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Assessment of the Format, Content, and Potential Uses of
the AgClimate Website and Crop Yield Risk Assessment
Tool by Extension Agents in North Florida
Authors: Jim Barham, Yael Gichon, Shoana Humphries, Frederick Rossi,
Diana Alvira, Alfredo Rios
Peter E. Hildebrand, Victor E. Cabrera, Norman Breuer
Publication of the Southeast Climate Consortium Technical Report Series:
SECC-04-001, Gainesville, FL, Spring 2004
S eiI UAH
The University of Georgia
Assessment of the Format, Content, and Potential Uses of the
AgClimate Website and Crop Yield Risk Assessment Tool by
Extension Agents in North Florida
Authors: Jim Barham, Yael Gichon, Shoana Humphries, Frederick Rossi,
Diana Alvira and Alfredo Rios
Coordinators: Peter E. Hildebrand, Victor E. Cabrera, Norman Breuer
Publication of the Southeast Climate Consortium Technical Report Series:
SECC-04-001, Gainesville, FL
This report provides a synthesis of results gathered from student-conducted
interviews with Extension agents in North Florida to evaluate the AgClimate website and
yield tool. The website and tool provide climate-based information associated with the El
Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and its related effects on agricultural production. The
main objective was to determine the efficacy of the website and tool in disseminating this
information to potential users. As the website and tool are still under development, feedback
from intended users is necessary for further refinement of these products. While much of the
website and tool contain useful and relevant material for some users, there is considerable
room for improvement in the format, content, and ability to reach the intended audience.
We thank the following farmers and members of the Cooperative Extension Service
who gave generously of their time and ideas during our sondeo discussions: Gary
Brinen, Kevin Campbell, Anthony Drew, Rose Koenig, Clay Olson, Cynthia Sanders, Mark
Shelby, Paulette Tomlinson, and Chris Vann
1.1 Background and Purpose of Study
A consortium of southeastern Universities (University of Florida, Florida State
University, University of Miami, Auburn University, University of Georgia and University of
Alabama at Huntsville) is involved in research to bridge the gap between current capabilities
of climate forecasts and the needs of potential users for this information. Recent advances in
climate prediction, based mostly on "El Nino-Southern Oscillation" (ENSO) occurrence and
increased access to information worldwide, offer the potential for farmers to make informed
decisions that can decrease unwanted impacts or take advantage of expected favorable
conditions. Toward this end, a website and accompanying tool is currently being developed
to facilitate the transfer of climate prediction-related information to Extension agents and
farmers in a format that can be readily accessible and useful.
The purpose of this study was to interview a number of Extension agents in several of
Florida's northern counties and get their feedback on the AgClimate website and Crop Yield
Risk Assessment Tool. With Extension agents as our target audience, this study was
designed to assess:
The "user-friendliness" of the website/tool
The content and quality of the information provided in the website/tool
The usefulness of the website/tool to farmers and Extension agents
The potential users of the website/tool, including different types of farmers and other
1.2 Study Area
This study builds on the previous work of Cabrera et al (1999) that investigated the
potential use of long-range climate forecasts by agricultural Extension agents in Florida. One
of the major findings of this report was that farmers in the northern part of Florida are better
positioned to respond to climate predictions, due to the more diverse and smaller operations
found in this region, compared to those in the south. Given this consideration, Extension
agents from northern counties were selected as the primary target group of this study. Over
the course of a two-week period, eight Extension agents and one organic grower were
interviewed. The interviewees are from the following counties: Alachua, Bradford, Sarasota,
Lafayette, Levy, Gilchrist, Taylor, and Madison.
