More and more, it is becoming likely that the farmer sitting next to you at the local association meeting is “wired-in” to the virtual world. To be sure, as some of you read that first sentence your retort was, “I will never do that!”

Overbay andy
Extension Agent / Virginia Cooperative Extension
Andy Overbay holds a Ph.D. in ag education and has 40-plus years of dairy and farming experience.

Be that as it may, social media has made its way to rural America and with it comes both good and bad.

If you think about it, it really comes as no surprise that smartphones, Facebook and YouTube have made their way to the farm. American agriculture has always led the way in the adaptation of new technologies and improved ways to be more productive or more efficient.

Over the course of the last century, America has evolved from an agrarian society to an industrial society, to a service society to an information society. Today, information is power and almost by default more power is flowing to people via social media.

This power comes in many forms – discussion groups, blogs, YouTube videos and Facebook groups, just to name a few. It is important to note that not everything on the Internet is useful or correct; it is also important to note that every day new forms of information-sharing evolve and supplant older forms.


It is important to know how to determine the validity and trustworthiness of the information you seek as a user. Anyone can post anything with very little consequences, so it is imperative to know as much as you can about the source of the information.

I know that I am not surprising you when I say that not every online tidbit is true. In fact, there are many individuals and organizations that use online disinformation quite effectively.

That said, online tools are much like a hammer. In the right hands, it can build a cathedral; in the wrong hands, it may break every window in the church.

I personally enjoy three forms of online tools: how-to YouTube videos, manufacturers’ parts sites and Facebook special interest groups. My daughter purchased a foreign-made car a few years ago and one of the first comments she heard was how expensive oil changes would be because the dealer had to reset the computer once the oil was changed or the car would eventually fail to run.

Enter the Google search. In just a few minutes, I found a how-to video that walked us through resetting the computer following an oil change of her car. And what about the comment that an oil change would cost her $300 to $400? I changed the oil and filter and reset the computer for less than $50.

My daughter was so impressed that she used a how-to video to replace a burned-out headlamp bulb and a fog lamp by herself.

Being able to actually see the repair you need being done helps in two ways: First, you do not have to be savvy about the nomenclature of mechanics to follow the instructions being presented.

You can see the square-shaped whatchamacallit, without having to figure out from its proper name what or where it is as you would have to do with written instructions and poorly-labeled snapshots.

Second, following the video is confidence-building. You can see what needs to be done without the risk of breaking any other parts.

Speaking of parts, the past few years have seen vast improvements in the usability of manufacturers’ parts manuals. Parts manuals, online or printed, are the best friend of any marriage where a spouse is sent to town to fetch a replacement part. It is much easier to retrieve a 3228577R1 than a 3.1 mm O-ring, and the correct part is much more likely to make the return trip to the farm.

Parts manuals generally give you “explosions” so you can see the proper assembly of the component you are working on, especially if there is damage where you might doubt if you have all the worn parts in your possession.

Missing bolts, worn bushings or bearings can easily be identified and the proper way to repair the machine can be seen. Explosions also list important information such as parts numbers (the language of any parts counter), the cost and availability.

Facebook can have some very negative posts about production agriculture, but there is a reason to remain connected to friends – special interest groups.

Special interest groups generally have closed memberships (you have to request to be added to these groups) and are closely monitored by the group’s administrators.

This helps because the group is managed such that misinformation or members looking to take advantage of others are quickly swept from the rolls. Many of these groups are very specific in their mission and can be a tremendous source of practical advice.

I am a member of three groups dedicated to a specific tractor brand. Many of the members of these groups are current or former dealership owners or factory-trained mechanics.

Almost daily there are requests for information such as: the identification of parts, pricing of parts or working tractors or where to get hard-to-find parts at reasonable prices.

With members not only in the U.S., requests are answered in minutes and the requestor has a number of options and opinions on how to proceed. The wealth of knowledge among the collective members of the group is staggering.

Some of the interaction is just fun. It is interesting to see models from Great Britain or New Zealand and discuss similarities and differences in American counterparts.

One thing is for sure, farmers are farmers across the globe. We all suffer from price drops and droughts. We all seek to do a little better and are optimistic for a good year to come.  PD

Andy Overbay holds a Ph.D. in ag education and has more than 40 years of hands-on dairy and farming experience.