Why we are opening up the Farm Dog platform for free to all Extension agents

*Find out more at extension.farmdog.ag

Our team announced today that all County Extension Agents will be able to use Farm Dog’s award-winning precision agriculture platform for free.  We have partnered with the National Association of County Agricultural Agents (NACAA) to bring Farm Dog to as many Extension Agents as possible. As we’ve gotten to know County Extension Agents across the United States and Israel over the last few years, this decision is driven by three important factors:

  1. Extension Agents are the most trusted source of information in their communities.
  2. They maintain their impressive stature despite severe budgetary and time constraints.
  3. Integrating Extension Service to emerging technology will increase its value to growers.

Growers’ Original, Trusted Advisors

Trust is the world’s oldest and most valuable currency.  Due to their continued commitment to providing unbiased, research-based advice, Extension Agents have been not only able to generate trust with growers but also to keep it in an ever more complex agricultural sector. We at Farm Dog believe we must do all we can to help them continue fulfilling their mission effectively.  

According to the 2016 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, which asked growers how much they trust or distrust various sources of information about agricultural production, County Extension was second only to “family members who farm” in terms of sources that the growers “strongly trusted.”  Yet in the 2017 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, Extension falls to fourth in terms of having “strong” or “very strong influence” on decisions made. [Note: the same questions were not asked in the same years]

What prevents a group that is essentially the most trusted source of information for growers from being also the most influential in driving decisions?  As we spoke with more Agents, we realized their biggest hurdle was grower reach. And their reach to growers is most directly affected by their budget. Let’s go back to the beginning, and take a look at where we are now.

Extension History

The history of Extension in the United States dates back to the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890 which established land grant universities to focus on teaching practical agriculture to its students, the Hatch Act of 1887 which established agricultural experiment stations at these universities, and ultimately the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 which created the Cooperative Extension System to be operated by these universities in order to educate rural Americans about advances in agricultural practices and technology.

The Extension System is credited with bringing about the American agricultural revolution, providing significant returns on investment in communities, and directly contributing to agricultural productivity growth.  Researchers have calculated the internal rate of return (IRR) of Extension between 16% and 110% and annual productivity growth directly attributable to Extension activities at 7.3% between 1949 and 2002 (Literature summarized by Sun Ling Wang “Cooperative Extension System: Trends and Economic Impacts on U.S. Agriculture”).  In Texas for example, between the years 1996 and 2017, the Texas AgriLife Extension Service’s significant role in boll weevil eradication has led to cumulative benefits to growers of $3.9 billion.

East Montpelier, Vermont. Charles Ormsbee, at the mailbox on his farm “Harvest Acres,” talking over farm bureau matters with [Washington County Extension Agricultural agent Gordon Loveless]. Source: Library of Congress.

Budget Constraints

Fast forward to today, Extension Agents across the country are grappling with budget shortfalls.  North Dakota Extension took a 14.5 percent budget cut in 2017. In the last ten years, Kansas’ Extension budget has been slashed 16%.  And by 2014, according to Sun Ling Wang, a USDA economist, the number of Agents across the country had fallen from 11,441 to 7,974 in 30 years.  

We have observed the implications of budgetary constraints at Farm Dog multiple times.  For example, a group of Extension Agents reached out to us seeking our help to eradicate a proliferating insect pest in their region.  However they were unable to proceed with our services when their finance group stepped in noting that the year’s technology budget had already been used up in the purchase of mobile devices for use in the field.  Ironically, those mobile devices without the right tools and access to information on them, everything that the Farm Dog platform provides, were of little use on their own.

A primary training tool used by Cooperative Extension in educating growers is the use of in-field demonstrations for growers (often referred to as field days).  Samuel Kapp, considered by many to be the father of Cooperative Extension, explained the reason for success of the demonstration strategy: “What a man hears, he may doubt.  What he sees, he may possibly doubt. But what he does himself, he cannot doubt.”

Nebraska Extension Specialist describes field pea variety trials at the High Plains Ag Lab Field Day in 2016. Source: University of Nebraska.

But what happens when Extension Agents lack the necessary budget to use, share, and demonstrate the latest technologies?  How do they continue fulfilling their mission of providing unbiased, honest advice to their growers? Today, the original trusted advisor to growers is greatly hampered by budget limitations.

Extension’s unbiased opinion becomes definitively more important as we look into the increasingly complex face of agriculture.  Mergers in the industry have left three companies controlling 70 percent of the world’s pesticide market. While farms in the US are increasing in size and hiring in-house agronomists, a primary source of information for these agronomists actually comes from Extension.  Consumer and regulatory pressures require growers to make decisions unimaginable just a decade ago. With such complexity and fewer options for unbiased advice, we must ensure that Extension is available for growers.

Farm Dog’s Extension Offering

We chose to take the lead in assisting Extension.  Together with NACAA, we have created an offering for all Extension Agents – county agents, specialists, researchers, assistants, and interns, among others – that we hope will help them maintain and strengthen their role as the grower’s original, trusted advisor.  

As part of the offering, Farm Dog has pledged to:

1.      Provide its platform for free to all Extension Agents and their teams, including researchers, assistants, and interns, among others.

2.      Create analytics tools for Extension Agents to use at their year-end reviews to summarize their impact in the community.

3.      Donate up to 10% of all revenues to Extension Service within the state in which that revenue was derived.

4.      Recognize top County Extension Agents with strong impact in their communities.

Looking back, we should have made this offering long ago, but we are proud to be doing this today.  We challenge our colleagues at other precision agriculture companies to match or even exceed this offering.  I hope to come back in a year with incredible stories of success for Extension Agents. Stay tuned.

*If you are an Extension Agent and want to work with Farm Dog, you can find out more at extension.farmdog.ag or you can reach out to me directly at liron@farmdog.ag*

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