Saturday, 15 July 2006

Web-Based Technology Transfer (the "Open-Access File Cabinet"): An AFSRC Example.

K. Dale Ritchey, Douglas Boyer, and David P. Belesky. USDA-ARS Appalachian Farming Systems Research Center, 1224 Airport Rd., Beaver, WV 25813

Exciting new opportunities are available for scientists to electronically disseminate knowledge to partners, stakeholders, and customers. The information can be presented at several levels ranging from easy-to-read practical updates for the casual reader to material aimed primarily at researchers. Travel and time restrictions limit the number of visits technical experts can make to user-groups and scientific meetings to share knowledge, but with a regularly updated web site, it is possible to make information available to a wide audience. Public interest in science and agriculture can be encouraged and fostered by providing material to use in science fair projects, student research papers, and home-owner (lawn and garden) and farmer applications. Providing a repository for oral or photographic history of agricultural development in the Appalachian Region can increase community awareness of the Appalachian Farming Systems Research Center (AFSRC) and stimulate end-user involvement in the Center's research program. The Agriculture Research Service's new web-based information system is used by more than 20,000 visitors daily. Each ARS research location maintains its portion of web-based information within the common architecture across all locations. The AFSRC has responsibility for parts of a 13-state region, comprising 200,000 square miles. Even with a staff of 60 people, it is not possible to physically visit and talk with all of the user groups that want to share our knowledge. We found that our web site (, or type in Google search words: USDA Beaver WV) provides an opportunity to increase our visibility and availability to interested clients, helping us to achieve the outreach component of our mission. We continually explore new ways to deliver services and products in easily accessible ways. People often do not know where to obtain specific information related to production agriculture issues. They also may be more likely to search for information if they do not need to make a personal contact. A good introductory tutorial can reach many people who might have the same basic questions. Researchers are accessible to the public via email or telephone, and they can clarify introductory presentations and answer specific questions on an individual basis. Some features of our website include: ·Agricultural research picture of the week; ·overviews of our research program and structure; ·downloadable list of scientific publications covering pasture management, responses of acidic soils to fertilizer and lime, development of pasture-finished beef for niche markets, meat goat production, forage-livestock management for silvo-pastoral agriculture, water pollution abatement, plant cell responses to mineral toxicities, soil fertility requirements for woods-grown medicinal plants, etc.; ·popular presentations in slide-show and poster form; ·summaries of medicinal and aromatic plant symposia jointly sponsored by AFSRC and Mountain State University; ·software for developing educational quizzes and sample quizzes on wildflower and forage identification; and ·biographical and contact information for each scientist.

Other features being considered include: ·online simple “quiz of the month” or agricultural science facts; ·web camera views of current research in progress; ·research synopses by various scientists; ·PowerPoint® tutorials and management packages, such as: “How to raise a marketable 80-pound meat goat in one summer season”, ”Some basics on fertility and lime needs in Appalachian soils,” and “How to convert ppm for soil nutrients to pounds per acre”; ·a “suggestion box” for input from the public on future research needs; ·agricultural history pages: photographs, written, and even spoken texts discussing what agriculture was like in Appalachia during the past century (in conjunction with West Virginia State University Extension Service); ·medicinal and aromatic plants of the Appalachians: photographs, texts, and spoken dialogs dealing with many aspects of wild-crafted medicinals (in conjunction with Mountain State University); ·tutorials on various practical topics such as goat nutrition calculators showing how farmers can avoid buying expensive rations, use of coal combustion by-products as soil amendments, management practices for raising pasture-finished beef, karst hydrology, silvo-pastoral agriculture, growing medicinals, and other areas of expertise that the research center has developed over the years. Digitally-based information access is particularly appropriate for farmers. Agricultural entrepreneurs tend to be independent, active, action-oriented learners. Interactive web sites thus are a teaching tool tailored to the needs and learning patterns of the farm community. They provide researchers an opportunity to share their findings with and learn from agricultural practitioners and the interested public.

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