JACKSON -- Social media is often thought of only as a way to keep up with friends and family, but electronic communication is an essential part of today’s farming operations.

Angus Catchot, Extension professor and entomology specialist with Mississippi State University’s Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology, said the number of farmers and consultants who use social media and other online platforms might surprise many people.

“It’s not just those in the younger generation who are using technology,” said Catchot, who contributes to the Extension Service’s Crop Situation Blog. “Most producers keep up with the newest and latest trends. They are very tech savvy.”

MSU’s Extension Service and Mississippi Agricultural, Forestry and Experiment Station specialists noticed how their clients were communicating a few years ago, and they joined the conversation. Row crop specialists and agents use Twitter and blogs to tell producers about pest problems, disease issues, market variations and other row crop-related news.

In 2010, the Crop Situation Blog replaced the Crop Situation Newsletter, a move that saves time and money for producers, consultants, industry professionals and university specialists, Catchot said.

“The electronic platform is much more efficient in getting and sharing information and meets the needs of all involved better,” he said. “We, in Extension and MAFES, are much more in tune with the client. With the newsletter, all we knew is that we sent it to 1,000 people. But with the electronic version, we know what clients are clicking on, which tells us what they are interested in and what they need more information on.”

Producers like the direct communication that social media platforms offer, Catchot said.

“The ability to get information instantaneously has changed the way producers are able to function,” he said. “If they are sitting in the field ready to spray for an insect, they can know within a few minutes what substance to use and how much to spray. That saves them time and money and can increase their profitability.”

That explains why an overwhelming number of producers are clicking, surfing and posting.

“It's hard to say exactly how many producers are using social media,” said Owen Taylor, senior editor with AgFax Media LLC, a Brandon-based electronic publisher that focuses on regional and national agricultural news. “But we do know it's a high and growing percentage.”

Owen Taylor said AgFax’s audience is also increasingly using mobile devices.

“We can track how people open AgFax advisories and find that a majority of them are now viewed on mobile devices. In addition, up to a third of the AgFax website’s traffic is on a handheld device,” Owen Taylor said.

Social media represents only a portion of the technology that benefits the agriculture industry.

“If the farmer isn’t sitting on the side of the field with a tablet or Smartphone, he most likely has a cell phone at the least,” Catchot said. “He can contact his county agent at any time of day to get the answer he needs. The days of waiting until office hours to find out what you need to know are gone.”

David Taylor, a row crop and cattle producer in Panola County, can vouch for that.

He and his crop consultant use mobile devices to stay on top of potential pest and disease issues at the farm Taylor runs with his father.

“I have an iPhone, but I haven’t used it for the apps,” said David Taylor, who is not related to Owen Taylor. “I use it for the high resolution pictures it takes, and most of the time that saves a trip. If I see something I think is a problem, all I have to do is snap a photo of it.”

Source: Susan Collins-Smith