By Brent Royce, Ontario farmer
As I’ve watched Twitter over the last week I’ve been both surprised and disappointed by how those in Ontario agriculture have reacted to the point that for a few days I didn’t even know what to say or how to say it.
With the New Year, a new hashtag has emerged: #farm365 is the brain child of a very good agriculture spokesman – @FreshAirFarmer. The uptake of this has been amazing to say the least; agriculture has grabbed hold of this and have run to open their farm doors virtually to help connect with the urban public.
In life we are told there are two things for certain: death and taxes. In farming we have two certainties as well – two per cent of us who farm and two per cent of people that will always be against what we do.
One thing that I take pride in with farming is that no matter what, when things go wrong you have neighbours and fellow farmers that step up to help you out. This holds true for farmers on Twitter. We are there to back each other up, offer ideas, solve problems and the list goes on. We take great pride in what we do so when one comes under attack, others step up to back them up. This is amazing as lots of times you haven’t even met the other farmers on Twitter and it has made me proud to be part of it.
If we back up a second, I said we have two per cent of our population that are farmers and two per cent that are against us no matter what we do. That leaves us with approximately 96% of the population that want to know what we do and understand it better. We as farmers need to remember this at all times on social media as this is a very large number of followers that we can either turn away or provide them with a better understanding of agriculture. We are business people and, as in the normal population, we need to conduct ourselves in a professional manner – showing both dignity and respect for alterative views.
With #farm365 and animal pictures being posted to Twitter, we have also had the animal rights people show up very dominantly. I have no problem if someone chooses to be vegan and everyone’s entitled to their choice – it’s the beauty of living in a free world and we’re lucky to live in a world where there are such abundant food choices that we can have discussions (even debates) about alternative food sources.
When the #365 movement started, I knew we would have people challenge and try to discredit farming. What has disappointed me is the way some of Ontario agriculture has sunk down to the same “name calling” level as the activists. This doesn’t look or sound well to the other 96%.
My feeling with Twitter or any form of communication is I’m willing to engage anyone about how we farm as long as they are willing to listen with an open mind. Education of where everyone’s food comes from is our responsibility – after all we grow it. If conversations are going nowhere but are conducted with a positive tone, I will end them on a positive note. I have vowed to never get into a name calling or mudslinging competition with anyone. This approach will make me – and all farmers – look bad. For my non-farm followers, it could also turn them away.
Over the years I have found that a good positive image on social media has gained me followers around the world – both ag and non ag. Over the last few days my engagement in #farm365 has brought more action to my Twitter account than I can keep up with. Yes, some is negative but so much is positive. Personally, a few positive responses from agriculture or people far outweigh the negative attacks from a select few. I also try to respect my followers and why they chose to follow me.
I ask everyone in Ontario agriculture to use social media as a tool in the tool box and respect the power it has – it’s no different than if someone was to enter a bull pen! Be positive, proactive and proceed with caution.