Rachel Challoner

There were equal parts excitement and trepidation when I was asked to host the @FarmersOfTheUK Twitter account for a week in October 2016:  I had been following the account for several months and was always impressed (and, if I’m honest, slightly intimidated!) by the wealth of expertise out there – people whose families had been farming for generations, who were winning national shows with their livestock, who could reel off technical spec for farm machinery like a shopping list……..then there’s me, @barklandcroft, with my lack of any real agricultural experience but lots of cute pictures of caddy lambs and kittens.....would I be laughed off the account?

I took on my 40-acre croft on Fair Isle (the most remote inhabited island in the UK) in May 2015 – at the time with my then-partner but since July I have been running it on my own.  I don’t come from a farming background so it has been a steep, though enjoyable and rewarding, learning curve.  I currently have 45 sheep (mainly pure Shetland, though a handful of Shetland/Texel crosses, one Suffolk and one Cheviot), a grumpy Texel ram and a handful of hens, cats and dogs.  My land is a mixture of in-bye croft land, shared grazing and common grazing, on which my share of 20 hill sheep roam.

My aim for the account during my week was really to introduce people to Fair Isle, our community (there’s less than 50 full-time residents on the island), our crofting lifestyle and some of the challenges that come with being tenants of the National Trust for Scotland.  We’re such a small island (3.5m long x 1.5m wide) that most people have never heard of us, unless it’s to do with Fair Isle knitting, and I was really overwhelmed with the response I had from people who wanted to know more about the island and our farming practices here.

With no 3G on the island it was sometimes frustrating when I’d be working outside all day and unable to tweet anything till I got within wifi distance of a house, but the FOTUK followers were very patient.  Oh, plus the fact that we don’t have 24-hr electricity on the island – we only have power between 0730-2330hrs – so my tweets were limited to between those times, which meant that some mornings I’d have a mass of tweets to reply to!         

I’m so grateful for the opportunity to host the FOTUK account – realising that my tweets were reaching over 20,000 people really made me feel that I was helping to raise the profile of the island a bit and it was great to read that some folk were already making plans to visit Shetland and Fair Isle in the future.  If anyone is interested in finding out more about the island, there is a two-part BBC documentary showing on BBC1 Scotland at 2100hrs on Monday 28th November and Monday 5th December, called ‘Fair Isle: Living on the Edge’ – do give it a watch and let me know what you think!

Emma Lander

The problem with trying to explain to other people what it’s like to be part of a farming family is that there are so many types of farming that I could tell you about a year in our life but it would be totally different to say an arable or a dairy farmer.

Much like no two days are alike for any farmer, no two farmers are the same either. Not only that but even if you got two sheep farmers, the chances of their way of life and farming being similar is very unlikely as they may have different breeds, be in different parts of the country or just do things differently.

Rather than be in the dark about the different types of farming out there though, in 2014, agricultural expert. Simon Haley who is a Rural Business Advisor, set up Farmers of the UK, a website and Twitter account to showcase the amazing world of agriculture and rural life, here in Great Britain.

It is such a brilliant idea. Each week a different farmer or rural business takes over the Twitter account and tweets about their life and what they do. It exists to showcase the diversity of the British rural industry across the food, farming and countryside sectors.

Last week was Co-Operative Food and Farming. This week it is Young Farmers.

My week took place in August when I thought we would be knee-deep in hay making. Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas but I like to think I gave some kind of insight into our life and, in particular, what I do.

I had a great week. Highlighting issues which are especially close to my heart like dog attacks on sheep.

Due to the nature of the project, each week sees other issues brought to the fore of a massive social media following. I’ve seen tweets on TB testing of cattle, campaigns to support British food as well as highlighting agricultural businesses and organisations-like this week with the National Federation of Young Farmers Clubs.

The majority of the public are interested in what farmers do and, as social media is such a powerful tool in reaching out to even more people, Farmers of the UK is perfect.

For some people who farm in remote areas, this may be the only way of showcasing their life and #aweekinyourwellies.

Farmers of the UK really is worth a follow. You never know, you might learn something yourself. I certainly have.

Lou MacDonald

As a very small family run pig & poultry farm, and new entrant farmers, we were thrilled when offered an opportunity to host a week on Farmers of the UK for #aweekinyourwellies.

We had the date marked down on our calender for our week slot, and we were very keen to tell the Farmers of the UK audience about who we are and what we do. 

