As an agronomist, Monsanto’s Michael Marlow has to be on top of the field conditions in his territory, which includes most of Oklahoma and northern and eastern Texas. It’s in his best interest—and his customers’ best interests—to know when plant diseases are popping up, when bugs are starting to move into fields and when weather is impacting crops.
But he can’t deliver those tidbits of information to everyone on a personal basis every day. That’s why he uses Twitter—a social media outlet that allows people to share thoughts in 140 characters—as one of his communication tools to update farmers and his followers on crop conditions and updates.
“There’s a lot of information out there for a farmer to digest when he gets back to office after a day in the fields,” said Marlow, or USAgMan, as he is known on Twitter. “I’m trying to do something with tweeting where I can reach somebody with a simple, text-like message. I try not to make it complicated. I compare it to calling and leaving a voice mail about what I saw today.”
Many of Marlow’s tweets encourage farmers to scout for insects or to keep an eye out for diseases. For example, on Aug. 10, Marlow noted, “Stink bugs hit S. Texas soys (sic) hard last month need to scout in N. Tx and Okla as they migrate north. They pierce pod, allow fungi to enter.” On Aug. 17, he wrote, “Goss’ Wilt starting to show up in corn on corn in Texas Panhandle. Occurance (sic) is a bit random.”
In Marlow’s area, crop diversity keeps him busy year-round. Oklahoma grows winter wheat and winter canola, and right when those crops are harvested in the spring, Oklahoma and Texas farmers are kicking into corn, soybean, sorghum and cotton planting seasons.
“We work well together in agriculture, sharing what is seen by farmers, dealers, field representatives and crop consultants,” he said. “That network provides a broad range of input to my tweets. By tweeting what we see, and where we see it, we can help farmers scout for the next issue and address it at a lower threshold, which holds up yields.”
Marlow learned about Twitter from Oklahoma farm broadcaster Ron Hays. Hays showcased new social media technologies during a speech, and Marlow became intrigued on how he could apply the media to his job.
“I looked at (the social media tools) and had to think of a way that made sense for me,” he said. “It took me a month and a half before I started with Twitter. I wanted it to be about providing information that can help farmers.”
He stresses that he doesn’t rely solely on social media to reach farmers: “You can’t replace personal interaction with customers.”
Marlow recently accepted a new position in his home state of Iowa, where he’ll be focused on two counties instead of two states. He still plans on tweeting and sharing information with growers.