AGRICULTURE needs to listen more intently to consumers. This in an uncomfortable phrase to most farmers, but as I discovered last week in Austin Texas, its a global and common conversation that must be had to take the industry forward.
Attending the 2014 Cultivate and Connect AgChat Conference I had the pleasure to meet more than 150 farmers (or ranchers), agribusiness professionals and leaders. Most importantly and for me personally, I got to meet the very people who created the agricultural social media revolution that is “AgChat”. Their mission statement reads ““Empowering farmers and ranchers to connect communities through social media platforms.”
And so the question might be asked, why did three individuals start the Australian version four years ago? Simple. There was no digital conversation about agriculture. Farmers had no online discussion platform and they were missing out on an opportunity to be heard, respected and represented. We don’t get paid to facilitate and co-ordinate #AgChatOZ, we volunteer because we believe that agriculture has a real future with an honest story to be shared with the world.
Fast-forward to 2014 and we are now the biggest and most widely used platform when it comes to talking ag.
This conference was not what you think. "A group of tweeters get together - how exciting?" Wrong. This was a global convergence of ideas, thoughts and suggestions to help agriculture tell its story better, more effectively and truly engage.
Social media is no silver bullet. A tweet or Snapchat of yourself won't change the world. But it is one tool in the toolbox that can help. It’s as important of a tool in farming and ranching as is risk management such as crop insurance. Our industry needs to insure its farming future and our farmers are the best people to tell this story.
Animal activists and environmentalists were also a common discussion point. One speaker Ellen Malloy had the crowd in stitches. Malloy, a prominent player in the restaurant ecosystem for more than 18 years and selected 9th most influential person in Chicago food had some insightful and hilarious things to say. A food blogging Monsanto hating hipster from Chicago, her world and ideas have been changed through opening the conversation window. She is a perfect example of how we can all work to a point of understanding. Her comments resonated with me - "We need to Work to get to a place of mutual respect, don't expect everyone to get to the same endpoint.”
Too often we try and convince people that do not agree with us that they “can be educated”, that “they are ignorant”. Instead of persuading and harassing someone that they are wrong, why can we simply not get to a point where we can agree to disagree?
Let’s empower one another that we are an “AgChatOZ Community” and lets start engaging better.
If there is one thing America’s farmers do that is far better than Australia its that they are #AgProud of their own state, their produce and their people. We can and we should do this for our proud country.
AgChatOZ is founded on the premise of fostering a conversation that better connects farmer to consumer.
We need to embrace the fact that everyone is a part of agriculture. After all if you eat, you are a part of agriculture.
Tom Whitty is co-director of AgChatOZ