OMAHA (DTN) -- Zach Johnson has 1 million subscribers, and they follow him faithfully to the farm field.
Known on YouTube as the Millennial Farmer, the west-central Minnesota farmer reached the million-follower milestone Thursday, Feb. 24, almost seven years after he started filming and sharing details of his corn and soybean operation that he operates with his father, Nathan Johnson.
Reaching 1 million followers on YouTube is a huge milestone and not easily done; but given the longevity of his channel and the niche content surrounding his farm, Johnson has found success.
It all started in 2016 with an introductory video that showcased spring planting. He openly shared the details behind planting preparation and how Minnesota weather can play havoc with plans. This day-in-the-life approach quickly garnered hundreds of thousands -- and sometimes millions -- of views.
"I started the channel 100% to try to relate to people what's going on in farms of America. A lot of people were confused on why we use things like GMOs and pesticides and how we treat livestock," Johnson said. "I wanted to show people, 'We're people, too; we're the same family that's been out here for a long time and we love what we do.'"
Johnson films and farms on 2,400 acres of land that was homesteaded in the early 1870s by Swedish immigrants and kept in the family for six generations.
Johnson's children, Onyx, 13; Rhiannon, 10; and Isla, 7, make appearances on the channel. His father, Nate, has been seen on the channel, but not very often. His wife, Becky, plays a major part in the telling their story.
"For my wife and me, it's become a good source of side income. She does the editing and works behind the scenes with sponsors and Google. We grabbed it by the horns and ran with it on purpose to grow the channel and advocate for farming. We've been using that income stream to buy into the farm faster as my dad starts to slow down," Johnson said.
The extra income also helps the Johnsons support a cause that's close to home. Two years ago, they decided to donate money to volunteer fire departments and first responder crews to purchase grain bin rescue equipment and invest in grain bin rescue training.
"Minnesota and North Dakota lead the nation in grain bin deaths; it's in the news every other day. We told people we were going to donate to that cause and fire departments could email us. The viewers jumped on it and wanted to give, too," Johnson said. So far, the Johnsons have raised a total of $110,000 for 80 different fire departments.
"I can confirm the equipment that was purchased through some of those funds in Illinois, it absolutely saved a life. It's humbling to use the platform to connect the viewers and be a big part of something like that," Johnson said.
Johnson's YouTube channel has also resulted in sponsorship opportunities to travel and experience different operations outside of his corn and soybean rows and connect with farmers and people he would otherwise not know. While he's noticed that viewers respond more to videos of his own farm, he thinks it is important to branch out.
"There's a lot of value in (branching out) beyond the views. I'm able to go out and highlight parts of agriculture that I can't share from my farm. I want to use my platform to encompass all of agriculture." Johnson said.
Lately, Johnson said he's noticed that more and more people want to "know your farmer."
"You can tell people have become disconnected, and there's a big opportunity to reach people. They want to see the ins and outs of what's happening on the farm. We have a real opportunity to reach people about what we're doing," Johnson said.
Johnson started with a camera and a mission to build a connection between farmers and consumers, provide farmer-to-farmer education and facilitate a collaborative conversation between farmers and the public.
Although YouTube is his primary focus, the Millennial Farmer is active on Facebook with 455,000 followers, TikTok with 290,000 followers and Instagram with 310,000 followers.
Google has a series of awards given to YouTube creators that meet the eligibility criteria. Silver Creator Awards are awarded to channels that reach or surpass 100,000 subscribers, also known as the Silver Play Button. Gold Creator Awards are given to channels that reach or surpass 1,000,000 subscribers, known as the Gold Play Button.
The next tier of awards is rare, but some channels have achieved this status. Diamond Creator Awards are given to channels that surpass 10 million subscribers. Custom Creator Awards are for channels that reach 50 million subscribers. Red Diamond Creator Awards are given to channels that have reached 100 million subscribers.
Susan Payne can be reached at email@example.com
Follow her on Twitter @jpusan
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