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Closing the extension gap: Information and communication technology in sustainable agriculture

  • Author(s): Lubell, Mark
  • McRoberts, Neil
  • et al.
Abstract

As the information revolution sweeps through the agricultural sector, extension professionals may be lagging behind their clients in the use of information and communication technology (ICT) such as social media, which could be a valuable tool for outreach and education. We surveyed sustainable agriculture stakeholders in California — extension professionals, county agricultural commissioners, and members of farm bureaus and producer groups — to measure their ICT behavior and attitudes. Drawing on diffusion of innovation theory, we characterized the innovation attributes of ICT that may influence the adoption and use of new technology among extension professionals. We also studied their demographic characteristics to establish whether there was a connection with ICT use. The main perceived benefit of ICT was that it can quickly reach larger, more diverse and more distant audiences. The perceived challenges included lack of professional support, the potential for misinformation on social media platforms, and the time requirements and technical complexity of technology use. Extension professionals experienced these challenges more than other sustainable agriculture stakeholders, creating a technology gap between extension professionals and their clientele. An ICT community of practice and clear organizational guidelines for measuring and reporting performance relating to ICT might help extension professionals close the gap.

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