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The votes are in, counted, recounted and here’s the certified outcome: Magazines are dairy producers’ preferred means of receiving information on new practices, technologies and products to improve management.

Animal scientists at the University of Arkansas (UA) recently conducted a survey to identify management practices that characterize the country’s highest producing dairy herds. Survey forms were mailed to managers of 250 Holstein and 47 Jersey herds throughout the United States. Producers selected to receive the survey had the top rolling herd averages from May 1999 through April 2000, according to the Dairy Herd Improvement Association.

For the 133 Holstein producers who responded, milk production averaged 29,409.6 lb., while the 20 responding Jersey producers accounted for average production of 19,456.8 lb. Herd sizes ranged from 28 to 4,750 cows on test.

The survey included a list of 13 sources of information. Producers were asked to rate each source on a scale of 0 to 5, where 0 represented "wouldn’t use" and 5 represented "prefer." Respondents circled the numbers according to their preferences. The "votes" were entered by hand into Microsoft’s Excel program, and then data was analyzed by SAS (Statistical Analysis System). Farm magazines ranked first with an overall rating of 3.69 among Holstein breeders. (Jersey breeders might feel disenfranchised because their responses were not included in the statistical analysis. That’s due to the small percentage of Jersey breeders who responded to the survey, according to UA animal scientist Wayne Kellogg, who led the study.)

The other information sources on the list ranked in the following order: on-farm demonstrations (3.55), farm visits (3.51), printed fact sheets (3.41), farm field days (3.32), group meetings (3.16), videotapes (2.72), computer programs (2.14), Internet (2.10), home study courses (1.58), radio programs (1.53), satellite programs at home (1.15) and satellite programs at a centralized location (0.92).

"The survey affirms that there’s something very powerful about print media," says Shannon Linderoth, editor of The Dairy Producer. "The survey results make me feel like I’m doing a good job of getting producers the information they need and give me impetus to continue to provide timely, helpful articles." With a circulation of about 76,000, The Dairy Producer is published in Farm Progress Companies’ 35 state and regional farm magazines.

"I’m somewhat surprised that electronic media didn’t rank higher in the survey, but people like to have something in their hand that they can file and refer back to," Linderoth adds. "However, I frequently get e-mail memos from readers who request additional information after reading articles we published. That’s a neat tie with old and new technologies."

Jim Dickrell, editor of Dairy Today (circulation 70,000), concurs that the survey is positive reaffirmation of the way magazines deliver information to dairy producers. "Magazines are still user friendly, and that’s the biggest benefit we feel we offer our readers," he notes. "Dairy producers can pick up a magazine any time and go back to it any time they choose."

According to Dickrell, magazines are the ultimate push technology and, best of all, are delivered right to dairy producers’ kitchen tables. That saves them the trouble of going out and searching for information themselves.

"Producers rely on magazines to be a credible source of information, and we’ve worked hard to dig out this information," Dickrell adds. "The survey results suggest producers are not questioning how reliable this information is. It’s pleasing to see that farmers responded that way."

Producers are interested in learning from each other and from professionals, Kellogg points out. "Although 87.5 percent have a computer, there is strong resistance to satellite programs, home study courses, the Internet and other computer programs as a means of relaying information," he says. "This suggests that the newer, technical methodology should be reserved to inform professionals who advise dairy producers."

So why do dairy producers seem to resist new technologies? They spend most of their waking hours doing something active like milking or driving tractors, says Mark Varner, co-founder and co-moderator of Dairy-L, a virtual communications community for the dairy industry. The Internet also requires active participation, and most producers don’t have much extra time for that, he notes.

"The true strengths and weaknesses of computers and the Internet as communications tools are just beginning to be known," Varner says. " As dairy producers discover that e-mail and the Internet are the best way to get specific types of information, the use of the Internet and the value placed on that information will continue to grow." AM

Freelance writer Linda L. Leake follows elections and the dairy industry from her home base in Wilmington, N.C.

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