Farm Stays, Farm Shops, Agritourism, how does social media go down on the farm?
In these days and weeks since lock down, we’ve seen virtual experiences popping up everywhere, from online pub quizzes, to gin tasting, cocktail making, cookery, crafting, and goodness knows what else. We’ve had no choice. That’s all there is just now.
The latest is the virtual agricultural show. Yes, the Scottish Agricultural Show is now taking place online on July 3rd and 4th. I’m afraid you’ve missed the deadline to enter your starstruck sheep, gorgeous goat or cool cow, but there’s still plenty time to pack your picnic, take it to your sofa, and enjoy the show!
No worries about the weather, no admission charges, no wellies required, and no traffic jams, but what does this really mean for the future?
Virtual = Volume
LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) co-ordinates farm open days each June, and this year (June 7th) this was also done online. The usual drill is to offer the curious public an opportunity to get onto a farm, meet the team (two legged and four), and learn more about how their food is produced. It’s a great day out but it does take a wee bit of effort, and of course it competes with everything else that (usually) goes on each Sunday. The online version however had footage of animals of every type, including the songs of skylarks, now returning to the countryside due to conservation work by farmers, soft fruit production and even a lesson on how to drive a combine. Environmental and sustainability concerns were addressed, and Kellogg’s showed us how they produce our breakfasts too. Over 85,000 people got involved, 13 different farms were featured, and the feedback was tremendous. I wonder how many of those 85,000 would have got into their cars and visited the actual farms instead?
The farmers involved enjoyed the interaction with their virtual visitors and got a fantastic platform to promote their products, their work ethos, and their efforts to a very receptive, not to say large, audience. Was it better than actual open days perhaps? Well maybe it was in many ways.
Socially Limited Times
The nationwide cancellation of 2020s agricultural show calendar however is having a real impact on farmers themselves. Inevitably farmers spend a lot of time alone, and the long hours and unpredictable demands of livestock and the Scotland’s weather make social occasions rarer for them than for most of us. The shows, fairs and auctions bring welcome opportunities to meet with like-minded people, to trade, to meet suppliers they may only see once per year, check out the latest machinery face to face, and generally enjoy a good ‘news’ with fellow farming folk. They’re also a time to celebrate success and reward. Losing these occasions for interaction is a real issue, and will lead to a sense of isolation for many. Could technology help with this too perhaps?
PR for VR
Research is showing that virtual reality can be a powerful tool for impacting people’s perceptions and actions. With public support for farming and the desire for traceability increasing, giving the public more information about farming practises could be an excellent way to take advantage of these strange times. Farmers are not shy of technology, indeed tractors use satellite links to optimise routes around a field, but it’s not often used to connect farmers directly with their public.
Supporters behind the Screen
Britain has higher animal welfare standards than most. Some feel these are under threat as we enter new markets and leave the EU, but the farming community (and informed consumers) are passionately determined to maintain them. Fair pricing can be best supported by consumers who understand the costs involved and how the milk, meat, fruit, cereal, veg or eggs arrives at their table. The BBC’s Countryfile is their highest rated TV show, with Adam’s farm and other regular features gathering huge audiences, so why not follow their lead? Why should every farm not have a social media platform to allow interaction with their customers, sharing the news, the successes and failures, the good days and the bad, just as the rest of us do already? Building a brand, building a loyal following, supporters, commiserators, maybe even helpers?
Bringing it Home
Many Scottish farms diversified after foot and mouth, or other pressures, and we now have a burgeoning agritourism sector, not to say some fabulous Scottish gins and opportunities to buy local from farm shops or interacting with producers at the farm gate. These businesses have embraced the need to connect directly with the public, and are reaping the rewards of doing so. With such diversity in Scottish farming in terms of produce, landscape and practises, perhaps more could be encouraged to take that step forward, to reach out to consumers, to educate and inform us all, and to involve us in their lives.
Why? Well we all need a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist and a minister every now and again, but we need a farmer three times EVERY day!
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