The Noisy World of Agvocacy: Tangible Benefit Is Key

By Philip Shaw, @agridome,

I am not an “Advocate”. If you don’t know what that means, you are not alone. Over the last few years as social media has grown larger, many people in the agricultural industry have launched themselves into the digital world by advocating for agriculture online. It’s great stuff if you like it, constantly boosting agriculture’s PR message. However, let’s not get lost in the forest for the trees. Just because something is new and gadget-ty, doesn’t mean that it is particularly useful. In our new digital world, sometimes I think tangible benefit is lacking.

A few weeks ago I did a presentation at the headquarters of the Ontario Ministry of agriculture and Food in Guelph Ontario. I had been asked to be part of a knowledge exchange with some executives from the RIM Corporation as well as participants from the ministry. The ministry was looking at ways that people use new communication methods to exchange knowledge. The reason they had me at the exchange was to represent agriculture. It is widely known at the ministry that I have been engaged in newer communication technologies within Ontario agriculture over the last 25 years. So I was asked to give my thoughts about communicating on the farm as well as my presence in the social media world.

I started off the presentation by telling people that back in the day, we communicated by yelling across the field. People laughed when I told him that, but if you are over the age of 50, you probably remember well yelling from the back of the field to the front. The noise combined with somebody taking their hat off waving it wildly was about the only way of communicating in an emergency. The alternative was running a half-mile across the field or not communicating at all. Fast forward to today where someone might send a text message, which alerts the other person at the end of the field.

That early explanation of communication on the farm quickly turned into myself giving a live demonstration of Twitter. I am a heavy user of Twitter and frankly I have found it to be one of the most useful things ever to do with the computer. However, I caution my audience, all who seem to have a smart phone with them, that without tangible benefit, this technology was useless. I also made the point of telling them I do not own a Smartphone, re-emphasizing the point that there needs to be a reason, at least in my life to have a tangible benefit for this new technology.

My Twitter presentation was heavy on the commodities. It was obvious from the reaction of people that they had no idea. The bottom line was that the world of communication in agriculture has shifted exponentially. By the end of the presentation, audience members had a real idea how Ontario farmers were transcending their communication methods.

That is what it is. However, increasingly the social media noise is getting louder in agriculture. Facebook and Twitter are increasingly crowded with good people advocating for agriculture. In fact, that’s where the word, Agvocacy was born. These people consistently tell agriculture’s message without the filter of a vested interest. Or, maybe a better explanation is through their own filter, whatever that might be. It has almost turned into a burgeoning industry, people training to be “Agvocates.”

I was recently asked to comment on this in a public Twitter forum. When asked about young people getting involved in “Agvocacy”, I cautioned them by saying they should not get involved but concentrate on their professional business first. My feeling was that by getting heavily involved in unpaid “Agvocacy”, they might miss other professional opportunities. In my mind, good “Agvocacy” comes by default through excellence in your own work. There is no substitution for excellence at any level. Let your professional work do your talking and then let the chips fall where they may.

I was roundly criticized for that view of “Agvocacy”, soon after I made them public in a Twitter forum. However, that is the way I feel. I am and continue to be a heavy user of modern computer technology. Needless to say, if there is no tangible economic benefit to me, it doesn’t pass the litmus test. In my mind, it’s the same for “Agvocacy”. Unpaid “Agvocacy” is like “dirty water”, not good to quench your thirst.

If you want to promote agriculture, work hard at your professional life. In 2011, that may or may not involve the use of social media. If it does, a tangible economic benefit needs to be part of that discord. Otherwise, a tweet is just a tweak and a text is just a text. It’s all just noise.

Philip’s column “Under the Agridome” is in its 25th year of publication. It can be read in “Today’s Farmer” and across Canada and the United States onDTN. He also writes and podcasts “Market Trends”, a monthly analysis of corn prices for the Grain Farmers of Ontario. He also reviews farm machinery in the monthly Machinery Guide section of Country Guide magazine. Starting in 2008, Philip has been a regular contributor to Heritage Iron Magazine of Nokomis, Illinois, which focuses on Farm Equipment from the 1960-1985 era. He has been a feature speaker across Canada. In January 2011 he was afeature speaker at the 2011 Agricultural Service Board Conference “Agriculture On the Horizon” in Edmonton Alberta. He developed and starting in January 2010, he begin teaching “Agriculture for Realtors”, a continuing education course directed toward Ontario Realtors. In January 2009 he lectured at United International University in Dhaka, Bangladesh on linking Global Agricultural Markets. In 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 he presented his “Commodity Outlook” at the Western Fair Farm Show in London Ontario.


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