Interviews were conducted using the methodology known as "sondeo." The sondeo
(Hildebrand, 1981) is a team survey process that was developed to provide information
rapidly and economically about agricultural and rural problems. It is structured around a
series of informal, conversational interviews between the team and stakeholders. It is a
multidisciplinary process from data collection through report writing, with each team ideally
including people from the social and the agricultural sciences. This approach strives to avoid
a typical problem of "team" reports in which professionals from separate disciplines write
individual reports based on their specialties and then combine them without much cross
fertilization. In a sondeo, data are shared among the different teams and report writing is
done as a group so that observations are confirmed, debated and analyzed within teams, as
well as with members of the other teams. The results may be quantified or not, but the
accuracy of the findings is strengthened by the crosschecking process. Using this process, the
final report may be completed within days of the final fieldwork, assuring the timeliness of
2.1 Data Collection
The sondeo was carried out from January 29 to February 11 by six graduate students
from the spring course AEE 5232 (Farming Systems Research and Extension). The students
brought to the study a diverse research background in the fields of anthropology, forestry,
natural resource management, agricultural economics, and entomology. Sondeo members
were broken into teams of two or three for each interview. Interviews were conducted as
informal conversations. After a team introduced itself and explained the subject of the
research, the stakeholder and the team informally discussed different aspects of the web page
and the tool. This open-ended approach enabled topics to emerge and be pursued that might
have been missed if the researchers had used only previously formulated questions. Notes
were not taken in the sondeo interviews. Following each interview, the team members wrote
individual notes, then they compared them and wrote a joint report for the interview.
2.2 Data Analysis
During class periods, the joint reports from each team were shared and thoroughly
discussed among all the teams. As each team presented its findings, they could be clarified,
challenged or contrasted with the results of the other teams. Everyone was expected to take
notes on the findings of each team, as all members were responsible for the findings of all the
teams. This process of reporting and discussion served as the opportunity to begin noting
trends, gaps in information and new questions to be pursued.
2.3 Report Writing
The report structure was discussed and agreed upon by all of the team members.
Two-person teams took responsibility for writing drafts of each section of the report. The
entire sondeo team worked together to edit and produce the final report. As the group
discussed each section, changes were made to the document. Class members wrote
conclusions and recommendations collectively at the time of editing.
3.1 The AgClimate Website
This section of the report provides a summary of information about the format and
content of the "AgClimate" website that was collected during the sondeo. In general, the
website received varying amounts of praise. Although many recommendations were
forthcoming, particularly with regard to the content of the website, the typical agricultural-
crop Extension agent liked the site, thought it was useful, and found it to be rather user-
friendly. These agents seemed to be comfortable with computers, possessing the requisite
website navigation skills necessary to access the information presented by this website.
Curiously, the more critical reviews came from participants more adept at using
computers. For example, a particular Extension agent was very critical and had many
comments/suggestions for improving the website based on his in-depth familiarity and
expertise with computers and websites. (Please review the Appendix for specific comments
and recommendations from this agent.) Two other reviewers (who seemed to rely less on
computers, in general) questioned the applicability of the website to their concerns, appeared
to be confused with the overall intent (or goal) of this website, and inquired about who the
intended audience for this product actually was.
Although one participant stated that producers currently do not make decisions based on
ENSO forecasts, many agreed that consideration and/or use of the information provided by
this website would be important for farmers (and Extension agents). Some important
questions raised that impinge upon the potential use/adoption of this website were:
How accurate are the forecasts? Was it accurate for this past year? Farmers are
going to want to know how reliable the predictions have been.
Where will this website be located? Inside of FAWN?
Will the ENSO forecasts be updated periodically? (For example, will forecasts be
updated that reflect an increased accuracy of predictions as the date of the next
ENSO phase approaches?)
3.1.1 Format of the website
Respondents were split in their assessments of whether the site is user-friendly or not.
Approximately half found it easy to use and to be laid out fairly well, while the others did
not. In terms of both the layout and the explicit links to information, there was general
agreement about the necessity of keeping user operations simple if farmers are expected to
use this site. The reason for this is that most farmers want specific information quickly.
They do not want to dig through layers of extraneous information, or browse through various
pages of the site.
Specific comments and suggestions regarding the format include:
One Extension agent said that it was easy to get to specific crop information pages
(through the links on the "Crop Management Tools" page), and that farmers would
like the ease of accessibility that this example displays.
Another agent stated that the selection of a commodity crop from the "Crop
Management Tools" page sends the user to a worthless page (e.g., "Important
Tomato-Producing Counties in the SECC Region") that does not add any real
information it is merely an extraneous page that complicates and slows navigation
through the website.
Also, the sub-heading reprinted in the parentheses above might be insulting to
someone growing tomatoes in a county that is not listed (highlighted) as "important."
