One of the most enduring aspects of agriculture is going high-tech.
The field day has been around ....well, pretty much forever. At a typical field day, farmers or other interested people have a chance to visit a farm and learn hands-on from Extension agents what the latest scientific research has to say about a particular topic, such as how to prevent diseases in peanuts or grow new varieties of sweet corn.
“It capitalizes on the notion that what they see and touch and do in real life is a lot more likely to stick with them than reading about it or hearing somebody lecture about it,” said Bob Hochmuth, a multicounty Extension agent with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
But along with benefits, there are drawbacks. A field day might not be particularly convenient to a farmer who needed it, geographically or because it took time away from actual farming operations.
So University of Florida Extension officials have created and revamped their virtual field days Web site http://vfd.ifas.ufl.edu, and the new version was unveiled late last month. That site’s unveiling dovetails with the recent national launch of another new electronic hub for information aimed at anyone who wants to know about organic agriculture.
For the new field day site, Hochmuth, an expert in hydroponics based at the North Florida Research and Education Center in Live Oak, said he and other Extension agents boiled down what had been 30- to 40-minute field day presentations into easier to watch 5- to 8-minute versions.
The original site was organized by geographic region; the new version is organized by topic.
UF Extension agents with expertise in a particular subject are often swamped with questions from people from all over the state — and beyond.
“A lot of the times these are very basic, repetitive questions. So for me now, if someone calls from Miami or Tampa, I can send them to the virtual field day site and they can take a look at it and get the basics,” said Hochmuth. “So the time efficiency for me has been phenomenal.”
IFAS officials hope to continue to expand the site with new, timely topics every year, said Joan Dusky, associate dean for Extension. But that doesn’t mean an end to hands-on field days, she said, because both help to reach people with timely information.
Al Magrum of Lambertville, Mich., used Hochmuth’s online instruction several months ago to guide him as he started a hydroponic growing operation in his home. Using three 10-gallon aquariums, an aerator and lights, he said via e-mail that he now has basil, chives, oregano, thyme, rosemary, green onions and parsley started.
He said he used the video as a guide and later e-mailed follow-up questions to Hochmuth.
“I will be using his setup this spring. It’s very easy and cheap to build and he explained how to do everything,” Magrum wrote. “It’s been two weeks, but everything’s taking off great.”
If Magrum ever wants to try his hand at organic gardening, a vast amount of information can be found on the topic at http://www.extension.org. Launched at organic farming and production conferences last month and this month, it includes frequently asked questions, experts who can respond to individual questions within a 24-hour period, video clips and more than 150 articles about organic agriculture. It also includes organic agriculture videos from IFAS’ virtual field days site. The effort is part of eXtension, a national initiative of the U.S. Cooperative Extension System.