By Tim Kalinowski
Up near High Prairie, farmer Tyson Kucheruk has been telling his story on YouTube since 2006. Known as the “Northern Farmer,” Kucheruk started out showing simple, unnarrated videos about life on the farm. He now posts weekly narrated videos and has over 21,000 subscribers.
“Why I started it? At first, I started it just for fun, and then later on it got to just wanting to show different farms around the world how we farm up here,” explains Kucheruk. “How it’s different.”
And Kucheruk is not alone in his foray into YouTube. He finds himself on the forefront of a new wave of digital age farmers, farmers known by names like the “Millennial Farmer” and “Farmer Tim,” who have embraced social media in general, and YouTube in particular, as a means to create a brand for themselves, to reach out to new customers, or to just share a little homespun wisdom about life on the farm with all its challenges.
“It is remarkable how many people in agriculture have decided the best way for them to communicate with the public is to do so directly, both to champion agriculture and the policies necessary to agriculture, but, hey, maybe to sell some merchandise as well,” states futurist Jesse Hirsh, who conceptualizes a world where farming, social media and potential profit go hand-in-hand.
“In fact, there is a remarkable amount of farmer YouTubers. People who are sharing what they do every day throughout the growing season, and even in winter as they do maintenance on their equipment— it is remarkable how many farms are now making as much money on YouTube as they are in their agricultural operations.
“I like to describe YouTube as the world’s most efficient knowledge marketplace,” Hirsh adds. “Anyone can go on YouTube, share their knowledge, and become an authority. And if they get enough attention, Google sends them a cheque.”
Kucheruk is one of those elite farmer YouTubers who does receive one of those monthly Google cheques.
However, Kucheruk admits he doesn’t always know why people come to visit his channel and choose to subscribe; he just tries to be as authentic as possible when reaching out to his audience.
“There are times I will make a video and I will say to myself, ‘I don’t think it is going to be very interesting,’ But it turns out to be really interesting for other people. You do make a little money from YouTube when you get to a certain level of subscribers. It’s a monthly pay-out, and the bigger you are the better it is. So it’s a little bit of revenue, anyway. If I can represent the ag industry in a positive light, and make a little bit of money too— it’s all good.”
Kucheruk also acknowledges Hirsh’s point about creating a brand, but admits he hasn’t quite advanced to the level of offering personal merchandise just yet.
“People have been asking me for merchandise,” he says, “and there are a few farm channels out there, mainly in the States, where they sell their name and logo. I have had people inquire about that recently. It’s something to think about.”
While minor YouTube celebrity does have its compensations, Kucheruk says the main reason he got into posting videos in the first place was to feel less isolated in a tough business, and in a sometimes unforgiving northern climate where the winters come early and the springs start late.
“It’s great when you get that positive feedback,” he confirms. “It’s nice to get that encouragement.”
“Social media helps you connect,” agrees April Stewart, president of the Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture and writer of the Country Guide article ‘Why you should be on social media.’
“Farmers often work in isolation with the same people everyday. Social media allows you to find others of your ‘tribe’— to connect with like-minded people, and get information quickly. It is also a part of mental health.”
That mental health component may be the most underrated part of the whole on the farm social media experience, she says.
“Farming can be laden with challenges,” states Stewart. “Who among us hasn’t thought, more than once, that if it wasn’t for bad luck you’d have none at all? And on those days when everything seems to break and nothing wants to go right, our feelings of isolation can really get exacerbated. Posting a photo of your tractor stuck in the mud up to its axles will get you a little light ribbing, but it will also lighten your mood and make you feel less discouraged as people share their own disasters.”
Stewart says social media is a growing force in agriculture, as it is in other walks of life, and she expects that force to only grow stronger over time.
“It’s going to become just a part of everyday business,” she says. “It’s a tool like anything else. It’s what you make of it.”
Futurist Jesse Hirsh largely agrees with Stewart, but with a few caveats. It’s important, he says, to control the data you produce, or to be compensated fairly for its use.
“Of course social media is not for all people,” he says. “But I would be remiss if I described social media just on the level of its ability to grant authority (on YouTube and the like) without also admitting it is the better built mousetrap. That the real value of social media is the way in which it extracts peoples’ personal information.”
From Kucheruk’s perspective, being the “Northern Farmer” is not really about being granted some sort of real or imagined authority, but rather it is a means to tell his story, and to share his own personal experiences, with those interested in hearing about them.
But it ain’t always easy, he admits, to meet the heightened expectations of his subscribers; especially in the midst of a busy calving season frozen in by sub-Arctic temperatures.
“If you are away for awhile, people kind of lose interest,” he explains. “I actually once had an email sent to me asking if I was OK because I didn’t post for awhile. So people are watching, and they are always expecting something new.
“To do a quality video takes time,” Kucheruk adds. “I am no master film editor or anything, but the more I get into it, the more work it is.
“There are a few other farm channels I watch, and the amount of editing that goes into their videos makes it almost a second job.”