Subscribe to Agriculture: Is YouTube a useful tool for agricultural transparency?

In recent years, we have seen western agriculture take tremendous strides in technological advances, as well as sustainability. American agriculture is in full throttle, showing no signs of yielding its ever-growing influence on food, fiber, and fuel. For decades, with these advancements, there has been an increasing gap between consumer knowledge and the agricultural industry. Activist groups, like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), have an agenda that works towards smearing the image of what American agriculture is about, and consumers who are not well-educated will blindly be fooled into thinking that these organizations are working for the common good. With the upbringing of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms, consumers are changing how they receive news of current events. With that, farmers must learn how to find ways to adapt in sharing their story with transparency to consumers.

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More specifically, there has been an increasing trend of farmers turning to YouTube to market their brand while promoting the agricultural industry. One example of a world-known channel would be “Our Wyoming Life.” The Wyoming producers offer an inside look at their cow-calf operation. In their videos, they show the good, the bad, and the ugly. Their consistency with being transparent to their audience is shown by their continuous respect for the livestock they raise.

Last December, I had a phone interview with Marji Guyler-Alaniz, the president and founder of FarmHer, about the implementation of YouTube and agriculture. Her response was how the implementation “cracks open the ability for farmers wanting to put themselves out there and provide instant access for those who want to find out about agriculture.” As more farmers continue to use this tool to connect to consumers, they are working to help bridge the gap between consumer literacy and the agricultural industry.

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What makes farmers using YouTube to reach consumers important is how it appeals to a younger audience. My aunt, Jennifer Schmitt, who is a small-scale beef producer, author, and special education consultant, said her kids watch YouTube channels from farmers more than they watch TV. A popular YouTube channel would be the Peterson Farm Bros. They make parody videos of popular songs, but the twist is they replace the original lyrics with lyrics about farming. One of the videos, “I’m Farming and I Grow It,” went viral and received over 7 million pageviews. Through their creativity and talent, the now world-renowned YouTubers have contributed to creating a positive image for the agricultural industry.

Not only does the implementation of farmers using YouTube educate consumers, but it also allows farmers to learn from each other. Jennifer Schmitt said, “Everyone’s story is different” because where one farmer is having a profitable year, another is struggling to make ends meet.

Some farmers have used the power of social media and YouTube to shed light on serious issues like drought that is occurring, deterring farmland from being profitable. More farmers are encouraged to share videos and pictures when they may be going through a time of distress, building a community of support for farmers. Marji Guyler-Alaniz encourages farmers by saying, “More people have to come around to showing the visual aspect” [of farming]. When consumers and farmers are exposed to more visuals, they can learn through other’s experiences.

Despite the many advantages to farmers using YouTube to reach consumers, there are still disadvantages regarding the algorithms of these platforms. Both Guyler-Alaniz and Schmitt know the concerns for content not reaching its intended audience. Platforms like YouTube and Facebook reserve the right to not push any content they do not agree with or know it won’t draw as many viewers as other content with a different topic. They end up acting as a “Big Brother” and block content they do not agree with, or they limit the amount of people that can see it. Jennifer Schmitt believes, “The more you engage, the more people will engage with you,” That helps reach your audience better than just relying on your content to be pushed by itself.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” said the president of FarmHer, agreeing with Schmitt’s statement. She said that farmers need to be flexible in creating a presence on more than just YouTube, but it is a good place to start.

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Looking into the future, the implementation of YouTube in agricultural advocacy may continue to grow. As an innovative way to appeal to a younger audience, farmers have a way to reach more consumers to share their story. Small farmers can continue to show consumers how they treat their animals, and that helps market their brand and grow their own businesses. Many farmers that are using YouTube to share their story believe that their videos work towards bridging the gap between the agricultural industry and the consumer’s curiosity about where their food comes from. In a Bloomberg article, Zach Johnson, the creator of the Millennial Farmer’s YouTube channel, said, “People have become so disconnected from agriculture. We have a really good opportunity to talk to people, discuss those things and show them why we do the things that we do.”

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