We are now living in what some people call the digital age.
Farmers today are seldom without a smartphone or tablet, even when on a tractor or drafting cows from the pit of their milking parlour.
In many ways, software and technology have become essential parts of their lives, and have helped to reduce the workloads of the more advanced farmers.
For example, they use technology and apps to monitor cow fertility, to receive notifications that a cow is calving, and to monitor grass growth, all through smartphones in their pockets.
But they probably use the social media side of this technology even more, for anything from posting selfies or pictures of cows grazing, or videos of training their six-month collie to round up ewes. This is perhaps their most enjoyable exposure to digital technology, because it helps farmers to develop a sense of community, albeit online rather than face-to-face.
Oh hey there Miss Happy! pic.twitter.com/apnmxkh4LL— Sophie Barnes (@SheepishSophie) October 11, 2018
Farmers as far apart as Cork and New Zealand share experiences and swap tips on feeding livestock, where to get motor insurance for their 17-year old son or daughter on a pick-up for reasonable money, and to look for recommendations on lambing cameras.
It’s all up there on social media, much of it for public consumption, which is why many Irish farmers enjoy posts by The Peterson Farm Bros in Kansas (@petefarmbros) who have composed parody music videos on YouTube to help educate their city friends about farming, as they ‘AgVocate for Agriculture’. From Ireland, there’s dairy farmer and author Lorna Sixsmith ([url]lornasixsmith.com[/url) whose latest publications include Till the Cows Come Home.
She milks 140 cows in partnership with her husband Brian James in Co Laois.
She has compared using social media to having a discussion group in your pocket, something which any farmer welcomes, if they want advice or help, or are isolated on their farmer and want to get more involved in the community, online or otherwise.
Lorna says it’s nice to dip in and out of social media, whether to promote her blog and her books (which include An Ideal Farm Husband) and to ‘agvocate’ by educating non-farmers about farming, by sharing stories and photographs.
“I use Instagram stories to explain and share what I am doing on the farm. I’ve had mums contact me to say their children love watching my videos of the cows ambling along, or of feeding calves. Twitter provides me with news and information, as well as writing and farming chat.
“Whether it’s in the middle of the night, waiting for a cow to calve, and knowing there will be others online to chat to, asking others for advice, or sharing good or bad news and knowing others will congratulate or sympathise with you, there is definitely a strong community of farmers online.”
This community of farmers was helpful during the 2018 summer drought.
Within social media circles, Lorna Sixsmith and Noel Clancy are associated with the IrelandsFarmers (@IrelandsFarmers) account.
It’s a curated account, with a different Irish farmer curating every week. They share stories and experiences from their farms.
We've had a nice conveyor belt of packing this morning and our Winter Newsletter and 2019 Seed Catalogues are out in the post today 😃and now we await the hundreds of orders claiming their FREE heritage seeds.#SeedWeek @IrelandSeedSov @GaiaFoundation pic.twitter.com/9AkHAziQf7— IrelandsFarmers (@IrelandsFarmers) December 6, 2018
“With 16,000 followers now, and often reaching two million impressions in 28 days, the @IrelandsFarmers account is proving effective in sharing the Irish farming experience all over the world,” she said.
Irish people farming abroad are also invited to curate, the account has had farmers tweeting their week from Australia, New Zealand, America and the UK. Curating the account helps farmers improve public awareness of the agriculture business.
“It certainly serves to show consumers how their food is produced, as many people have become further removed from food production. Education and agvocating are increasingly important” said Lorna.
“There’s a good community spirit within the @IrelandsFarmers account too. For example, Gill O’Sullivan has curated the account, a number of other curators travelled to her farm in April for the filming of Big Week on the Farm and to meet each other in person, and we all cheered when she won ‘Farmer of the Year’ recently.” she said.