Disseminating research has always been a priority for USDA. Over the years, however, the extension service evolved into something that Dr. Scott Irwin refers to as the “Big Silo High Touch” model.
In this model, problems percolate from farmers through their local organizations to state extension specialists, who then identify a USDA researcher who can solve the problem. The specialists then create educational programs with the organizations to relay solutions.
In 2008, Dr. Irwin and his colleagues took a shortcut by putting their research online. Their website, called Farmdoc, serves the “Corn Belt” agricultural community. Updated daily, it now has over one million annual visitors.
Farmers tell us that they need to access information in their tractors—which are now GPS-guided. This is where they do their office work today.
– Dr. Scott Irwin
Farmdoc is a portal to information and decision tools. For instance, when the most recent Farm Bill cut subsidies programs and expanded crop insurance, Dr. Irwin’s team developed an interactive online tool to help farmers make sense of the new system. The tool enables farmers to input data on their operations (similar to Turbotax®) to determine, based on projections and historical data, how to manage their businesses under the new policies.
Farmdoc is transitioning to Farmdoc Daily, a more mobile-friendly interface, so that its content and tools can be accessed anywhere. As information and farmer needs continue to evolve, Farmdoc will keep pace.