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December 22, 2023
In the plains of South Dakota, one young farmer has found an audience by “farming online.”
Cole Sonne, a fourth-generation farmer, says that recording daily tasks they do on the farm for YouTube gives insight to what happens on the farm. What started as filming on his iPhone five years ago has turned into a successful channel and even some extra income.
“It was a great time for me to get into it five years ago, with all the traction videos get,” Sonne says about starting his YouTube channel, Sonne Farms. “It used to be kindergarten classes were full of kids wanting to be astronauts when they grow up. Now, they want to be YouTubers.”
Sonne Farms is a diversified operation with corn, beans, grass hay, alfalfa and Black Angus cattle outside Mount Vernon, S.D. Sonne attended South Dakota State University, studying agronomy and animal husbandry coursework.
“It was always my plan to come back and farm,” he says. “Every day in college, I was just yearning to come back to farm. I wanted to be at home making a difference.”
In a way, wanting to fly a drone launched his channel. “Really, it started in college, and I just wanted to fly a drone,” Sonne says. “I got a drone and took some videos of us planting.”
After making the video, Sonne says he thought, “What are we going to do with it?” He had been watching the Millennial Farmer channel on YouTube, and so he put it up on the site and began getting views.
A push from his father, Brian, while preg-checking heifers led to another video. “He kind of helped push me into it, telling me to make a video on my phone of that day,” Sonne says. “I filmed the first few dozen videos on my iPhone 6 before getting another camera and doing what I do now.”
Even with the success of his channel, Sonne says his motivation was always about sharing their farm story. “People who are against agriculture on social media are really loud, and we have to represent ourselves,” he states. “Now that content gets pushed onto Facebook more, I made a point to read and respond to questions and comments to try to educate on our practices.”
With some of his most popular videos hitting up to 3 million views, Sonne is using his platform to see what their days are like farming in South Dakota. “No matter where you live, there are people interested in agriculture. They just might not have access to it,” he explains. “But everyone can get access to the internet and YouTube, and they can dive into the videos and learn about it all.”
VIRTUAL SUCCESS: Sonne says the success of his channel was mostly accidental, and he aims to keep his content real and interesting to build his audience. With a mix of education and unique views — such as making hay in this drone shot — his videos bring in all types of viewers interested in agriculture. (Sonne Farms)
His channel has just under 260,000 subscribers and over 100 million views spread out over his videos. That has brought a lot of opportunity for educational discussions. “We can have an impact, and even though we might not be able to fully change people’s minds that hate agriculture, we might be able to ease it a little bit in explaining why we do what we do,” he says.
Sonne, his father and his uncle Jeff divide most of the farm work among them. “My dad enjoys more of the crop side, and I always enjoy being with the cattle,” Sonne says. “It just adds a whole lot into the operation and into the YouTube channel, whether you’re fencing or making hay.”
His top YouTube video is depicting a Sunday afternoon putting a culvert into a water-logged ditch on their farm. The 12-minute video that has amassed 3 million views shows the process of digging the trench and, ultimately, the water flowing.
For fellow farmers who are looking to share their life on YouTube, Sonne shares a couple tips:
Have a regular posting schedule so followers can know when to expect new videos.
Keep content real and entertaining, and talk about what you’re doing.
Try brand deals as a way to use your channel for extra income.
To see the top-viewed videos and more, check out Sonne Farms on YouTube.
Read more about:Education
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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