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Advocating for the future of ag

By Jennifer Carrico

Education about agriculture is the most important way to help consumers understand agriculture in order to support the livelihood of farmers and ranchers in the future.

"Telling our agriculture story is a very important way to let others outside of agriculture understand what we do and why we do it," said northeast Kansas farmer Darin Grimm.

Grimm is president of the AgChat Foundation board of directors. "The AgChat Foundation is designed to help empower farmers and ranchers--those who produce food, fuel, fiber and feed--to tell agriculture's story from their point of view. Our platform is mainly through social media--Twitter, Facebook, blogs, YouTube, LinkedIn and other social media services," he said.

Grimm farms and feeds cattle with his father on the family farm near Morrill, Kan. He hopes someday his children will want to return to the family farm as well, but he knows in order for that to happen he must help educate the public about agriculture.

With his involvement in precision agriculture and computer programming, he was always interested in analyzing data and understanding it.

While working on some programming and searching for some information, Grimm stumbled upon Twitter. Then he found himself searching the social website and turned a spreadsheet into a database of who was on Twitter, what states they were from, and what they were talking about.

"There are a lot of ways to analyze the data, which is just what I did," he said.

When he became involved with the AgChat Foundation two years ago, he got involved as the data keeper.

"My involvement with the AgChat Foundation has really become a passion of mine. We want to help farmers educate consumers," said Grimm.

The foundation is built from the highly visible "#AgChat" community on Twitter. Each week they host a moderated chat to discuss difficult issues, tell their farm stories and identify ways to connect with people outside of agriculture. More than 10,000 people from 10 countries have participated in #AgChat since it started in April 2009.

"On any given week, we can have up to 100 people involved in the AgChat on Twitter. The people participating are not just agricultural people," he said.

Those involved with the foundation are farmers leading a grassroots effort. Besides their involvement on social media sites, they are holding meetings and conferences across the country to help farmers and ranchers and those in agriculture know what they need to be saying to help preserve the agricultural way of life.

The signature event was a national event and covered many issues that farmers and ranchers are dealing with all across the country. In the future, they plan to have regional events that are more specialized for the specific area or about a specific way of advocating for agriculture.

"We want to offer as many conferences as we can around the country so we can get more people involved," he said. "We need to have farmers share their stories so others are aware of the importance of agriculture."

The AgChat Foundation will give them knowledge to unlock new tools to effectively tell their story.

"Research shows that social media is a growing opportunity for farmers to have a stronger voice in educating people about the business of growing food, fuel, feed and fiber," said Grimm. "When we have information out on these social media sites, we can measure how many times the information is shared, liked or retweeted."

While those involved in the volunteer organization may have different views on different issues, they all have the same main goal.

"Our position is to not take stands on issues. We want to let farmers get their voices out," he explained. "When farmers and ranchers tell their story, people listen. We also want to hear the concerns of others so we can openly communicate about it."

Grimm said a lot of what the AgChat Foundation does is help build connections through open communication. These connections also include being aware of all social media sites.

"As social media becomes ingrained in our everyday lives, the next generation will be more comfortable with how to use it, so we need to have a good strategy with how to get the information out," he said.

Strong social media connections lead to people meeting in person. They have hosted several "Tweet-ups" to allow people to do just that.

While farmers and ranchers are very busy people, Grimm said they also are passionate about their way of life and what they do.

"We ask them to take 15 to 30 minutes each day to share some information about their farm via Twitter, Facebook or other social media," he explained. "Every little bit counts and the communication usually leads to more conversation."

Grimm said he hopes his involvement in the AgChat Foundation will help preserve the future of agriculture and help reconnect people to where their food, fiber and fuel come from and how modern agricultural practices get the products to their home.

Jennifer Carrico can be reached by phone at 515-833-2120, or by email at jcarrico@hpj.com.

Date: 12/31/2012



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