From left, Annie Shultz, Brian Scott and AIF moderator Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University.
Ag advocates keep their thumbs on the industry’s hottest and most controversial issues on their blogs, Twitter and elsewhere around the web.
GMO-free Cheerios! Frankencorn! Livestock crammed with antibiotics and hormones! If you’ve spent any amount of time online, you know the Internet often treats controversial farming topics with the same sensitivity as a bull in a china shop. Misinformation abounds.
"A lot of information readily available online is not in favor of ag," says Annie Shultz, a Kansas mother of three better known online as "Mama Dweeb." Shultz was one of three panelists on-hand at the Bayer CropScience Ag Issues Forum, ahead of the 2014 Commodity Classic in San Antonio. The panel of bloggers, which also included Indiana farmer Brian Scott (writer of "The Farmer’s Life") and Illinois farm wife Emily Webel (writer of "Confessions of a Farm Wife"), addressed how farmers and consumers can better find common ground.
Farmers account for less than 2% of the population, and the bloggers say they each became interested in sharing their voices online after hearing various misconceptions about how a modern farm actually operates.
"People don’t have any idea of the level of technology we’re using," Scott says. "They expect overalls and pitchforks, but they have no idea the level of stuff we’re working on."
Scott says some people are even taken aback when he shows them how he uses iPads, precision ag and other technology on his farm.
"I’ve had people tell me I’m out of touch with the land," he says. "But I tell them you still have to put your boots on the ground and your hands in the dirt."
Webel says because so much dialogue around agriculture happens online, it’s important to her to participate in those conversations and show daily life on her family’s farm.
"I just try to make it real," she says. "I want it to be shared as my perspective. I want them to know what’s going on our farm is not the same thing as you see on HSUS."
Shultz adds that a direct, honest approach not only encourages constructive dialogue, it also has helped grow her leadership.
"I grow my audience by meeting those hard topics head on, but in a graceful way," she says. "I try to encourage people to talk, and that’s my goal – to get them talking."
And people are talking – each of these bloggers has readership that is measured by the thousands. Here are a few tips the panel offered for those interested in starting their own blog and engaging with a consumer audience online:
• Be brief when possible – it makes your blog easier to read quickly and easily on mobile devices
• Ask someone why they feel a certain way (example: modern farming is just a bunch of factory farms) instead of lecturing them.
• Share photos of your farm. Many urban Americans have never set foot on a farm.
• Don’t just keep preaching to your own choir. Reach out to hear other perspectives.
• On the other hand, learn the difference between who wants to engage in constructive conversation and who just wants to "stir the pot." Don’t feed the trolls.
"Just keep telling your own story," Scott suggests.