Final Report for LNE04-207
Over the three-year life of the project 46 farm families and 8 extension educators learned to incorporate a PDA (personal digital assistant) into their daily management protocol which allowed them to enhance the usefulness of their computers in their farm management decision making. This group also learned to use several different software management programs to enhance their management skills. At the end of the study, 12 farm families use their PDA to make timely, well informed decisions as they have incorporated a Dell Axim into their management protocol. At the end of this study each and every family that was involved has benefited by learning how to use many of the software programs taught during the program whether or not they are applying them on the PDA. This educational program accounted for over 120 farmer meetings and personal consultations. The farm families involved in this effort learned 12 different software applications that were developed by the committee and in some cases software applications were adapted to fit a specific farmers needs.
The goal of this project was to teach a diverse group of small farmers to use a PDA in their daily record keeping and decision making. The program was designed to help 40 farm families change their record keeping to a point they could access their records at remote locations away from their computer and then at their convenience allow the remote PDA program and their desktop computer update or as it is called in the industry “sync”.
We presented this training in three counties (Jefferson, Monroe, and Ohio) that were chosen by agent interest. Two other counties attempted to get a program started but personnel changes caused an interruption in training and the interest waned.
Preliminarily each family had to evaluate their desktop computer to determine its suitability for use in the program. This in most cases this required that their computers be loaded with a newer version of Microsoft Word and very few had anything beyond a beginner level of any spreadsheet program and they were loaded with Microsoft Excel. Most of the families had to add more memory and faster operating systems for their units too. Two graduate students were assigned to the project from the start to help the families assess their computers and make the appropriate upgrades. This process was tedious and time consuming but necessary.
The team also had to assess the skills of the individuals so each of them would be able to make the most of the lessons. This involved, in some cases, many individualized lessons at the farmers home.
Next each family obtained a Dell Axim PDA. This particular brand was chosen after much thought and study. It appeared to be the toughest in the market and offered the most backup. We obtained a “commercial” relationship with the /dell company for support and backup as opposed to a less involved “homeowner” support package. In the history and evolution of PDA technology this project was at the ground floor.
The educational side finally began as the farm families expressed their program needs regarding specific record keeping requirements and specific evaluation tools they felt were necessary for them to better manage their operations. They were asked to share their goals.
The monthly classes were divided into three parts. The first was how to operate the PDA, next, software application and last, problem solving. Then a “show and tell” part was added as farmers began to learn more about their devices and the “tricks of the trade” relating to shortcuts and software applications.
Thirty farmers who complete the training will be making informed and timely, day-to-day and long range management decisions because their financial and productions data are accurate and current as they have the ability to both collect and analyze this information in the field using a hand held computer.
Forty six families participated in the training. Fifteen of those are using their PDA as we state in our goal. Every family involved has incorporated more computer use in their farm management system and heightened their computer skills.
The record keeping protocol that emerges from this program, as well as, a ten lesson curriculum that allows the educators to teach it to more farmers will be made ready for distribution. This was completed. Several software applications were developed and posted on the project website same for the lessons on the proper use and setup of the Dell Axim.
The approach we employed was very simple. With slight promotion and local agent knowledge of interested farmers a group of participants was quickly recruited. Farmer interest caused the project to occur. A small group of farmers concentrating on marketing in one county served as the model for the project.
The approach was to gather together farmers who shared this interest and need. Next we led them through a series of lessons on how to use their new PDA. The list includes:
1.) How do I perform a Hard of Soft Reset. 2.) The PDA Has Arrived. 3.) Axim Features. 4.) Security though Identification, Maintenance, and Resetting. 5.) ActiveSync Installation. 6.) File Management and Backing up the Axim. 7.) Menus and Input. 8.) Programs for the Axim.
Next we directed the class work toward incorporating specific software into their “toolbox” and adapting decision making software. This list includes: 1.) ActivSync. 2.) Data on the Run 4. 3.) Data on the Run User Guide. 4.) Remote Display Control Host (Allows the Axim to be displayed on the desktop).