There was general consensus that all tables and graphs need to be clearly labeled. In
addition, several participants questioned the source of data for different tables and
graphs, and suggested that this information should be noted.
The CLIMATE link at the top of the homepage for any given crop needs to be
featured more prominently, as this is the core information of the website
In general, most respondents agreed that explanatory information and
recommendations presented on the website need to be more explicit, use less "academic"
language, and provide better instructions (e.g., inside the website, with the tools, etc.). Some
interviewees also expressed that the AgClimate homepage should state more explicitly how
this website differs from others, because if not, farmers may simply conclude that it is "just
another website" despite containing potentially useful information for producers and other
3.1.2 Content of the website
3.1.2.a What is ENSO?
Generally speaking, most farmers are going to understand the difference between
climate and weather, and are likely be familiar with the term "El Nifio" although perhaps
only to the point that they associate it with "weird" weather, according to one Extension
agent. However, if farmers do know somewhat more, they may still tend to get the
associated weather patterns for El Nifio and La Nifia confused.
However, the term "ENSO" itself will probably be meaningless to most farmers.
Almost all of the interviewees made comments about the ENSO acronym, generally
displaying confusion (and distraction) by the repeated use of, and emphasis on, this academic
term. The general consensus is that specific reference to El Nifio and/or La Nifia should
substitute for ENSO whenever possible; one agent suggests the generic term "Climate
Pattern" can be used in place of the ENSO acronym.
On a positive note, one agent stated that the homepage link "About El Niflo/La Nifia"
provided good background information/explanation of the ENSO phenomenon. This
generally reflected the dichotomy between what farmers would want/use vs. what Extension
agents would want. Farmers want specific and concise information, whereas Extension
agents would be much more likely to access additional detailed information located
elsewhere through a link.
3.1.2.b Increased forecast detail required
A prominent concern was the ambiguous weather descriptions corresponding to the
three different ENSO phases. For example, descriptors such as "strong wet", "strong cold",
"weak warm" were confusing at best, and meaningless at worst. Interviewees felt that, at the
very least, farmers would want much greater detail in terms of the intensity of expected rain
or temperature levels for a particular forecasted phase; but what they really need to know is
the expected ranges of rainfall and temperature, and information about freezes. It was
suggested that average ranges in temperature and precipitation, perhaps by county or regional
zones, would be much more informative and clear.
Many respondents discussed the importance of frost/freeze information and the
necessity of having the website display this for planning purposes. One agent stated such
information would be extremely useful, but was concerned that this website offered little
reliability with regard to freeze forecasting at this point in time.
3.1.2.c Discernment of ENSO phases
Another main concern regarding the forecasted ENSO phases is the need to have
explicit dates attached to both the current phase and to the next (forecasted) phase. This is
important for every instance where the current phase is shown in the website (e.g., on the
homepage and in the management guidelines). This addresses the request for greater clarity
and the information/recommendations associated with each.
In addition, to facilitate the understanding of how management practices differ
between the phases of ENSO, it was suggested that recommendations for all ENSO phases be
contained in one table, with the current phase highlighted. For example, the planting
recommendations for El Nifio, La Nifia, and Neutral could all be exhibited in one table, so
users can compare the information/recommendations across phases.
3.1.2.d Graphical representations
Much attention was directed towards the various graphs of the website/yield tool,
which included both criticism and suggestions for additional graphs. For example, some
participants inquired about the graph entitled "Influence of ENSO Phases on Florida Tomato
Yields" (from the "Historical Yield Analysis" link), which presents differences in average
yield between El Nifio, La Nifia, and Neutral. Questions included: What is the information
based on? What does "Neutral" really mean?
Some agents were interested in historical rainfall and other historical climate data
(e.g., temperature, frost, etc.). It was suggested that such data ought to be presented
graphically with specific reference to El Niflo/La Nifia/Neutral years, and plotted against
historical yield data (as opposed to simulated data) in order to visually show/explain the
physical connections this website seeks to address. These graphs could be displayed on the
web pages associated with the "CLIMATE" link that is located at the top of the homepage.
