Oregon Aglink Blog

The Farmer You Can Ask: Derrick Josi at TDF Honest Farming

Posted on November 18, 2021

Derrick Josi is the recipient of the 2021 Ag Connection award from Oregon Aglink. The presentation will take place on November 19 at our Denim and Diamonds Annual Awards dinner and auction courtesy of title sponsor Wilco and presenting sponsor Columbia Bank.

Out in the green fields and shaded barn stalls of Wilsonview Dairy in Tillamook, you can find over half a million people from around the world.

That is, you’ll find them if you check the followers on Derrick Josi’s Facebook account for TDF Honest Farming.

He’s racked up over 633,000 followers on that platform, with another fifty-plus thousand on Instagram and eighteen thousand on Twitter. That’s hundreds of thousands of followers that Josi invites into his world on a daily basis as he posts regular video updates and blog entries about his hard-working Jersey herd and the dairy business.

Josi’s interactions with his herd are a big draw for his many followers

Derrick Josi will receive the 2021 Ag Connection award from Oregon Aglink at the annual Denim and Diamonds award dinner and auction. He was nominated and then selected not just for his follower count, but his ability to reach a wide audience of friendly farmers, curious consumers, and even ambivalent activists.

As Josi says, “if I didn’t think I was changing minds, I wouldn’t do what I do online.”

“Ask a Farmer, Not an Activist”

Let’s dig into the TDF Honest Farming screen name that Josi has been using since 2016. 

“TDF” stands for Tillamook Dairy Farmer. Josi’s Wilsonview Dairy may be only one of nearly a hundred dairy farms that make up the famous Tillamook County Creamery Association co-op, but it may be one of the best known. His online presence has created a window into dairy farming in Oregon’s lush coastal region and into the industry more broadly: what happens during milking, how feed is managed, and even the topics that can stir controversy, like cow-calf separation and artificial insemination.

That brings us to the “Honest Farming” part of his online persona. While he’s got a marketing person now, a recent book, and a partnership with clothing manufacturer Key Apparel, the success for Derrick Josi depends on his brand of honesty about the tough stuff. While “Cows Make Me Happy” is a crowd-pleasing slogan for the t-shirts pictured on many of his fans, the other popular slogan rings true for many in agriculture: “Ask a Farmer, Not an Activist.”

Where online content about the industry can be dominated by anti-dairy activists, Josi is creating a body of work that sheds light rather than shuts doors. “I’m willing to talk about a lot of the issues that a lot of online influencers tend to brush over or don’t do deep dives, especially in the dairy industry.” It’s not so much courting controversy as depriving the more hardcore activists their fuel sources: confusion, emotional reaction, and the space to spread misinformation about dairy.

His pinned post at the top of his Facebook page contains nineteen short videos, anywhere from three to ten minutes long, that address the frequently asked questions: what happens during milking? What about breeding? What’s a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation)? How does he deal with bull calves? (Spoiler: he uses sexed semen for AI that brings the occurrence of bull calves down to around 5%). If you follow the account, you’ll see those topics re-addressed time and again along with the general daily business of milking, feeding, and problem-solving.

Still, the fact that he’s not just posting the highlight reels and pretty scenery has paid some worthwhile dividends. “Groups that used to give me blow-back have probably come to the conclusion that I’m a lost cause,” says Josi. Creating an open-book atmosphere has reduced the number of negative interactions on his page. He continues, “when you push back at them they tend to end up leaving you alone.”

What Does “Pushing Back” Look Like?

Most of us have seen the explosive interactions between farmers and activists, or at least between their respective followers. For a lot of people, “pushing back” could mean going blow-for-blow on comments and reactions. For Derrick Josi, some of the most successful “push back” has been the aforementioned videos, his blog posts, and now his book, An Industry Worth Fighting For. Beyond creating his own content, though, he’s a classic example of choosing your battles wisely.

Part of Josi’s success stems from his choice to engage or not engage with others on social media. His videos are often framed to respond to viewer questions in the first place, but you can also spot him replying in the comments section of his own posts. After all, being around to respond to that curiosity or confusion is a necessary part of the “Ask a Farmer, Not an Activist” slogan.

Engagement can also be sharing or responding to activist posts from their own accounts, and that’s where Josi points out the need for a more strategic approach: “We see an activist video come out and we can’t help but share the video and try and tell people why it’s wrong or go into the comments and try to argue with people who don’t even care about our opinions. It makes us feel better that we’re doing it, we’re doing something, when all we’re really doing is letting someone see a misleading video and then see farmers sometimes viciously attack people that they don’t know.”

It can be tough, but Josi makes it a point to hang back and see if the anti-dairy videos get any traction of their own. It can even happen that, sometimes, the video is revealed as being staged or edited in a misleading way. So much of that can be avoided, he says, if farmers avoid the trap of responding too impulsively.

“We are our own worst enemy online,” says Josi. “We are just as guilty of emotional response as everyone else.” 

Facts and Feelings

Some of the long term work undertaken by the TDF Honest Farming brand looks like changing the social media landscape around farming in general and dairy in particular. The idea of consumer education has to reckon with the material that people can access online and how they interact with it. For instance, the emotional appeal of animals cuts both ways: it can be the warm fuzzy feelings about a cute calf, or the way a normal farming scene might inspire extremely negative feelings for people who don’t understand what is happening.

“Any emotional human being is going to be harder to reason with,” says Josi. 

And while it may be impossible to fully separate people from their feelings, we can acknowledge whether the conversation at hand is being powered by rational or irrational engagement. That goes for consumers trying their best to navigate information online, but also for farmers who see their work being dragged through the mud.

Derrick Josi with his daughters Reagan, left, and Dylan, right.

What kinds of emotions has Josi seen farmers express online at times? “Anger, frustration, betrayal, hate.” He also gives voice to some common feelings he’s seen: “‘They’re attacking our livelihood’ or ‘I hate these people.’” Josi understands it, and he has strong reactions too, but he goes on to explain, “You have to step back. In [the critic’s] view, what they’re doing is the right thing to do.” The information or facts they’ve got in mind are wrapped up with their sense of morality and a lot of feelings about animals, freedom, and suffering. When farmers respond with their own strong emotions, the conversation is moving further from resolution rather than closer to it.

“They respond emotionally and then we respond emotionally, instead of taking a step back and realizing that we’re not changing anybody’s mind by doing it that way,” says Josi. “If you don’t take into account people’s feelings and try to see where they’re coming from, it doesn’t matter how many facts you use.”

So what’s the solution? There likely isn’t a simple answer, but there’s an encouraging trend that Josi has noticed in the comments outside of his own accounts. “Every time there’s videos that surface online from these groups, inevitably there’s people in the comment section tagging me and saying ‘if you want to know what’s really going on with dairy, ask this page.’”

We’re used to seeing viral memes and videos spread across the internet, but good information can do the same thing. With patience and slowly-built trust, Derrick Josi and his TDF Honest Farming brand have become a credible source of information about the dairy industry. 

Join us in person at Denim & Diamonds or watch via live-feed on November 19 to see Derrick Josi receive his Ag Connection Award

– by Allison Cloo