Advocates share insight about promoting ag

Agriculture advocates Michelle Miller and Rob Sharkey told Farmer U attendees what led them to their roles for spreading the good word about ag during their respective keynote sessions. Farmer U was sponsored by High Plains Journal and held Aug. 18 and 19, in Mulvane, Kansas.

Farm Babe

Miller, also known as the Farm Babe, welcomed attendees as she kicked off the first keynote Aug. 18. She’s an internationally recognized speaker, writer and columnist, as well as an online influencer who’s a full-time advocate for farmers and ranchers. It all started six years ago as she started dedicating her time as a mythbuster for agriculture.

Miller gave attendees a taste of how to bridge the gap between farmers and consumers, using social media among other tools. She got her start after getting banned on the Food Babe’s Facebook page for commenting on incorrect information regarding GMOs. She now has more than 200,000 followers on her own social media platforms.

Miller suggests when trying to tell a farm or ranch story online to start with a catchy memorable name.

“Oftentimes I see people that start a page, but they use their last name and people don’t know how to spell it or pronounce it or remember it,” she said. “So trying to have a name that’s memorable—like you know Shark Farmer right, you’ve got what Millennial Farmer. There’s so many people out there that have these branded names where it’s easy to remember.”

She also suggested commenting as your Facebook page and not yourself to build the brand.

“And remember that relationships matter,” she said. “A lot of people collaborate. They do podcasts together; they do videos together and you network or share each other’s information online, which ultimately is building up both of your pages and followings.”

Being authentic and building connections by telling personal stories through these platforms helps grow them.

“Tell personal stories, or even use the stories tab on Instagram. What are you up to today? Share a picture of your cows or something fun with your family, something that will make people laugh.”

TikTok is a great platform too, Miller said.

“Hot topics and humor, really. Your voice matters,” she said. “What you do is cool, I promise you. You might do it all day every day for your whole life and realize it’s just what I do but, I guarantee you, go to any major city and talk about what you do on the farm, people are interested to learn.”

One thing she’s found on building a following besides networking, collaboration and relationships is sharing other people’s content. The use of Groups on Facebook has been a really successful one for her.

“I feel especially on Facebook if you do a post, and just kind of getting started and you don’t really have a lot of followers yet, you can share it to other agricultural groups and just say, “Hey, guys, I just did this post,” she said. “What do you think? Feel free to share. When people comment on your pages, it also gets boosted under the algorithm. So if you have a post on Facebook, and more people comment, the more it shows up in people’s newsfeeds.”

Miller also suggested getting involved in your comment section to help get it to the top of the algorithm. Vary the content and have fun with it.

“If you’re going to write an article, do a video, a podcast episode, personal stories—having that varied content is a way to draw in different types of crowds and build that way as well,” she said.

Always tag the content with those you’re partnering with. Same goes with using a hash tag. It’s an easy way to search for similar content and use the reach of others on social media platforms.

Miller likes to share humorous info graphics on hot topics. These short and sweet pictures often draw people to your page.

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Keeping up with hot topics like GMOs and cover cropping help make your page and presence relevant.

“Talk about the importance of that because these stories go over very well with the general public,” she said. “Also talk about some of the recycling. The methane digesters. How much more food would end up in a landfill if we weren’t feeding into cows.”

For Miller there are so many more ways to advocate—whether you’re in person, on social media or other avenues. Another way is to speak highly of those companies that are doing things right.

“If you are at farmers markets, a great way to have a conversation is to have a booth,” she said. “Have conversations about where your food comes from, and talk about how you grow it.”

Miller tries to talk to grocery store employees and gauge what they’re seeing and hearing from consumers. She said it’s a great opportunity to learn about what’s being asked.

“This one is huge. We don’t always think about this but if somebody wants to know or if they have question about their produce who do you think they’re asking?” she said. “They’re asking the guys who are stocking on the shelf, they’re talking to the guy behind the meat counter.”

She also suggests talking to your local news station, radio or other news outlets, as well as attending conferences outside of ag.

“Sometimes we tend to talk to each other, but don’t be afraid to head out, maybe talk to somebody you don’t always agree with,” she said. “Food, marketing, health, nutrition, wellness, exercise—whatever that is, you can be a part of that discussion on the trusted voice.”

Miller provided a few more examples about how to get involved ranging from things like visiting with school age children, politicians and others when given the opportunity.

“There’s a lot of things that we can’t always control,” she said. “We can’t always control the weather, or the market price or stupid celebrities, but we can control the perception. So together we can move mountains.”

For more information about Miller and Farm Babe, visit

Shark Farmer

Rob Sharkey, closed out Farmer U with his session titled "Turn…Engage…Hit Resume."

Back in the late 1990s, Sharkey was broke. His banker had cut off his operating note and suggested he declare bankruptcy. And since he was still young, the banker told him he could just start over. However, Sharkey and his wife, Emily, decided to not only pay back the bank and all their creditors, but sacrifice and do what it took to stay on the farm.

