In the mid-1930s, many farm families, unlike their city neighbors did not have access to electricity. The combined effort of county Extension staff and local citizens to create rural electric cooperatives eventually brought electricity to all of rural America. In later years, Extension also assisted local leadership in organizing rural water systems. Today Extension staff members are working with companies to expand high-speed Internet systems to rural areas.
The number of specialists per county may be fewer today than in the 1980s, but technology has allowed Extension to adapt and increase its reach. Demonstrations are still an important component, but now they can be distributed via the Internet.
"Today people want information faster," Hoeft says. "Extension's farmdoc website and its new mobile app is an example of how Extension responded to farmers so that they can get information when and where they want it. With a webinar, we can take a presentation or demonstration right into their home. People can watch it at their leisure or if they watch it while it's being broadcast live, they can type a question and get an answer from the presenter in real time."
Hoeft calls today's Extension specialists rock stars. "We just need more of them to be able to listen to the public and find out their needs so that we can conduct research to address those problems," he notes. "Right now about 10% of our faculty in the College of ACES have an Extension component to their position. We're working with other colleges at U of I and other agencies to bring their expertise to our audiences."
Source: University of Illinois