #AgChatOz founders.

  9. headspace

    Great to see this great initiative get some props! We really enjoy taking part and encourage other organisations to get on board too.

  10. Mae

    And I only call myself a “farmer’s wife” in my bio because I have my own professional career in agriculture – I am not a farmer myself. My husband is a farmer.

  11. Rosie

    I was part of #agchatoz last night and found it very forward thinking bunch of people. Still chatting with other participants in fact, about the issue of educating consumers about the real cost of food production using the #foodprice hashtag on Twitter.

    Personally, as the founder of an events database aimed at activism & the conscious consumer, I think it’s important to get some diversity in such gatherings to make connections outside the existing mix & help achieve the goals identified in such chats.

    It’s also good for ‘outsiders’ to particpate to learn firsthand from people what they are going through and what they need.

  12. Michelle Imison

    Cheers, Amber. Good timing, that!

  13. Amber Jamieson

    Michelle, that was changed literally one minute ago to partner. Absolutely right, never want to make gender claims. When I wrote that, I was thinking of a particular farmer’s wife who interacts a lot and calls herself a farmers wife in the bio, shouldn’t have made it so general. Apologies.

  14. Michelle Imison

    ‘Not that it’s farmer exclusive. Many people who live in rural communities, like farmers wives, winery owners, farming foundations and rural journalists all join in the AgChatOz conversation.’

    So… all farmers are blokes (or possibly lesbians)?

    Good, I’m glad we cleared that up. 😉

https://www.crikey.com.au/2011/01/19/farmers-on-twitter-hashtags-over-harvesters/ == https://www.crikey.com.au/free-trial/==https://www.crikey.com.au/subscribe/

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