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Sources For Cotton Education and Information

No matter how well designed and conducted SSP-funded research is, its ability to support the CI Mission Statement would be compromised if the knowledge gained was not extended to target audiences. Fortunately, by providing research dollars to University-based, Agricultural Experiment Station, and County cotton specialists, many of whom also hold appointments through Cooperative Extension, SSP is ensuring that results will be widely disseminated via traditional media, including field days, twilight meetings, newsletters, trade magazine articles, and production guides. In addition, research information reaches growers, agricultural industry suppliers, teachers, and others through sponsoring and funding activities such as “Ag in the Classroom,” cotton-focused conferences, web sites and other electronic means.

In order to understand how cotton growers perceive and use information, we first presented the survey sample with a list of key topics areas (crop protection chemicals, insect resistance, herbicide ready technology, Bt technology) and asked them to indicate how valuable, scientific, research-based information was for each one. Growers responded by circling numbers from 0 (not at all valuable) to 3 (very valuable). We also presented growers with a list of different sources that typically provide information to growers and asked to what extent they trust each source. Growers responded by circling numbers from 0 (not at all) to 3 (very much). Finally, we asked growers how much they relied on various types of information resources for growing cotton.

Results

Table 9 shows each of the topic areas and the proportion of growers who said that scientific, research-based information was moderately or very valuable. For all four areas the proportion of growers who believed research based information was valuable exceeded 95%

Table 9 - How valuable is scientific research-based information?

Figure M shows the degree to which growers trust various sources of information about growing cotton. Specifically the figure shows the proportion of respondents that trust each source either moderately or very much.

Aside from the grower’s own past experience, University/County Extension agents were the most trusted source for information. Ninety-three percent of growers say they trust Extension agents either moderately or very much. Crop consultants and nearby growers were trusted by 82% of growers, while more than three-quarters of growers (77.8%) said they trusted Chemical Sales representatives. About two-thirds (66.8%) said they trust professional growers associations

Fig. M - Extent of Trust in Information Sources

Figure N shows results for the degree to which growers rely on various delivery methods for obtaining information about growing cotton. Specifically the figure shows the proportion of respondents that rely on each method either moderately or very much.

Fig. N - Reliance on Various Delivery Methods for Information

Technical manuals and fact sheets were the most relied upon delivery methods. Three quarters of growers (74.9%), relied on those either moderately or very much. Field days and demonstrations were relied on by nearly two-thirds (64.9%), followed by trade magazines (59.1%), professional conferences (58%) and scientific journals (55.8%). The least relied upon were internet web sites (27%), email and list-servers (14.7%) and telephone hot lines (13.1%).

Analysis

Survey respondents highly valued research-based information about crop protection chemicals, pest resistance and genetically-modified cotton. Nonetheless, when it comes to obtaining information, growers still trust their own experience above all else. This recalls a statement by Seaman Knapp, the “father” of the Extension system: "What a man hears, he may doubt; what a man sees, he may possibly doubt; but what he does himself, he cannot doubt."

The very high degree of trust assigned to University/County Extension is more consistent with the value that growers assign to research-based information. This trust was also observed in survey research with cotton growers in 11 states which found that Extension/University personnel were thought to provide the most useful information in learning about various technologies.24 Crop Consultants, sales representatives and nearby growers also inspire reasonably high levels of trust.

Perhaps even more important than the source for cotton growing information, is the how information is delivered Numerous surveys have found that the Internet is not a preferred delivery method and that most growers prefer to have printed materials they can keep in the spray shed or in the pickup truck. This may reflect the average age of growers, (approximately 52 years) who did not grow up using computers. It may also be due to the lack of internet access (especially high-speed internet access) in many rural parts of the country. The reliance upon field days/demonstrations and conferences may reflect grower comfort with the types of resources that have traditionally been available, especially since these venues may also allow for practical knowledge to be readily shared.

Conclusions

By funding research and Extension scientists through SSP, the program is ensuring a high degree of credibility for research results, especially for work conducted on actual grower farms rather than state, county, or federal research facilities. This approach also helps to solidify a linkage with one of the most trusted means for growers to access information. We recommend no change to this tried-and-true approach.

As a new generation of farm owners and managers comes to the fore, and high-speed access becomes more widely available, preferences may change. However, in the near term, the authors suggest that delivery of SSP results is best conducted through traditional Extension methods, and events such as the Beltwide Conferences.

Acknowledgements

We offer our sincere thanks to the following individuals: CI Research Staff Dr. Pat O’Leary, Dr. Bob Nichols, Dr. Ed Barnes, Dr. Tom Wedegaertner, Dr. Don Jones and Dr. Jeanne Reeves for help in familiarizing us with cotton production methods and the cotton industry and for review of the Draft Crop Production and Pest Management Guideline, the survey instrument and a draft of this final report; Dr. Jack Bacheler, Dr. John Van Duyn, Dr. Phillip Roberts and Dr. Jeremy Greene for review of the Draft Guideline and initial survey results; Ms. Carol Czika and Ms. Heather Snyder for excellent clerical and financial support; and Ms. Robin Fordham, Ms. Zuzana Zilkova and Mr. Daniel Nicastro for survey data entry assistance.

 

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