We then taught the classes to Enterprise Decision Making Tool/Budgets From West Virginia University that were either developed or adapted for the project. That list includes 1.) Hero Chic for Excel, is an adaptation that compares soil test results, manure or litter test results, and current fertilizer prices against prices for litter purchase, hauling, and spreading. With HeroChic, the user can decide how far he or she can economically haul litter by comparing the price and chemical analysis with commercial fertilizer. The user must research the current prices and get analysis results for an accurate determination. Variations of this program include using nitrogen or phosphorus as the limiting plant nutrient application. 2.) BeefBreak for Excel, is a beef breakeven spreadsheet that includes many feed variables. By using “days on feed” and “per head fed” calculations, the user may enter per ton costs of ingredients to determine his or her breakeven costs. This adaptation has the potential to be entered directly on a sample Schedule F with other enterprises in your operation. 3.) QuickView for Excel QuickView Plus, Knowing your cost of production per pound of lamb or calf is the first step toward really managing it. Enterprise analysis can take many forms and at first can be intimidating. WVQuickView is a useful beginner’s tool. Your cost per pound of lamb or calf for a particular year can be compared to that of a peer group or against other years. Once you arrive at a figure you have the opportunity to compare each management component of the operation to measure the variance. 4.) Access Expense Records File (Version 4.5), is a Microsoft Access
based record keeping system for the farm’s financial records and beef production
records. The program allows the two to be tied together to gets per unit of production. This was developed by WVU Extension Agent John Miller and requires Microsoft Access and Data on the Run. This was the capstone of our educational support and a discussion is found below.
Our goal as extension farm financial management advisors was to get farmers to consider the cost of their actions beyond the check book and farm income tax return. Partial budgeting has server clients well in evaluating alternatives in agriculture. Our question was regarding the day to day farming financial information. We searched for a tool to manage daily farm expense and sales information. Many people were using financial programs with some degree of success. Many of these programs were too complex for our clients to fully utilize. We created the WVU-ES Farm Record Keeping Package to meet this need. Accounting using spread sheets was found to be cumbersome in that the user had to focus on a set of cells on a spread sheet. A data base application was found to be more focused and powerful in manipulation of the information once it was entered. We created a simple data base application into which farm families could enter farm expenses from receipts. Items purchased would be charged against a farm enterprise. Our goal was to build enterprise budgets based upon what was actually spent rather than what was determined up front to be spent. We developed some useful tools as part of the analysis such as expense by enterprise reports, expenses by vendor reports, an IRS “Schedule F”, a listing of individual expenses, and report on sales.
Teaching farm enterprise accounting with the record keeping application was more of a one on one endeavor. It has been a challenge getting farmers to have Microsoft Access available on computers to operate the data base application. Once the data base program and application is set up it was easy to get the client started keeping records. Everyone kept receipts for on farm expenses in a shoe box, a large envelope, some calendar pocket. Clients always had the receipts stashed somewhere.
We formatted the record keeping system to open into an easily navigated main menu. Our main menu screen is populated with command buttons that launch the task the operator wants to perform. Expense entry is done by selecting the enter expense button. Following the selection a form pops up allowing the user to enter the information directly from the receipt. The user does not have to enter the receipt themselves they simply have to mark on the receipt what enterprise to assign the expense. Then the data entry person can enter the expense for them. We encourage clients to get someone in the family to help with entering the information in the data base. This includes another person on the farm into the business; making decision making more distributed throughout the family.
We adopted some of the organizational thinking for this system from work order accounting where time and materials were charged to jobs through a database management system. Many of the intangible expenses associated with farm living can be tacked with this system. Building repairs can be charged to buildings. Equipment repairs can be charged to equipment. Farmstead up keep can be charged to the farmstead giving the user a much clear understanding of what it is costing them to do business. These items would normally be accounted for as overhead costs.
