The Internet is as much a part of our daily lives as the television and telephone were twenty years ago.
From smart phones to social media, we are more connected as a society than ever before. As a truly “plugged-in” culture, Americans access information and individuals on the worldwide web in an amazing fashion.
Farmers, despite perceptions to the contrary, are every bit as connected, if not more so, as their urban and non-farm peers.
Case in point: Pennsylvania farm girl and University of Kentucky graduate student Jesse Bussard.
Bussard, one of the most prolific agricultural personalities on the web, has successfully parlayed a passion for livestock and forage production into an ongoing discussion of issues involving and surrounding production agriculture. Starting with a seemingly indomitable ability to read, synthesize and aggregate agricultural content via Facebook, the young agronomy major has spread her digital wings into blogging, and more recently into Twitter.
“[NCBA’s] Darren Williams was one of the people who really spurred me into it, and Chris Raines at Penn State really encouraged me to start a blog,” Bussard explains. “I had been on Facebook for a while, had been posting agricultural articles for a while, but wasn’t blogging, and wasn’t active on Twitter. They suggested I start a blog, and it kind of grew from there.”
She’s reaching several thousand with her message, including nearly 3,000 “friends” via Facebook and almost 1,800 “followers” on Twitter.
These places are known as great venues for “agvocates” and others attempting to stir the conversation between producers and consumers. Yet Bussard saw a need for producer-oriented conversations online, where farmers could chat about issues directly related to production.
“There had been a hashtag called #Haytalk for a while,” she explains. “James Brown had started it because he has a website called Haytalk that’s basically an online discussion forum for forage issues. He started the hashtag to promote posts on his blog, and I saw it and thought it would be a great hashtag for starting a forage-related chat on Twitter.”
A hashtag, for the non-Twitteratti among us, is any word or phrase coupled with the # sign, typically appended to Tweets to make a topic of interest more easily searchable.
“I contacted [Brown] to discuss the idea, to see if we could spur conversation on Twitter among producers on issues related to forage and livestock production,” she continues. “I’m good friends with Ryan Goodman, and we decided to bring him in to help moderate things and bounce ideas. We go back and forth all the time, and that’s how it got started, with the three of us brainstorming ideas.”
The first official #Haytalk chat on Twitter kicked it off in August, and continues every other week. Thursday evenings around 8 p.m. central time, you’ll find a dozen or more farmers and academics chatting away on any number of forage-related topics.
Bussard says the discussion has circulated around everything from forages to Facebook.
“We covered the hay shortage and drought in the South, and what that did for hay prices,” she says. “We did fall grazing options, we did fall forage management and weed control, and we’ve done some cow-related topics as well, because most people who grow or buy forages are in the livestock business.”
She says the interest in livestock production topics fit well with the audience.
“We did a week on cow efficiency, a week on heifer development, and last time we talked about forages for finishing cattle, both in grass-fed and feedlot rations. This week we’re going to talk about some more technology-related issues, including software to manage your operation, and how producers are using social media to improve their operations.”
Bussard is a rising star in the new world of agricultural web-based media. Her blend of cowgirl chic and digital news-hound fit well in the social media space, but the real secret of her success is that she “gets it.”
She understands agriculture and social media these days are inextricably linked. While the usefulness of the medium to bridge the gap between farmers and consumers is undeniable, the opportunity for producers to congregate, converse, and expand the common stock of knowledge is often overlooked.
“The whole reason we started Haytalk was because we had so many different agricultural chats online but there was really nothing focused on the producer and topics on the farm,” Bussard recalls. “Everything was geared toward the consumer, or issues that related back to advocacy. That is needed but I felt farmers and ranchers needed a forum where they could talk about production issues, too.”
From Weedy Wednesdays to Forage Facts on Friday and Haytalk every other Thursday, Bussard has forage and livestock production pretty well covered in her online sphere of influence. She’s certainly one to watch if you’re involved in the cattle industry.
Stop by #Haytalk the next time you’re Twittering around the internet… I might just see you there.