Scope Out a New Social Media Tool


It’s a sunny September morning, and Shaun Tyson, a seed advisor with Beck’s Hybrids, is checking a corn field in central Illinois for stalk strength on check strip where no P and K was applied. The result – about a dozen stalks appear to have diminished stalk integrity.

“Do we attribute this to anthracnose or lack of K?” Tyson ponders out loud.

He’s alone, but 23 other people are watching and listening. That’s because Tyson is live-streaming video on a new mobile app called Periscope that’s gaining interest in the agriculture industry.

A bit further south, several dozen people are sitting down for “Breakfast with Bill,” a daily Periscope chat with Illinois farmer Bill Graff.

“It’s a new way to help each other out,” he says. “If someone has a question, they can throw it out there, and they’ll get an answer. You could diagnose crop problems, for example, and get a number of opinions in real time.”

Users who sign up for Periscope link it to their Twitter account, and a tweet is sent out anytime they broadcast a new video. The app has infrastructure familiar to many other social media channels, including the ability to share content, follow other users, view their content and interact with it by commenting or sharing “hearts.”

If you happen to miss a “scope” while it’s being broadcast, it still shows in your feed for the next 24 hours. After that – it’s gone.

For those who want the biggest possible Periscope following, content does matter.

“I found out if I talk about ag policy, I get three times the people looking,” Graff says.

At the same time, the very impromptu nature of Periscope gives users a chance to have a little fun on the go, he adds.

“It’s a fun thing to do, and it gives you a chance to talk about what’s hot out there and get immediate feedback,” Graff says. “If I’m not having fun, I’m out of here.”

Tyson agrees that because it allows for immediate feedback, Periscope could be deployed as a powerful farmer-to-farmer learning tool. He also wonders if it could help connect farmers with consumers.

“There is a huge disconnect with the consumer and the farmer,” he says. “There are certain folks out there that consider themselves experts on food production and farming, even though they’ve never stepped foot on a working farm. “Streaming video of real farmers doing ‘real farm stuff’ may help bridge the gap from farm to table.”

One big downside to Periscope – it’s only as good as your cell coverage. Pockets of Rural America still lag when it comes fast data connections. The app runs smoothly on a 4G LTE connection, but anything less could sacrifice video quality or prevent streaming altogether.

“That’s part of the problem in ag – we don’t always have good Internet service where we are,” Graff says.

Others will be frustrated by how quickly content evaporates on their feed, Graff says. But he and wife Judi found a workaround solution in Katch. It does what its name implies – it “catches” Periscope videos and stores them in the cloud for later watching or downloading. That gives the content he produces more permanence, he says.

Ultimately, Periscope’s fate in the agriculture community will depend on how farmers and others in the industry use it, Tyson says.

“It could be a powerful tool for is in ag, or it may just go off into thin air,” he says.

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