Decision Enabling Data Collection and Management Project

2004 Annual Report for LNE04-207

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2004: $100,081.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Northeast
State: West Virginia
Project Leader:
Tom McConnell
West Virginia University

Decision Enabling Data Collection and Management Project


Our team of extension agents and farmers will through training, mentoring, and organizing lead sixty farm families to a point where thirty of them will be making informed, sound, and timely day-to-day and long range management decisions because their financial and production data are accurate, current, and readily available. This will be possible because they will possess the skills required to collect and analyze this information in the field using a hand held computer technology supported with useful and simple, locally developed software. Second, we will convert this record keeping protocol, as well as, our technique of training and mentoring, into a ten-lesson curriculum to train other educators and farmers. The pilot group, each equipped with hand held computers will begin the task of designing a data collection and management protocol suitable for farmers involved in many different enterprises and geographical areas. The producers will explain their record keeping needs and requirements while the extension members convert that information into a useful teachable collection of software templates (many templates developed by our extension team are ready or far along) and techniques based on the principals of sound financial management and farmer convenience and efficiency. The pilot group has been functioning for many months. Next we will recruit 60 farmer trainees (20 each from the areas represented by the county agents on the pilot) to form three larger groups consisting of both pilot members and new farmer trainees. This will mark the beginning of a farm management club for each area. At this point each farmer recruit will be encouraged to purchase a hand held computers (our pilot group members are using Dell Axims) and begin to integrate it into his or her daily routines, while the management club serves the mentoring role. The training techniques and the software products will be packaged into lesson plans to teach more farmers.

The key components in sequence (with some tolerance) include equipping a team of farmers and county agents each with a Dell Axim to begin to learn the techniques, possibilities, and problems associated with “mobile” record keeping and analysis. Listen to the farmers to determine what software needs they have, they need, and what they will use. Develop the requested software in a format that is convenient and financially sound, for example building spreadsheets to determine the cost per pound of production or the yield per square. Next develop lesson plans and training pieces that help the members learn how to communicate, organize their records, and use the many software programs and the systems necessary to actually help them master this technology, as well as, help team members keep up and new members catch up. Enlarge the county groups to 15 to 20 members with a goal of 6 county groups.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Of the 60 farm families participating in the project, half will be making informed, sound, and timely day-to-day and long range management decisions because their financial and production data are accurate, current, and readily available.


1) The first milestone has already occurred as the pilot group of eight farmers and educators has already been organized and is functioning. The pilot group now includes six county agents and eighteen farmers. The county agents were included because they were interested in the program and we shifted the delivery system to include county based training where the agent is the team trainer and representative at the core planning and training group. The pilot group initially met monthly in Morgantown will now meet twice monthly in the counties and once monthly for a conference call.

2) The development of initial software and lessons plans – fall 2004- winter 2005 has begun, as the cow record keeping system is “up” but we are still challenged by the steep learning curve for the farmers. That realization has changed how we are introducing this information. Now we are teaching basic record keeping and basic computer management and organization. Next we will introduce spreadsheets and then how work. Next we will introduce software management systems. For the record, the first lesson is completed and the next three are in various states of rewrite etc.

We have also found that we had to assess the farmer’s hardware and internet connection capabilities. This has caused us many problems in the initial start-up.

3) Recruitment of 60 farmers is the most crucial step, summer of 2005. This step is requiring some more thought and organization as we are thinking that the farmers’ learning progress will determine just when the expansion step in employed.

4) Next is the organization of the farmers into three county based study groups. We chose to empower six county groups each with an agent as the lead. These groups will meet monthly at their extension office. It is important to note that, how successfully the group makes the transition from being a “group” to functioning as a “management club” will determine how successfully the farmers will adopt this protocol. How successfully the club serves to support and mentor its farmer members will determine the long lasting effects of this project. September 2003.

5) Delivering the first year of 10 lessons and 12 templates in a series of twelve classes commencing October 2005 and ending September 2006.

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… We, at this point, feel all of the farm families will implement what they have learned and stick with the program. This design is sound as there will always be a core of folks who can help their neighbors keep up and adopt new thinking.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Beef Cow management and inventory access driven program

Schedule F spreadsheet
Coordinated Financial Statement Spreadsheet

Lesson 1: Hand Held Computer Operation Training
Developed web page to use for as training tool and communication instrument.