Farmers tend to think in terms of their past experiences thus, such graphs would help them
understand the other information presented, and would probably facilitate use of the website.
3.1.2.e Management guidelines
Interviewees were generally enthusiastic about the management guidelines and
recommendations based on ENSO forecasts, stating that the relevance of the material made it
useful to both Extension agents and producers. Activities/information contained on the
various crop web pages (e.g., planting dates, land preparation, insurance options, etc.) were
discussed in detail by participants, which indicates the importance of this information to
them. For example, some agents thought this information would help farmers to optimally
allocate crop rotations/crop mixes, and make related land leasing decisions.
Several agents also made suggestions regarding how management guideline
information should be augmented/specified to address the particular crops grown in their
counties. For instance, land preparation details for cucumbers, melons, etc. are needed for
north Florida counties with considerable amounts of non-irrigated land, such as Alachua
County. To this end, a general grouping under the cucurbitt family" would probably suffice
because many details will be similar for the different species (e.g., planting dates).
3.1.2.f Market information needed
Several participants mentioned the lack of price/market information for commodity
crops and timber/wood products. Several agents stressed that markets, as opposed to climate,
tend to drive production decisions. They suggested that links to market information for the
Southeast, as well as other important regions (e.g., Mid-west), would be good additions to the
website. This is because some producers may be affected by crop/livestock/input prices in
other regions of the country.
3.2 Crop Yield Risk Assessment Tool
This section of the report provides a summary of information about the format and
content of the Crop Yield Risk Assessment Tool. Generally speaking, Extension agents
found the yield tool to have great potential both for use by Extension as well as for farmers.
With the understanding that this tool is still under construction, the agents made several
suggestions concerning how both the "user-friendliness" and substantive content of the tool
could be improved. By far the most common criticism of the yield tool is that there are no
clear instructions on how to use it. As the yield tool now stands, most Extension agents
would have great difficulty in navigating their way through it. Once sondeo members
explained how to use the tool, most Extension agents were able to grasp the utility of the tool
and how they and farmers could effectively use it. The following subsections detail the
agents' comments regarding the yield tool.
Issues concerning format of the yield tool focused primarily on the lack of clarity or
confusion with the information presented. In general, there needs to be greater explanation
of what is being visually represented. Most of the Extension agents appreciated both the
numerical and bar graph representation of yield probabilities, but several agents felt that the
tool lacked the information on how exactly such data should be interpreted. Specific
comments regarding the format of the yield tool included:
The naming of this tool (Crop Yield Risk Assessment Tool) is too academic; consider
a simpler name for this tool.
There is no way to know how to input multiple planting dates into the graph.
The label "percentage" on the Y-axis is difficult to read.
The labels "probability" and "probability of exceeding" are confusing. Several
Extension agents recommended that these names be changed for clarity purposes.
In the numerical graph, the range label should be changed to yield since this better
reflects what is being represented.
Under tomato soil types, "haplaqualfs" means nothing to most Extension agents.
There is a need to explain where information comes from and how tables are derived
(i.e., how are crop yields derived?).
Given the fact that partial color blindness is not uncommon particularly in older
men considerations should be given to changing bar graphs to patterns so that they
are more easily distinguished when putting in multiple planting dates.
3.2.2 Questions Concerning Content
As several points just mentioned illustrate, Extension agents were very interested (and
very concerned) about how the information was derived for this tool. If they are to use this
tool with farmers, they must be assured that the information transferred is both reliable and
accurate. Some of the more pressing questions included:
Where is this information coming from?
How accurate is the information given?
How are the crop yields calculated?
What models are being used?
Will information of predicted yields be compared with actual yields from previous
What is the timeframe for the climate forecast yield predictions?
Will these predictions change often, and how often would one be expected to check
How often would this tool be updated?
3.2.3 Further Comments and Suggestions
Many Extension agents made comments on information they felt was missing or
misrepresented in the yield tool. One Extension agent identified data problems with the
probability graph in regard to peanut production. When the agent punched in a higher
average yield than the graph identified, the program did not handle it well (there were gaps in
the yield columns; the "more" column peaked on the scale). Likewise, certain crops have
earlier planting dates than represented in the tool the specific example given was in regard
to peanuts in Madison County with planting dates that begin as early as April 15. Other
suggestions regarding the tool are:
Include price or market effects (or responses) to ENSO
Include graphs of yield for a crop over the four climate options (i.e., El Nino, La
Nina, Neutral, all years) on one page.
