Independent Crop Consultants

Farmers are increasingly using the services of independent crop consultants, who number about 3,500 nationally. Independent crop consultants are not associated with chemical suppliers, and many are specialists in integrated pest management and advise clients on nonchemical pest management strategies. Based on a national extension service survey of independent agricultural crop consultants, consultant-recommended practices most frequently used by clients are fertility management, crop rotation, planting pest-resistant varieties, and pest scouting. Of the total acreage of all crops under contract with consultants, corn acres account for about 32 percent, soybean acres for 19 percent, wheat acres for 13 percent, cotton acres for 17 percent, and rice acres for 2 percent. Thirty-seven percent of consultants indicated that universities are their primary source of information on nonchemical tactics. Information from other consultants was ranked most important by 23 percent of consultants. (The primary source of information for these other consultants was not reported.) The most valued means of obtaining information were seminars (first), workshops (second), and on-farm demos (third).

SOURCE: Natural Resources and Environment Division, Economic Research Service, US. Department of Agriculture, AERIE Updates: Crop Consultants, Number 3, 1995.

embodied with sellable commodities and products." Additionally, they find public extension is well situated to (a) provide information to public agencies, such as water quality control boards, about environmental conditions and the practices of farmers; (b) assist governments in establishing and enforcing environmental regulations, and (c) act as a liaison between farmers and confirmers on environmental issues.

In serving US. agriculture specifically, as well as US. society generally, an increasingly important role that public extension can and should playpen not likely to be taken on by the private sectors that of coordinating and bringing together diverse participants in and perspectives on the food and agricultural system. For example, extension can take an active role in bringing the needs and perspectives of consumers and other "nontraditional clientele" to the process of setting priorities at the college. In a consumer-driven system, it is especially important to draw the public into assessments of new food and agricultural technologies, such as genetically engineered varieties or growth promoters, to enhance the public's understanding of these technologies, and to assess their potential for widespread acceptance. In this sense, the committee believes that public extension in the future should be as much an integrator as it is a disseminator: an integrator of diverse players and perspectives in the food and fiber system.

Postlewait et al. (1993) argue that extension is also an ideal candidate to complement the efforts of university-based technology transfer offices to disseminate biotechnology innovations for agriculture. They argue that specialists can support technology transfer offices in preparing feasibility and profitability analyses and identifying potential clients. They can also work directly with university researchers to move innovations from the test tube to the field. As core members of interdisciplinary research teams, specialists can direct biotechnology research to specific agricultural problems and to the appropriate adaptation of innovations. Further, they can act as intermediaries between regulatory agencies and biotechnology practitioners.

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