4-a) accompanying Instructions for WVU-ES Farm Record Keeping System 4.5
5.) Hay Needs, Trying to calculate how much hay you need? This spreadsheet will calculate hay needs based on the type of animal, the weight of the animal and what percentage of the animal’s weight you plan to feed in hay. The program will also ask for the weight and number of hay bales and what type of feeding system you plan on using. 6.) Feedstuffs Feeding Value, This spreadsheet helps the user evaluate the economic value of alternative feeds compared to corn and soybean meal. 7.) West Virginia Small Ruminant Management Project Performance Record System, this Access based program provides the user the ability to keep management and performance records for sheep and goats. This program requires Microsoft Access and Data on the Run. 7-a) Instruction Manual
Each class member was given extensive training on Microsoft word, Excel, Access, Data on the Run. We employed different methods to help the students learn in their own way or at their own speed. To this end we employed the use of Video professor to teach Excel and Access. This allowed the farmer students to take the tapes home for frequent reference.
We helped many farmers develop a program that would answer the specific question they had. The classes were supplemented by one-on-one consultations and we used our graduate students for that phase especially in the early stage of the program.
We had great difficulty assessing the computer skills of students and this lack of assessment became problem determining if the class was or was not ready to move on. We should have developed and posted, on the web site, a “competency self examination” for farmers, so they would have an idea of where they stood relating to their personal skills with the devices. I am not sure a web log or list serve would be used by this group but that type of communication method would allow farmers to discreetly compare their skills and understanding against others in the group. We had a feeling that as a farmer’s frustration level reached his or her special place they quit participating in the project. There was no way to really know that, but it seemed that way to the county agent instructors.
Computer and software training is normally taught in a “throw it out there” model meaning for this generation of learners merely introducing a new method is all that is required as the student will go home and practice that skill. We tried to slow down the pace and teach the required skills in a conventional method that would match the learning style of the older clients. Our learner seemed to want to take the new skill home and probably didn’t “practice” it much. There seemed to be a lack of “we are building a new method and toolbox” mentality but more of a “let’s push the start button” and get started, ready to go expectation.
1) The first milestone the pilot group of eight farmers and educators has already been organized and is functioning.
This was accomplished before the grant was funded the core farmers group and the team of agents who led this effort had a clear view of the work at hand and was already developing the curriculum. The farmers in this group were the ones the project was developed for.
2) The development of initial software and lessons plans – fall 2004- winter 2005.
The group developed software (the list is above in this document) in this time frame but some more had to be developed as the specific needs of the farmers were learned. It’s important to note that much of the curriculum changed remarkably as the PDA models were updated and many upgrades required extra lessons. The curriculum also had to include more basic software instruction in Word, Excel, and Access. We never anticipated how far many of the farmer students would have to come with training to sharpen their computer skills and for that matter their computers had to be upgraded and so they could use the new technology.
3) Recruitment of 60 farmers is the most crucial step, summer of 2005.
The group was recruited by word of mouth and agent knowledge. Many farmers joined the group hoping to become better record keepers and that we will discuss in the next section.
4) Next is the organization of the farmers into 3 county based study groups.
Actually the farmer students were divided into 5 county groups. The study soon reverted back to the original and planned upon 3 groups. One of the county group’s county agent left the job and we had no one to deliver the classes and support the farmers and another county experienced a change in personnel related to the was in Iraq.
5) Delivering the first year of 10 lessons and 12 templates in a series of twelve classes commencing October 2005 and ending September 2006.
That milestone was met but not fully till September 2007. Much time was lost upgrading the desktop computers and bringing the farmers up to a beginner’s level. We soon learned that although, there were many computers in homes, their use was limited to email and not much else.
6) The completion of lesson plans, evaluation tools, and the refinement of software. September 2007.
7) Sixty-eight farmers (including pilot) will receive the training and then…
Forty –six farmers participated in the training and 38 actually completed the class work. The products and tools produced for this project are found on the web site. Four years is a long time and some of the lessons are no longer applicable as Dell ceased manufacturing the Axim. The company still supports it still but we of course have no idea how long they will continue to. Our team carefully chose this device they are still performing very well but there will be no new ones.
We shared this technology and what we taught our farmers at the WV Cattleman’s Short Course and the WV Small Farm Conference last year.
