Fall 1989 // Volume 27 // Number 3 // Research in Brief // 3RIB1

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Keeping Pace with the Times?


John G. Richardson
Extension Associate Professor and
Extension Specialist-Education Programs
North Carolina State University-Raleigh

Is the Extension Service keeping pace with the times in the delivery of state-of-the-art agricultural technology to its clients?

At the present time, yes, according to a recent survey of North Carolina farmers. But the same survey indicated that changes might be necessary to maintain quality efforts in the future.

Extension has a long tradition of disseminating research findings and technological advances. In recent years, however, its critics have argued that Extension's delivery of technical information is no longer keeping pace with the rapid rate of technological development. Although many Extension workers feel these criticisms are unfounded, their confidence may have been shaken by events like the federal budget scare of 1986 and several negative magazine articles.

In the North Carolina study, 1,178 farmers who use Extension were surveyed to determine their perceptions of the organization's ability to deliver timely technological information to them. A total of 702 returned questionnaires, a 60% response rate. The survey used a score of 3 for the most positive perception and 30 for the most negative perception. Scores indicated a generally positive perception of Extension's capacity to provide information:

  • Almost 90% indicated an overall positive perception.
  • Over 60% indicated a moderately high to very high perception.
  • Only 10% indicated a negative perception.

The study was also designed to determine whether a respondent's perceptions were related to age, educational level, farm characteristics, or the respondent's anticipated needs for information about complex technologies in the future. Farm characteristics included gross income, employment status, percentage of a part-time farmer's gross income resulting from farming, and the type and size of the farm. Of these, educational level, the type of farming a respondent was engaged in, and anticipated future needs for new information were all found to be related to their perception:

  • The higher the educational level of a respondent, the higher the level of confidence indicated.
  • Among enterprise groups, peanut farmers held the most positive perception level, with a mean score of 7.45. They were followed by producers of Christmas trees, horticultural crops, forest products, tobacco, field crops, beef cattle, hogs, poultry, and dairy products. The dairy farmers' mean score was 12.28.
  • More than 80% anticipated needing more complex technological information in the future. The level of expected future need for information was found to have a direct correlation with the respondents' confidence in Extension's ability to deliver that information.

Extension generally received a vote of confidence in this study, but variations in the perception levels indicate that some producers are less confident than others that Extension will continue to be a reliable source of usable information. To correct this, Extension must seek highly qualified, technologically competent personnel and place those individuals where they will be readily available to deliver information to meet the needs of specialized clientele.

More intensive inservice training must be provided to enhance the competency of existing personnel and adjustments in assignments may be required. Although the generalist will continue to be necessary to provide a vast array of less complex information, Extension must have the flexibility to provide the complex, state-of-the-art technological information that will also be needed. Failure to provide such information will result in less dependence and support from specialized operators. Producers, after all, need to maintain profitable enterprises. Extension, likewise, needs to make correct decisions to maintain producer confidence and support.