by Stephen Wagner

The New York Animal Agriculture Coalition (NYAAC) recently hosted a virtual panel discussion. “We have a new farming media social group,” said Kelsey O’Shea, an industry relations specialist with American Dairy Association North East. “It is American Dairy Engaged. The idea is to provide you with content ideas, content you can actually share. Updates as to what we’re up to. Updates on research, updates on retail. It’s really supposed to be your one-stop shop for different items – news, social media tricks, seeing other people and connecting with other farmers.”

O’Shea said her group has had more support than bouts of negativity. While Facebook is still a powerhouse, “we should be focusing more on TikTok than Instagram,” O’Shea said.

Kendra Lamb, of Lamb Farms in western New York State, said, “I started the Facebook page in 2011. I was a stay-at-home mom at that point. Everybody has a ‘why’ moment – what motivated them to get started. For me it was my local MOPS (Moms of Pre-Schoolers) group. I was connecting with other moms of young kids. And we had a speaker who made my head want to explode. They were giving poor information about milk, trying to make people nervous about the hormones in milk, and the way it is produced.” That was the motivation she needed to take back the narrative and do a better job of telling their story.

“I’m in a little bit of a unique position. I’m speaking not for myself, but for a group of people,” she said. There are varying comfort levels as far as how controversial Kendra gets on the farm Facebook page because she’s speaking for that group. “A lot of the posts I write are written in a way that I would be talking to someone. I try to keep it pretty positive. Like I say, ‘We really appreciate your patience with us with our trucks on the road,’ that sort of thing.”

Dr. Jody Kull spoke up for the veterinary community. She started her Facebook page in 2009 shortly after she opened her practice. “I try to post something daily just because social media is my outlet in the evening. Sometimes my posts are a little more thorough than others. I do try to reach into that sustainability part and talk about things we’re trying to do in the dairy and beef industry, reaching out to the consumer,” she said. “When I look back at my analytics and I see a post that did really well, I may say ‘I want to show that one again.’ This post was memorable because I shared a story about a phone call I received from a dog and cat adoption rescue agency. My client had used me as a reference, and this rescue agency did not like that I was the reference for the veterinarian. They blew off the fact that my clients were farmers and ‘weren’t going to take care of their animals because they were farmers.’ It opened a whole discussion, and I explained this in my story.”

Cute calves attract viewers. Kull showed a video that she first posted on Instagram. Within 24 hours, it had 13,000 hits. Within two days, it was up to 50,000 views.

Paul Fouts and his family run Fouts Farm, a dairy in Cortland, NY. He was the only panelist who got onto Facebook by accident. “I am not a social person by nature. It wasn’t a big interest of mine, at least not to start with,” he admitted. “I just sort of hopped on and off my wife’s Facebook account, and never commented on anything, but I was able to keep up with some friends.”

One day, “a relative of my wife posted a video that was very negative to agriculture.” Consequently, “I spent a great deal of time explaining to her about how we handle manure, CAFO rules and other things. At the end of that conversation she said that she did not know that. It suddenly dawned on me that she lives in Los Angeles and I’m the only farmer she knows.”

Because he was using his wife’s account, she told him he had to get his own, which he did, “and I started posting some things that were going on around the farm. Lo and behold, people liked what I was doing. Everything was spur of the moment. I’d take my phone out, take a picture of it and make a comment about it.”

Occasionally, Fouts thinks about not doing it. But “they are using what I tell them as references and they tell other people, reaching beyond my friends,” he said. When the pandemic was ramping up and things were going into lockdown, Fouts compared calves in hutches to social distancing, because that’s the reason farmers separate them – to prevent disease.

“The vegan community just took over. I’d wake up in the morning to thousands of comments telling what an awful person I am,” he said. But that isn’t why he’s on social media. “I’m on it to communicate what we’re doing to a select group of friends.”