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Farm tweets not just for birds

It’s amazing the stories that you come across while surfing the Web hunting for information on other subjects.

For instance, WPHA is currently exploring ways to use social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn as modern mass communication tools that our association can utilize in informing the public about the many benefits of crop protection tools, and to clear up misconceptions.

Plus, our association shortly will be launching its own blog site on our Web page at, to interact with the public and to answer questions about the products our members provide and the way they are used. In short, generally educating the non-agricultural public about our task of feeding the world in the most safe and least expensive way possible, and in keeping the public safe from diseases and dangerous pests.

During this research, I came across a story on that made me smile. Interviewed in the piece was Steve Tucker, a Nebraska farmer who grows wheat, corn, sunflowers and millet on 4,000 acres. It seems Tucker is way ahead of the technology curve when it comes to using social networking sites to his farming advantage.

He sometimes posts a dozen messages per day on Twitter, commenting on everything from the weather to the state of his crops to his son’s first tractor ride and last night’s cheeseburger. Here’s one example of his tweets: “Got rained out trying to finish up planting corn. Only 90 acres left. Maybe it will dry up today and I can finish Lord willin’,” he wrote.

It’s a misconception that farmers are behind the curve technologically. Tucker is proof that smartphones (and other Internet-enabled devices), such as a Blackberrys, iPhones and satellite radio, are examples of technology that is starting to put down roots in rural America.

The growth of smartphones on farms is important because many people don’t really take the time to consider how their food is grown and where it comes from, much less link a specific farmer to the process.

A host of blogs and Twitter feeds have popped up around the subjects of technology and life on the farm. Every Tuesday, for instance, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., farmers meet on Twitter for a live chat about all things agricultural. You can watch that conversation by searching for “agchat” on the site.

Other practical ag applications of smartphone technology include checking live weather reports, which can make or break a year’s crop. Some farmers are now sending pictures of ailing plants to crop advisers and university Extension specialists, hoping to identify crop diseases early. Other farmers use their phones as notepads, tracking their applications of pesticides, for example.

Developers of phone applications apparently have recognized the utility and profits available in the farm-tech trend, too. There are iPhone applications that help techie farmers in drought-stricken places monitor how much water is in their soil at various locations in real time, and in highly regulated environments like California, technology providers are now providing farmers with product-use information programs that are iPhone ready.

Current surveys bear out the fact that Web use on farms is increasing. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, high-speed Internet access doubled on U.S. farms between 2005 and 2007, jumping from 13 percent to 27 percent. That’s still less than the general population, however. Fifty-five percent of farms had Internet access in 2007 compared with 62 percent of homes in the United States overall, according to government figures. The numbers do not measure smartphone penetration.

So the fact is that more and more farmers, some using social networking sites to compare farming strategies and news, others applying practical business methods, are proving to be early adopters of technology.

The usual stereotypical image of a hayseed farmer, or that couple standing in front of the farmhouse with raised pitchforks, has fallen by the wayside as farmers become increasingly computer savvy – one tweet at a time.

• Food, Inc.

I heard all about the hubbub stirred up by the controversial movie Food, Inc., and decided to see for myself what the documentary was all about. The film was predictably biased against “industrialized agriculture,” a term that was never clearly defined but painted the villains as food giants such as Hormel, Cargill and Tyson Foods.

The film’s description says the movie focus is to expose, “the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of the government’s regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA.” According to the film, our nation’s food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment.

I disagree with this synopsis. I found the focus of the film is to tear down the nation’s chicken, beef and pork industries. The film is filled with images of downer cows, abused pigs and chicken farms that don’t create a “comfortable” environment for the birds.

Food, Inc. was mildly entertaining, but missed the mark as far as facts go. For instance, the film briefly highlights the 2006 E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak in spinach. It blames cow feces in field runoff for the contamination. We know there is no evidence to support this.

Also, to further the point, it said food-borne outbreaks are now more prevalent because of the diet “industrialized farms” feed their animals and displayed images of last year’s salmonella outbreak across the screen. The problem is that the images were those of tomatoes. We know that last year’s salmonella outbreak was never tied to tomatoes, and was ultimately linked to Mexican-grown peppers.

It is unfortunate that this movie relies on the use of extreme examples to convey its message. This is undermining to the farmers in this country who work so hard every day to produce the food we enjoy. We are always enthusiastic about people learning more about how food is grown in this country, however, Food, Inc. doesn’t accurately depict the daily efforts of U.S. farmers – 95 percent of whom either run family farms, have farmer partnerships or belong to cooperatives.

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