Extension on Demand for New Livestock Producers in Sullivan County explored a model of online education methods for local county extension over the last two years. The project used online podcasting/webinar and online classroom technology as a method of teaching local livestock producers the production fundamentals.
The project recognized that producers needed a hands-on piece to complement the “classroom” teaching. As a result of Extension on Demand, 24 livestock producers and meat industry professionals used podcasting as an educational tool to assess their meat operations and prepare production for the new slaughterhouse facility. Eight of these producers were new and beginning farmers. An additional 62 producers attended project events at least one time, either on line(18) or at a hands on workshop (44). Four producers assisted in the creation of online course format and tested online technology developed by project staff. 6 producers showed documentation for the developing marketing plans.
In the hands-on sessions, 10 producers completed certification for the Northeast Beef Quality Assurance for the first time, 12 farms were certified in FAMACHA and indicated new best management practices in pasture and parasite control, and 32 producers indicated learning and intent to implement a new best management practice.
Only one dairy farm participated in the Beef Quality Program and did adopt new handling practices. The tour of slaughterhouse facilities was moved to a Mobile Meat Harvesting Unit and attended by 12 producers. After the project close, the Marketing Your Livestock Online course was adopted and modified by Tompkins County with 48 farmer participants across the state. Over two years, 103 producers and agency personnel participated in the project.
No economic data was captured. For the online course, 1336 acres were affected by the project, and the hands-on participants managed 2043 acres.
Extension on Demand for New Livestock Producers in Sullivan County was a project to meet the needs of local farmers while providing a model of online education methods for county-level extension.
In 2008, six producers in our local New Farmer Training (N=12) asked if some of the material in the class series could be done on line. Eight of the participants requested online resources specific to their farm, citing, “It’s hard to find real good information.” Approximately 60% of the calls received by the livestock specialist from December 2007 to October 2008(N=241), requested information be sent electronically or refer to a website resource.
Informally, producers conveyed their frustration at finding correct information on topics such as markets, legal animal husbandry practices, and correct environmental stewardship practices with grazing, manure, and land applied fertilizers. Retiring individuals relocating to their rural property in Sullivan County are looking for classes before the full-time residency in the county. While scanning current farmers, it was noted that time for classes was minimal even for updates of regulations.
Hands-on experiences on different farm locations are well received by all the producers, but they are time limited. For the workshop “classroom portion” and critical updates, producers were looking for different ways to receive their information but still interact with specialists from the comfort of their farms.
By using online education coupled with hands-on workshops, we endeavored to meet the needs of our changing population that accommodated a limited time away from the farm and work and reduced overall commuting via access to the internet. While still using resources like eXtension, Extension on Demand provided tailored local information on soils, best management practices, and markets networking with county specialists and local farmers.
Objective 1: 4 Producers will assist in creation of online course format and test online technology developed by project staff. Date achieved: 4/1/10
Objective 2: 40 producers will enroll in either Marketing Your Livestock and Improving Meat Quality and Production Methods for Specific Markets courses. 15 producers will create their own marketing plans to use for their farms.
Achieved: 24 farmers have enrolled in the courses with 11 farmers enrolling in more than one course. Eight producers had documentation of elements of their marketing plan. An additional 18 farmers attended with 6 industry professionals attended the Kosher & Halal Regulations course offering via webinar from across the country.
Objective 3: 30 producers will participate in at least one of the eight hands-on farm workshops conducted. At least 15 livestock producers will learn two new skills in the areas of product development, marketing, animal handling or pasture management. 6 producers will be certified for Northeast Beef Quality Assurance for the first time. 10 producers will adopt a new best management practice (BMP) in animal health or nutrition.5 new livestock producers will adopt at least one BMP for raising their livestock. 5 dairy producers will participate in Beef Quality Programs and adopt at least one new handling or herd health practice. 25 producers will attend a tour of facilities and marketing meeting at the new slaughterhouse.
Achieved: 69 producers participated in 4 hands-on workshops where 56 producers reported learning at least one new skill and 32 producers indicating at least two new skills. 10 beef farms were certified for the Northeast Beef Quality Assurance for the first time adopting new BMPs for injection sites and handling, 12 farms were certified in FAMACHA and indicated new best management practices in pasture and parasite control. Of these producers reporting, seven of these producers indicated they were new to the livestock industry. Only one dairy farm participated in the Beef Quality Program and did adopt new handling practices. 12 producers attended the tour of the mobile processing unit.
The original target for Extension on Demand intended for 30 livestock producers and meat industry professionals to use podcasting as an educational tool to assess their meat operations and prepare production for the new slaughterhouse facility; 15 of these producers would be new and beginning farmers. This program intended to increase networking among farmers where farmers will meet at least two farmers new to them.
A further target was that, as a result of the networking and educational tools in this project, 20 livestock producers will increase their sales by 5%, for a $92,020 increase, an average of $4,601 per farm. Also, as a result of implementing best management practices for animal husbandry, an estimated 1125 acres will improve environmentally through water quality& soil improvement benefits.