When the time came to host our week in July 2016, we were eager to tell our story as a 1st generation farming family with 3 young children. We were able to highlight not only the challenges and struggles we had encountered over the past 7 years, but also the joys and rewards farming can bring. 

Hosting a week on FOTUK with its large audience connected us with a lot of other farming families far and wide, most of which we probably would have never met.

We are still in contact with many of the farmers we met on FOTUK, and we talk to some of them regularly for advise, support, and their wealth of knowledge... and the occasional laughs! 

Social media is such a valuable tool for farmers in this modern day and age. It has certainly benefited us over the years, with a large percentage of our product sales being generated through adverts on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook & Instagram.

It is also ideal to connect businesses with their customers with its instant messaging. My husband Matt was having a conversation about selling stock with a group of farmers some time ago, and the general consensus was that most farmers struggle to market themselves and their produce. Lets face it, farmers are very busy people!

In the UK we have some fantastic produce including dairy, meat, fruit and veg, but a lot of it goes unnoticed by local consumers. If only there was a way to get it out there... but there is! 

Twitter in particular is an ideal social media site for the farming community, as a 'tweet' takes a few seconds to do. We recently 'tweeted' a video of a giant egg produced by one of our laying hens, and when we cracked it open another egg plopped out!! It created so much interest we were contacted by two local news teams, and subsequently the Daily Mail and the BBC, and it even featured on the local BBC evening news! Our video received 16k views on BBC Wiltshire online in less than 12 hours! The power of social media! 

Simon Haley has created the ideal opportunity for farmers to promote themselves through Farmers of the UK. A different farmer each week gets a head start in promoting their farm, their methods, their produce and everything else they're about to a broad & varied audience of people across the nation. 

We would heartily recommend all farmers to give it a go, regardless of how hopeless they are on social media! It's so easy to do, and there are so many people willing to help you along.

You will meet so many fantastic people, and if nothing else it is a real fun #weekinyourwellies!

Robin Asquith

For me, Twitter is a great resource for changing public opinion and highlighting key areas of working. I was thrilled be be approached by Simon and be asked to host the Farmers Of The UK account for a week. As a Care Farm Manager, one of my biggest challenges is making people aware of what it is we do. So to host the account for the week gave me a fantastic opportunity to raise the profile of Care Farming and Mental health care.  

Care Farming is the use of agriculture and horticulture work tasks to build a person’s skills, confidence and self esteem, as well as boosting mental and physical health for people with specific needs. We run a commercial hill farm; having people on the farm with disabilities adds life to the place. In days gone by, the farm was always the social hub of the community; with mechanisation this has reduced to the wider community not knowing where or how their food is produced.  

Hosting the account gave me the opportunity to show what we do on a Care Farm, from moving the sheep, mucking out pigs, lambing and growing vegetables. It brings the farm to life, and the sense of satisfaction and pride of seeing people develop as individuals is immense.  

I was nervous prior to hosting FOTUK because a lot of farmers perceive what we do as a bit weird, and the attitude of ‘that won't work on my farm’ is a comment I hear all too often. A fellow farmer and Twitter user once told me that I should take every opportunity that comes my way, so hosting FOTUK for a week was a no brainier for me.  

I was thrilled with the response to my tweets. A lot of positive comments, and in some cases, amazement at what we are doing! Interest in how to setup a Care Farm and how to work with some of the people we do in a farm environment was fantastic. This is great and can only go towards my goal of seeing more Care Farms in the UK. Compared to Norway and the Netherlands the UK sits a long way behind in its use of the outdoors as a treatment to a host of illnesses.  

To anyone thinking of hosting the account I have no doubt that you will not regret the experience. Embrace the opportunity, and let the rest of the Twitter world know what a fantastic industry we work in, with a wide range of experiences and opportunities we can share. 

James Long

Twitter for me has always been in the background, I'm one of those people that tries to keep up with the technology around them. Being very fortunate, the Farm in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk is very close to the heart of the town, plenty of internet reception to use. I have always used twitter for farming. I don't know what it is but I always find twitter the most use for business and learning about what other people do. 

I was approached by Simon to participate in the @farmersoftheUK account. Which I gladly accepted and due to the popularity of the account I was put on the waiting list for 6 months. This was great because it gave me long enough to think about what I was going to say and capture lots of photos. 

