Marketplace: The Digital Wave

Growers are logging on in bigger numbers, and the industry is taking note.

The modern grower is an information powerhouse. Instead of seeking planting tips and crop protection advice solely from their neighbors, today’s growers are going on online and making connections around the world. They are sharing gems of advice passed down through the decades, and getting first-hand recommendations on combining agricultural innovations with tried and true techniques.

Almost 99 percent of growers and ranchers ages 18 to 35 use the Internet, and agricultural companies are catching on, developing tools and technology to enable a more efficient farming operation.

According to the American Farm Bureau’s 2010 Young Farmers and Ranchers Survey, almost 99 percent of growers and ranchers ages 18 to 35 use the Internet, and nearly three-quarters of them have a Facebook page. A NAFB 2010 Media Usage study found 57.3% of those polled use the Internet to obtain information related to their farming and ranching operation more often than they did just a few years ago.

Entering the Digital Sphere

According to analysts from Forrester Research, Internet users can be grouped into unique categories that include Creators, Critics, Collectors, Joiners and Spectators. At first, users like to spectate, passively absorbing information and insights from sites of interest. Websites like AgWeb and FarmersForTheFuture.com are heavily trafficked by these users. Yet as users become more comfortable in online environments, they become more interactive, moving into the Creator, Critic and Joiner categories.

It is no surprise, then, as users in the ag community become better versed in web technologies, online agricultural movements are growing, too. Social media sites such as Facebook serve as a platform, with growers grouping together in tight-knit communities and becoming industry "agvocates"—expanding popular understanding of the agricultural community with safety and productivity information. Question and answer forums are also popular, as is #AgChat—weekly Twitter discussions about trending issues like farm subsidies, sustainability, food insecurity and hunger, and farm safety during harvest. The rise of ag celebrities, often community radio show hosts, has been enabled in part by their heavy use of Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools.

Mobile tools are another growing trend in the industry. The University of Florida's iPest app provides a useful glossary of pests accessible from the fields. Agricultural calculators, such as Seed Planner by Crop Science, help growers determine the number of bags and or bulk boxes of seed they need. Available for the iPhone and Android devices, this handy tool allows growers can make in-field adjustments to seeding rates and quantities as field conditions change, and save and email multiple "scenarios" for comparison.

Growers get information about A-B lines, no-spray zone maps, field records and yields delivered straight to their vehicle display and mobile phone in real-time, enhancing their record-keeping capabilities and ensuring a more economical harvest.
The Variety Selector Tool helps cotton growers find the right FiberMax or Stoneville variety for their field, taking into account geography, irrigation, soil texture and nematode pressure. With 25 varieties to choose from, this tool certainly is a timesaver.

The Corporate Evolution

Growers aren’t the only ones adopting digital media. Agricultural companies like John Deere and Trimble, that built their brands based on machinery, are now taking their expertise online, offering products and services to enable a more productive and efficient farming operation. Take Trimble’s Farm Works® Information Management, for example. Users get information about A-B lines, no-spray zone maps, field records and yields delivered straight to their vehicle display and mobile phone in real-time, enhancing their record-keeping capabilities and ensuring a more economical harvest.

Organizations such as Crop Science are also offering innovative and interactive tools through their websites. The company’s LibertyLink® Yield Map allows growers to upload their soybean, cotton, corn and/or canola yields to their farm’s location on the map and see how others across the country compare, while its FiberMax® Variety Selector Tool helps users maximize their yield potential through customized cotton seed variety recommendations based on location, soil type, pest pressure and irrigation practices.

Future State

If research tells us anything, it's that growers are becoming increasingly engaged in the digital and mobile space. According to the 2010 PF Jefferson study, 48 percent of producers averaging 1,513 acres said accessing the Internet via mobile phones will become more important during the next five years. Social media user @FarmerHaley points out he "went from phone calls to receiving txts, to looking up web pages to keep[ing] up with markets/news while mobile." The pace of change can be a little intimidating. But for growers willing to embrace digital media, the advantages are considerable. Curious about what’s next? More than likely, you can find it online.

Works Cited

  • "NAFB Internet Usage Study." National Association of Farm Broadcasting. 2010. Web. 6 June 2011. nafb.com
  • "Social-Media Use Among Farmers." Ag Digital Media. 28 Oct. 2010. Web. 6 June 2011.  www.agdigitalmedia.com.
  • "87 Percent of Young Farmers, Ranchers Express More Optimism." American Farm Bureau Federation. 3 March 2011. Web. 6 June 2011. www.fb.org
  • Bernoff, Josh, and Charlene Li. Groundswell. Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2008. Print.

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