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How farmers are networking and sharing ideas online

  • 3.5 min read

Innovation and discovering trends are big factors in promoting financial recovery and stability in Canadian agriculture.

Farm shows - from regional commodity business meetings to major farm equipment events - are valuable sources of ideas and trend discoveries. But restrictions on large indoor gatherings because of COVID-19 precautions offers an opportunity to find new ways of promoting ideas.

More social media

The in-person networking typically done by producers is now replaced largely by online interactions. The Canadian agricultural sector – especially individual farmers – have a strong, dynamic social media community. It pivoted slightly in the spring of 2020.

“Social media over the last five years or so has blossomed in agriculture, and I think this probably will accelerate that trend,” says Tyler Fulton, a board member with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

With the reduction of in-person presentations, the Internet is also relied on for more information.

“I think there has been a big move to provide content online,” says Vanessa Stockbrugger, founder of Womencents.

She’s witnessed a surge in webinars since conferences were paused.

Going virtual

Many major events have transitioned to virtual ones, like Ag in Motion and the Canadian Beef Industry Conference.

Stockbrugger says this change creates an opportunity for those who couldn’t attended in person previously and brings a broader diversity of voices to the online discussions.

Stockbrugger sees online networking as opportunities to connect. In some instances, conferences offer the possibility of searching other attendees’ profiles by keyword or listing something about yourself that can be searched by others.

“You might be able to meet and connect with more people than even by walking around a trade show,” she says.

Simultaneously, platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter are also a chance to share and network with industry.

Stockbrugger notes that with pre-recorded presentations at some conferences, virtual speakers could address questions in a chatroom during the playing of their presentation, creating a forum for connection.

Trade shows, a mainstay at most farm gatherings, are largely being replaced by virtual trade shows, ranging from videos and downloadable brochures from the host website to setting up meetings with exhibitors.

Social media, online events and other virtual events have become valuable platforms for learning in agriculture, with their significance heightened in 2020.

Direct sales offer financial stability

As the focus on financial recovery and stability continues, Canadian farmers have devised new ways to sell their goods to offset the shocks that reverberated through their usual markets in 2020.

The most common response is some form of direct selling to consumers.

The focus on financial recovery and stability continues and Canadian farmers have devised new ways to sell their goods to offset the shocks that reverberated through their usual markets.

Many Canadian farms quickly transitioned to online platforms that offered prepaid orders. Delivery is sometimes an option, or pick-up on-site or at a central location.

Some have partnered with other local businesses to sell additional products in their virtual stores, like baked goods and pantry items. Drive-through farm markets also popped up across the country, with innovations like online ordering and contactless curbside pick-up options for customers.

OFA has developed a guide for direct sales, and the Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Association has several resources available for those selling direct.

Market innovation is also present in the livestock sector. The Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association can connect buyers to ranchers with a directory of members offering direct sales of beef.

In Alberta, the provincial government’s amended meat inspection regulations improves access to locally produced meat.

Changes include increased licensing options for personal-use slaughter and allowing consumers to buy an animal directly from a farm that’s slaughtered on-site.

Overall, farmers are reconsidering production models, triggering innovation and change.

Danielle Collins, a policy analyst with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, says the direct sales model has worked well for many producers.

“We know some have been pleasantly surprised by their innovations and pivots and are looking to continue those new strategies,” says Collins.

Bottom line

Innovation and discovering trends are big factors in helping promote financial recovery and stability in Canadian agriculture. Whether farmers are gathering online to share ideas and learn, or whether there’s a pivot to a new business model of direct sales, the agriculture sector continues to move forward.

Article by: Richard Kamchen