Computer has most recent information CARROLL COUNTY FARM/BUSINESS

FUTURE IS NOW AT EXTENSION AGENCY

November 18, 1993|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

The future in up-to-the-minute agricultural information has already arrived at the Carroll County extension agency.

For the past two months, the agency has been receiving information on the weather, futures market and updates on national agricultural policy through a satellite-fed computer system called the Data Transmission Network.

Futures quotes are updated from the Chicago Board of Trade every 10 minutes and weather information is revised every hour, said Carroll County extension agent David Greene. U.S. Department of Agriculture information and farming news stories come across the system when released, he said.

"Before, I wouldn't hear about this until it came in the mail about a week later," Mr. Greene said of a USDA report on the projected grain crops for this year, released last week. "Now, it's [the information] instant."

The new computer system, along with the agency's CD-ROM and an Internet information network, will be on display during an BTC open house tomorrow and Saturday at the Carroll County Agricultural Center in Westminster.

Other planned exhibits will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. They include floating greenhouses, septic tank maintenance, skin cancer prevention, nuisance insects and home composting.

The open house is part of Carroll County's celebration of Farm-City Week, sponsored by the national Farm Bureau to remind people that farm families and those who live in cities need each other.

County extension agent Tom Ford said the Data Transmission Network has proved useful in helping farmers protect their crops, particularly orchards.

"Recently, we had a front come through and although we didn't get any rain, we were able to track the hail," he said. "Farmers can track a storm, see what is happening and mobilize the troops early to save their crops."

However, county agents began renting the system primarily for the financial updates, he said. Network use and rental of the computer equipment and satellite dish cost the state agency $39 per month.

Mr. Ford said it is common practice for a bank to refer a loan-seeking farmer to the extension service, where an agent helps to work out a two-year or three-year financial plan for the farm operation.

"If there's any mistake in the three-year cash flow," he said, "that operation might not be here."

Previously, the agency had to piece together information from the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and various news articles, Mr. Greene said.

"Now, we know instantly what the market is doing," he said. "We have the whole ball of wax here."

Although the system has been working since late September, few Carroll County farmers have used it, Mr. Ford said. About a dozen county farmers have their own DTN systems, he said.

"It [DTN] has had limited exposure," said Mr. Ford. "A lot of the farmers don't know about it yet."

Extension clients can also take advantage of computer information with the agency's CD-ROM and Internet network connection. The extension agency has had Internet capacity for about a year and the CD-ROM machine, which uses disks of information that look like musical CDs, for three years.

"We were one of the first counties in Maryland to get one," Mr. Ford said of the CD, which clients use to access disks of the National Agricultural Census, a national dairy data base and the Agricultural and Life Sciences data base.

The life sciences data base contains information gathered from every agricultural extension agency in the country and most of the agricultural journals.

"It [CD-ROM] earned its cost right off the bat," Mr. Ford said. "Within two weeks, we had a client from Australia who wanted information about growing baby carrots. Nothing is published in Maryland, but we pulled the information off of this [Agricultural and Life Sciences data base].

"We were able to tell him the equipment he needed, how to market them and how to grow them."

The information had been originally printed in Canada, Mr. Ford said.

Extension agents use Internet to gather agricultural information from around the world. Agents pay only for the phone call because all the users underwrite the cost of other users, Mr. Ford said.

He said he recently used the system to gather information on cut flowers from a library in the Netherlands and 70 pages of grant information for the Greenway Gardens project from an agricultural library in Beltsville.

"We can get into any library in the country," he said, adding that many international libraries are also Internet members. Many foreign libraries have translation services programmed into the system so users can read the information in their native language.

Members also belong to computer discussion groups where they exchange information on current research, Mr. Ford said.

Carroll County's Farm-City Week celebration will begin tomorrow with a speech by Dr. Lowell B. Catlett, a professor of agriculture and business at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, during an Agriculture Appreciation Breakfast at 9 a.m. at Wilhelm Catering in Westminster.

Dr. Catlett is an adviser to the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, the Interior and the Army. He is scheduled to speak on agriculture's role in the national economy and the new world order.

He conducts research in the areas of marketing, management and futuristic issues. Dr. Catlett is the co-author of several books, including "Farm and Ranch Financial Management," "Cash Flow Management and Investing in Agriculture Real Estate" and "Investing in the Futures and Options Market."

Tickets for the breakfast are $10. Information: 848-4611.

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