Dakota Farmer

Young Dakota Living: Dispelling farm myths online isn’t for everyone.

Sarah McNaughton, Editor, Dakota Farmer

February 23, 2024

4 Min Read
social media keyboard
NOT FOR ALL: For farmers who don’t want to share their lives on social media and potentially open themselves up to a negative audience, being told to advocate for agriculture might not be the best fit.Peter Dazeley/getty images

You can spot it on every conference agenda. A breakout session or keynote speaker is there to motivate you to advocate for agriculture, otherwise known as being an “agvocate.” These are always entertaining and encouraging, but what if some producers just don’t want to put themselves or their farms out there, especially online?

Before anyone gets a little heated at me for not wanting to encourage agriculture to “agvocate,” let me explain. Messaging with two of my colleagues, who both actively farm in the Midwest, led to a few common thoughts among us: 

  • “I avoid the advocate sessions when I can.”

  • “It’s overused and overdone.”

  • “I’m burnt out with cheesy agvocating.”

  • “A lot of times it’s just preaching to the choir.”

  • “How often does it ever reach the intended audience?”

I think there is inherent value and a need for those who want to share via social media and other online platforms about the agriculture industry. If those in agriculture don’t talk about it, someone else with potentially nefarious intent might create a slew of rumors or flat-out lies about agriculture.

We all know how to spot a lie and quickly ignore the post, even when we might get a little heated about it. We all know the benefits and safety of GMOs, that the organic label doesn’t mean it’s free of pesticides, and that no dairies in the U.S. use rBST in their milk. We can spot fear-based marketing tactics at the store, and bypass it to follow our tastes and preferences.

A sometimes-hostile audience

I was fortunate to compete and win a scholarship contest for online ag advocacy in 2019, so I know about the good, bad and the ugly that can come from a post going viral in the wrong crowd. I’ve received hateful comments about the way I live and the way I look, and even received a death threat from a post about the dairy industry that reached a negative audience on Twitter (now X).

Many farmers and ranchers already share their lives online, whether it be photos of their new calves, a selfie from the tractor cab during planting or a close-up of a field at harvest. But what about those who don’t like to post on social media outside of sharing a flyer about their annual bull sale?

The fact is that many just don’t want to post their lives on social media and open themselves up to comments and online arguments. On the flip side, I know several advocates in the region who are extremely well-spoken and passionate about sharing the truth behind agriculture. Wanda from Minnesota Farm Living, Brandi Buzzard of Buzzard’s Beat and even some of the farmers featured in this magazine are all excellent at dispelling myths online.

Some don’t want to get into online discussions with keyboard-warriors who won’t change their mind about animal production, with those who heard from a TikTok influencer that gluten makes you sick, or with consumers who refuse to consume GMOs. The great thing about where we live is everyone has the right to decide what they want to eat and purchase those products accordingly. But when people don’t want to learn and just want to attack a farm’s social media page and the farmer behind it, no one wins.

With all this negativity, many attendees at an event might choose different sessions outside of advocating for ag. Issues on rural internet access and connectivity, mental health, farm profitability, new tech or production practices, and succession planning might be more important to farmers who are spending their precious time at a conference.

I’m not suggesting that we should get rid of sessions encouraging or teaching about advocating for agriculture. We all know the value of networking with friends and neighbors, or attending an advocacy or just light-hearted motivational session when we do make it to a farm conference.

What do you think? Are you an agvocating mogul on social media, creating your own content on the farm to educate and teach? Or do you reshare the posts from your favorite advocate to your timeline? Or still, are you more interested in simply catching up with friends and family when you scroll online?

The truth remains, agvocating isn’t for everyone. For those advocates who are present on social media and always work to dispel myths in agriculture, the work they do is vital. For the rest of us, maybe we’ll just continue to attend different sessions during our local farm conferences.

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About the Author(s)

Sarah McNaughton

Editor, Dakota Farmer, Farm Progress

Sarah McNaughton of Bismarck, N.D., has been editor of Dakota Farmer since 2021. Before working at Farm Progress, she was an NDSU 4-H Extension agent in Cass County, N.D. Prior to that, she was a farm and ranch reporter at KFGO Radio in Fargo.

McNaughton is a graduate of North Dakota State University, with a bachelor’s degree in ag communications and a master’s in Extension education and youth development.

She is involved in agriculture in both her professional and personal life, as a member of North Dakota Agri-Women, Agriculture Communicators Network Sigma Alpha Professional Agriculture Sorority Alumni and Professional Women in Agri-business. As a life-long 4-H’er, she is a regular volunteer for North Dakota 4-H programs and events.

In her free time, she is an avid backpacker and hiker, and can be found most summer weekends at rodeos around the Midwest.

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