“The guy was like, you’re crazy. You think you’re going to pay all this off, you can’t do it,” he said. “What he didn’t realize was at this time, in ’98, all hog farms were going broke. All of them. I mean there was a mass exit.”

Sharkey said he called the people they owed money to—feed companies, hog suppliers, veterinarians—and set up a payment plan. He told them, “We don’t have the money, but we want to pay you.”

“They were more than happy to work with us,” Sharkey said.

Even though at the time Sharkey could only pay a limited amount, they stuck with it. It took them seven years, but they managed to do so by sacrificing and working hard to pay back what was owed.

Eventually Sharkey found his way to social media and eventually amassed quite the following on Twitter. Capitalizing on his social media popularity, he started his “Shark Farmer Podcast” in June 2017. The success of his podcast brought about an opportunity to host his own show on Sirius XM where he and his cohost, his wife Emily, set the stage to unravel a new story every day. In April 2020, Sharkey launched a new show in partnership with RFD-TV, called Shark Farmer TV.

Despite the success he’s had out of the tractor cab, he’s still found ways to remain energized about farming. A planting mistake a couple of years ago, allowed him to feel the passion come back. He left his planter set for soybeans, when he was starting to plant corn. The late night mistake just happened to be next to a busy road.

“By this time, it was late to season, and the bells and whistles and all the things you become immune to, so I knew they were going off I just I didn’t care,” Sharkey said. And it’s a half mile row, and I was almost all the way back before I realized I was planting my corn at the soybean population.”

Corn is normally planted at 35,000 seeds per acre, while soybeans are around 140,000 seeds per acre. “That ain’t good,” Sharkey said.

He wasn’t sure how to fix the problem, so he just left it. He worried for the year because he thought for sure the corn crop was going to fall down because it was planted so heavy.

“We get to harvest, I start harvesting at the opposite end. The fields doing really good,” he said. “We get to this last 16 rows. The yield monitor never goes under 300. There should be no reason for that.”

His agronomist told him it was nearly impossible to have a crop yield like that and remain standing.

“That year, it worked,” Sharkey said. “And guess what I did the next year? This time not by a busy road the next year. Yeah, every bit of it fell down, and I didn’t make not one kernel off of it.”

But what it did do was excite him about farming again, and trying something new.

“It reignited a passion in me, because what we do can get a little mundane,” he said.

Last year he again tried something different, as he planted canola near his home. It didn’t work, but “it was a lot of fun,” he said.

“This year we grew sunflowers,” he said. “They look fantastic. I have no idea how to harvest them with the corn head, but we’re going to figure that out.”

Sharkey said many producers would never try something like growing canola in Illinois because of “what the neighbors would say.” But he persists. He relates agriculture to how crabs are caught on the East Coast. Once caught they’re put in barrels with only enough room at the top of the barrel to give them some wiggle room. Fishermen don’t worry about them crawling out because the other crabs will pull the escapee back in.

“We’re pretty good about doing that in agriculture too,” he said. “Somebody who’s trying to do something different. You try to pull ‘em back down. It’s a shame we don’t want to see our neighbors succeed. It’s a shame we want to tear down people that are trying different things. It would be as big a shame if you yourself, didn’t try those new things because you were afraid of being pulled back down.”

At the beginning of his session Sharkey asked the crowd to think about the one thing that’s holding them back.

“I’m sure a lot of things come to mind,” he said. “I don’t know what they would be, you know, fear of failure, past failures, divorce, losing someone that you loved. A lot of things, we feel can hold us back.”

Sharkey wears a shirt emblazoned with his logo that says, “sharks don’t swim backwards.” They’re always going forward, and Sharkey said what holds most people back is themselves.

“Because we learn from the past. We learn from what’s behind us. But we can’t let that define us,” he said. “You can lose everything. You can feel like everything is going wrong in your life. I don’t know what it is in your life, but you can literally lose everything and still build yourself back up.”

It’s not going to be easy and it’s going to hurt, but Sharkey said what’s behind you is not going to hold you back. It was a hard lesson he learned first hand. Back when he was broke, he said all the opportunities others gave him at the time were turned down because he felt he wouldn’t be a farmer if he took that job. It would hold him back.

“I’m so thankful, that when we started this whole Shark Farmer brand thing that I didn’t let things like that hold me back,” he said. “It was a fear of embarrassment. Fear of not knowing what I was doing.”

Despite the period in his life when he felt as though he was holding himself back, he didn’t let it happen again.

“So please, listen to my tale of my many, many, many mistakes. And my many failures, because I’ve made a lot out of those barriers, a lot of good things have happened,” he said. “And especially when I didn’t let anything hold myself back.”

For more information about Sharkey, visit

Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or [email protected].