University of Missouri Extension specialists put a strong focus on interacting with Missouri producers, farmers and ranchers.
Jared Decker, a beef geneticist, is taking that interaction one step further.
Decker has put forth extra effort on several social media channels, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and message boards. He uses those channels to promote his blog, A Steak in Genomics. The blog is focused on cattle research and industry news.
“In terms of extension, I see the blog as another avenue to interact with and communicate with producers, who are our extension clientele,” Decker said. “We’re trying to reach those people and do so on a regular basis. We want them to be informed and engaged.”
Decker, who earned a $2 million grant in May to study cattle genetics, puts an emphasis on face-to-face interactions and traditional communications, such as popular press articles, presentation and working with groups. His blog and social media channels are an extension of those face-to-face interactions.
Decker’s blog actually began before he started at the University of Missouri. Decker earned his Ph.D. in genomics from Mizzou in 2012 and was hired as a beef geneticist in 2013. The blog began just three months after Decker earned his Ph.D.
“During Life Sciences Week, a student reporter stopped and talked to me about my poster,” Decker said. “I pointed the reporter to a beef producer to talk to for the story as well. The story ended up being on KBIA. I was a little surprised about the producer’s thoughts on the new genomic technology. I decided to start a blog to start discussing this type of research and the issues and thoughts surrounding them.”
Decker gives his take on research MU is conducting as well as happenings in the beef cattle industry on his blog. Decker will also discuss possible misunderstandings or issues that need to be addressed. His posts are research-based.
“If I feel like I’ve written something that is too speculative, I’ll try to revise it,” he said. “As an extension specialist, I want to make sure that the messages I get out are research-based and fact-driven. I want to be a reliable source of accurate information for Missouri.”
Decker also blogs during several of the meetings that he attends. He will record video of speakers, too, to show to interested individuals who couldn’t attend.
“Not everyone can make every meeting,” Decker said. “I take a recorder with me to most meetings and record the presentations. I then upload them to YouTube so people can hear what we talked about at the meeting.”
There was a small learning curve when Decker first began his blog. The main obstacle was how to interact with people who don’t agree with Decker’s posts. He had to quickly grow thicker skin and become more receptive to negative feedback.
“When you interact with people online, you get their thoughts unfiltered and pure,” Decker said. “I’ve had some people who were really negative about the messages that I’ve tried to get out. I’ve learned that this is actually a benefit. I now get their true feelings, and now I have a much more accurate picture of what the varied opinions are in the beef industry. I can now start finding the correct way to discuss or frame content that makes them more receptive to the technologies that have been around for 40 years or the brand new technologies.
“Also, if you go to an extension meeting, the people who come up and talk with you are the ones who agreed with you and liked your talk. The people who thought you were full of baloney are going to get in their truck and go home. You won’t have that interaction. Social media opens that door.”“In terms of extension, I see the blog as another avenue to interact with and communicate with producers, who are our extension clientele. We’re trying to reach those people and do so on a regular basis. We want them to be informed and engaged.”
Another challenge Decker has faced is the actual adoption of new technology and social media. He said that there are only a portion of beef producers who he’s interacted with who are plugged into social media. Even other technology, such as artificial insemination and Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs), aren’t always widely accepted.
“There are still a lot of producers who don’t trust them and don’t use them,” Decker said. “It’s the same with social media. I try to find ways to frame the technology, to explain the technology, in a way that aligns with those person’s values. Some of that starts plugging into my research efforts.”
It helps that Decker grew up on a farm and raised cattle. He has a hobby farm as well where he raises cattle. Those experiences do bring some legitimacy to what Decker discusses.
“Sometimes, a lot of producers read what I write and think it’s easy to say some of those things when I’m sitting in my office at MU,” Decker said. “I try to bring my personal experiences into the conversation. I know what these producers are going through. When you talk about dealing with fescue toxicosis with your cattle, I’ve been there and I’ve dealt with it.”
Decker’s work has not only provided extra information, it has led to opportunities outside of Missouri. He has been invited to several states to speak about current genomic research. He has already presented in Indiana and Texas and he will make another trip to Texas as well as Montana and North Carolina this year.
“This blog is all about repetition,” Decker said. “It’s getting that message out in as many ways and in as many forms as possible. I believe this blog helps grow the brand of beef genetics extension from the University of Missouri system. It’s really worked well.”