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January 5, 2014

Farmers getting information in different ways

When I started work as the Clinton County Extension agriculture educator, I moved into an office already well stocked with books, fact sheets, binders and reference materials of all kinds.

There were file cabinets full of the history of local agriculture, recommendations of experts long since retired and many years of accumulated knowledge. As the educational outreach arm of Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension has been delivering the latest in research-based agricultural knowledge to New York farmers for more than 100 years.

But as agricultural research has evolved, so has its delivery method. No longer does information filter down to producers via weighty manuals or annually produced pamphlets. Today’s agricultural information travels at the speed of light via the Internet.

With the advent of the new technologies, farmers have often been slow adopters, sometimes by virtue of the relative distance from information centers, other times because resistance to change in the past has been the norm. As farmers become larger and require more information to operate profitably, new ways of doing things have become more acceptable.

Gone are the days when a farmer would call the county extension agent for answers to routine questions; now they can surf the net from a smart phone right from the tractor seat and find all sorts of information, some good and some not so good.

One of the drawbacks of random web searches is the abundance of poor information. A recent development in Cooperative Extension outreach is the web based resource eXtension.org. A partnership of 74 universities, eXtension.org is an interactive learning environment offering researched-based knowledge from experts at institutions across America.

Professional educators from all over the country join together in this online community to develop resource areas for their field. Farmers researching just about any topic can use eXtension.org to find good quality information, ask questions of extension experts, search newsletters from around the country and watch archived webinars.

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