ROLLA, N.D. — Farming can be an isolating occupation. From long nights in the tractor making sure the seed gets put into the ground to early sunrise equipment checks, it’s a full-time venture that much of the world does not partake in.
Tim Mickelson knows the toll those lengthy nights and early mornings can take on a farmer. He wanted to find a way to connect with others in the agricultural industry and find a way of communication to those producers all around the country. Much to Mickelson’s surprise, he was able to do just that, without ever leaving his canola field.
Technology has been sweeping through the agriculture industry at a rapid pace over the past decade. GPS systems, cutting edge varieties and many other developments have helped farmers have a better farming experience. When Mickelson’s son decided to download a new app to his phone, the canola farmer wanted to see what all the hype was about. He downloaded TikTok in 2019 and has never looked back.
“I realized within one month that there were a lot of farmers on TikTok. So then I fell into the hashtag or the group Farmtok,” Mickelson said. “It has been just a blast.”
Mickelson began making videos about canola for his followers and was much surprised by the popularity of the short videos. He saw the app as a good way to get out the story of agriculture to the general public as well as a way to connect to his fellow farmers.
With almost 10,000 followers on the platform, Mickelson educates about life on the farm, particularly his canola. Each week he goes to his favorite canola field of the season and gives updates on the current standing of the crop and any issues it may be facing in real time. Mickelson has responded to countless videos on farmtok when a producer is facing an issue and wants the advice or expertise of a fellow farmer on the issue, such as equipment troubleshooting.
While on a roadtrip through the Midwest, Mickelson said he found himself wondering how the operations he was passing by did things. TikTok has helped him answer those questions.
“I thought, I wonder what that guy is doing for planting or this, or I wonder what he does with his combine or how does he do the no-till operations,” he said. “When you follow the other farmers on farmtok, TikTok basically completed the dots for all those questions.”
For Mickelson, it has been rewarding to show consumers where their food comes from and give them an inside look to all that happens on the farm.
“TikTok is connecting the farmers that are raising the food to the consumers,” he said. “It’s the voice that brings us from the field right to America’s table. It’s direct.”
Like many farmers this year, Mickelson got a late start to planting his canola crop due to the excessive moisture and snow that made its way to his region during April. Due to the late planting date, his harvest also will be later than average this year. While he normally harvests his canola acres in mid August, he predicts that it will be closer to the second week of September this year.
Despite the late planting date, the canola was able to catch up due to the amount of growing degree days the north central North Dakota received. While canola is a crop that prefers cool and mild temperatures, Mickelson said the heat-filled days were a blessing.
“The crop has done an amazing adaptation for the growing season,” he said.
Mickelson was elected to the U.S. Canola Board two years ago and has been a part of the Northern Canola Growers for over a decade. He is excited to see where the canola industry is headed, as canola is in the final stages of being approved by the EPA for renewable fuel. This will expand the demand for canola greatly.
“The aviation industry has set an aggressive goal to be into a renewable fuel source, a renewable jet fuel, by 2028. If that holds true, the future for canola as a feed stock for renewable fuel source is huge,” Mickelson said.
North Dakota is a big player in the canola industry. According to Mickelson the state makes up 78% of total canola acres in the United States. Of the 2.24 million total acres of canola in the country, North Dakota makes up 1.76 million acres of the crop.
Mickelson originally implemented canola into his operation in the late 1990s, when he needed an additional rotation in his fields and was fighting scab terribly in his spring wheat fields.
“We needed a crop in the worst way to break up the disease cycle and just a good crop for rotation,” he said.
He also raises spring wheat, malting barley, golden flax, soybeans and yellow peas. Some years the operation may encompass five to six different crops, allowing Mickelson to not put all his eggs into one basket.