February 1998 // Volume 36 // Number 1 // Ideas at Work // 1IAW1

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Usefulness of Extension News to DTN Subscribers

The purpose of the study was to help evaluate the effectiveness of a twice-weekly news service that the University of Minnesota Extension Service provides to Data Transmission Network/Farm Dayta (DTN). A telephone survey of a random sample of 125 Minnesota DTN subscribers resulted in 92 useful responses. Over 8,000 Minnesota farm families and agribusiness firms regularly retrieve the stories. Furthermore, 82 percent of the respondents found the information "somewhat useful" or "very useful." This service appears to be effective and efficient (the organization incurs no production or out-of-pocket expense).

John M. Sperbeck
Internet address: jsperbeck@mes.umn.edu

P. Joseph Kurtz
Internet address: pkurtz@mes.umn.edu

University of Minnesota Extension System
Communications and Technology System
University of Minnesota
St. Paul, Minnesota


Data Transmission Network/Farm Dayta (DTN) is an electronic news, market and weather service. Farmer and agribusiness subscribers pay a one-time hook-up fee that covers use of a satellite dish, receiver, and monitor. DTN is supported by subscriber fees and advertisers. There are over 10,000 subscribers in Minnesota.

Since mid-1994, the University of Minnesota Extension Service has been supplying a twice-weekly news service distributed to all Minnesota DTN subscribers. News stories are sent electronically from the Extension Service to DTN where they're sent, via satellite, directly to subscribers.

Stories are typically production-related. Examples of typical titles include "Don't rely on foliar fertilizer for soybeans," "Cold spell raises crop damage concerns," and "Swine AI workshop scheduled."

To help evaluate how useful the service was to subscribers, a random sample of 125 Minnesota subscribers to DTN was drawn. Then a telephone survey was conducted from December 1995 through mid-February 1996. A total of 92 useful responses was obtained (74% of the sample).

All 125 names were called a least twice. Of those not reached, there was either no answer or the primary DTN user was not available. There were no refusals.


Respondents were asked if they'd read the University of Minnesota Extension Service pages (they are only a small segment of total information available on DTN).

Of 90 respondents, 65 (72%) said they had read the Minnesota Extension Service pages on DTN. Those who answered no to the question either had not seen the pages (21, or 84%) or said the pages were not useful (4, or 16%).

Of 64 respondents who had read the pages, 26 (41%) said they read them occasionally, or less than once a week. The same number 26 (41%) said they read the pages once a week, while 12 (19%) said they read them twice a week.

There were 64 responses to the question "How useful are the University of Minnesota pages on DTN? Respondents were given three choices - very useful, somewhat useful, and not useful. Of the 64 respondents, 5 (8%) said "very useful;" 50 (77%) said "somewhat useful;" and 10 (15%) said "not useful."

Subscribers preferred receiving three pages (screens) of material updated twice weekly (51 responses, 82%). The majority of respondents (43, or 64%) said the pages should be updated with new information twice a week, (the current practice).

Subscribers also preferred the pages be available throughout the year (96%) vs. only during the crop growing season (4%).


Based on figures from this study, more than 8,000 Minnesota farm families and agribusiness firms regularly access information from the Extension Service every week. Furthermore, a total of 82% of the respondents found the information somewhat useful or very useful. This service appears to be an effective, efficient way to reach Minnesota farm families and agricultural businesses. The University of Minnesota Extension Service incurs no printing, mailing or other out-of-pocket expenses.