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Farmers switch on to apps, social media to make a deal

Date

John Thistleton

More farmers are going online to run their businesses, using apps to tackle weed problems and access information on sowing crops and global market conditions.

The more adventurous ones are turning to social media to sell lamb chops directly to customers.

Unsure whether his tweets are hitting their target, Dalton lamb producer Vince Heffernan is slowly building a social media audience to support his unconventional enterprise.

His Facebook site gives customers a glimpse of life on the banks on the Lachlan River near Dalton, where he raises Poll Dorset-Texel lambs.

One of his tweets includes a photograph of a lamb nearly as big as its mother wading through deep pastures, reinforced by Facebook photos of superb parrots, calves and a goanna high up a gum tree, which all underscore his sustainable farming.

''I was amazed, I sent a tweet into the ether and it was grabbed by one of my subscribers, a food critic who wrote for The Sydney Morning Herald, and later News Ltd. He had about 10,000 followers. He re-tweeted.''

He has a network of 1400 subscribers who order via email biodynamic lamb.

On Saturday, Mr Heffernan filled 70 orders in Sydney, and another 69 in Canberra will be delivered this weekend.

He's invested $700 in an antenna to access the net and his smartphone from his shearer's hut, rather than waiting to return home to Canberra each night to log on to the internet.

He admits to not spending enough time on Facebook. His last post was about a month ago. ''I know it's a cliche, I am relying on my 19-year-old son.''

McGeechan Rural Supplies, Crookwell, spokesman James Fraser said when a sheep drench company recently offered an iPad incentive, the 10 iPads on offer were snapped up in two days.

''They use them to get market information when they're out and about. Weather is huge. They can log on to find information on chemical sprays.''

Free-range pig producer Sam Johnson is building a following online, although restricted at Murringo, near Young, to a satellite service at his home.

''Face-to-face through markets has been the main way. People have really got to taste the product before they believe what you say.

'We have a few people follow us on Facebook, though I am not sure how much [business] we have had coming through Facebook.''

Grains Research and Development Corporation's telephone survey of 451 farmers 18 months ago found more than two-thirds of growers used the internet daily with a further 18 per cent saying they used it frequently.

GRDC managing director John Harvey said 94 per cent of growers checked the weather online, and 72 per cent said they had looked for farming related news online and did background research on farming issues.

Niche growers used YouTube (43 per cent) and Facebook (31 per cent), though Facebook use was 68 per cent of growers aged 18-34.

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