Small Grains Field Day Goes Virtual

Editor’s note: Thanks to the NC Department of Agriculture for sharing this story on NC State Extension, Crop and Soil Sciences’ Angela Post and the small grains team.

The Show Must Go On!

That’s the proverbial phrase that could be applied to a recent event at one of North Carolina’s agriculture research stations. While the planned Small Grains Field Day didn’t go on exactly as planned, it did continue in a different format. 

Small Grains Field Day was supposed to happen on Wednesday, March 18, at the Piedmont Research Station in Salisbury. A research station field day is like an open house with information sessions. Everything that would have been presented in-person at the field day was instead recorded and published in videos – creating the Small Grains Virtual Field Day. It was a rather ambitious undertaking, but not a bridge too far for the technically savvy crew of the station.

We didn’t bring in a crew. The crew was the small grains crew.

“We didn’t bring in a crew. The crew was the small grains crew. It was not a production crew or a TV crew. It was the small grains crew that has expertise in plant pathology, plant physiology, and soil science,” explained station superintendent Teresa Herman. “It’s so cool that technology has advanced so that our folks can do this. The equipment is really simple to use now.”

For the original event in Salisbury, organizers expected about 100 people from across the region, including conventional row farmers and industry partners such as regional agronomists, agricultural extension agents, soil and water conservationist, seed company representatives and more.

In the days leading up to it, understanding about COVID-19 was beginning to grow. Public health authorities had been simply encouraging older adults to avoid large events, and then guidance changed to cancel events that were expecting 50 or more people.  It was around that time that Herman said organizers realized they needed to make a decision about the event.

“Everyone was a little hesitant because we didn’t want to overreact, but in retrospect what we did was the right decision,” Herman said. “It was absolutely the right call.” Herman said.  Then Dr. Angela Post, N.C. State Extension small grains specialist, decided the field day could still be done – just in a different way.

Man walking through wheat field to his truck
Extension agent looks over research crops. PHOTO BY ROGER WINSTEAD

Videos Available Online

The virtual field day includes nine videos on YouTube.

The research station crew did all the preparation they would have done for the regular field day, such as putting up identifying signs in fields and sprucing things up. N.C. State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences had already trained the employees at the station how to use audio/video equipment and video editing software. So the crew put that training to work to record each session of the field day. They edited the video and separated it by topic for posting onto YouTube. In all, there are nine videos in the collection or “playlist” as it’s called on YouTube.

“It was essentially the exact same content, just without the people here,” Herman said. She said it really wasn’t surprising that the staff was so eager and able to transform the field day into a digital format. In a way, it was just one more piece in their digital movement. The station already makes use of a lot of technology such as a robot that feeds calves and software programs that allow employees to check data about livestock from a smartphone no matter where they are.

Supporting Growers

It’s not just the use of the technology or the general adapting to change that makes Herman proud. Ultimately the point of the field day was to share information, and she feels pretty good about that still happening.

One video even includes a few behind-the-scenes bloopers.

“I want people to know what we do. I want them to know where food comes from,” she said. “So I was very proud of the work that was done here.”

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