October 1998 // Volume 36 // Number 5 // Ideas at Work // 5IAW1

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Using Electronic Media to Convey Timely Information

For the past three years, Ohio State University Extension specialists and agents have utilized e-mail and fax services to convey weekly crop management and pest development concerns to crop consultants, farmers, and agronomy service personnel. Survey results confirm that this educational delivery is popular among industry personnel and farmers alike. E-mails and faxes get accessed and read before regular mail. Participants appreciate the timeliness of information provided electronically.

Howard Siegrist
Extension Agent, Agriculture
Ohio State University Extension
Newark Ohio
Internet address: lick@postoffice.ag.ohio-state.edu

Greg Labarge
Extension Agent, Agriculture
Ohio State University Extension
Wauseon, Ohio
Internet address: labarge@postoffice.ag.ohio-state.edu

Steven Prochaska
Extension Agent, Agriculture and Natural Resources
Ohio State University Extension
Bucyrus, Ohio
Internet address: craw@postoffice.ag.ohio-state.edu

The increasing use of communication technologies such as fax and e-mail by Extension clientele has opened a new avenue to meet client needs. These communication technologies give Extension the opportunity to be more reactive, efficient, and timely in meeting clientele needs. The Ohio State University Extension Agronomic Crops Team has been reaching crop producers, agronomic service personnel, and consultants with an electronic newsletter via fax and e-mail since 1995.

The Crop Observation and Recommendation Network (CORN) electronic newsletter is published weekly from April through October and monthly during the rest of the year. CORN focuses on row crop production, corn, soybeans, and wheat that add $3 billion in farm receipts to Ohio's economy. Content focuses on crop development issues and crop nutrient management as well as weed, insect, and disease concerns. The electronic delivery of this information has offered the opportunity to make information instantly available.

The newsletter secures input through the Agronomic Crops Team from four academic departments in the College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences plus county Extension agents specializing in agronomic programming. The agronomy team was formed to explore a re-direction of Extension programming techniques.

Grain producers are increasingly relying upon individuals in the fertilizer, pest control, and seed industries for technical information. Many individuals in the input industry are well trained and quite knowledgeable. These private sector crop management professionals have an on-going working relationship with grain crop producers.

Extension's efforts to provide timely, pertinent information to this segment of the industry needed to develop a different dimension. The CORN newsletter has provided an opportunity for university specialist and county Extension offices to maintain a working dialogue with this critically important segment of the agronomic information transfer infrastructure. Extension's traditional role of providing research-based information on a timely basis is strongly reinforced through the CORN newsletter

CORN is sent to subscribers each Monday afternoon during the growing season. A conference call of agents and specialists each Monday morning provides an assessment of current and anticipated issues in crop production. Several state specialists and county agents then submit articles to an editor who compiles the information and then e-mails the newsletter to a listserv distribution list that includes farmers, agronomic service personnel, consultants and Extension. County Extension offices then fax the newsletter to local clients.

This maintains the local Extension office as a partner in identity with the newsletter. Members of the agronomy team have the opportunity to report field observations and concepts to their co-workers across the state at any time through a listserv. An agent or specialist does not need to participate in the Monday conference call to have input.

CORN has been produced for three years. During this period, three different surveys of clientele have been conducted. The overwhelming response has been that CORN is an effective, valuable, and needed resource in agronomic crop production. Besides capturing comments about CORN, the latest survey attempted to ascribe monetary value to the information disseminated in CORN. To that end, Ohio agronomic dealers and farmers indicated CORN had helped reduce clientele pest control costs by over 3.8 million dollars in 1996 alone. This dollar figure does not include the value of the significant crop cultural information regularly contained in CORN.

From an organizational viewpoint, CORN has been a highly successful multi-disciplinary effort between state specialists and county agricultural agents. CORN has fostered the development of team work and cooperation among county agents and state specialists representing four major disciplines. Further, CORN has been utilized by agents as a highly effective educational resource for radio programs, newsletters, and newspaper columns. Lastly, the CORN newsletter positions Extension to be on the cutting edge of technology not only for the solving of interdisciplinary problems facing agriculture, but also in the communication of research based information to the agricultural industry.