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. 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 agricultural science to New York farmers for almost 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 look to the county extension agent for answers to routine questions; now they can surf the net from the farm 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 research-based knowledge from experts at institutions across America. With resource areas from farming to community planning, professional educators with expertise in that topic or subject area joined together to provide online learning opportunities.
One learning opportunity that has become increasingly available to farmers is the online webinar. Without leaving the farm, one can join a group of people from all over the state or country and participate in a live or recorded presentation on topics of interest.