The overall target of this project was partially met with 24 farmers using online tools to assess their meat operations; 8 of these farmers where new and beginning farmers. The networking among farmers introduced at least 1 new farmer to them through online and hands-on meetings. Unfortunately, no economic data was offered by participants to capture sales increases. An estimated 932 acres have improved environmentally through implementation of best management practices on 18 farms through pasture and herd health management.
The project first developed an online classroom with Cornell University Cooperative Extension IT Services (CUCE) and a producer focus group in additional with assistance from the Northeast Beginner Farmer Program. The classroom hosted the topic podcasts and blogs including online support documents and additional resources for the farmers.
A sample webcast on grazing management was created including PowerPoint presentation, participant polling, question space, and instant messaging, and was trial tested with members of the focus group. It became very evident that despite software optimizations for dial-up internet, the webinars were unable to be viewed live without frustration by producers limited to dial-up. To accommodate dial-up users, USB flash drives were pre-loaded with software for downloading webinars and documents.
Three online courses were offered, one Improving Meat Quality and Production Methods for Specific Markets and two Marketing Your Livestock sessions. Hands-on workshops included certifying producers in Beef Quality Assurance, FAMACHA, and offered a Meat Fabrication introduction for improving quality and marketability of their products. A tour of a Mobile Harvesting System Slaughterhouse was conducted introducing farmers to alternative markets of USDA Kosher & Halal requirements in addition to a new market being developed for New York City. The slaughterhouse tour also indicated quality standards and outcomes of product for each market and infrastructure alternatives while the host is building a permanent facility.
Surveys were delivered via email for registrants post workshop along with a direct link to the recording of the webinar. An additional survey and polling was conducted to ascertain usage of webinars as a tool for livestock education.
Even though 4 producers assisted in creation of online course format and tested online technology developed by project staff, challenges have been incurred to increase participation in online education. Response rates to exit surveys were low despite repeat requests for completion. However, the hands-on portion of the project response rates were higher due to face to face interaction for completion at 85%.
Initially, 12 farmers enrolled in the first and second offering. When the webinar of Kosher and Halal was offered outside the project area, 24 additional individuals from across the US joined to listen to Dr. Regenstein, Cornell University. On the second offering of Marketing Your Livestock, 8 producers with 5 more “a-la-carte” have engaged in a more dynamic learning experience where 47% of respondents where outside of the county target area.
Interest is par with the New York State average of participation in online courses offered by Northeast Beginning Farmer Program where course offerings initially start with registrations from 15 to 30 producers dropping to 8 to 15 producers by week three of a formal course.
The post survey indicated that the topic of the webinars was the main deciding factor in choosing to participate for those having internet access. Accessing materials on their own schedule was the second factor. During the course offerings, the Moodle classroom was underutilized where all participants registered but by the second week usage rate was 35% down to 8% usage in week 3 and 0% usage by week 4. Participants preferred the ease of access to webinars via email message to a formal classroom. Resources where accessed through follow-up email. Some materials where accessed through the weblinks and download pods of the webinar sessions, however, access to see those links seemed to be dependent on internet speed as a few participants (38%, N=24) were unable to see the contents of those pods.
Timing of the webinar course was changed to increase participation. Early indications proposed a lunchtime series for producers as the over 65% of the livestock producers in the county have off-farm employment. The timing was changed to accommodate enrollees to an evening course, participation did not increase within the course. The second offering of Marketing Your Meat did increase in producer participation when offered in the evening. The first two course timings were offered in the spring season and the third in winter, participation increased for the class in the winter.
Of the 24 farmers enrolled in the courses, 11 farmers enrolled in more than one course. Eight producers had documentation of elements of their marketing plan. An additional 18 farmers attended with 6 industry professionals attended the Kosher & Halal Regulations course offering via webinar from across the country. Feedback from participants was limited from 0 to 50% of online courses. Hands-on courses feedback was 85%. Personal communication with other instructors echoed similar results.
As expected, the hands-on sessions were well attended with participants of the online courses and additional producers. 69 producers participated in 4 hands-on workshops where 56 producers reported learning at least one new skill and 32 producers indicating at least two new skills. 10 beef farms were certified for the Northeast Beef Quality Assurance for the first time adopting new BMPs for injection sites and handling, 12 farms were certified in FAMACHA and indicated new best management practices in pasture and parasite control. Of these producers reporting, seven of these producers indicated they were new to the livestock industry.
Only one dairy farm participated in the Beef Quality Program and did adopt new handling practices. 12 producers attended the tour of the mobile processing unit where 5 reported intent to change practices to increase market access, one producer is considering housing a mobile unit at his premise. The farmer-to-farmer interaction and networking took place during the hands-on workshops with 11 new/beginning farmers reporting 3 to 5 new contacts as a result of attending.
The project underestimated technical interest in the project. Informally, 9 county producers who did not access the program reported that their internet use is primarily for email and ordering of supplies, with trade magazine pages occasionally used. Their access was primarily dial-up and DSL. An additional 5 producers had internet access difficulties and switched services from satellite to dialup.