We have publicized the project, the lessons, and the software on our web site http://www.ext.wvu.edu/jefferson/Axim_Project/Axim_Home.htm
This is being updated and will be maintained as we feel strongly about that technology and will continue to support the site. It is scheduled for a major overhaul in the next several weeks.
Additional Project Outcomes
Impacts of Results/Outcomes
Sixteen farm families are using their Dell Axim to help them record data and later “sync” on their desk top computers. This allows them to make decisions based on up to date data that is also more accurate because it was entered before the farmer forgot. We were disappointed that only 16 families have stayed the course and continue to use this technology. Surveys of this population revealed that each of them found the technology useful and the project worthwhile.
An interesting observation made by each of the team members is that some farmers have adapted the hand held technology with very specific tasks. One of those families sells compost. They developed a method where they generate invoices with their PDA and report almost 100% accuracy as papers are never lost and odd loads are not forgotten. They further report that it frees up one family member 25 hours a week when she is not developing invoices.
A young dairyman in another county uses his PDA everyday as all his health and production records are stored there with a program called of PC Dart developed by Cornell University. He is using his Axim to record all financial records through a PDA version of Quicken. Now he has suffered an interruption in that process because he changed his financial records to Quick Books and has not yet located and loaded a PDA Version of that program.
There are two observations to share here. One is the personality and the impact of generational variation as the dairyman is 6 years out of college. With little variation, the younger the farmer the greater the chance they will adopt this technology. The older farmers were the ones that “drifted away” from the project. There is little doubt that the farmers who really depend on their management were the ones more likely to look for ways to adopt the program as it was intended.
Another adopter is a woman who manages a multi-farmer CSA and buyers club. She designed a program on the PDA to allow her to keep orders straight for farmers and buyers. She had a tremendous job of record keeping and found that a paper version of these records was too slow and cumbersome.
If one were to rank or compare the adoption rate using age on one vector and inquisitiveness on the other; as inquisitiveness increases, so would the likelihood that an older farmer would fight through the learning curve to attain the skills to help him. Of course a farmer who had computer skills was way ahead of the group in terms of adoption.
We have discussed some differences in adoption and suggested some reasons why we think it happened that way but we felt we should not select only the younger farmers, fresh out of college to be our cooperators. Many older farmers who have strived to keep better records gave the project a chance.
There little literature regarding this type of project but further observations include is of course, can management skills be taught? Yes but can the desire to keep records be taught? We think we learned that it can not.
Another way to explain what happened in the project is to share observations from team members who developed the software and delivered the classes. The first is from John Miller, Extension Agent from Ohio County.
Team Member’s Observations
Of the Handheld Computer Farm Management Project
John Miller, Ohio County
Pondering our impact upon farmers’ ability to keep up to date farm records with hand held computing technology leaves me with mixed feelings. We as a team broke new ground creating innovative record keeping and decision making tools aiding cooperators in making better decisions with information they had in hand. These applications were linked to hand held devices for use by cooperators.
Adoption of this technology was not hindered due to the ease of use of the technology but rather by the historical biases of farmers in ability to keep records. Regardless of what record keeping system is available farmers just were not interested in keeping records. Cooperators in the project wanted answers to their farm management questions but lacked discipline to enter information daily. We find this to be common among most agricultural businesses. Persons who farm are busy people who prioritize their time based upon the greatest farm needs. Farm management issues are not a “something is dying” issue so it is usually near the bottom of the priority list.
Cooperators with more at risk seemed to use the hand held computer more than other cooperators. The larger and more complex the farming business seemed to necessitate better record keeping. These producers seemed to be more disciplined in entering information because they needed the information generated from the applications. The level of anxiety of not knowing where they stood with regard to expenses and revenues seemed to weigh on the larger producers making them more likely to keep records.