I was given the week of 27th July to 2nd August 2015. This was perfect for us as a farm, pretty much lift off for harvest and plenty of things going on. I used the account mainly to see people opinions and get some feedback from everything I spoke about. I found it best to sector each of the 7 days, for example taking about machinery one day and a particular crop on another. It also made me feel somewhat assured of all of the hard work going on out there in the country. 

Something I also learnt and had to bear in mind was to respect everyone's comments and opinions. Obviously with 15k people following you are very open to the public, such a power. 

If you do decide to participate the best thing is to plan your time and content as people look at twitter all around the clock. 

Follow me: 

Twitter @jim_long 

Instagram @jamess_long 

I have also a bit of experience with twitter accounts because I set up @harvest_uk which I am looking for a new full time host to take over the account. Please give me an email if you would be interested.jameslong44@googlemail.com

Neil Quinlan

Before I first saw @FarmersOfTheUK, I stumbled across @IrelandsFarmers, a very similar concept and I thought what a great idea. Shame we don't have one for ourselves in the UK. 

It would seem that Simon Haley had already thought of this and sure enough the first week of FOTUK was kicked off by Welsh sheep farmer Gareth Wyn Jones. I watched this account with great enthusiasm. If there's one thing farmers are good at its looking over the hedge to see what the neighbours are up to! Only this time it's a virtual hedge in a social media world. 

I'd like a go at that I thought and a date to tweet was set with Simon. It exceeded my expectations. The interactions of people who knew little about where their food came from or how it was produced but were genuinely interested was fantastic. 

It was a pleasure to answer their questions and feel I was playing a part in lifting the profile of agriculture. Something we all as farmers ought to be doing. Sitting in our tractors or working with our animals moaning about "townies" doesn't do our industry justice. We need to show what a modern, forward thinking, high tech industry agriculture is. The days of the yokel holding a pitch fork, chewing straw are gone!

Claire Eckley

@PureKent 

“We’ve got loads of stuff to tweet about!” I said to @No1FarmerGuy. 

“I’m not so sure.” 

“Well we’re on the list, so you’ve got to do it!” 

Day to day tweeting from my account @PureKent, tends to be about day to day stuff, like what food fairs are coming up, or how the crop is looking. @No1FarmerGuy tweets more about the farm, throwing in a few innovative agriculture tweets & retweets. Our twitter friends could definitely tell who was tweeting when!! @farmersoftheuk gave us a chance to tell the story of our rapeseed oil and flour in one week, right from the beginning. We had never done this on Twitter and it was a pleasant reminder of why we’re doing it. Hosting for a week also gave us a chance to tweet about the food community in Kent. 

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@solwayshepherd hosted the week before us, and ran a very useful survey which showed that about 30% of the account followers had no farming knowledge at all. We decided to have sessions when we tweeted for non-farmers, and sessions when we tweeted more technical stuff. This wasn’t just interesting for farmers though, and we got responses from scientists and academics. As innovating farmers, this was brilliant as we want more dialogue with people who look at farming and food production from a different angle. 

As one of only a handful of arable farmers making our own flour, it occurred to us we might be giving away our ideas and long research hours. The arable sector is seen as the rich part of the industry, and we wanted everyone to see the ad hoc and second hand basis of our operation. We tweeted what we were comfortable with and everyone seemed happy! 

We are farmers who are pretty happy with our lot. Some might see the account as a way to raise awareness of the problems in agriculture – low prices, red tape, the weather! But we are lucky enough to be farming, which we love, in an area which offers opportunities and options for our business. Hopefully we reflected that in our tweets. 

There aren’t many twitter accounts that have made me cry, but @FarmersoftheUK is one of them. On two occasions, other farmers have tweeted about crisis coming to their farm gate. Those are the ones I remember – real people in real situations. In 2012 I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and it was on our list of things to tweet about, but as the week went on, it didn’t seem to fit and we never got round to it. I missed my opportunity to make others cry! Farms are businesses, but they are also people and families living their lives along with other people in the industry who sit at farmhouse kitchen tables and see children grow, join in celebrations and offer support in dire times. 

Twitter has been great for farmers – they make “Twitter friends” who they otherwise would not know. Our Twitter friends are always there for some banter, or to offer a word of support. It seems

James Rhys Baylis

There's a real disconnect between the general public and farming, with far too many folk having little idea or interest in where their food comes from. 

Whether it's through lack of education or the fact that they have never encountered farm animals in the flesh, it's a terrifying thought that there are adults and children out there that couldn't tell you anything about the food (in some cases even the species of animal that produced it) they regularly pick up from the supermarket shelves. 

