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Technology Opens Doors for Young Farmer

For William Thiele, a sixth generation Butler County dairy farmer, an unexpected Christmas gift and its agricultural applications opened new leadership and educational opportunities.

The #DroneGuy Takes Flight

“My parents gifted my brother and I a drone in 2015,” William remembered. “It was a basic model, but my parents saw on TV that you could do ag stuff with a drone.”

It was a perfect fit for William. “I’ve always enjoyed learning new things, especially with technology.” After watching helpful YouTube videos, William took the Christmas drone on its maiden flight.

“I flew around and made videos of the landscape that winter and realized it would be helpful in the spring,” recalled William. “You gain a different perspective of your fields from the air than on the ground.”

While William honed his drone skills, he also became more involved with Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s (PFB) Young Agricultural Professionals (YAP) group. His local Butler County Farm Bureau chapter hoped a demonstration event of a drone’s agriculture applications, such as viewing cover crop stands or deer damage, might draw more young people in April 2016. It was a success.

“That one little demonstration started a snowball effect that keeps getting bigger,” said William. Over time, William continued speaking at events and performed more drone demos at both the PFB and American Farm Bureau annual meetings.

“That’s how I got my name, #droneguy,” William shared. “Even a few years into my demonstrations, around 2017, many people didn’t understand how to use drones and they were fascinated. I started using #droneguy with my video uploads.”  

William’s social media drone videos, including his focus on cover crop applications, caught the Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance’s attention. “I look at our rye cover crop that we plant after soybean, when things start greening up,” he explained. “I can easily see which fields have the best stands.”

“I was invited to speak at a few of the No-Till Alliance’s summer Field Days and today, I serve on the Alliance’s Board of Directors,” shared William. “My drone leads me into talking about agriculture, which leads me to talk about conservation, and that snowball opportunity keeps getting bigger.”

This winter, William added another speaking opportunity to his resume. He shared his experiences in the AgChoice AgBiz Masters program with current participants. A 2018 AgBiz Masters graduate, William said, “AgBiz makes you think about the various aspects of your farm business and strive to do better.”

Farmer Fridays

In the summer of 2020, a teaching door opened for William, combining his love of technology and his public speaking skills. “A Slippery Rock University hospitality professor asked our local Farm Bureau to help find a farmer to talk to her students,” said William. “I volunteered. You can’t let opportunities to share your farming story go to waste.”

“She knew her hospitality industry students needed to know where their food comes from,” he continued. With the Zoom video platform, William brought the Slippery Rock students to his farm every Friday for eight weeks over the internet.

“I shared a different subject each week, and I called it Farmer Friday,” explained William. Topics included soil health, cover crops, machinery, the milking process and cattle feed. After a popular first semester, William returned for the class’s spring semester to share his farm with a new group of students.

William understands that many farmers are afraid to talk to the public. “I get it,” he said. “But we need to be more open-minded about the public. We can’t afford to write people off. If the public has a genuine interest, go for it. Now, we can even talk virtually to people about agriculture. It’s doesn’t take much time, very little effort and you’re talking about something you love – farming.”

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