Three produces in the Northern Panhandle group who seemed to utilize the hand held device well were similar. Commonalities in gender, age and type of operation were evident. They were middle aged (35-50 years old). They operated the farm out of the pick up truck and had a designated in home farm office. They utilized lines of credits with banks, traded livestock and managed larger farms. Their families were younger; kids were in school and sports. These cooperators had time to ponder the farm operation sitting at a sporting practice waiting on a child and utilized the handheld computer during these waits. They were busy but needed to know their financial position on the farm because of banking and trading pressures. This mix of pressures kept the adopters of the handheld computer focused upon the financial aspects of the farm. They utilized the handheld computer as an aid to make decisions and make sense of what they were doing.
Producers who did not use the handheld computer as well as the others really did not have the pressures and need to track a changing physical and finically complex of a farming operation. These producers were older and perhaps more under control than the group of adopters. Farm management was not a burning issue with them.
Throughout the project the usual farm management issues continued to come up. Farmers really just resist carving the time out of a busy day to organize and keep records. Record keeping is for a rainy day that never comes in most cases. Farmers that were successful in utilizing the handheld computer seemed to have carved out a space in their home for farm record keeping. Their farm desk was a place receipts, sales check stubs and other farm related information could pile up to be processed. Processing the receipts, check stubs and other information on the farm fell into the same trappings regardless of using the farm record book or the hand held computer. Farmers who needed to be keeping on top of the information utilized the hand held computer as an aid to keep their information up to date. If there was not an immediate need for current information the hand held computer did not make better record keepers of people who did not need to keep a complex farm running.
Below is another analysis by another team member and the technology advisor of the project.
Observations of the Old County Agent
A Perspective on the Adoption of Technology for Record Keeping
Craig W. Yohn, WVU Extension Agent Jefferson County
These are my observations on three different farms that participated in the program of using PDA’s on the farm.
Bill White Grantham – Meadow Green Farm
Bill White has a long history of good record keeping on his 180 acre beef and hay farm. He does annual soil sampling and has records for each field back to the 1980’s. He has over 10 years of IRM Redbooks that he has used to keep calving, culling and weaning records in and has kept a day journal for over 30 years. He knows how many bales of hay came off each field and where these bales of hay have been fed back on the field. Bill not only keeps good records but uses them to make decisions related to farming practices, animal husbandry and economic decisions. He has also been a cooperator with several extension projects including the evaluation of small tank trout production, the evaluation of using the hydraulics on a tractor as a scale and the use of precision soil sampling and application on small acreages. He uses Quicken to keep his personal and farm records.
He seemed like the perfect candidate for using this tool. The problem found early on was that it did not fit his style of record keeping. In the case of Bill, writing down the record or recording the day’s events was as much a part of what he likes about farming as anything. Using paper, pencil and calculator is not seen as a time staking chore, but a form of reflection. His writing of his day journal at the end of the day has also been used to go over in his mind what was accomplished and making a “to do” list for the next day. The PDA was not seen as a time saver, but a tool that required putting on his glasses and making sure he was out of the sun to read it. Early technology flaws with synchronization issues also caused frustration at home with the rest of the family who used the same computer. In the end, Bill set the Axim aside.
What is interesting is that Bill has taken a great interest in the precision application of nutrients and the removal of nutrients when hay is made. This winter, he purchased an IPAQ PDA, FarmWorks software and a GPS system to be able to record the production of hay as he crosses the field. This was demonstrated two years before by yours truly on a very hot June day. I will be helping him use this new technology that will show the variability of hay yield in the field with a goal of one day being able to apply nutrients based on their removal rate.
Lyle C. Tabb and Sons
Cam, son Lyle IV and brother Howard have a long history at the Tabb farm of being innovators with farm machinery. They also have the only set of in-ground truck scales which they use to record production yields of chopped forages, the sale of those same forages and in the beginning keeping track of the amount of feed that was delivered versus what was paid for. The farm has gone through many changes over the last several years. It has gone from being the largest Ayrshire dairy cow herd east of the Mississippi, to a crop and beef farm.
