Millennial Farmer” Zach Johnson’s message for Manitoba farmers is simple: “People do want to hear from us.”
“There’s such a disconnect now that it’s actually become popular to try and get yourself connected again,” Johnson told the Co-operator after his talk at CropConnect 2020.
“Farmers have this massive opportunity right now to be able to connect to people, because people are out there who are willing to listen,” he said.
Johnson, who farms in Minnesota, is better known as the YouTuber “Millennial Farmer.” His feed, now 425,000 subscribers strong, is filled with videos of day-to-day farm life, highlighting the realities (and, on occasion, silly side) of ag life.
The channel was born out of an urge to stick up for farmers, whom he saw as under-represented and misrepresented, he said.
His presentation drew a packed room at CropConnect 2020.
Johnson argued that two-thirds of people in the United States have never met a farmer, and 80 per cent don’t personally know one. Yet, he maintained, most have a positive view of farming.
Most aren’t set against GMOs, dairy cattle or pesticides, he told the Co-operator. “Most people are really confused at the conflictions of the information that they’re getting,” he said.
So who better to tell them than a farmer who works with these things every day?
Johnson quoted one commenter: “Finally an honest video on the topic from someone credible like a farmer who works with this stuff every day.”
But before he started using his channel to dive into the hot-button issues, Johnson spent time just showing farm life. He posted videos of what he was doing as the growing season progressed — talking to his audience from the cab of his tractor or combine, capturing seeding or an image of the soybeans flowing from combine to truck.
He posted silly things — like a 12-minute video of pulling a badly stuck tractor while (good naturedly) ribbing his farmhand — or a “combine karaoke” video.
He wanted to, “really let them get to know who I am before I come at them and tell them, you know, GMOs are good,” he said.
Then, he said, he can speak to them about why he, personally, makes these farm management decisions.
“It’s definitely better than getting into a Twitter argument,” he said. “Arguing back and forth doesn’t solve the problem, but if you can find some common ground there and actually have a discussion, that’s where problems will get solved.”
Johnson told the Co-operator that about 40 per cent of his viewers don’t work in agriculture — and some of them don’t even know they’re interested in agriculture until they watch a video and say, “That’s crazy… I had no idea.”
Of the 60 per cent of his viewers who do work in ag, many have begun speaking out about what farming really is, he said.
“It’s great to see people doing that,” Johnson said.
— With files by Laura Rance-Unger