I'm a firm believer that we farmers have the power to change this, by giving the general public an insight in to our lives and the hard work that goes in to getting their food to the supermarket shelves. Simon and all the farmers that have already taken over the Farmers of the UK account have done exactly that, giving an invaluable insight in to their day to day lives. 

Since embarking on my own farming journey as a new entrant around 3 years ago, I've tried to share my journey and give an insight in to my life through blogs, writing and social media, so when the opportunity to take the reins of the FOTUK account came up, it was far too good to turn down. 

Being able to interact with such a massive audience, asking and answering questions and picking the brains of fellow farmers was great fun and it was a real pleasure to see the account pass the 19,000 follower mark during my stay. 

If you get the chance to take over the account, jump at it! It's a wonderful opportunity. 

Twitter: @SolwayShepherd                                                                                                    Facebook: www.facebook.com/SolwayShepherd                                                                          Web: www.solwayshepherd.co.uk

James Robinson

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"Pah! This social media malarkey isn't for me," was my response to myself whenever I'd considered it before. But then a Google search one evening, on cow track design I think it was, led me to something called Twitter, the answers I needed where all there and it was fellow farmers like myself who were coming up with them all! So that was that, I set up my account, posted a hello message and waited.....and waited. I'm sure I'm not the only new tweeter who feels like they are talking to a brick wall, but eventually responses came to my photos and tweets, followed by a few followers. But still it felt like no one was listening to me. And then I remembered what someone far more important than myself had told me, if you want to get a message across, you need to tell a story. 

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So what better story to tell than that of British agriculture! I'm extraordinarily proud of my industry and the way it has shaped not just the countryside, but the country as a whole. The increasingly urbanised population is becoming further removed from the soil, the fields, the animals and food production in general and if we farmers and custodians of the land don't tell our story, then someone else will try to tell it instead. @FarmersOfTheUK was the perfect platform to reach as many people as possible and I jumped at the chance to host the account for a week, I even chose Christmas week, just so I had a captive audience! I'd planned roughly what I was going to post and dug out a few old photographs of my farm's history. The week just flew by, I really enjoyed interacting with all the followers, answering some interesting (and bizarre!) questions. On Sunday evening, to finish the week, I asked folks to tweet me why they loved the British countryside and I was overwhelmed by the response! I struggled to keep up with the retweets and to be honest it was a very humbling experience to be part of, to know how proud everyone is of the work farmers do.

Will Evans

You're tweeting your usual nonsense on Twitter, & suddenly out of the blue BAM! You get a DM (direct message) from some fella (@halo42) asking you to have a go at @FarmersOfTheUK for a week. My first thoughts: Who me? There must be some mistake. No way can I do that. Some really big hitters have done it, people with 1000s of followers! The likes of @1GarethWynJones @AmandaOwen8 & @herdyshepherd1. These people have written books for Christ's sake. I'm just a simple farming lad from the Welsh borders. What can I possibly add to this? But then it occurred to me. We're all a bit guilty of this in our industry. We do ourselves down all the time. Maybe it's a consequence of being paid so little for our produce for so long, perhaps we all get a bit of tunnel vision with working so hard to pay the ever increasing daily bills. Or maybe we're all a bit worn down by what feels like constant criticism by the media & 'environmentalists' with their own agenda.

I was in a conversation recently with two guys. One was a surgeon, the other designs architectural computer programmes. Really nice & interesting people. I asked them about their jobs, & felt a bit inadequate if I'm honest. I mean, one of them saves lives & the other is helping to build the modern World. But then they asked me about my job. They hadn't got a clue. They had no concept of livestock, crops, soil types, impacts of Weather, and how it all fits together. And why should they? I know nothing about their jobs either. But they were interested, really interested. They asked all sorts of questions, and at the end of the conversation, I didn't feel inadequate anymore. In fact, I felt pretty cool. Not many people could do our job. We've built up skills & knowledge over generations in this industry. We're tough & resilient people & we feed the World. It's something to be proud of, and shout about in my opinion. So if you're lucky enough to be asked to do @FarmersOfTheUK please don't hesitate like I did. Put yourself out of your comfort zone & do it! Tell us all about your farm, how you got there & why you wouldn't be anywhere else in the World. If those of us who enjoy telling people about how we live & what we do don't talk about it, then others with an anti-farming agenda will. And you never know, you might just enjoy it too. I certainly did.