Peterson Farm Bros advocate for agriculture through music, social media
MADISON - When Greg Peterson came up with the idea of making a music video about agriculture with his brothers, they had no idea six and a half years later they would have reached 50 million viewers. That first video was targeted for their friends who didn’t understand farming and almost looked down on the brothers for being farm kids.
“That was kind of our motivation for teaching people about agriculture,” Peterson told the crowd at the Wisconsin Agri-Business 2019 Classic in Madison on Jan. 15. “We were always trying to prove to them that farming was awesome. With technology and modern day agriculture, we thought it was the best thing ever to grow up on a family farm.”
Majoring in agriculture communications and minoring in music performance at Kansas State University put Peterson in a unique position to use his skills and the power of music to get people to pay attention to a topic many knew very little about.
While watching ag advocacy videos in class at Kansas State, he knew his friends from Kansas City wouldn’t want to sit down and watch a video like that on farming. He thought there had to be a more entertaining way to get their attention and show them what farming is like.
Eventually the brothers decided to do a parody of a popular urban song. Initially his brothers Kendall and Nathan were reluctant, knowing their friends would make fun of them for making the video. But Peterson convinced them they would make the video “so good our friends won’t make fun of us, they will respect farmers for it,” he said.
They filmed their first video in June 2012, posting it on Youtube on June 25.
“By the next morning we had 20,000 views and our local newspaper was in our yard,” Peterson recalled. “By the next day we had every single state TV news crew in our yard. It was crazy.”
The thought of being on television that night impressed the Peterson brothers but the craziness wasn’t over. The next day, June 28 at 11 a.m., they got a call from a national news network in New York and by 11 p.m. they were in Times Square to be on the morning show the next day.
The trip to New York was the first visit to a big city for the brothers and their dad. With farm fields nowhere in sight, it became obvious why so few know about farming.
Suddenly, their video was blowing up the internet, getting 5 million views. In one week they had gone from being the Peterson brothers in rural Kansas to the Peterson Farm Bros of the internet.
“From that moment on we realized this wasn’t something small we’re doing for our friends,” Peterson said. “This was something that was needed and this was something we were going to continue to do.”
Since then the Peterson Farm Bros have made 15 different parody videos, three original music videos, educational videos, share knowledge about agriculture on their blog, The Peterson Farm Blog, and use social media like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat to advocate for agriculture. The Peterson Farm Bros YouTube channel, with more than 160,000 subscribers also contains a vlog along with educational videos.
“What we’re trying to do online is using technology and social media for good ... Trying to use it for truth and use it to correct stereotypes about farmers and correct information about farmers,” said Peterson. “That is definitely something that is needed in 2019.”
Peterson explained how most people in his generation, the millennial generation, go to Google if they have questions about something. When typing in a topic like biotechnology or pesticides “it takes several pages until you get a farm-based source of information for those things,” Peterson said.
“This is something I really believe is relevant and we’ve tried to do our best ... tried to reach people in cities,” said Peterson. “It’s so hard in agriculture to get our story outside of this room, to get our story outside of people in agriculture.”
Peterson said they make their videos for three reasons: to entertain people of all types and backgrounds, to educate, mainly people from cities who know little about farming, and to inspire young people to do things to continue on their family farms, to become a farmer some day or to join FFA or 4-H. They parody urban style songs “because we’re trying to reach people from the city.” There’s nothing new about farmers singing a country song.
When they started getting questions about misunderstood ag topics, the brothers started their blog, which diffuses the bomb of Facebook arguments which can damage trust and credibility if engaging in online arguments.
“If you fight with someone online, it’s not going to do anyone any good,” Peterson explained.
Peterson Farm Bros tries to remain positive and not focus on activist groups who are not interested in hearing what they have to say but just want to state their case.
“A lot of time they are the loudest group online,” Peterson pointed out. “A big percentage of the population is just trying to figure out what is true - that’s who we focus on. That’s who everything we do is designed for.”
In the past six years, speaking engagements and presentations have taken Peterson to all 50 states and eight Canadian provinces, showing him the diversity in agriculture.
“Those of us growing up in Kansas or Wisconsin, we think that’s farming, but when you get to travel all over this country and to other countries as well, you quickly learn that farming can look totally different even from one side of the state to the other,” said Peterson.
Everywhere he travelled, Peterson learned farming looks different with different soils, climates, infrastructures and different ways of doing things. Not all farms should be big or small, use the same type of tillage or the same color machinery, he explained.
“The biggest thing that I learned is that we need a variety of solutions in agriculture for a wide variety of problems and so it can be easy to argue in agriculture,” Peterson said. “Don’t always be so quick to judge what another farmer’s doing because they’re probably in a different situation than you are and have a different skill set.”
Making a video six years ago, Peterson said they didn’t realize what one decision could lead to - that they would have the ability to impact billions of people.
“It takes some initiative to put yourself out there, whether that’s making a music video or having a conversation with a stranger,” said Peterson. “Sometimes it can get a little overwhelming. When you look at how many people are misinformed, see all the negative comments, you can get weighed down by all the work you need to do and sometimes it seems like it’s a losing battle of educating people.”
Peterson compared ag advocacy to a marathon, not a sprint, that is important especially as each generation is further removed from farms.
“You never know the impact you’re going to have, just like we did,” Peterson added.
While social media is one way to advocate for agriculture, Peterson encourages talking with people and inviting them to farms to learn about agriculture.
“Personal conversations and farm tours are the best way to have a real impact on someone,” said Peterson. “Production ag is 2 percent of the population but if that 2 percent is reaching 50 to 100 people, that’s going to add up.”