A misconception many people have about farmers is that they are introverts. There is the assumption that, because they live in rural areas and work in fields far from others, they are not social. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. Gather a group of farmers around a table and start talking about the weather and you will not be able to get a word in edgewise.
More than once I sat in a room full of over 200 farmers and witnessed a heated 45 minute discussion about our time zone. Yes, farm folks are very social people, and this pandemic isolation has been just as hard on them as the rest of society.
While many urban residents have been working from home for the past eight months in their yoga pants and bunny slippers, farmers have experienced their own form of isolation with the cancellation of field days, farm shows, and conventions. These events are not only a vital source of information for producers, they are major social events.
Organizers have provided virtual alternatives; but, for the most part, farmers have not participated in them. Research conducted by the Millennium Organization and funded by J.L. Farmakis, Inc. has revealed that only about 25% of farmers participated in these virtual events.
While rural broadband and technology issues may have played a small part in this, the farmers surveyed indicated it was the inability to connect with other farmers and talk one-on-one with key company representatives that made the difference.
In an on-line farmers’ panel discussion sponsored by the Farmakis organization, the producers talked about how face-to-face connections with experts and company representatives are so important. “It builds trust” was a common theme. Several producers said company representatives who they knew by name and could talk with, helped build trust. This was especially true if that rep also farms.
“If they have some skin in the game, their information has a lot more credibility,” said one farmer. In-person farm shows have and will continue to be a place where this interaction can occur and trust can be gained.
Farmers talking with other farmers is another way information is disseminated. Farmers Business Network recently established a community page where producers can participate in wide-ranging discussions and can gain information and insights from other farmers. FBN reports this is one the most popular sections in their platform.
While big companies are touting their virtual events and webinars, farmers are counting the days until they can gather at an in-person event. The winter shows have all been canceled, and it remains to be seen if the summer field days and fall outdoor shows are allowed to happen.
Farm World and Hoosier Ag Today, owners of the Indiana Farm Equipment and Technology Expo, are planning on a December in-person event. A new location in Westfield, IN, some pent up demand, and an impressive lineup of speakers is expected to draw a big crowd. This show has always striven to provide plenty of face time with exhibitors, a free coffee shop for social gathering, and lots of time to talk about farming.
December 14 – 16, 2021 are the dates of the show. This may well be the first farm show some farmers will attend in two years. The pandemic has made us all more comfortable with virtual meetings and conversations; but, especially for farmers, nothing beats a hand shake and in-person conversation.