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Make time to talk about your farm

VictoriaBar/Getty Images colorful, flat illustration of people talking with speech bubbles
What’s Your Story? Consider how the smallest time set aside for storytelling can yield big dividends for your farm.

Editor’s note: Owen Roberts is a Canadian agriculturist transplanted to Champaign, Ill., where he’s teaching ag communications to University of Illinois students. In this new monthly column, “What’s Your Story?” he’ll help folks share their farm story — both beyond the farm and among their own family and employees.

Society would be better informed if it heard more about farming from farmers.

And now, the time sure seems ripe.

Although people know little about farming, they have faith in farmers. Public trust surveys tell us farmers are hugely popular, right up there with first responders.

People want to know what farmers are doing, what they have to say and what they’re thinking.

To me, that’s a great opportunity to help people get a deeper understanding of agriculture. A better-informed public should improve the odds of balanced public policy and decision-making.

But finding time to communicate with anyone other than your spouse, your kids, friends, employees, dealers, salespeople, etc., is tough. The list is already overflowing.

However, what if you wrote external communications into your farm management plan, and made it part of your regular routine?

After all, you already schedule time for internal communications, formally or informally. The next step then is slotting in a specified time for external communications. That could include posting videos on YouTube or TikTok, or photos and commentary on the likes of Twitter, Instagram or a blog, for example.

Many Illinois producers already have a significant and effective social media presence — collectively, like the excellent Illinois Farm Families initiative, along with individuals such as Bell Family Farms on TikTok, and Jenna Severs and Rubenacker Farms on Instagram. Their efforts help keep agriculture in the public eye.

Granted, the time available for communications will vary from farm to farm, and maybe even from day to day, depending on what needs to get done. Some surveys say farmers work an average of 60 to 80 hours a week.

So for starters, let’s say you set aside 5% of your work week to actively engage in communications. Dedicating 5% of your 60- to 80-hour work week to communications equals three to four hours a week. Excluding Sundays, that’s about 30 to 40 minutes a day.

That’s ample time to take a photo and post it, or jot down some thoughts that explain what you’re up to. Your contributions can ultimately help the public form opinions.

I’ll be back here in this same space in the coming months, diving deeper into what journalists call the five W’s and the H: who, where, when, why, what and how. For example, who’s listening and where do you target your messages? How do you do it? What do you include? What’s the best time to communicate externally?

For its part, the “why” is self-evident: People want to know what’s going on, and a public that’s accurately and well-informed about agriculture serves farming best.

Let’s capitalize on that incredible public standing that makes other occupations salivate. People are anxious to hear from you.

Owen RobertsRoberts teaches agricultural communications and journalism at the University of Illinois. Email questions to him at [email protected]. The opinions of this writer are not necessarily those of Farm Progress/Informa.

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