Across the United States, farm demographics and the way people access information are changing. In the last Census of Agriculture from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agriculture Statistic Service (USDA-NASS), the number of female farm producers increased by 27%, and the number of small farms [<10 acres (4.0 ha)] increased by 22%, more than any other farm size (USDA-NASS, 2017). Of small farm producers: 44% are women, 42% have ≤10 years’ experience, 49% are under age 44 years (14 years younger than the average producer), 78% have Internet, and 40% rely on mobile-based Internet (USDA-NASS, 2017). To meet the needs of this growing group of younger, less experienced, and technologically advanced farmers, extension programming requires modern and adaptable approaches.
Internet access and mobile devices, particularly smart phones, have increased social media networking (e.g., Poushter et al., 2018). In Utah, a rapidly growing group of predominantly new, small-scale female farmers ranked social media as the primary vehicle used to access agricultural information (36% preference) over other sources, such as Cooperative Extension fact sheets (32%), in a survey by M.N. Stock at the Utah Urban and Small Farms Conference (survey of cut flower growers in the U.S. Intermountain West, 4 Mar. 2020). Within social media platforms, Instagram (Menlo Park, CA) was top-rated (58%), followed by Facebook (Menlo Park, CA) (33%), Other (6%), and Twitter (San Francisco, CA) (3%) by growers surveyed at the 2019 Utah Urban and Small Farms Conference by M.N. Stock (survey of cut flower growers, 20 Feb. 2019). In general, Facebook was described as an outdated platform and Twitter’s format too limiting to convey useful information for farm decision-making. Indeed, outside of agriculture, Instagram is commonly known for attracting younger and more diverse groups (Salomon, 2013; Ting et al., 2015).
These trends indicate the importance of diversifying extension programming through digital applications—particularly Instagram. Cultivating an adaptive online presence allows extension to reach new clientele, promote science-based information to new farmers, and combat digital disinformation. In response, an Instagram-based extension campaign was launched to regularly share research updates, provide timely alerts for farm management, promote extension events, and, most importantly, connect with less represented farmers—namely, younger, small-scale, female growers of premium horticultural crops. The goal of this article is to 1) share recommendations for key activities on Instagram and attainable goal setting, 2) discuss metrics for quantifying successes and impact, and 3) reflect on novel opportunities.
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