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Podcasts capture a mobile grower audience

Humans of Agriculture founder Oli Le Lievre, who hosts GRDC’s successful In Conversation podcasts.
Photo: Oli Le Lievre

From cave paintings and yarns around a campfire to books, movies and television, people have been sharing stories for tens of thousands of years as a means of passing on knowledge and traditions.

Storytelling also reflects our innate need to share experiences, emotions and wisdom, and helps us build relationships and alliances.

GRDC Southern Panel deputy chair Pru Cook, who is an expert in communications and extension, says research has shown storytelling continues to be one of the most effective ways for businesses and organisations to engage with clients, members and customers.

“The average person receives a huge amount of information – anywhere from 4000 to 10,000 pieces of content or advertising – every day,” she says.

“One of our biggest challenges is getting people to engage with something, such as research content, in the first place, and stories are often a really effective way of being able to do that.”

GRDC has produced hundreds of podcasts since 2018, many of them highly technical and focused on promoting new research or addressing a specific seasonal challenge for growers.

Podcast with a difference

In 2022, it embarked on a podcast with a difference, commissioning a series based on discussions after the Regional Cropping Solutions Network final dinner.

Former grower relations manager Randall Wilksch says the idea came from growers Chris Lynn and Andrew Healy  and, with the support of then GRDC senior grower extension and communications manager Luke Gaynor, was given life as a project.

The premise was to devote each episode to an individual with expertise in a different sector of the grains industry in the southern region, and delve into each of them as a person discussing their career history, influences and what motivates them.

Called In Conversation, and hosted by Humans of Agriculture founder Oli Le Lievre, the first two series had racked up more than 18,700 downloads as of 22 August. Most of the 24 episodes achieved more than 160 downloads in the first day and more than 300 within the first week.

Mr Wilksch says the feedback was immediately positive and Oli was “a brilliant host”.

The most-popular episode to date was recorded with corporate consultant and former agronomist Dr Kate Burke, with more than 1100 people listening to that chat since it was released in October 2022.

Data shows almost two-thirds of listeners were males, aged 23 to 44, and they tuned in from start to finish for 11 episodes, with completion rates of 91 to 99 per cent for another five.

Listening at work

Ms Cook says podcasts are perfect for agriculture’s highly mobile audience, many listeners driving vehicles and machinery, or working on practical tasks with their hands and looking for something enjoyable to listen to.

“Where In Conversation has been really effective is interviewing people listeners identify with or know of,” she says.

“Often you will find when people are giving presentations that the anecdotes and stories are what people really lean into and what they remember the most.

“It gets you thinking about your own life, and the stuff that you do as well. I’ve walked away from them pondering how I could encourage more people into agriculture, foster innovation and show up better for women working in agriculture.

“It’s a clever initiative that showcases the diversity of roles and opportunities within the grains industry. That is really important because every second conversation I have is that we don’t have enough people with the skills or the inclination to work in the grains industry.”

Mr Le Lievre attributes part of the podcast’s success to its relaxed, conversational nature.

“The beauty of it for an audience is they can take you where they want to have you,” he says.

“And for them it feels like they are eavesdropping on that conversation, which is incredibly powerful. That’s the beauty of long-form content – making sure that we can touch on and draw on different aspects that will be of interest for that person to talk to, but also for the audience as well.”

And while the podcast might sound effortless, it is not as simple as calling someone on the phone and hitting the record button.

The first step is to collaborate with GRDC staff on a long list of potential interviewees, research each of them and whittle it down to a short list. Mr Le Lievre then has an initial call to introduce himself and find out more about each guest.

Interviews are carried out face to face where possible, or during online video meetings, and the audio edited to run for between 30 minutes and an hour.

“When it comes to how you get people talking, it’s really just about making them feel comfortable.

“And that’s where I think podcasts are fantastic because they just need to remember that it’s a one-on-one conversation, and we’re just having a chat. That’s also why that initial conversation is quite important.”

People are our greatest strength, but sometimes we forget about them when it comes to projecting what’s happening in our sector.

It also helps that Mr Le Lievre is relentlessly curious about the world and how people tick.

After working on farms and in agricultural technology, he began Humans of Agriculture as a passion project in 2019 to “shift the narrative of agriculture” and celebrate stories that were being overlooked by mainstream media.

It became a podcast in 2020 and an opportunity during COVID-19 lockdowns for Mr Le Lievre to have a virtual coffee with people all over the world as he heard and shared their stories.

Humans of Agriculture now has the lofty goal of sharing 10,000 stories of people in agriculture as a way of connecting Australians with the people who grow their food and fibre.

“I like to grab these people, walk alongside them as the host, and uncover their story of the opportunities, the journeys, the challenges, the adversities, and how that actually shapes our sector to be so special.

“People are our greatest strength, but sometimes we forget about them when it comes to projecting what’s happening in our sector.”

The success of In Conversation has led GRDC to take the next series of the podcast national , broadening its scope to cover the northern grains region, with an added emphasis on the adoption of technology and innovation.

Mr Le Lievre says he’s especially keen to explore the on-farm evolution of machinery, and talk to grain growers who have cemented relationships along the supply chain and with end customers, such as bakeries.

“I will be trying to unlock and find these different amazing people that are involved in the grains industry and trying to find some of these hidden stories and share that with a bigger audience,” he says.

In Conversation is among more than 350 podcasts available from the GRDC website, as well as through platforms or apps such as Apple, Spotify and Google.

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