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Farmers' operations reach consumers in new ways

New seeds of technology are being planted in the field of agriculture, and social media is rising from the dirt.

As the ideas and initiatives of young farmers are becoming more prevalent in the agricultural industry, the use of social media is becoming a deciding factor between the success or failure of a business endeavor.

While many local farmers, farming associations, and farming equipment vendors have long had an online presence of some kind, most agriculturalists did not examine the benefits of social media until three years ago. Ted Krise, marketing and communications director for Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, recently used Facebook to promote NPPGA's Potato Bowl by giving the event its own Facebook page. NPPGA has its own website and Facebook page, and Krise eventually plans to build a place for NPPGA on Pinterest.

"In our case, our Facebook page for our growers association is focused on the fresh potato industry," he says. "We're marketing through Facebook the nutritional value, recipe ideas, things of that nature just to give people a chance to get online, exchange ideas, and to make comments." Since building NPPGA's Facebook page in 2011, the site has been "liked" by more than 200 NPPGA members and consumers.

Telling a story

"The Black Gold Farms Facebook (page) has been very popular," says Leah Brakke, marketing specialist for Black Gold Farms, which keeps its headquarters in Grand Forks. "We get quite a bit of engagement on the farm side with Facebook, but we get quite a bit of engagement on the consumer side with Pinterest."

In addition to being a younger member of the family that runs Black Gold Farms, Brakke also worked with an agriculture advertising agency for five years before returning to her family's business about two years ago. Brakke learned about the emerging potential for social media during her time as an advertiser, and has since incorporated social media into Black Gold's overall business strategy. Brakke says she has specifically used Facebook to recruit potential employees, unite current employees and their families, and connect with neighbor farmers. Black Gold Farms' Facebook page currently has 1,251 likes, which suggests a large online following for the company.

"We put up a website a few years ago when it was the cool thing to do; everybody had a website just to have a website," Brakke says. "And I would say about 10 years ago, we dug a little deeper. We created a new site that had more to do with targeting potential employees. We wanted to target different vendors and partners, and we wanted to just tell our story. Telling our farm story, we do Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. We also have more of a consumer site promoting our product to consumers. That is a completely different strategy and a completely different look and feel and that one is called 'Better with Reds.' It's where we're promoting red potato usage. With that, we have Facebook, Twitter, but our big thing on that is Pinterest.

"We have different boards. Essentially, what we do is we just scan other people's pages, and we post and we pin different and cool potato recipes, be it mashed potatoes or potato appetizers ... any different kind of usage for potatoes. We follow a lot of influential food bloggers, and they follow us on Pinterest; we pin their stuff and they pin our stuff."

But Brakke describes the growth of Black Gold Farms' online presence as being "slow" and "gradual." Brakke personally oversees and maintains Black Gold Farms' online interests, and says other farming businesses may not have the time or the manpower to devote to social media on a daily basis.

"I also think that a lot of people are confused on what it is they should say or how they should project themselves online," Brakke says. "It needs to fit within their overall marketing strategy."

New possibilities

Todd and Carrie Nelson, owners of Nelson's Pumpkin Patch in Emerado, sell pumpkins on-site in addition to hosting the farm to the public during the fall months. Todd Nelson appreciates social media, but doesn't consider the usage of social media to be a critical factor in the survival of his business. Before the rise of social media, Todd Nelson used a simple website purchased through, the local newspaper, and radio to promote Nelson's Pumpkin Patch. Todd Nelson says he finds social media effective solely because of its cost-effectiveness and reach.

"It's all word of mouth; it's free advertising," Todd Nelson says.

"I'd say our website is more useful, and our newsletter," Krise says. "Our two most effective mechanisms for reaching our members would be our webpage and the newsletter, and direct e-mail. Or, for the consumer side, that's where the social media like Facebook comes in."

Brakke says the Black Gold Farms website was to be the focal point of the company's communications overhaul several years ago, but she found more purpose in social media's benefit to her company the more she examined the agricultural industry.

"We committed to really have a brand with our website. I would say about three or four years ago, that's when the whole 'social world' kind of came into play. So we've been pretty active in social media starting about three years ago. Also, around that time, social media kind of created this new need for transparency in ag. So that's kind of a tool that we use to be transparent in what we do from a farming operations standpoint," Brakke says. "We're just going to try to keep on top of it," Brakke says.