‘Sunflower Farmer’ a Social Media Fixture
Friday, November 27, 2015
filed under: Marketing/Risk Management
If you’re on social media, you might know him. “Sunflower Farmer” has quite a presence on Twitter and Instagram. In real life, he’s Mark Rohrich, a farmer and agronomist from Ashley, N.D.
Rohrich farms with his dad and brother. They grow around 800 acres of oil sunflower; the rest of their acres are split among soybeans, corn and spring wheat. Since 2012, Rohrich and fellow agronomist Matthew Schlepp have been running Maverick Ag, a full-service agronomy center specializing in commercial seed, crop protection products and fertilizer. As if that’s not enough, Rohrich also finds time to maintain several social media accounts, where he talks about farming and is happy to interact with producers from across the world.
“I started my Twitter account in 2008, when Twitter was first getting started. I didn’t do anything with it for a few years; I just didn’t see the point,” says Rohrich. “I came back to it in 2011 and started following more farmers, grain traders and other people who provided information and insight into agriculture in different parts of the country, and even the world.”
Now, with nearly 7,000 Twitter followers, Rohrich makes time most mornings and evenings to tweet. His passion about agriculture is evident in his tweets. Tweets must be 140 characters or less, which is just fine with Rohrich.
“I like to write things that are short and sweet,” he says. “I share photos, videos and thoughts that people seem to be interested in. My Twitter followers ask questions and I do my best to answer them. I get direct messages from farmers wondering how to produce sunflower. I give general recommendations based on how we farm and what works for us. I offer advice on things to watch out for, like diseases.”
Basically, he says, he gets the conversation started. He’s happy to answer questions from producers, from non-farmers, and even from people who know nothing about agriculture.
“A lot of my followers are farmers, but I also have followers who are attorneys, doctors, housewives; really any kind of person you can imagine, I think I’ve seen them in my followers. The ones I interact with most are farmers, grain traders and people who share some of the same agriculture backgrounds. But there are definitely people out there looking to know a farmer and know more about farming.”
It is those people, those non-farmers, that Rohrich hopes take time to read his posts, and ask questions. He says it’s those followers who remind him of the importance of sharing good and accurate information and who inspire him to do his part to combat some misinformation that has become all too common.
“It is important farmers have a social media presence, especially in light of all the challenging issues we face today, like GMOs and herbicides” he says. “We need to share the real information, the real stories. It should be just as easy for us to spread correct information as it is for others to spread misinformation.”
But Twitter isn’t the only social media platform Rohrich uses. He’s also on Instagram with the same “sunflowerfarmer” username. Instagram appeals to him because it’s visual — Instagram is a social networking app made for sharing photos and videos from a smartphone. Since Rohrich, like many farmers, always has his smartphone with him, it’s easy to upload photos and videos of his daily farming activities. His most popular posts have been of things like sunflower harvest, sunflower in bloom, and planting. Those posts have led to more than 2,200 followers, and connections with producers just down the road as well as those on the other side of the globe.
“It is helpful to have connections around the world,” explains Rohrich. “It helps me think beyond what we do here; it really is a world market. It’s always good to learn how others do things.”
Rohrich has become real life friends with many of his Twitter and Instagram followers. In fact, he even met his wife, Jenny, on Twitter.
“We had a circle of friends in common, and we started tweeting at each other. That led to direct messaging, then we started Skyping, and eventually I said I needed to meet this girl,” Mark remembers. “She was in California and I was in North Dakota, so I went to California. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I’d convinced her to move to North Dakota and to marry me.”
Jenny wasn’t quite as keen on social media as Mark. She didn’t join Twitter until 2011, after a family friend begged her to start tweeting.
“I didn’t even know what a tweet was!,” she says. “I was living in California at the time, helping my parents with their butcher shop. A beef producer friend of ours came to me and asked me to start tweeting and blogging. She wanted someone to write about beef, so that’s what I did. I started blogging about meat; I wrote about where meat comes from and explaining different cuts of meat.”
That led her to Twitter, and to Mark, and eventually to North Dakota, where she continues to blog and tweet. Her blog has changed — it’s now called Prairie Californianand is a journal of her life, her hobbies, and the couple’s adventures in farming.
“I started writing about living in North Dakota, about being married to a farmer, about the crops we grow on our farm,” Jenny relates. “Where I grew up in California, farmers grow rice and nuts. Row crops like sunflower, corn and soybeans were new to me. I asked Mark a ton of questions, which he very patiently answered, and I continue to share what I learn about these crops on my blog.”
Shortly after she started blogging at prairiecalifornian.com, Jenny had a post go viral. She’d been married for two months and her new husband was busy with the fall harvest. She was frustrated and took to her keyboard to write a comical and sarcastic blog post called “Ten ways marrying a farmer changes your life.” Two days after she posted it, the Huffington Post picked it up — and people around the world were reading Jenny’s blog.
“I got emails, messages and comments right on my blog from people saying how much that post hit home for them,” Jenny says. “Anyone who had a common bond with someone who was married to a farmer was able to relate and understand and get a little insight into what this life is really like.”
That post inspired Jenny to do more with her blog. She makes it a point to blog at least three times a week. Her posts range from recipes to photography and farming topics, but all posts lead back to agriculture.
“I want people to think of me not just as a farmer or a farmer’s wife, but rather as a whole person. I share a lot of my interests on my blog. I love to cook and did not plan on being a food blogger; but people were asking for my recipes, so I started sharing them. I share about agriculture because I’m interested in that. I share about photography because it’s a passion of mine.
“I am always trying to think of new and unique ideas for my blog. This year I did a series of posts I called ‘Crop of the Month.’ Each month during our growing season, I featured one of the four crops we grow on our farm. I came up with recipes to use those crops and shared those recipes. I’ve learned that the more I talk about other things, like cooking, the more agriculture comes up. That really draws in non-agriculture people; and when I blog about agriculture, those readers learn something new and get a glimpse of — and hopefully an appreciation for — our life as farmers.”
For Jenny, her blog is her number one social media tool, followed by Facebook (3,325 people like her Prairie Californian Facebook page) and Instagram (she has nearly 2,500 Instagram followers). She still tweets, but these days, Jenny leaves most of that to her husband/sunflowerfarmer. Both say social media has been a huge part of their lives, not just because it’s what led them to each other, but because they believe it’s a great way to advocate for agriculture.
“It’s like the local coffee shop, on a much bigger scale. You can visit with other farmers at any time,” says Mark. “I think it’s important to be real on social media. I share a lot of pictures, because I’m a visual person and because I think pictures help get conversations started. Photos of real life show what’s happening in real life at any particular moment. I share the good stuff — a good-looking sunflower field — as well as the bad stuff — a flat tire on the combine. That makes it more real and more relatable.”
“You might think social media isn’t for you. But as producers and people working with agriculture, I think we all have a responsibility to share our knowledge. I’d tell people to start with one social media site and not to add another until you’re comfortable with that one. It can be overwhelming, but I think it’s so important we take a few minutes to share our story. People want to know about farming. We owe it to them to show them what we do.” — Jody Kerzman