During the end of the dairy cattle and beginning of the beef farm, the farm began composting all the dairy manure. This grew and grew to the point that now the farm also collects organic refuse from horse barns, stumps and trees from land clearing, building materials from construction sites and wood pallets and scrap wood from manufacturing plants. Much of this material was processed and then sold to other users. The paperwork to keep track of where bins were and what material had been picked up from who was mind boggling.
In steps the PDA. All three individuals got a PDA that had a database in it created by the Extension Agent which kept track of who they were hauling material for, what they were hauling, whether the individual was tax exempt and the fee for hauling the material. The program would allow the Tabb’s to print an invoice to the user of their services. The PDA had only one job to do. It was not used to keep field records, cow records, contacts or appointments
Since they only had one purpose, the PDA’s stayed in the trucks and may sit for a day or two or even longer without being charged. This meant that the information may be lost, information could not be entered and sometimes the program to enter the information was lost. What was also interesting was the way that the three used the PDA differently. The youngest, Lyle never really embraced the PDA as a recordkeeping tool. This graduate in Resource Management did not trust the technology and the effort that may go into keeping records that may be lost. Howard, who had managed the dairy herd and used DHI records was most interested and plays the games (we would compare scores on Bubble Breaker), uses the calendar and contacts and keeps certain records related to the beef herd. Using the computer to keep dairy and then beef records may have closely matched his record keeping behavior and the PDA record keeping tool closely matched. Cam used the PDA for its single purpose, but was hampered by the sun light issue, the size of the screen and the loss of data and the program used to enter the data. A success of the introduction of this technology on the Tabb farm is the use of the desk top Access database that was first created by the Agent and then modified by Cam’s daughter, Amy to more closely fit the needs of the farm. This program is still being used to track the movement of refuse boxes and invoice customers.
White Hall Farm –Steffanie Simpson
White Hall Farm is a breeding farm for Standard Bred horses. Steffanie also breeds and foals thoroughbred horses for other owners who are interested in taking advantage of the West Virginia Breeders Program. Other horses are also boarded and trained at the farm. Steffanie is a detail person who trains and manages her horses with fine detail. Keeping records on treatments, feeding, boarding and training for each owner can be complicated. A database was developed by this Agent with the help of Steffanie and another PDA user, horse farm owner and veterinarian, Kate Painter, to keep track of horses by owner. This allowed Steffanie to keep track of inventory, and invoice horse owners. Records were entered in the PDA and then transferred to the desk top computer for the printing of invoices.
Steffanie also recorded videos and took pictures of horses transferring them to the PDA so that she could show them to potential buyers when she was at horse shows or meetings. The PDA is such an integral part of her business that when she “lost” her PDA she went out and purchased another one. She also uses the tasks feature, calendar, contacts, and email. She is learning how to use Groups in Outlook to send targeted emails. She is also using the PDA to keep inventory of horses and machinery up to date which keeps her insurance coverage up to date.
Last are the observations of another of our team members.
The Use of a Hand Held Computer
In Monroe County, WV
Using a hand held computer for some agricultural purposes can be difficult for even an experienced computer user. Different programs and templates to be chosen and implemented into a farming operation, but often times these don’t fit the individual needs of every producer, simply because of their management schemes.
Rachel Moran, a meat goat producer, in Monroe County has always been concerned with record keeping and knows the importance of good records on the farm. Rachel is responsible for paying all of the family bills and completing the annual taxes on the farm. Rachel has always kept accurate breeding, kidding, and performance records on her group of goats. She also maintains a database that keeps track of worming and other animal health issues. In the past Rachel was always writing down information at the barn and then transferring that same information from a tablet to a desk top computer at the house. She felt with the implementation of a hand held computer in her farming operation she could eliminate one step in her record keeping process, which would save her a substantial amount of time in the future.
The use of the hand held has been a blessing for Rachel, not only does she now keep her farm records on the hand held, but she can now use it’s calendar for appointments and scheduling of events, while always having a calculator at her access. Since the implementation of the hand held she has also become more in-depth in her record keeping. While using the small ruminant program, a database program created using the Microsoft Access program, she was able to implement a section that would keep records on individual worm loads of her animals, which in the future could help her develop a group of goats that would perform better and become less dependent on the use of wormers in her program.
