Tweeting on farm

All sorts of agricultural groups are springing up on Twitter, providing a way for farmers to connect. The three leading groups in the UK are #AgrichatUK, #clubhectare, and #AgGen – each with its own distinctive community and purpose, but all with a shared passion for the industry and its people.

“Both AgrichatUK and clubhectare are ‘virtual’ coffee shops where you can introduce yourself and get to know like- or not-so-like-minded people,” says Julie Robinson, an agricultural specialist at Roythornes solicitors in Lincolnshire, who helps host AgrichatUK, and is a member of clubhectare.

Whether you want to debate, get support, make friends, share knowledge, or even drive change, there is a group for you. And with 10 million people on Twitter in the UK, perhaps it’s no surprise that farmers are using the site to such effect.

#AgrichatUK

How did it all start?

Back in March, four strangers found themselves on Twitter talking about how they could help farmers connect over the big issues. After a couple of weeks of chatting, fruit and arable farmer Charles Tassell, Farmers Weekly web producer Edward Morgan, international agribusiness student Simon Haley, and journalist Jez Fredenburgh, decided to do something about it.

The result was a weekly discussion group for UK farmers. The first AgrichatUK debate was duly held at the end of March, focusing on the UK drought and attracting around 30 participants. The debates have continued and grown every week since, and AgrichatUK is now the UK’s biggest weekly farming discussion on Twitter.

To keep up with the growing demands, further team members – Julie Robinson, an agricultural specialist at Roythornes solicitors in Lincolnshire, and Adam Bedford of the British Agriculture Bureau in Brussels – recently joined the team, along with Michael Hudson, an IT specialist at Syngenta, who compiles archives of the debates.

What’s it all about?

A community of “AgrichatUK-ers” that discusses a different farming topic every Thursday night between 8-10pm. The chat brings together farmers from across the UK and even abroad, food and farming organisations such as the NFU, FCN, Red Tractor and Forum for the Future, journalists, scientists and conservationist, and anyone else interested in or working in associated industries.

“The aim of AgrichatUK”, says Simon, “is to give everyone in agriculture a place to discuss pressing rural issues, share ideas, debate hot topics and connect with others who may not otherwise be easily accessible. It is an open discussion, with plenty of opinion, debate and ideas.”

Although the discussions are organised by the AgrichatUK team of volunteers, the group is very much “community owned”, Simon explains: “It is run by and for its community – weekly topics are suggested by users, as are the questions used in each debate.”

Topics are wide ranging, from agricultural education, to environmental issues, technologies, diversification, and pressures faced by the industry. “Emergency chats” have also been held for pressing issues such as the dairy crisis and bovine TB.

The group has recently been working with Farmers Weekly, the NFU and RuSource to reach a wider audience. It collaborated closely with Farmers Weekly for its recent discussion on mental health, its most popular chat to date, which saw contributions from the government’s advisor on suicide prevention, the minister for social care, Gatepost, Farm Crisis Network and the RABI, among others.

Why should I get involved?

If you like a good debate, want to share your experiences and stories, and discuss all manner of agricultural issues, then this is the place to do it.

“AgriChatUK is the perfect way for farmers to share best practice and experiences, while at the same time interact with suppliers and customers. Also, the opportunity to explain farming to a non-farming audience should not be missed,” says Charles.

Twitter Farming Groups Abroad

More than 140 million people use Twitter globally, so perhaps it’s not surprising that farming groups now exist all over the world from the US to Australia, to the Netherlands.

#Agchat – the original farming discussion group. #Agchat started in the US, but has users globally, and has now developed into the Agchat Foundation. It hosts a food and farming debate every Tuesday 8-10pm (GMT -4).

#AgchatOZ – a weekly forum for Australian farmers and the urban public to debate and learn about agricultural issues, every Tuesday 8-10pm (GMT +10). AgchatOZ is now well established and has been running since 2010.

#AgchatNZ – currently a hashtag for New Zealand farmers to connect, but is being developed into a weekly debate soon.