Include a graphical presentation of historical yields vs. past ENSO events.
The best time to plant should be highlighted; farmers want to know what their
chances are for getting the highest yield.
Additional, similar crop models for forestry, livestock, cucurbits, and perennial
peanuts should be included in the tool.
3.3 Potential Users and Associated Agricultural Activities
In this section, information is presented regarding Extension agents' opinions on the
types of management practices and commodities that may be more or less influenced by
climate predictions. Information is also presented on the potential users of the website and
3.3.1 Specific Management Practices
Some agents felt as though management practices would not change regardless of the
climate predictions. They suggested that decisions seem to be more weather than climate-
based. At the same time, several agents commented on specific areas of management where
the information contained in this web site and yield tool could be useful. This section
summarizes a few areas of management that were addressed during the sondeo.
3.3.1.a Pest and disease management
If farmers know in advance that precipitation is going to be greater or less than
normal, they can take measures to minimize damage to their crops. For example, if it is
going to be wetter, they might decide to apply more fungicide, or if it is going to be drier,
they might apply more insecticide. Farmers might also enhance their disease management
practices or use disease resistant varieties depending on what type of year it is going to be.
In counties where irrigation is a fairly common practice or mandatory, management
guidelines and proposed alternative options to irrigation are not going to be relevant to
farmers. However, this information could be useful in relation to irrigation decisions around
crop mixes and land allocation.
3.3.1.c Market commitments and management
Farmers have a series of commitments for delivering their products, which decreases
their flexibility to adopt changes in management practices based on climate. This is
exacerbated by the fact that agricultural businesses today cannot have large margins of
production deficits, as profit margins are very slim. Production errors could leave them out
of business. It was also mentioned that many products have very specific market windows,
so planting dates might not be flexible.
3.3.1.d Land use
A possible use for medium-term climate information would be in the decision of how
to distribute farm fields. For example, farmers could plant in higher fields to avoid flooding
if they knew that it was predicted to be a wetter year.
3.3.2 Where producers obtain information
In general, most Extension agents agreed that many producers use the Internet for
production-related information, for example to check daily fluctuations in the price of beef or
to receive emails from extension agents. Some agents stated that 80 to 100 percent of the
farmers in their counties use the Internet for farming-related information. Others mentioned
potential differences in the use of the Internet among different segments of the farmer
population. For example, perhaps large farmers and hobby farmers use it more frequently
than medium size farmers. It was also stated that since women and children might be more
likely to use the Internet, they could be targeted as users of the website and tool. This could
be especially important, as wives of male farmers tend to handle many of the logistical
details involved in the operation of the farm. Finally, a concern was also expressed that since
the average age of farmers is rising (it is currently around 51), older farmers with less
computer experience may not be comfortable using the technology of the yield tool.
Farmers would be more likely to use the website and tool at the Extension office, co-
op, or feed store, than on their own. With the website in its current form, most farmers will
still rely on some intermediary to navigate this site and feel comfortable with the information
that is presented. Extension would be the ideal link between this information and farmers.
3.3.3 Farm size and type of production
Larger farmers are less flexible in responding to climate predictions. Therefore, the
options provided for different climate years in this tool might not be relevant to larger
farmers. For example, the forecasting tool recommends the use of alternate crops that would
be better suited for the different climate years. However, larger farmers with mono-cropping
practices require specialized equipment, which would not allow them to diversify their crops
based on climate forecasts.
A problem exists because market demand is weighed more heavily than planting
dates in relation to climate. Market is the primary driver of planning, not climate. Therefore,
even if the recommendation is not to plant early, farmers will still plant early and get lower
yields since the early crop will have higher prices.
The varieties in the tomato recommendations are ones used by large growers.