The Use of a Hand Held Computer
In Monroe County, WV
The hand held program was offered to individuals who had an interest in learning how to implement the use of a hand held computer into their normal farming practices and record keeping system. The group from Monroe County, along with other hand-held groups throughout WV, was considered pilot groups for the implementation of the Management System Initiative.
The farmer-educator pilot group designed and implemented a protocol of data management. The organization and implementation of this project combined the strengths, needs, and interests of both farmers and the agricultural professionals who served them. The educational portion of the program was refined and packaged into a ten lesson teaching plan program that was implemented during 2005 and 2006, to assist agriculture professionals and individual farmers advance in the use of better enterprise analysis and ultimately, better quality management decisions. The lesson plans were developed based on level of difficulty and computer knowledge. .
During the project seven educational programs were held, and one organizational program totaling 28 hours of classroom and lab instruction during 2005 and 2006. There were eleven participants including the agent involved in the programming. The level of impact was determined by the individuals whom have increased their knowledge of how to utilize the hand held computer. Seven of the eleven individuals in the program made progress during 2006 on how the operate, synchronize, and utilize the hand held computers in their farming operations. Three additional producers joined the MSI group during the spring of 2006.
During the summer of 2006 producers were to continue the educational lessons at home at their own pace. Satyaprakash Settipalli , graduate student under Extension Specialist Tom McConnell, traveled to Monroe County in September and spent two days working with members of the MSI group. During these two days Sayta helped producers with program installation, program development, as well as trouble shooting for problems the producers were having at that time.
All participants of the group have been on upward learning curve with the implementation of this project into Monroe County. In this case involvement has been very rewarding. Basic utilization, such as use of the calendar, of the hand held computer has gone well. The lessons that have been administered have been useful for all participants, but the use of the hand held computer must be accommodating for its user. The group in Monroe County is comprised of two dairy producers, two meat goat producers, one greenhouse manager and five beef cattle producers. The agricultural diversity of the group causes difficulty during program implementation when choosing a production management program in which all participants can use and are satisfied with. Therefore the agents needed to first implement programs that can be utilized by all participants very early in the programming to gain interest and cause routine use, and finally discover, or produce those programs that the participants could use on long term basis. During 2006, the first full year of completion of the project, the agent noticed among producers who were the early adopters, these individuals adjusted well to the use of the hand held computer. Producers who had a former background or a use of computers on a regular basis were much more likely to adapt easily to using the hand held, where as producers who had had some, but limited computer usage, had difficulty incorporating the use of the Axim into their everyday lifestyle.
Learning styles, past habits and the ability to trust new technology have all played a role in the adoption of this new record keeping tool that is becoming more and more a part of today’s active society. The integration of the phone with the PDA makes this technology even more useful, but not all in the agriculture community are ready for this new technology. Those that have embraced it are using it to make their businesses more efficient.
Even though measuring profit is a goal of most every project it was not the focus here. We wanted to measure the adoption rate of a new technology and learn if the farmers who adopted it continued to use it. That said, every farmer who completed the program reported some part of their record keeping was improved as a result of the skills they obtained.
Those who completed the program reported improved understanding of their operations because the data was recorded when it was fresh.
This writer and principle investigator continues to use his PDA and finds it especially helpful when conducting wool pools when there is so much data to record in a short period of time.
The farmers who are interested in this technology will continue to upgrade their PDA. The recommendation is the Palm Pilot is the PDA that will replace our Dell Axim when they cease to contribute. I have been surprised that more farmers have not adopted this technology. I can imagine a cattle buyer or backgrounder making breakeven decisions during an auction with a PDA. I can not imagine how a dairy farmer can operate without some instant means to track financial information and to record production information.
Areas needing additional study
We just touched on a handheld/GPS combination and the commitee feels that will should be in the immediate future of the study of technology. The opportunity of integrating this even further in precision agriculture must be further studied.
The same question arises, can the desire to keep better records be enhanced by improved by developing technology to make it easier.