The Internet provides farmers a wealth of information on crop marketing, financial management and dealing with crop diseases. But on a busy farm, it can be hard to find time to search the Web for useful information.
"We need someone to sort through some of this and put it in a nice logical manner where a farmer can look through it instead of looking all over the Web," said Chris Hausman, who runs a 1,300-acre farm near Champaign.
University of Illinois Extension is taking on that challenge with a new blog for farmers. The Farm Gate began publishing earlier this fall at http://www.farmgate.uiuc.edu and was announced this month.
It aims to be a place farmers can go to find information on agricultural topics, ranging from crop science to economics to veterinary medicine.
"It's really nothing but the classic function of the extension service, which is to take research and interpret and apply it in the field," said Scott Irwin, a UI agriculture professor who helped develop the blog. "It's just using a new tool to do that — a virtual or digital county agent."
Web sites for farmers are abundant and a Google search for agriculture-oriented blogs found several. But very few were dedicated to more than a single aspect of farming or farm policy.
"We saw what was missing was the place that was summarizing, synthesizing, interpreting and suggesting new applications," said Irwin, a frequent contributor to Farm Decision Outreach Central, a UI Web site that helps farmers manage their operations.
Each day, blogger Stu Ellis scours more than three dozen Web sites in search of information he summarizes and interprets for farmers. Those sites include agribusiness, industry and research from other universities.
"Instead of farmers looking for all of those ideas, what I can do is go collect them, synthesize them and present a summary of what the viewpoints are," said Ellis, an extension agent in Macon County.
Recent posts include advice for meeting nutritional needs of beef herds in the winter, battling yield-robbing soybean cyst nematodes and suggested holiday gifts for farmers. The blog also includes links to other university Web sites, extension services in other Midwest states and other selected agriculture Web pages.
"I think farmers will really gain a lot from having a one-stop shop where you can go and get a variety of information. You name it and it will be there," said Hausman, who serves on an advisory committee for the Farmdoc Web site.
There have been only a few online responses to blog postings because it is so new, but Irwin said early e-mail feedback has been positive.
"We're hopeful that if this is successful, it will demonstrate an entirely new way for the extension system to meet the needs of our traditional and nontraditional clientele," he said.