KIMBERLY • Today’s farmer has to be different than he used to be. For example, he has to be more computer-literate.
“Farming is not just about cows, plows and sows anymore,” said 18-year-old Tanner Beymer.
An increasingly big part of ag production today is interacting with other farmers and the world at large through social media.
Not all of it, of course, is at the traditional computer keyboard. Mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets now play a larger role in online interaction.
“It’s not rocket science,” Beymer said, “but it is something farmers need to do.”
Everyone a Socialite
When David and Tobie Veenhouwer moved to Jerome 11 years ago, the former California couple decided the Gem State would be a good place to raise their three children— two of whom wish to one day take over the family dairy business.
Their sons will deal with the online aspects of that business much earlier in their careers than their parents. The Veenhouwers have found that the need to be proactive with social media has increased as more platforms became available.
Tobie said she still is learning how to apply social technology to farm life. So far, she’s created a Facebook page that allows visitors to learn about her family’s business and communicate with farmers across the country.
“I’ve only been doing this for a couple of months,” she said, “so I’m learning as I go.”
The Idaho Dairy Council, of which David is a member, held classes to teach women how to use social media to better promote the dairy industry.
Wives of dairymen are a natural choice to manage Facebook pages and blogs, she said, because their husbands often are working outside most of the day. Besides, she said with a laugh, a lot of women are all about being social.
“I know there are a lot more dairy wives who want to get into promoting their family’s dairy online,” Tobie said. “Some of us help each other with our pages. ... I’m still trying to learn how to do certain things. It just takes time.”
The farmers themselves should also learn to use social media tools, Beymer said.
“We encourage them to do that because we know it’s a great avenue to talk about dairy,” said Cheri Chase, communications director for United Dairymen of Idaho. It’s not without its challenges, she said, because some farmers don’t even have email. “But gradually more people are doing it.”
The younger generation of farmers will use the tools, no problem.
“Kids are involved with social media and those kinds of things,”Chase said, “so maybe parents aren’t doing a Facebook page but the kids are doing one.”
The Future Farmer
Beymer, who grew up on a farm in Kimberly and is today president of the Idaho FFA Association, started his own small business last fall called Beymer and Co., an auctioneer business that keeps him busy between his other responsibilities. He can’t imagine doing business without social media.
He doesn’t have a website yet — though he plans to develop one eventually — but he does manage a Facebook page and Twitter account.
“Most people seem to have a Facebook page anymore,” he said. “But it’s going to get to the point where it’s not going to be a luxury to have one, but a necessity, and those businesses that don’t have one will fall behind.”
The same is true for farmers, he said — at least to a point.
“People need to eat at least three times a day regardless of whether they know where their food comes from or not,” Beymer said. “But in order for the farmer to connect with the public and compete in the marketplace, it’s just as important.”
Having a Facebook page “makes our potential audience that much bigger,” he said. “If you don’t have one for your business, you’re missing out on a fantastic, free way to market your products.”
Goal in Mind
Whenever Tobie adds a post to her family’s dairy Facebook page, she has a goal in mind.
“This is the way we can get other people to see how we farm,” she said. “I want people to come to our site and look at the pictures; some of them are of our cows.”
Images and posts about those cows help combat what Tobie called misunderstandings about farmers and dairymen. When people hear about mistreatment of animals at one farm or dairy, she said, they assume that’s how it is at all farms.
“We treat our animals well,” Tobie said.
She sometimes will include links on her page about a dairy topic that others will “like” or share on their own pages.
Including pictures of a farm on its Facebook page helps farmers to better connect with consumers, Chase said.
“They (consumers) might not know where their yogurt or milk is coming from, so going onto a Facebook page can help,” Chase said. “More consumers these days want to know where their food is coming from. It makes them feel good about what they’re buying.”
People at large need to become better educated about the ag industry and food production, Tobie echoed. There’s no doubt about it, she said — social media can help.
“With my page,” she said,“I just want to promote how life is on the farm, the positive things about the dairy industry.”