Connecting with Consumers to Show Farming ‘Behind the Scenes’
Zach Johnson didn’t set out to be a social media sensation, but just a few years after he started MN Millennial Farmer, that’s exactly what he is.
Yet, Johnson has built a following as MN Millennial Farmer and is a little surprised at his “influencer” status in many social media circles.
“I started the YouTube channel in the spring of 2016, and it was just a hobby. It never really took off until the fall of 2017,” he said. “Up until then, I wasn’t making many videos. I didn’t know that it would ever actually become what it is at this point.”
Where It Started
“I started because I’ve got family and friends either from rural areas or connected to rural areas that I thought should have a little bit of an understanding of how agriculture works,” Johnson said. This lack of understanding, coupled with the amount of inaccurate information shared on social media about agriculture, spurred Johnson to head to social media to connect with people.
“I was seeing a lot of stuff on social media that just wasn’t true or wasn’t the whole truth,” Johnson said. “I got really concerned about how we need to connect with consumers going forward because information now is so available. There had to be some good opportunities for farmers to put themselves out there on different platforms and try to relate to people.”
It’s been a wild ride for Johnson, who said there always seems to be something coming up for him to make a video or post about. He hopes not only to connect with consumers but to encourage farmers to share their voice and show off their operations.
“Farming is so diverse. There’s a lot more out there than just corn and soybean farmers,” he said. “It’s been cool to see a lot of different farmers from all over the country start something up and doing things to show people what it’s like everywhere else.”
Where Does Content Come From?
Inspiration comes to Johnson from all over, often from things he’s noticed in online discussions. In each of Johnson’s posts, he aims to shed light on what farming is really like. He shows the farm up-close, from the soil to the combine.
“When you drive down the interstate or the backroads and see these farms, what’s going on behind the scenes to make the decisions that farmers make? I want to show people that we have reasons for doing the things we do and for believing the things we believe,” he said. “There are significant reasons why a lot of us choose to use GMOs, pesticides, drain tile or other things like that.”
To Johnson, farming goes beyond science. There is a lot of craft and creativity in discovering what works on a farming operation — and what doesn’t.
“Farmers have so much technology coming at us, but it still has to come down to the art of farming,” he said. “Farming is just as much an art as it is a science.”
Millennial Farmer and Farm Tech
Technology is both a blessing and a curse, Johnson added. With new developments coming at farmers from all angles, he said it’s hard to know what to try sometimes.
One thing Johnson said has been helpful on his 2,600-acre operation in west-central Minnesota is deep nutrient soil banding.
“We band our nutrients below the soil to keep them safe hopefully from any type of erosion,” he said. “We’re always trying to figure out what type of technology is useful and will show a return on investment and what types of technology don’t necessarily give you a return.”
Data platforms for farmers to share their information have also shown their use on Johnson’s family farm. Johnson said he enjoys being able to work together with other farmers and discuss what’s working and what isn’t.
According to research by Pew Research Center, 86% of millennials say they use social media and 73% consider it to have a positive impact on society. And millennial farmers are using social media to connect with consumers and other farmers.
“I think that just gives us more power as farmers to be able to pool our resources in an effort to help everybody,” Johnson said.
Sustainability Matters — to Farmers and Consumers
Sustainability is an issue at the forefront of every farmer’s mind, including Johnson’s. Recently, he’s been working toward integrating cover crops to reduce tillage.
“I think every farmer values sustainability because we have to. It’s how we make our livelihood. If we don’t take care of the natural resources, it affects us first, before anyone else feels the effects,” Johnson said. “I definitely have a sustainability mindset. We’re always looking at how to improve our operation from what it is today to what it may be in 10, 20 or 30 years down the road.”
Johnson sees consumers online care about sustainability too. He shares his farm story with his audience often. Johnson posts several times a week on his social media channels about all parts of farm life, including day-to-day operations, technology and sustainability. He also enjoys involving his family in his videos and posts occasionally.
“I want consumers to see that I am a father, a husband and a family man because that’s who farmers are,” said Johnson. “We’re still family farmers out here doing the same thing we’ve always done and doing what we love to do.”