BY AMANDA PARKINSON
Farming is changing. Most farmers are used to the tweeting of birds on their land, but Australian farmers are doing a lot of the tweeting themselves.
Farming group AgChatOz is an organisation whose aim is to use social media site Twitter to connect rural communities with one another. Targeting specific rural concerns, co-founders Sam Livingstone, Tom Whitty, and Danica Leys moderate weekly conversations online, coordinating participants using Twitter’s hashtag (#) feature.
“The goal is to have farmers discuss their issues and attempt to close the city – rural divide through social media,” Whitty said. Started in July 2010, the group has more than 800 followers and continues to gain momentum, using topics chosen by its followers and correlating them to topics trending on Twitter.
“One of the biggest successes we’ve had has been our ability to engage with key organisations ranging across the industry and government,” Whitty said. Organisations regularly involved in AgChatOz conversations are the RSPCA, Lifeline, NSW Irrigators, and West Australian Farmers Federations. One tweeter, @pollyemj, wrote: ‘#agchatoz is great because it’s created a community…it’s easy to connect with our industry’. AgChatOz founders hope that a close virtual community will provide support for isolated farmers, allowing them to discuss concerns freely and implement change.
Technology is continuing to change the farming culture. Farmers manage their finances electronically, some capture their rainfall data using computers, and others use more advanced GPS and robotic systems to manage livestock and fields. There are iPhone applications designed to make managing farms easier, such as TankMix which calculates the amount of a product needed to treat a specific area of land.
“Farmers are definitely using technology in the fields,” AgChatOz’s Sam Livingstone said. “There are automated spraying tractors now where you never have to touch a steering wheel or accelerator.
“But the biggest problem farmers face is lack of equality. The infrastructure and technology in rural areas is substandard compared with the city.”
People living in rural areas are stuck with slow, unreliable, and expensive Internet connections. Some farmers report waiting for more than a month for Telstra to repair malfunctioning communication services. “There are a lot of not-for-profit organisations working on educating farmers, but the government really needs to step up,” Livingstone said. People working the land also need to be able to raise problems without being labelled ‘whingeing farmers’ by journalists, he said. “The media always focus on the struggling farmer, but there is a lot of innovation in farming too.
“We need to find a way to make farming sexy.”
Jonathan Dyer, a grain farmer from Kaniva in Western Victoria has embraced the new social media platforms. “When I started tweeting and blogging, I was really aiming to paint an accurate picture of modern farming to help people in cities understand agricultural life,” Dyer said. “The best thing about AgChatOz is connecting with other like-minded people.
“Rural life can feel isolating. Twitter counteracts that.”
AgChatOz hosts weekly discussions on Tuesday nights from 8-10pm at #agchatoz on Twitter