Therefore, large growers who produce high dollar commodity crops would use this
information rather than small producers that have a direct market. In many cases, large
tomato producers are not actually the ones farming, but rather hire crop advisors to guide
The lone farmer interviewed, a small organic producer, was generally concerned that
this site offered little to small growers because the website seemed to address only large-
scale commodity crops. Small farmers are not interested in any one particular variety because
they mix crops and varieties in order to diversify and minimize risk. Management practices
in relation to pests and disease depending on climate would be useful to a small producer, as
would more detailed frost information.
3.3.4 Commodity specific comments
3.3.4.a Vegetables and fruits
In order to make the website and tool relevant for a wider range of producers, it was
recommended that the list of fruits and vegetables addressed be augmented. Specific
recommendations were to include: cucurbits, watermelon, peanuts, and lettuce. However, it
was stressed again that, while producers would consider climate predictions, they manage
these commodities primarily according to market demand.
For cattle management, climate information is relevant to decisions regarding the
production of forage and estimating pasture yield. Predictions regarding the expected
precipitation for the next season would help producers determine whether or not to plant
forage crops, the varieties to plant, and dates for planting. In addition, if yield is estimated to
be low due to decreased precipitation and/or changes in temperature, producers may decide
to wean calves earlier than normal and stocker ranchers may decide to adjust their orders for
commodity feed or the number of calves that they receive.
A specific forage crop that several Extension agents recommended for inclusion in
the website and tool is perennial peanut. This has become an important cash crop in Madison
and Taylor counties. Climate prediction could be very helpful for the production of perennial
peanuts, especially regarding irrigation during the first three years when the root system is
3.3.4.c Horses (both for recreational and breeding purposes):
Climate predictions could help equestrian operations take precautionary measures
regarding animal health. Some diseases are affected by climate, such as encephalitis, which
is transmitted by a mosquito that is more abundant in wetter seasons. Climate prediction
would allow producers time to take measures to protect animals against this disease. Also,
climate prediction could inform decisions regarding the varieties of grasses to be planted for
forage. For example, when it is very wet Bahia grass develops a certain association with a
bacterium, which can cause abortions in mares when ingested.
Climate predictions could help forest managers make decisions regarding the planting
and harvesting of plantations. Regarding planting, if drier conditions are forecasted,
managers could decide to delay planting for a year, as drought conditions are not conducive
to seedling survival and establishment. In contrast, if wetter conditions are expected,
managers may decide to plant earlier than normal to give seedlings time to establish
themselves well-enough to resist flood conditions. With respect to harvests, if a wetter
season is predicted, loggers may decide to log early or to postpone logging because of the
difficulties of operating in wet conditions. However, it was also asserted that climate
prediction would be less relevant to plantation operations due to the long-term nature of tree
production and harvest rotations.
3.3.4.e Other producers
Urban horticulturalists and hobby farmers were identified as other producers who
may use the web site and tool. However, because urban horticulturalists work in fairly
climate-controlled environments, predictions regarding climate are not particularly relevant
to them. Regarding hobby farmers, because they do not rely on production for their primary
income and therefore are not as concerned with risk (i.e., they plant what they enjoy
growing), they are not likely to use the information regarding climate forecasts. At the same
time, since hobby farmers who do produce for the market are more flexible in their
production (due to their smaller size), they may be more likely than larger farmers to change
their crops in response to the management recommendations given on the web page and in
3.3.4.f Others (non-producers)
Other non-producers may be interested in the web site and tool, as well. Institutions
concerned with risks associated with production and crop disasters may use the tool, such as:
the USDA and RMA, banks who make loans to producers, and insurance agencies. In
addition, the tourism industry was identified as a potential user, especially tourist fishing
4.0 CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
1. Target audience: A question that arose a few times throughout the interviews was: Who
is the target audience for this website and yield tool? We concluded that the possible
audiences were Extension, small producers, and/or medium to large producers. The
following are some recommendations for each group of potential users:
Extension: The current information that is contained within the AgClimate website
and the yield tool is designed and laid out to be most accessible to Extension agents
with above average computer skills and the ability to sort through a lot of background
information to glean what is useful to them. They would be able to transfer the
information to their clients, perhaps on individual visits, but more likely through
workshops or information sessions. One Extension agent suggested that these tools
could be introduced at the feed store or the farmer's cooperative.
Farmers in general: The average age of farmers is increasing it is currently 51.
