For University of Georgia Cooperative Extension specialists and agents, blogs are a vital tool for quickly getting information out to Georgia producers.
Many agents see blogs as an opportunity to switch from traditional newsletters to a more modern mode of communication, through which farmers and growers receive information anytime and anywhere with just a click of a button.
“During the growing season especially, a problem may pop up and we can alert growers of the situation and offer solutions right away. This way, they can fix the problem early on or plan for the possible problem before it’s too late,” said UGA Extension pecan specialist Lenny Wells, who started his blog in 2014.
Wells communicates regularly to industry leaders and Georgia pecan farmers at blog.extension.uga.edu/pecan/. Through his blog, he provides updates on timely topics like pecan prices, what pests to watch for and his observations on the crop’s harvest.
Some Extension agents work together to communicate through blogs. Such is the case for UGA Extension Agricultural and Natural Resources (ANR) agent Jennifer Miller in Jeff Davis County and UGA Extension Coordinator and ANR agent Brooke Jeffries in Wheeler County. They developed Plow Points, a blog aimed towards commercial agricultural production, at blog.extension.uga.edu/plowpoints/. In their blog, Miller and Jeffries provide information about upcoming meetings, updates from specialists and more.
“This blog is a versatile tool where I can change things quickly, and growers will be notified immediately through email of the new post,” said Miller. “It’s so convenient because they can just check out the blog on their phone.”
The blog has been a successful communication tool for the UGA Extension system. During the past two growing seasons, Extension agents blogged 77 times about issues that affect growers and their farming operations. This year, that information has been viewed by 722 users and received approximately 3,681 page views.
The most popular topic was whitefly control in cotton. Since the cost of treating whiteflies is contingent on growers making applications at the appropriate time, Plow Points has helped Georgia cotton farmers save between $5 and $16 per acre.
“Blogging is efficient and can be a tremendous resource for our farmers. As agents, we can better communicate with this tool at our disposal,” Jefferies said.
Blogs can also be effective tools in preparing Georgia residents for impending natural disasters. Pam Knox, the agricultural climatologist for UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, said that her biggest single day for views was Friday, Sept. 8, when Hurricane Irma approached Georgia. Unlike the 60 or 70 page views the weather blog regularly receives, Knox’s blog, which can be found at blog.extension.uga.edu/climate/, was viewed 449 times.
The traffic to Wells’ pecan blog increased to 7,700 page views when he posted storm damage information after Hurricane Irma.
One of the obstacles agents and specialists encounter with blogging is finding the time to sit down, collect their thoughts and write a detailed post. Most of their workdays are spent either in transit to meet a grower or at a field site answering questions.
Christopher Tyson, UGA Extension ANR agent for Tattnall County, offers this advice to bloggers.
“You just need to give yourself time to write. It may take a while, but you get used it, and it starts to become easier,” he said.
When he was based in Thomas County, Andrew Sawyer, UGA Extension ANR agent in Wilcox County, developed an electronic newsletter. He built a list of 204 farmers, agribusiness representatives and local community leaders, who received his updates of crops, insects, disease problems and farming activities.
He posted five times per week and his blog was viewed 35,034 times in 2016. The Thomas County Ag blog, found at www.thomascountyag.com, has been viewed a total of 111,774 times by residents in 172 countries.
Sawyer now communicates through a new blog, Wilcox County Ag, at blog.extension.uga.edu/wilcoxcoag/. Many of the agriculture-based topics that were popular on his Thomas County blog are also relevant to Wilcox County.
“This is the Extension model at work. We as agents are communicating timely information to growers. Blogs allow us to communicate more efficiently and with greater success,” Sawyer said.
For a list of all Extension blogs, see blog.extension.uga.edu.
Julie Jernigan is an intern at the UGA Tifton campus.