How an Irishman brought the world’s ‘agvocates’ together online

An Irish animal health and nutrition firm has got the digital world’s tongues wagging about farming online with its list of “agvocates”.

Global agri-food player Alltech launched the world’s first international top 500 list of agricultural communicators in December ranking media, companies and individuals talking about farming online.

Speaking to AgriLand, Aidan Connolly, Alltech’s chief innovation officer, said he got the idea after he first heard the word “agvocates” around seven years ago; but, it was only this year that the idea finally made it to fruition.

The term “agvocates” is used to describe people who were actively supporting agricultural issues, particularly through social media.

Social power

It comes at a time when the digital campaigns #veganuary and #februdairy have been dominating food discussion.

Connolly said: “I really liked the word ‘agvocate’; I thought it was very powerful.

“I think there are quite a few people who are out there working hard – they have positive things to say or want to give a different perspective on the world view of agriculture. They are working hard; but they all seem to be working singularly and I wanted to bring them together.

There are groups like the AgChat foundation, Future Farmers of America, the Young Farmers associations here in the UK and Ireland – and I thought wouldn’t it be great if someone put together a list to bring together everyone talking about the industry.

“I wanted it to be so that if someone has a great story to tell they can see very quickly who they can connect with.”

Making it happen

Logistically, putting the list together was a tall order. It required the help of the social media community to suggest their favourite farming Twitter accounts; as well as the time of staff at Alltech who worked on the project for several weeks.

Connolly said he used social media analytics site Klout to create the listings as it gave an independent factor for each account.

“There was a lot of discussion about how we would go about putting the list together,” he said.

“Klout scores change on a daily basis; but, we felt it was the best way we could compare accounts based on how much influence they hold and how active they are.

“We wanted a metric which didn’t include any form of interpretation on our part – and by that I mean that you wouldn’t physically have to set your own metric, because that includes human bias.”

The five-week process started in December with a 10-day warning about the list. Connolly worked with organisations including the Animal Ag Alliance to suggest names and the best methodology.

Going ‘viral’

Connolly’s post on Twitter announcing the first list was viewed more than 100,000 times.

In total he released three lists with a combined 1,500 names – but the one which generated the most excitement and controversy was the individual list, with many getting competitive over their rankings.

“If you think of the rich list or top business lists for the most part people are very interested in wanting to know who is higher than who,” he added.

Leading discussion

“I think it does generate more conversation around agriculture. In the future I would like to have a list which is longer and includes more people who are extremely active; as well as more intensive farmers.”

Connolly believes the ‘Agvocates Top 500’ list could become a useful tool for promoting farming online.

“I’ll leave it there for 12 months and see how it goes,” he said. “It has no particular benefit for me; but I think it has huge potential benefit for the community and for agriculture.”

Who are the top Irish Agvocates?

1. Lorna Sixsmith @IrishFarmerette

Lorna Sixsmith is a Carlow-based dairy farmer and author. She is currently working on her fifth book ‘Till the Cows Come Home’, which is expected to be released in May 2018.

2. Shane McAuliffe @ShaneMcAuliffe1

Shane McAuliffe is the swine technical sales manager at Interchem and secretary at Irish Pig Health Society. He is also a director in some of his family’s businesses including their pig farm operations and home milling company. The family also runs beef and tillage farms in Kerry and Offaly.

3. Brian Rushe @brianrushe81
Brian Rushe is a Nuffield Ireland board member and completed his own Nuffield Scholarship in 2015. The Kildare man recently made the move into dairy from a large beef and tillage farm and is also an Irish Farmers’ Association national council member.