Women and children might be more receptive and able to use to this information and
technology. To introduce this technology, workshops with farmers and their families
could be held.
Small producers: The current information contained in the management guidelines is
not geared towards small producers. Interviews with small farmers to assess what
information would be useful to them in relation to ENSO and crop management could
assist in targeting this tool to small producers. For example, more detailed frost
effects for planning purposes and information on a wider diversity of crops would be
valuable for small farmers.
Medium/large producers: Perhaps the information that currently exists is most
relevant to producers who work on a larger scale. The question that arose was: Do
these producers have flexibility to change management practices (such as planting
dates) when a commodity market drives their production decisions? Also, if farmers
on this scale mainly refer to crop advisors to make their management
recommendations, how would the website and tool be useful for them?
Conversations with farmers could assist in answering these questions.
2. Format and presentation: The above conclusions on target audience lead to the
recommendation that the general interface of the website and yield tool should be simple
so it is accessible to a wide range of users. More detailed background information should
still be available, but perhaps a bit more 'hidden' so that it does not scare off people who
want the bare facts. Many producers want the bottom line and the more accessible and
simpler it is, the more likely they will use it. This being said, the format of the interface
is really dependent on who the target audience will be, but the simpler it remains and the
more clear instructions it contains, the more users it will have.
In today's mass communication age, there are many Internet sites that provide
information. In order to set this website apart from the many others available to farmers,
the site should clearly explain what exactly users can expect to gain from using this
3. Importance of climate in management decisions: In relation to the distinction between
climate and weather, it is not entirely clear as to what farmers actually take into
consideration regarding management practices, planning decisions, and
markets/economic factors. Participants confirmed that certain aspects of management
would benefit from having predictions of seasonal variability six months in advance.
Furthermore, if the information was conveyed in a way that was easily understood, with
confidence of accuracy, it has the potential to be used in long-term decision-making.
However, although long-term climate information could be useful, it seems that when it
comes down to what actually happens in farming systems, the primary factors on which
farmers will base their management decisions are day-to-day weather changes,
knowledge of their systems from experience, and the market conditions.
4. Reconnecting academics, Extension, and producers: Feedback from this sondeo suggests
a disconnect between research, Extension, and farmers. There is a frustration felt by both
farmers and Extension over the type of research generated by academia, its presentation,
and its utility to everyday practices. Caution is pertinent in further developing a product
that creates a technology that does not incorporate input from the end-users in the process
of its development. This project has the potential to reconnect the research conducted at
the university-level with the people who could most benefit from it. It would be valuable
to have this as a resource that actually reaches its target audience. The one farmer
interviewed provided very valuable insights on the website and tool. Perhaps a sondeo
similar to this one could be carried out with farmers, rather than Extension agents, to get
their feedback on the website and tool. The results could serve as a complement to this
Cabrera, V., M. Downs, M. Langholtz, A. Mugisha, R. Sandals, A. Shriar and D. Veach.
1999. Potential use of long-range climate forecasts by agricultural extension agents in
Florida. Staff Paper Series (SP 99-90). Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences,
University of Florida.
Hildebrand, P.E. 1981. Combining disciplines in rapid appraisal: the sondeo approach.
Agricultural Administration 8: 423-432.
Southeast Climate Consortium. 2003. AgClimate website.
One Extension agent had many comments/suggestions for improving the website
based upon his experience with website design. These include:
* At the initial introduction to the SECC website, the homepage should emphasize the
important links (Crops, Forestry, Pasture, Livestock) on this page more by presenting
them in the center of the page.
* Related to the above bullet point was that the SECC logo was very prominent, but
* Emphasize the explanatory phrase at the lower right ("AgClimate provides important new
tools...") by substituting this for the current title and sub-header displayed under the
* Instead of instructing the user to click on "the (weather) station that best represents your
growing conditions," have them simply select their county.
* Separate the three states so it's easier to find and click on the user's county.
* Most of the information on ENSO management practices is very boring and not
interactive use of small graphics to highlight certain things might help.
* Information could be presented in a better fashion by separating it out onto discrete
pages, instead of having the user scroll down one very long page.
* The website should be called AgClimate.net so it's easy to remember.