By EMMA OGUTU
Capital News Service
LANSING — Farmers can now access up-to-date agricultural information with a click of the mouse.
Extension News for Agriculture, a free new website, provides information on agricultural and entrepreneurial topics and has already attracted close to 2,000 visitors, according to Michigan State University Extension.
“This is going to be an exciting site for farmers and all our stakeholders,” said Wendy Powers, director of agriculture and agribusiness for MSU Extension.
It’s a brainchild of Powers, who said that she wanted a means to consolidate the service’s information and filter it down to farmers.
“Farmers and agriculture workers can now access a wide range of information and support in one convenient place, which will save them a great deal of time and even money, she said. “We believe that this is going to become an essential tool to farmers across the state and beyond.”
The site features information about a variety of topics from about 170 contributors, mostly Extension field educators and MSU professors.
Adam Kantrovich, Ottawa County’s Extension director, has already contributed articles on financial management and estate planning and said he looks forward to writing more in-depth articles.
“It’s not all about direct production,” he said. “We also strive to provide information that’ll teach farmers how to assess their financial strengths and weaknesses and how to manage their operations and ultimately improve their financial performance.”
Kantrovich and other educators will also post articles on basic accounting methods, financial statements, tax management, leasing contracts, crop and disease management and other production-related subjects.
Powers said the material will be abstracts of larger topics to avoid “information overload.”
“We don’t intend to make the articles very long but the site will refer users to external links for extra information,” she said. “We want users to only have to read through material that’s relevant to them.”
Part of the plan is to have users subscribe to topics pertinent to their operations, Powers said. Through the free subscription, users will be notified through their cell phones each time new material is posted.
“We realize that some of our users may not have a high-speed Internet connection or any Internet connection at all,” Kantrovich said. “By reaching them through their cell phones, farmers are sure to get information and only the information they’ve subscribed to.”
Duke Elsner, the Grand Traverse County Extension educator for wine and grape growers, said he couldn’t wait until his younger and tech-savvy growers found out about the online resource.
“Our younger wave of farmers will be excited,” he said. “Even the older ones are really keen on doing good business and will not let this good opportunity pass.”
Elsner said that many local farmers haven’t had time to get in and “play with the site” but he said he’s positive that use will take off with a bang, once it does.
Abbey Dorr is a livestock, corn and soybean farmer in Lawrence. She is also a member of Michigan Farm Bureau State Young Farmer Committee who learned about the website at a livestock committee meeting.
“I’m excited about it and hope I can get the information I need to make my business more profitable,” she said. “That includes getting rid of diseases and pests.”
Dorr said she’s also concerned about conservation matters and hopes the website will provide guidelines on how to protect groundwater.
Powers said that although the site was just launched, it will expand as soon as farmers and other users request specific information. Extension staff will also continue to tap stakeholders’ needs by making regular farm visits.
But for farmers who still prefer regular newsletters, the site is an added way to distribute information.
“It’s a very useful site, but it’s not at that point yet,” Powers said. “We are continuing to improve on it and add more features, so stay tuned.”
MSU Extension News for Agriculture can be found at http://news.msue.msu.edu.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.
By EMMA OGUTU