When it comes to connecting with other farmers and researchers, there’s no substitute for being there. Just consider attendance at events such as Crop Connect in Manitoba or Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show in Ontario, and that’s clear.
But when producers can’t physically be at an event because they’re tied up with their herd, they can turn to social media to stay in the know.
That’s one approach being taken in regards to knowledge mobilization by coordinators of the National Mastitis Council, who held a regional meeting this summer at the University of Guelph.
The meeting had been long anticipated – in fact, it had been almost 20 years since the last one — and drew an impressive 300 veterinarians, milk quality advisors, and producers.
However, there are about 3,800 dairy farmers in Ontario alone. Organizers knew that regardless of the topic’s importance, attendees would only skim the surface of the industry pool that could benefit from the meeting presentations.
And now, that’s where social media is coming in handy.
As a result of video recording the entire day-long meeting, organizers have posted nine presentations from the event on the YouTube channel of [email protected], a cross-faculty group created by researchers there, to improve contact and communication among the many University of Guelph research teams that conduct research work related to dairy.
“We’re using social media to try to leverage the educational opportunities available to producers and increase their access to information from mastitis experts from around the world,” says meeting host Prof. David Kelton, who holds the Dairy Farmers of Ontario research chair in dairy cattle health at the Ontario Veterinary College.
The video-recorded presentations include topics such as reducing antimicrobial use, improving bedding, composting, lipid structure of milk, and lameness, for example.
Kelton notes social media tools, especially Twitter, are increasing among dairy practitioners.
“Many farmers are active in social media, so that interaction via Twitter and other tools seems to be growing in terms of information dissemination,” he says.
Indeed, the landmark National Dairy Study led by Kelton three years ago indicated that about 20 per cent of Canadian dairy farmers were active users of Twitter. About a quarter of them were using it to solicit information about animal health issues.
Given the growth in social media, Kelton expects the numbers are likely double that now.
The YouTube-based mastitis communication initiative is one of several efforts underway by practitioners working to reach increasingly busy producers. Researchers understand knowledge mobilization involves delivering messages and information in different ways, so it’s important to make communication as wide as possible through an assortment of social media tools.
Researchers are also learning more about the dynamics of communications between producers and practitioners. A collaborative research effort last year between eastern and western Canadian researchers showed that despite the rise in social media, farm visits still have their place. In fact, they are considered highly effective for mobilizing knowledge from sources to producers.
“We’re not sure why,” says Kelton, “that’s the next phase of the research, but it may be related to producers feeling more relaxed on their own farms, so they’re more open there to information from practitioners, compared to a visit to a veterinarian’s office or other venue.”