Friday, 7 October 2011

"Talking".. From County Shows to.... Facebook, Twitter & Mobile Phones

Steve Jobs death this week is a sad loss to the world.
 “Super Inventor & Innovator” Steve Jobs from Apple created massive change which will effect everyone & led a blistering pace of innovation in communications. What an inspiration.Watch this amazing speech
In rural workplaces we are all witness to some amazing changes in communications between farmers & people in general. It’s happening faster than some of us like & it’s relentless. Steve Jobs has played a big hand in that change & I suspect his influence hasn’t yet been fully realized.
In the last decade dairy farmer numbers in the UK have more than halved. Fewer sons or daughters are taking over the family farms. The number of people working in rural UK has dropped dramatically too. So many of our countryside institutions & annual events are struggling to survive e.g. like the livestock markets, the county shows & ploughing matches. These events rely heavily on a core group of dedicated older people to organize & they struggle to get both participants & a fee paying crowd. For centuries this is where farmers met & talked to each other, sharing information. Should we lament this change or accept that it has changed forever?
Sons used to learn their farming trade & skills from fathers or grandfathers. 
That rarely happens now as young people are encouraged to go off to University or College. Their return often creates tension & communication is difficult between the generations. Young married couples on farms have new challenges in communications which can be very difficult especially for young women who don’t have a farming background.
Farming families often have communication issues just because the workplace is the home & the living space.
People say but why cant we just talk to other people?? 
We need to acknowledge that there are difficulties & our talking isn’t always a very effective way of communicating, sometimes very sadly with tragic outcomes.
When we speak to one another the actual words account for less than thirty % of the communication message…..our tone, our emphasis, our body language convey far more than the words alone. Women are usually far better at communication than men. In fact men in general are pretty awful communicators. Ask any woman if you don’t believe me! One of reasons is that women in general are better at talking out issues whereas men retreat to their caves. Women often use much more flamboyant hand movements to assist in getting the message over successfully. 
Now it’s an age of “Steve Jobs driven” technology. In Ireland in 2009 there were 10 billion SMS text messages sent, an increase of 180% over 2004. In 2004 65% of Irish farmers had internet access by 2010 it was 96%.
The big trends for the next five years are forecasted to be a move to mobiles (from PCs), more social media & an increase in the use of the “cloud” (sharing & storing information & data in cyber space)
Increasingly social media is here to stay. Social media is likely to replace most emails & phone calls. Facebook has currently got 800 million users. Scary stuff…..not really! However we will be faced with ever changing change.This will be challenging especially to new comers. 
400 pasture based dairy farmers & their advisers in the UK (& 6 other countries) are regular users of Facebook. There are a number of online Facebook Discussion Groups for pasture based dairy farmers. The Facebook technology is very good for private online discussions. Will it replace face to face in the paddock Discussion Groups….probably not but the two work very effectively together. What the internet has allowed is for farmers from different counties & different countries who share a common interest to effectively “talk to each other regularly”. I suspect as Facebook updates we will soon have regular video discussions.
Women are greater users of social media than men. Women are the early adopters of social media & social networking.
“Twitter” is another amazing internet phenomenon.
Yet to be used by many farmers but could have a major role as twitter posts are helping to bridge the urban – rural divide. Each message is restricted to 140 characters or less.
I think every farmer has a responsibility to become an advocate for his/her farm, the farm staff, his/her farming industry & his/her food that is produced by the farm. Dairy farmers in the USA seem much better at this than we are but there’s a lot we can learn from them.
Twitter is also seeing the evolution of online weekly chats by farmers e.g. & the Australian version!/AgChatOZ
Phones & social media are connecting eaters to the sources/producers of food. As women make over 90% of the household purchasing decisions (especially groceries) the way to connect with consumers will increasingly be via social media. This is a fantastic opportunity that every farmer can contribute to in a positive way. We don’t want to hand this responsibility to someone else (like DairyUK for example)…..that’s a huge risk! Farm business needs to be on the same channels as trading partners & customers/consumers.
One of Steve Jobs legacy will be the move from office based computers to mobile phones. Mobile phones have become powerful computers that are carried in handbags, pockets, cars & tractors. Increasingly farmers are using their phones to access the internet & social media. Twelve months ago virtually 100% of people accessing this blog online were doing so from desk computers. Today the readers come from over 60 countries & approx 20% are accessing the blog from mobile phones. This is a massive change & one that is likely to accelerate. I want pasture based dairy farmers to be at the forefront & to be early adopters of new technology.
Are pasture based dairy farmers using “cloud technology”…..yes they are! Discussion groups are using Agrinet for pasture wedge graphs & sharing this information within their Discussion Groups.  
The Irish based company is also utilizing YouTube to help train users of the pasture wedge graphs & pasture budgets.
The need for technology will increase around the use of grazed grass. Web based tools that allow dairy farmers to communicate with one another; the milk processor, the marts, cattle breeding companies etc. will facilitate increased efficiency at farm level.
Dairy farm users of  for file & data sharing are effectively using “cloud type technology”
Pasture Promise TV
This week we saw the launch of PasturePromise internet TV. High quality videos on pasture management & grassfed milk. It stars NOT Tom Cruise NOR Tom Jones but our very own Tom Malleson & Mark Read from Dorset. Well done guys!
Steve Jobs sad passing won’t slow the blistering pace of change in communications. Pasture based dairy farmers need grab the new technologies with both hands. Yes we will have to learn to adapt to constant change but the opportunities are too great to turn our backs & say it’s all too difficult. Keep up or step aside!
Current UK Pasture Measurements
Cold change no good for pasture growth. Rainfall very hit & miss
TheAverage Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)
South Ayreshire, Scotland, AFC 2337, growth 15, demand 18kgs DM
Cumbria, AFC 2575, growth27, demand 22
Cheshire organic, 1750, gr 15, demand 27 grazing rotation 50 days
Shropshire, 2318, gr26, cows drinking alot but no limitation
Herefordshire, 2322, gr 24, de 25, following autumn planner 60% in 30 days
Oxfordshire, 2100, gr 20, de 20
Gloucestershire, 2640, gr 84, de 50, Peak growth rate of year.
Somerset, 2750, gr 65 quality not so good with high covers, growth will fall cos of low temps
Dorset, 2678, gr 50,
Dorset, 2700, gr 35, de 38, See you in RWC Semi finals
East Sussex, 2000, gr 20, RWC easier to watch now as only 49 cows to calve
North Devon, 2900, gr 50, rotation 50 days
Cornwall, AFC 2650, gr 53, de 39, cut 10% of milking platform last week, 3200 covers, 1800 residuals

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