During the pilot testing, dialup users noted the software optimization for the 56k modem was not realistic. The frustration with buffering and skipping parts of the webinar made the downloadable recordings more desirable at the expense of interaction with webinar hosts. For dial-up and DSL users, the USB flash drives used for downloading the readers and support programs and once distributed to participants were warmly welcomed. One producer with no internet access requested a USB flash drive to review the entire series. Additionally, RSS feeds are not used in their email clients. Producer interest in online social media of Moodle was not expressed for farmer-to-farmer connection.
There were speaker differences in the comfort of giving webinars. While access to speakers for small audiences increases such as Dr. Regenstein offering his webinar from Chicago, Illinois, the technology is still new to speakers.
In addition, the project was affected by budgetary impacts to the county reducing the effort available to expend toward the project as staff changes and position cuts allocated additional operational responsibilities to the principal investigator and the co-investigator was lost.
Outreach efforts were through press release, e-blasts on livestock listservs, extension newsletters, radio, public events, and direct mailing. Radio advertisement and spotlights on the weekly Farm and Garden Report were aimed at second home/ retirees during Friday & Sunday peak drive times.
A Moodle classroom was developed to house resources and links to webinar recordings found at http://moodle1.biotech.cornell.edu/course/view.php?id=26. It is open for public viewing. A USB Flash Drive was also complied with software downloads and e-copies of producer manuals.
Impacts of Results/Outcomes
Impact data from exit surveys was limited, with producers indicating the adoption of new management practices or market strategies in the online courses. No economic data was reported. However, the hands-on portion of the project impacted 56 farmers with at least one new skill and 22 producers receiving quality certifications.
Within the online course, 1336 acres were affected in the project, and 2043 acres when including the hands-on only participants.
In discussions with the New Beginning Farmer training program conducted by the Small Farms Program at Cornell, it was considered a high level of participation from one region at 12 for an online course. With their assistance and producer e-mail groups the project expanded to include producers from outside the project area. This increased farmer participation with 13 more producers using online webinar courses.
The technology lends itself to more freedom with instructors/speakers as in the case of our Kosher & Halal Presentation and the second offering of the Marketing Your Meat Course where the County would not have been able to acquire the speakers in person without great expense and more difficult scheduling.
The project did lend itself to understand limitations to county-based online livestock education in perceived and actual interest among farmers in receiving livestock education via an online medium. Those participants who participated in both online and hands-on opportunities indicated an increased understanding of the topic area and increased confidence in their knowledge.
Partnering with Tomkins County for the Marketing Your Livestock was emulated and modified to offer Strategic Marketing for Livestock Series across 6 counties with 48 participants post grant. The model took the webinar series while hosted in classroom setting for facilitated meeting. Feedback responses also were fluctuating- pending on host location- 100% completing of marketing plans versus 0%- In September of 2011 there will be this offering in Sullivan County due to positive verbal feedback from previous Marketing Your Livestock participants. This model was used for both Risk Management Education and a Spring Crop Update during the project with success for an additional 12 dairy farmers to receive market education or pesticide credits.
Hands-on component remains strong with livestock producers however, there is some room for online education in a unique or niche topic area or business management topics.
While farmer adoption was slow within the county, farmers felt that Extension should continue to offer similar programs in order to “be relevant and found by new farmers.” Also, interactive webinars with a host and a group of farmers emulated crop and RMA meetings and also were indicated as future program desires.
Farmers participating in both online & hands-on programs reported the following:
“I like the webinar on Meat Cuts. It helped to be ready for the [Meat Fabrication] class and follow Eric as he’s cutting and explaining how the muscle develops and is cut for customers.”
“I recognize people from the webinar by their voice- its nice to feel connected. The online course focuses my questions for this [Beef] workshop.”
“The Kosher webinar was very interesting . I’d like to visit with [Dr. Regenstein] again. Seeing the mobile slaughter house and seeing how Kosher works is good. I might go into the market.”
“My need to access the restaurants and the city is important. The class showed me what customers want and I’m thinking of bringing the [mobile slaughter] unit to my farm and start processing USDA- I can’t wait for the county one to open. I saw what [Eklund] did; I want to be able to do the same.”
“The tool Matt [Leroux] showed us gave me a better way to price my meat. Even as a draft, its better than what I have used.”
“The marketing class was very well done to review the types of markets in that way. I’m working on running the numbers and might change how I market.”
Areas needing additional study
Over the last two years, the principal investigator has noticed the decrease in computer usage among 10% of the farmers in the county. A NASS- study released at the time of this report showed farmers in New York State reduced internet usage from 71% in 2009 to 68% in 2011. While 42% of farmers use the computer for farm business. The impact of the economy could explained these usage rates. It would be useful to survey computer usage rates and type in greater detail among the target audience.
At the same time, farmers using smart phones and text messages in the county is increasing. There also is an increase in Facebook use among farms with operators under the age of 60. Extension Outreach efforts in these mediums need to be explored as they become more popular.