BOX 3–4 Fax-Based, Satellite Information Request System: Reaching Small and Part-Time Farmers
An initial grant from the USDA Small Farms Program tested the usefulness of a faxbased, satellite information-request system to address the changing circumstances of small and part-time farmers in North Carolina. The project was tested in three North Carolina counties where at least one agribusiness could be enlisted to house a fax information request center inside its business location. The fax machines were used to request information from Cooperative Extension. In one county, as many as 200 people visited each week to obtain “hot topic” information about plant disease control and other issues (Richardson et al., 1998).
Extension is increasingly supporting farmer-to-farmer networking, although that has long been the basis of technology transfer, for example, through field days and demonstration plots. Examples include extension’s support of the group Practical Farmers of Iowa and work with farm stewardship groups in Minnesota and farmer marketing groups in Illinois. Alternative forms of outreach and engagement, including use of the Internet, also are resulting in greater stakeholder participation (See Box 3–4).
The literature on adoption suggests that various producers and farm operations adopt innovations differently. Different degrees of adoption can be signaled by characteristics of producers or farm operations, such as farm size, regional differences in land quality, availability of human capital, producer age, and tenure arrangements. Some research innovations are more likely to be adopted by specific groups of producers, with structural implications. An approach to setting priorities for research, based on needs assessment of a variety of users, is proposed as an avenue for targeting heterogeneous producers and farm operations.
This chapter discussed the structural impacts of extension through the disproportionate support for specific farmer groups. The chapter also contrasted the structural dimensions of the conventional “technology transfer” model of extension with new models characteristic of more engaged institutions. These new models are characterized by increasing collaboration with the private sector, changes in extension’s position within universities, a broadening of the extension mandate through linkages with other federal agencies, and greater stakeholder participation in setting priorities for research and extension activities. Research is needed to analyze the structural effects of these collaborative approaches.