Using Social Media to Assist Maine’s Agricultural Community

As the nation’s farmers increasingly are using the Internet and social media for accessing crop, market and weather reports, communications, and agricultural research, a new tri-state Cooperative Extension collaborative will bring agricultural service providers up to speed on the latest online and social media tools to make their work with farmers more effective.

University of Maine Cooperative Extension educator and assistant professor Ellen Mallory is co-coordinating a three-year professional development project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NE-SARE) program to help agricultural and conservation colleagues in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont learn about new communications technologies and applications. The Universities of New Hampshire and Vermont are project partners.

Mallory says USDA has provided SARE professional development funding in the three states over the last three years for training Extension and other agricultural service providers in local grain production, on-farm energy sources and conservation. The collaborators surveyed their audience about the next initiative, and exploring social media “got the most votes.”

Beginning in mid-December, Extension and agricultural educators will participate in at least five of up to 15 periodic online training sessions on specific social media tools, then use one of the tools in their outreach work with farmers. Project
coordinators will provide follow-up support for participants, including online group discussions to troubleshoot and share experiences with the various tools.

“The first session will be on ‘what is the landscape of social media,'” Mallory says. “We’ll be covering how to figure out which tools are best suited for what specific things we’re trying to do.”

The grant of nearly $35,000 in each of the next three years will fund outreach for the NE-SARE program and also separate professional development training in whole farm sustainability. The social media project has a dual purpose — increasing educators’ ability to use online tools, in addition to making them aware of how farmers are using them. Making better use of technology also can reduce travel expenses, while maintaining quality outreach activities, according to Mallory.

“We’re looking for a more cost effective way to provide information,” she says. “It’s driven by the fact that farmers are getting a lot of information that way, and we need to be keeping up by adapting.”

While young generations of farmers are particularly tech-savvy in the 21st century, even older, more traditional farmers are using digital technology, utilizing informational tools such as You Tube, Twitter, Adobe Connect, Facebook, LinkedIn, and an assortment of aggregators, search engines and survey programs.

“Some have beautiful websites and use~them for communicating with customers, such as blogging,” says Mallory, who holds a joint appointment with Cooperative Extension and the UMaine Department of Plant, Soil, and Environmental Sciences. “Of course, there’s a whole scale, a range of how well people use these online tools, but there are some really skilled farmers using them very effectively.”

People who provide education and support for farmers, “at a minimum, should understand what’s available and what farmers are using,” she says.

Contact: Ellen Mallory, (207) 581-2942