iGrow increases the reach of Extension on web

Stuart Hughes

SDSU Cooperative Extension staff say they have rebounded after last year’s extensive budget cuts and are developing the online teaching platform iGrow into a technological leader in the agricultural community.

“We’re almost to the point where we think we want to be,” said Emery Tschetter, Extension’s Director of Communication and Marketing. “We’re performing all the functions we were performing before, but now we’re able to provide new and revolutionary services as well.”

One of these new services is app development. Tschetter said SDSU is leading the way in agricultural app building and has plans to continue to add to its suite of agricultural management tools in the near future.

“We’ve built many of the first agricultural apps in the nation,” Tschetter said. “We’re really spearheading this technology.”

iGrow’s Stand Count application allows farmers to calculate potential crop yields and the FeedStuff Calculator allows immediate access to feed prices. Farmers and ranchers could potentially benefit from these free programs by using their iPhone, Android device or even their computer to manage crop insurance policies, calculate crop damage and navigate high feed prices during a drought.

These apps are available online through iGrow’s website, Google Play and the App Store.

After restructuring, agricultural staff are required to devote 20 percent of their time to building and maintaining the iGrow website. Tschetter said this policy has allowed Extension to recover quickly from budget cuts and transition to a primarily online based operation. He said transitioning to the Internet has allowed Extension to be efficient and comprehensive in its efforts to reach South Dakota’s agricultural community.

In addition to ranch and farm tools and collaborative efforts with professors from North Dakota State University and New Mexico State University, iGrow has grown to offer virtual labs that aim to get kids interested in agricultural science. Virtual labs allow students to conduct experiments from their desktop. Labs testing for aflatoxins, dairy plant inspections, yogurt testing and bacterial labs are available on iGrow’s website.

Tschetter said iGrow and Extension’s technology-centered platform has allowed them to beef up publishing capabilities. Books on soybean and corn cultivation have been released and a ‘best practices’ book was recently published for wheat farmers in the Northern Plains. Books on identifying and managing household pests like insects have also been released.

iGrow has a network of 12  radio stations that broadcast daily programs across the state. There is also a database of information available on Extension’s website.

Dean Barry Dunn of the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences said South Dakota’s ag community has nearly instant access to many kinds of relevant information. He said access to information has never been more relevant than this summer, when the nation experienced its worst drought since the 1930s. Dunn said drought management is a vital service offered by Extension, and iGrow allowed its staff to quickly distribute information.

“Staff ramped up its drought section and literally wrote and distributed hundreds of articles and briefs on how to cope with the effects of drought,” said Dunn “We had thousands of viewers and participants across the state.”

In addition to making efforts to reach out to ag producers online, Dunn said the Extension hosted drought forums throughout the summer to meet face to face with South Dakotans affected by drought and also offered certain drought tests.

Background: In 2011, the state legislature passed down severe budget cuts that forced Extension to revisit the manner in which it performs its mandated Morrill Act services. All existing extension offices were shut down and staff members were given new job descriptions and organized