Press-Republican

March 3, 2013

Advances made in ag education

Peter Hagar, Agriculture Educator
Press-Republican

— 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.

Another distance learning method we sometimes use in our office is video conferencing. With groups of local producers attending in multiple locations, experts from Cornell or beyond can communicate to several groups face to face over a video link. While still requiring some travel, it offers a chance for personal interaction locally in addition to the long-distance connection. Speakers that would likely never visit our region can answer questions and have discussions on topics of specific interest to local farmers.

While videoconferencing offers a little of the personal touch that face-to-face interactions have to offer, in-person meetings are still our primary tool for connecting farmers with campus research. Once a personal connection is made, participants often find it easier to continue communication by email or telephone for future inquiries. We often find meeting attendees still talking in the parking lot as we are closing up the office.

As winter slowly starts to wind down, several upcoming meetings across the North Country have a lot to offer before the farmers start getting ready for spring planting. For dairy farmers, Cornell’s Pro-Dairy team is bringing the Winter Dairy Management program to Malone on March 7 to present a wide-ranging program that will offer practical ideas from reproduction to lighting to cow comfort. This regional meeting offers an opportunity for local farmers to learn about the latest research and developments in dairy production.

For beef producers, Cornell Beef Specialist Dr. Mike Baker and Carol Gillis of the New York Beef Industry Council will be in Westport on March 12 for our Spring Beef Week meeting. Baker will talk about selection of a bull to improve carcass quality and Gillis will focus on innovative beef marketing to help producers connect with consumers. Attendees will also learn more about the new USDA slaughterhouse planned for Ticonderoga.

As technology evolves and agricultural education evolves with it, farmers will continue to have improved access to cutting-edge information. Whether it is new production methods, business management tips or weather forecasts, more and more farmers will be using new technology to access and utilize information to be more successful. For help navigating this new information frontier, the local extension office will still be here to offer personal assistance and the occasional fact sheet.

For more information on these and other programs currently being offered, you can contact me at 561-7450 or email phh7@cornell.edu.

Peter Hagar, agriculture program educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension Clinton County, 6064 Rt. 22, Plattsburgh, 12901. Call 561-7450.