Decision Enabling Data Collection and Management Project

2005 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


We started this project with a pilot group of 7 farmers and 5 county extension agents that helped us develop this idea that turned into a grant proposal. They then became the core of the 37 member first generation group who has helped us either directly, as they participated in discussions and exercises as members of that first group or indirectly as individuals expressing their views and explaining their problems. Now this project is ready to start with the second generation which is a group that will obtain its training over the internet. This group will interact and receive support as a community group with the technical support coming off and through our “Management on the Go” web site.

As we complete the first phase of the Consumer Driven Marketing the team and the farmers have learned much. We have learned that our farmers have not yet embraced the electronic world. They are aware that they are affected by it, but they have “sneaked in” this arena and “grabbed” little pieces that would satisfy their needs and ignored the rest. We observed this as we prepared each farmer to participate in the program. There was great variation between the computer and software configurations of each and every farmer. This was further complicated by the great variation among the farmers’ skill set. We were caught in a trap; to wait for the farmer to make the changes on his or her own or lead them and “push” them to make the right purchase of new software or hardware. Couple this with the busy schedule these farmers have and it became clear why these farmers did not keep good records in the first place.

After we got each farm family ready to engage in the program we planned (as we said in the grant proposal) to work with each local group to learn what their record keeping needs and wants were; both as individuals or as a group. This became another roadblock. The group did not have a record keeping protocol or a vision of what they would like to see or need in a record keeping system. They failed to see the power they would receive from a set of records that went above and beyond their financial records. This goal or obstacle has established its own agenda and will be an educational mission attached to the hand held computerization modules we are preparing.

And third, we have had a very sharp learning curve to teach our farm families to feel comfortable with the hand held unit. Our work has led us to develop an educational program with four initiatives, to teach, 1)the skills and then specific hardware and software necessary to communicate and operate in today’s world, 2) the concepts of record keeping and analysis, 3) how to actually operate a Dell Axim (including the care and maintenance), and 4) all this into on-line lessons that will serve our “generation two” farm families.

It has become clear that as each farm family experiences the power of the hand held computer and becomes familiar, and to a point, dependant on it they have better attendance at meetings and are more aggressive toward learning more about record keeping and computing. An example of this is a situation early in year one with the pilot group, if a farmer had a problem with his or her computer he would probably not ask for help or move forward until the agent would ask him how things were going and what problems he was having. So we learned that we have to address the technology from start to finish and then grow toward the record keeping. Our generation two training will be web based and web supported. We have an inventory of each technology problem and are or have developed a short lesson to solve that shortcoming. You can find a complete discussion of the project on our web site

Objectives/Performance Targets

1) Thirty farmers who complete the training will be making informed and timely, day-to-day and long range management decisions because their financial and production 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.
To date we have 37 (this exceeds the goal) farmers who, by varying degrees, are making informed decisions and completing both simple and complex tasks on their Dell Axim personal digital assistants. Most importantly they are performing the role we initially set as our goal. Now we see that there is opportunity to accomplish more. We now have to adjust our goals for our farm families. We want them to rely on their handheld device for more. We have not yet refined the tax management program or the contemporaneous herd records. These programs are near but have not arrived. Our farmers have attained acceptable, at least to them, working relationships with “Access” and “Data on the Run”. We feel that our group will continue to strengthen its skills and grow to the point where it can help direct the development of the curriculum and classes for the next generation. We are also in the process of offering more training in Access and Excel as the group lacked these skills and therefore lack the potential for these programs to serve them to the degree we feel they can. It is pleasant to see the farmers grow in the technical side of this project to the point that they are learning to write adaptations to serve them better.
2) the record keeping protocol that emerges from this program, as well as, a ten-lesson curriculum that allows other educators to teach it to more farmers, will be packaged and made ready for distribution. We are well on the way here, but after we learned that there are formidable challenges pertaining to equipment and basic computer understanding, we have agreed, as a team, that there will many more than ten lessons. We think there will be 30 to 40 lessons. They will be offered in many formats including DVD and other real time venues. We have incorporated power point presentations with a voice over lesson, too.
At this point in the work we veered some from the original plan. We developed a second generation of this training so we could use the first generation to develop the training then have a group ready to receive it. We have three groups recruited and waiting in the wings for their training to start. The only change here is that the second group will receive all its technical training from our web site. This is important as we have learned that there are different levels of understanding within our group. So we learned that the agents with the best skills moved their group forward where those with fewer talents stumbled, too. To their credit, they forged ahead and learned more about the hand held to be able to lead the group. So, this change will eliminate that problem from the start and it will also allow us to test the lessons on our own clients and be able to refine them before we complete the project by placing them on the web site. Our new groups will have another change; they will probably be all of one enterprise. There is a poultry group and a beef cattle group. We are anxious to test this arrangement and compare it to the third group which has multiple enterprises.


1) the first milestone occurred before the project was funded; as the pilot group of eight farmers and educators had already been organized and functioning. 2) The development of initial software and lessons plans – fall 2004- winter 2005 has occurred during 2005 our agent team of experts is still refining the lessons as well as preparing them for the web. 3) We recruited 37 of proposed 60 farmers in the initial and most crucial step in the fall of 2004 and completed in the summer of 2005. 4) Next the group of farmers was organized into 4 rather than 3 county based study groups. These groups met monthly (and more often individually) at their homes and at the local extension office. It is important to mention how successfully the group is making the transition from being a “group” to functioning as a “support club” and is expediting the successful the farmer’s adoption of this protocol. How successfully the club serves to support and mentor its farmer members will determine the long lasting effects of this project. 5) We delivered the first of the 10 lessons and 12 templates in a series of twelve classes commencing October 2005 and ending September 2006. 6) We are started on the completion of lesson plans, evaluation tools, and the refinement of software for September 2007. 7) Thirty seven of our goal of sixty-eight farmers (including pilot) will receive the training by then and many more than the goal of thirty farmers will be making informed and timely, day-to-day and long range management decisions because their financial and production 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. And second, the record keeping protocol that emerges from this program, as well as, a ten-lesson curriculum that allows other educators to teach it to more farmers, will be packaged and made ready for distribution. September 2007.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

We have; 1)four groups functioning as hand held computing and managment clubs. 2)three printable lessons and one video lesson posted on the web-site with 13 in various stages of completeness 3) a web-page supporting and promoting this effort with hopes of its becoming the vortex of all the comunnication and instruction for the project