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    Ag More Than Ever

Take a tour from anywhere

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University of Manitoba class project brings virtual farm tours to the masses.

When it comes to telling the story of Canadian agriculture it’s just as important to show as it is to tell. Farm tours are a great way to show those outside of ag how an operation runs – it can combat misperceptions and create a realistic view of modern, Canadian, family farming. But farm tours have their limitations – they can only reach a small portion of people. Fortunately, affordable, accessible technology has allowed people in ag to expand their reach infinitely by taking their farm tours online. And that’s exactly what a University of Manitoba class did with very positive results.

University of Manitoba’s two-year Diploma in Agriculture program provides students with practical, hands-on education in the business of ag. One of the backbones of the program is the Management Project Planning (MPP) course where students look at their farm (either their actual family farm or a fictitious case farm) and make management decisions on the operation based on what they’re learning in the program. At the end of the two years each student presents their farm to a panel that includes farmers, lawyers, bankers and scientists. Part of the presentation includes a video project that shows how their farm is operated. These videos have been very well received by both the students and the panel, and have found an audience beyond the classroom.

“Quite a number of the students really took to the video,” says MPP Lead Instructor Colin Penner. “They bought Go-Pros, a few borrowed drones and they really ran with the assignment. Probably the biggest challenge for the students was trimming the video to the five minute limit we set.”

Chelsea Boonstra was one of those students who really enjoyed the project. “It was more than a project to me,” Chelsea says. “When I first showed it to my dad he said I needed to post it on Facebook and YouTube so more people could see it. The video has received a lot of attention from people outside of my family and friends, which is great to see! People have told me they can really feel the passion I have for my operation when they watch it.”

A virtual farm tour is a great way to build lines of communication. “They’re a tremendous tool that we can use to bridge the gap between rural and urban populations,” says Colin. “It’s a proactive way to include people in your operation. If I can go out of my way to engage someone in a positive conversation that goes a lot further than trying to fix a hiccup down the road.”

Taking on a project like this can seem daunting at first, but both Chelsea and Colin agree it’s worth the effort and will be successful if you share your story honestly and keep it simple. “Tell your story,” says Colin. “At the end of the day it’s your story and your experience.  Be positive. Living on a farm we experience so many tremendous things that become mundane after a while. Sunrises and sunsets away from city lights are gorgeous, the view from atop a grain bin is a unique perspective.”

“I think it’s really important because there really is no one else who can change people’s minds about farms then the farmers themselves,” Chelsea says. “Agriculture is a booming sector and it’s going to keep growing. We need to get positive messages out there so we can maintain a good relationship with consumers. There’s no better day than today to start making a positive impact on the way agriculture is seen. The feedback you receive makes all the time and hard work so worth it.”

Virtual farm tours gives people from around the world an intimate glimpse into the real, day-to-day story of Canadian agriculture. It’s also a great way to involve young, tech-savvy people on the farm in speaking up for ag. Think about adding it to your agvocate toolbox.

Check out Chelsea and Colin’s videos below.

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