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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
        Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Computers Classroom on Wheels:
An Evaluation of the December 1995 to
April 1996 Farm Management Program

Farm Management Update, June 1996

Gordon Groover

Over the period December 11, 1995 to April 10, 1996, Virginia Cooperative Extension conducted 27 hands-on computer workshops for 387 farm managers. Virginia Cooperative Extension farm management agents and state specialists delivered a total of 4,464 contact hours of instruction over this period. Workshops were held in the following locations:

Location Dates Attendance
Chatham December 11-12 14
Halifax December 13-14 15
Holland January 15-16 14
Emporia January 17-18 17
Richmond January 22 14
Amelia January 23-24 10
Cumberland January 25-26 7
Painter January 30 - February 1 18
Williamsburg February 5-7 24
Dinwiddie February 8-9 21
Abingdon February 12-13 9
Pulaski February 14-15 12
Holland February 20-21 13
Mechanicsville February 22-23 10
Courtland February 27-28 21
Louisa February 29 - March 15
Washington, VA March 5-6 12
Front Royal March 7-8 15
Middleburg March 12-13 12
Mt. Crawford March 14-15 18
Lexington March 19-20 8
Lovingston March 21-22 8
Monterey March 26-27 15
Mt Crawford March 28-29 14
Pearisburg March 30 17
Orange April 2-3 22
Galax April 9-10 12
Total workshops

A summary of the workshop evaluation forms shows that almost 3 out of 4 (74 percent) participants own a computer. As shown in Table 1 below, 49 percent of the owner/operators use the computer themselves. Farm spouses make up the second largest group of users at 29 percent, while in 15 percent of the cases, other family members and employees (7 percent) operate the farm's computer.

Table 1
Who operates the computer? %
Owner/Operator 49
Spouse 29
Other family member 15
Employee 7

Participants were asked to report if they use their computer for any of the activities listed in Table 2. In contrast to previous years, participants in the 1996 workshops reported broader computer usage. In previous years, more than half the participants reported computer usage only for accounting or business record-keeping. In the 1996 workshops 36 percent of the participants reported using their computer for accounting or business record-keeping, but more activities were reported for non-accounting usage. These findings suggest that farmers first use their computers to reduce the drudgery of keeping financial and business records, and then adopt other computer applications to assist in information management, such as livestock and crop record keeping (26 percent), spreadsheet applications (22 percent), and payroll record keeping (16 percent).

Table 2
Participants' Computer Usage %
Accounting/farm business records 36
Keeping livestock and crop records 26
Spreadsheet applications 22
Keeping labor/payroll records 16

Participants were asked for their farm's number one agricultural product (Table 3). The largest single category was livestock producers (25 percent) and dairy producers made up 8 percent of the total participants. Row crop production (cash grain, peanuts, cotton, and tobacco) make up around half of the total number of participants. This breakdown is not surprising, because nearly half the workshops took place east of Charlottesville. Nevertheless, a wide range of farm products were represented at all sites. For example hay, sheep, hogs, horses, goats, sweet and Irish potatoes, blueberries, turf, honey, and nursery stock were all listed in the "Other" category.

Table 3
Number One agricultural product %
Livestock - beef producers 25
Cash Grain 19
Peanuts 16
Dairy 8
Tobacco 7
Cotton 7
Other 18

Participants were asked to rank the usefulness of each presentation to their farm operation. The results, listed in Table 4, demonstrate a very successful program that serves the needs of the participants. Overall, more than 95 percent of the participants considered the topics to be useful to their farm operation. Many participants who ranked workshops as "not very useful" felt the instruction was good, but they saw no use for the particular software in their farm operation. For example, one participant wrote, "We liked the session on QuickPay, but we do not have enough employees to justify using the software, so we checked not very useful."

Table 4 also lists the number of times each module lesson was taught. "Quicken I" and "Quicken II" made up more than one-third of the total CCW modules taught in 1996. "Introduction to Farm Business Computing" was also a popular module with 22 sessions taught in 1996. Teaching farmers to use spreadsheets continues to be a very popular session as farmers begin to understand the power and flexibility of spreadsheets to support management decisions. "Farming the Internet" was offered for the first time in 1996 with many farmers traveling long distances to participate. Interest in Internet applications was very high, but usefulness was limited for farmers who did not have the required equipment.

Table 4
Topics covered Very useful

Not very useful
Number of workshops taught
Introduction to Farm Business Computing 76 21 6 22
Quicken I -- Introduction Farm Business Record Keeping 80 20 1 22
Quicken II -- Intermediate Farm Business Record Keeping 83 16 1 11
QuickPay for Farmers 58 26 6 5
Introduction to Spreadsheet Applications 81 19 1 17
Farming the Internet 53 29 18 11
Introduction to Pesticide Record Keeping 54 37 7 7
Introduction to Beef Records Using CHAPS 38 31 5 3
Dairy Records with PC-DART 67 33 0 2

Advanced Workshops

Three advanced workshops were offered in pilot form during 1996. Two workshops were targeted for cash grain producers in Eastern Virginia and one workshop was offered to dairy farmers in the Shenandoah Valley. These pilot workshops were develop to test different techniques of teaching advanced decision support applications to farmers who produced similar products and were using computers in their farm businesses. The overall objective of the two cash grain workshops was to teach and expose participants to tools which could assist them in analyzing their farm business. The results of the evaluations showed that 98 percent of the participants felt that the workshop was useful to their farm business. The instructors were criticized for trying too cover to much in the two-day workshops.

The dairy workshop took a different approach. Aggregate production and financial data from participants and other published sources was entered into a spreadsheet for farmers to compare to their individual situation. The bulk of the instruction concentrated on how to analyze their own data as related to industry averages.

Overall, the three advanced workshops were successful and will present a challenge for the teaching staff to develop more workshops tailored to the needs of each major commodity group. Plans are under way to develop at least six similar workshops for the 1997 season. What Was Learned?

Over the last four years the Farm Management staff has conducted 67 hand-on computer workshops for farm business managers. Responses from the post-workshop evaluations and informal comments from participants have been very revealing. Some my general observations are:

The challenge for Extension will be to understand the farm-level use of this technology and most importantly, how to instruct farm business managers in its profitable application.

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