Once a month, Heidi Selken steps in front of a video camera and talks to a few hundred fourth-grade students about dairy farming ... as well as anyone else who might choose to tune in on the South Dakota Adopt-A-Farmer YouTube channel. Selken is herd manager at Boadwine Farms Inc., near Baltic, in the southeast part of the state, "about 16 miles from the closest Walmart," she remarks.
The proximity to larger population centers is important here because Selken, like an increasing number of producers and farm managers, recognizes the need to tell agriculture's story to a highly connected yet mostly urban world of consumers.
"The benefit is nobody knows what we do unless we tell them," Selken explains. "The more we can show them, the better off we are. Not everybody can come out to the farm and visit, and see firsthand what we do."
TELL YOUR OWN STORY
Boadwine Farms, owned by Lynn and Trish Boadwine, has a milking herd of 2,100 cows, occupies 2,500 acres, most of it cultivated in alfalfa and corn, and employs 40 people.
Selken has played the leading role the last four years in a series of five- to seven-minute videos geared toward southeast South Dakota's fourth-graders. She has found a relatively seamless route to getting kids on the farm without actually bussing them there. Through a program operated by AG United for South Dakota, Boadwine Farms partners with a local FFA student who comes out once a month to film farm happenings.
Selken has covered topics ranging from what happens inside a milking parlor to how to care for calves in the winter. She says her focus is generally animal husbandry since children are getting the nutrition side of dairy education in school.
"By doing the video once a month, it's a small glimpse into the farm, maybe what you're doing that day or that time of year," she says. "The most recent was on pumping manure and putting it on the fields as fertilizer to teach students it's not just waste; it has another purpose."
Don Schindler is digital strategy and executive social media trainer with Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), in Rosemont, Illinois. He says the "virtual farm tours" that ag professionals such as Selken do is critical in a digitally connected world where farmers are increasingly victims of unwarranted negative publicity, much of it on social media channels.
"There's a lot of misinformation out there, and someone needs to be watching what's going on and go out there and talk on behalf of farmers and help farmers to engage [the public]," he points out.
Schindler says DMI has "a very robust school program where we bus kids out to farms," but he acknowledges that doing so is not only expensive but increasingly difficult with regulations related to farm access. That's not an excuse for failing to get the word out, however. "Sixty-four percent of teens don't know anyone who works in ag," he adds. "Farms are now very exotic to kids."
Hence, DMI, like many ag organizations, is promoting the concept of virtual farm tours and working to get its membership on the bandwagon. "The goals [of a virtual farm tour] are the same as with an actual farm tour," Schindler says. "The only difference is you're not physically there."
He says most of DMI's work in virtual farm tours is geared toward the classroom, and many DMI members are posting virtual tours on their websites, Facebook pages, YouTube channels and other social media outlets. "The technology is getting a lot easier and a lot more affordable," he notes. If you can take a video with your iPhone, you can do a virtual farm tour.
Stacy Dohle, senior communications manager with Midwest Dairy Association, says in May 2016, her organization conducted a pilot program on virtual farm tours, starting with two farms in Nebraska. Out of that, the association developed a virtual farm tour toolkit.
"We have to be proactive, not reactive," Dohle says. "It doesn't have to be a 20-minute farm tour. It can be a little minute segment you post on Facebook or Twitter." She points to Selken's short videos as an excellent example. "People will watch a 30-second video more than they will a three- or four-minute one."
"People are questioning where their food is coming from," Schindler says. "When Grandpa was farming, people trusted him because they knew him personally, and 25% of America was farming." Schindler says producers need to keep in mind that most consumers live in urban areas and don't understand what farmers do.
"A lot of companies are capitalizing on irresponsible marketing about what's happening on the farm," Schindler adds. "You have to tell your story, or someone else will do it for you."
Virtual Farm Tours: Tips to Get Started:
-- Contact your local, state or regional farm/commodity organizations or cooperative Extension to get help and advice on creating a virtual farm tour.
-- Use Midwest Dairy Association's Virtual Farm Tour Activation Toolkit as a guide to get started: www.midwestdairy.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Virtual-Farm-Tour-Toolkit.pdf.
-- If you don't already have one, get a Facebook page. "It's the largest and strongest social media platform out there," Dairy Management Inc.'s Don Schindler says. And it's a great place to post those virtual farm tours.
-- Take advantage of live-streaming opportunities on Facebook, where you can give a tour to your social media audience in real time. "Facebook Live videos are very in the moment and authentic," Schindler says.
-- Other virtual tour posting options include Zoom Technology and GoToMeeting.
© Copyright 2017 DTN/The Progressive Farmer. All rights reserved.