#Guusnet – a weekly discussion for Dutch people on rural development, every Tuesday 8-9pm (GMT +1). The group has been going for one and a half years and has connections with the Ministry for Agriculture. It also uses #Toekomstglb to debate CAP reform.

#clubhectare

How did it all start?

When East Yorkshire arable farmer Jono Dixon and north-east Lincolnshire farm manager Chris Hewis realised farmers were using Twitter, they decided a face-to-face get-together was in order. To organise a “tweet-meet” with fellow farmers, they decided a hashtag was needed – and so #clubhectare was born.

The first get-together in February saw 14 #clubhectare members meet up in a pub. “It was like a blind date for farmers”, says Jono.

Since then the group has gone from strength to strength, and now has more than 300 followers across the UK and as far away as Australia. Look out for them sporting their green and yellow #clubhectare rugby shirts in their Twitter profile pictures; club lapels are on the way, too.

What’s it all about?

An online – and offline – social club for all sorts of people involved in farming the aim of which is to connect, share information and have fun. The club is particularly for arable farmers who may have quite an isolated work life, but all types of farmers get involved. Expect lots of cheerful “good morning” tweets to start the day.

#clubhectare members chat during the day on Twitter, but also meet up several times a year. So far members have come together for farming demonstrations, breakfasts and even birthday parties.

For its first official gathering in May, the group visited an egg farm and a lifeboat station, rounding off the day with a barbecue in Jono’s garden.

“It has become a social gathering, and seems to have taken off nationally”, says Jono.

Why should I get involved?

If you love the social side of farming, but want to learn and share with others too, you had best get yourself a #clubhectare rugby shirt and join this thriving club.

The group is all about connecting with other farmers who might be going through – or have gone through – what you are. Sharing knowledge and expertise can help resolve issues or offer support, and there’s plenty of opportunity to develop friendships, and having fun, too.

“If you take the time to get involved, it’s amazing how educational and useful it can be,” says Jono, adding, “we’re a happy bunch of campers, really.”

#AgGen

How did it all start?

Following an NFU county meeting, Matt Redman, a Bedforshire agricultural contractor and Farmers Weekly arable Farmer Focus writer, sent out question on Twitter: Why was he the youngest person there by a mile? Three young farmers responded – Neil Wilson, a sheep and beef farmer in Dumfries, Gareth Barlow, a rare-breed sheep farmer in North Yorkshire, and Chris Megarry, a production manager for Aviagen in Lothian.

A discussion followed, but with so many names to write in the message, a hashtag was needed to organise the tweets – which is how #AgGen came about.

“Within two days, it went absolutely bananas,” says Neil. “I couldn’t believe how many people picked up on it immediately,” adds Gareth.

Soon after #AgGen started, Neil was asked by the NFU to act as an “official tweeter” for the winter conference, using the #AgGen hashtag to engage young people. The #AgGen community grew even more following this, and is now the UK’s premier hashtag for young people in farming.

What’s it all about?

#AgGen is a collaborative space for anybody interested in the future of farming and for young people to “find common ground, share experiences, and gain confidence”, says Gareth. “It doesn’t aim to be anything, but is driven by and for young people”.

“The beauty of it, is that it’s completely grass roots. It has no agenda and just developed organically,” says Gareth. “It brings together the widest possible audience and you can add to it what you want.”

The group celebrated its one-year anniversary in October.

Why should I get involved?

To learn about and engage in farming’s “future people, future systems, and future technologies with like-minded people,” says Neil.

If you’re a young or wannabe farmer in need of moral and technical support to get going and pursue your dream, then this is the place to get it. Likewise, if you’re someone with a lifetime’s worth of agricultural knowledge to share, contributing to the group is a good way to pass it on to agriculture’s next generation.

How to get involved

Log on to Twitter or set yourself up an account at http://www.twitter.com

Using the search box in Twitter, find the group that you want to join by writing in their hashtag (#AgGen, #clubhectare, or #AgrichatUK)

Select all tweets, and you will be able to see what everyone in the group is saying

Add your thoughts to the group by tweeting a message – always remembering to add the group’s hashtag