Breaking out of their Shell

Search Engines. Almanacs. Keyboards. Tractors. Blog posts. Commodity prices. Farmers. The internet.

Farming has been around for millennia. The internet, on the other hand, has been around for just a few decades. While one does not usually associate the internet with the hard-working, old-fashioned farmer, farmers continue their move toward incorporating technology and the internet into their practices. In fact, utilizing the internet has opened up a wealth of opportunity for farmers.

The state of peanut farming in Texas in the spring of 2016 was a peculiar one. Texas peanut farmers were faced with a large surplus on their hands. For the first time in many years, the consumer had seemingly become disinterested in the peanut.
For farmers, a surplus of any crop can be a scary thing, and many Texas peanut farmers were being told not to plant for the upcoming season unless they knew they were going to have storage space, which isn’t the most exciting news when your livelihood depends on planting a crop every year.

Peanuts are planted in March and then harvested in the early weeks of October.

A Unique Idea

The peanut needed to be made more appealing to consumers, but how?
Hallie Bertrand, communications director for the Texas Peanut Producers Board, had an idea. Traditional advertising through radio and TV commercials? No. Her idea involved an area where farmers needed the most help — the internet and more specifically, food bloggers.

“Surveys and research show that one of the most trusted people that moms go to are bloggers,” Bertrand said. “They have shared connections. They are all on the same page. It’s not free necessarily, but anything on the internet in a blog is the closest thing to free advertising that we could do. It was like a no-brainer to me.”

Bertrand set out to target a specific medium that could provide the biggest reach for the peanut and the farmers. Through careful planning, Bertrand developed the TPPB’s first ever blog tour.

Unknown Territory

Bringing in nine of Texas’ most popular food bloggers to tour the South Plains’ peanut industry for two days was a sure-fire way to increase the popularity of the peanut, however, trying to convince farmers that were unfamiliar with the value of blogs that food blogs were the best way to promote their product was a challenge.

“Pitching it to the board, we had some directors who were like ‘What’s a blog?’” Bertrand said.

Local peanut farmer from Brownfield, Texas, Kathy Henson, helped host the blog tour and shared the same experience as Bertrand.

“My husband wouldn’t have known (what a blog was),” Henson said.

Connecting with Consumers

And therein lies the problem. Bertrand, with her blog tour idea, was potentially hamstrung by the fact that many of these farmers were not familiar with blogs.

Year in and year out, these farmers and board members wanted to allocate their budget to research to ensure better farming practices and improve peanut yields. Research is safe and practical. A blog tour? Maybe not.

Henson said the main problem was getting the crop sold and connecting with the consumers where they are. And where are the consumers, currently? Reading these food blogs.

Many farmers, such as Henson, see the disconnect between farmer and consumer. Henson doesn’t believe it’s a matter of farmers being apprehensive of the internet and blogs, it is just that between the management, the plantings, the digging, setting the proper equipment, and so on, they just don’t have the time.

“There is absolutely a disconnect between farmers and the new age of technology,” Henson said. “Which is where we need to use technology to get our story out.

“That’s one thing that farmers aren’t very good at, just getting out our message, and what we do. It was a good opportunity to get it out to a group of women who could use technology to spread the word.”

Bertrand eventually got the necessary approval from the board and was able to design the blog tour. Nine bloggers from Houston, Dallas, and Lubbock attended the two-day event from Aug. 2-4, 2016.

The tour included a look at the Henson’s farm with personal one-on-one contact with Monty and Kathy, a tour of the Birdsong Peanuts shelling facility in Brownfield, a wine tasting at McPherson cellars in Lubbock, and even an eight-course meal that included peanut-based recipes.

The nine food bloggers getting an up-close look at the Henson’s peanut field during the tour. Photo credit – Lindsay Hamer

After the tour, Bertrand calculated the impressions and engagements from every blog that was posted about the event, and determined the event cost less than a cent for every impression the blogs have received so far. While the success was great, there was an immense amount of pressure on Bertrand to make sure every aspect of the tour went smoothly.

Pressure to Perform

Bertrand said checkoff dollars were used to fund the whole tour. This was money that came from farmers and the work they put in to produce their crop. There was a certain amount of trust that the farmers had in Bertrand and her idea would allow for a better return on their dollar.

“It was kind of taking a chance because our board is made up of peanut farmers,” Bertrand said. “If they all saw what we were doing and were wondering, ‘What is a blog?’ It had to be successful. They are putting their trust in us with their money.”

The blog tour idea was put into action by the surplus of peanuts back in March (India and Argentina ended up having bad crops that year, so China ended up buying the whole surplus.), but connecting the farmers with the consumers was something that Bertrand has been working towards ever since taking the communications director position about a year ago. She did an overhaul of the TPPB’s website and has been posting consumer-friendly content throughout social media.

While the main goal was to sell peanuts, TPPB’s focus on food bloggers may have done much more than they could have imagined.

Bloggers bring new audience

“Bloggers bring a different perspective because we have these readers and they want to know what we learned about peanuts or what we learned in Lubbock,” food blogger Meagan Wied, who participated in the blog tour, said. “We are bringing in a different audience that are willing to learn about peanuts.”

Wied and the other food bloggers who participated can now attest to being attached to agriculture.

“When you participate in things like this, you put a little more thought into it when you eat,” Wied said. “If you’re eating peanuts, you think about the farmers. There is just more thought into the whole process.”

And so, the blog tour was a success – both financially and on the consumer level – the bloggers (many of whom are reaching 150,000 readers a month) now have a special connection with peanuts and the agriculture through their experience with the tour.

And just like the peanut after the fall harvest, these farmers are now breaking out of their shell and getting to the customer through a new area of technology, blogs. While there was, and still is, some unfamiliarity with blogs, the TPPB’s blog tour was a testament to how thinking outside the box could yield positive results.