Back in 1980 when college student Pete Flores, who grew up on a Texas ranch, was introduced to his first computer at college, he decided one day the world would be a different place.
Garnering a couple of Bachelor degrees and a Masters in agricultural sciences and then serving as a county Extension agent in his young career, he moved on to become an Extension information specialist for the Texas AgriLife Extension Service—a job he still holds today—serving 48 counties across much of South and South-central Texas.
“I’m not one for titles, and I’m not a geek. I just look at technology as a way to help the citizens of Texas,” says a humble Flores, who is still involved in a family farm and ranch operation.
But from the livestock barn to a seat behind his computer command center in his Corpus Christi Extension office, this cowboy makes the jump from wrangler to cyber-tech regularly as he applies his brand of agriculture technology to craft new and better ways of sharing class room knowledge and the latest trends in farming and ranching with producers who are keen on learning the latest in an ever-changing ag industry.
“It’s a changing industry as new methods are developed and new products introduced and Texas AgriLife has long been involved in getting this information out to the farming and ranching community,” Flores says.
But attending conferences and workshops is often a difficult and time consuming process, and most producers must carefully plan their lives around demanding work schedules, often leaving them short on time to participate in all the educational programs they might otherwise choose to attend.
“This is where technology comes in,” Flores says, and through hi-tech webinars, more and more producers are getting the chance to keep up with the learning curve without leaving the farm.
“Through special software we’re now able to conduct a workshop and turn it into an interactive training opportunity. Not only does this make it convenient for the producers, it helps us secure qualified speakers and conference leaders who can conduct the training session in their office, wherever that might be,” he adds.
For example, recently Flores was able to secure a qualified speaker who lives and works out of state for one of AgriLife’s workshops. With the magic of recording technology and through a series of PowerPoint slides, workshop participants at both the workshop and those unable to attend could watch and hear the topic presentation the same way they would if the speaker and the participant were in attendance in the same location.
“This is opening the door for those who want to attend many of these workshops and simply can’t schedule the time to physically attend. They can now get the same benefit by watching the presentation in the comfort of their homes or offices,” Flores said.
In early March the Nueces County Extension office staged a Drought Management Symposium for Range and Pastures, a comprehensive one-day workshop designed to help Texas ranchers contend with issues related to the 2011 drought. Eight expert topic speakers offered 12 programs on a host of issues including fertilizer strategies, designing an early drought warning system, stocking strategies during drought, determining forage quality, toxic weed identification and other topics.
While a number of producers attended the symposium, Flores was able to put together a webinar of the entire program and make it available on demand— (http://agrilife.org/coastalbend/drought-management-symposium-for-range-and-pastures-march-6-2012/) –so others can watch and hear the proceedings at their convenience.
“This is a growing trend. Texas AgriLife is making an aggressive effort to make its programs available to everyone whether they attend in person or watch the symposium or workshop online. And the response so far has been very favorable,” Flores says.
Even when topic speakers and symposium leaders conduct their segments from remote locations, they can respond to conference attendees who ask questions through a microphone set up at the symposium.
“The topic leader then answers the questions in real time. It’s just like being there, though they might be conducting the symposium from out-of-state,” he says.
So far the program has garnered so much interest and success that Texas AgriLife is expanding it.
“Just recently I saw a job posting from the Extension service for a full time state coordinator to head up the program,” Flores said.
While conducting webinars is not new for the Extension service, it is emerging as a popular alternative for producers and is gaining momentum as more on-demand symposiums and workshops are made available.
Flores says many of the webinars are available in both English and Spanish and are designed so that anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can participate.
Flores, who also maintains an active Facebook page, says technology is changing the way farmers and ranchers do business. He says they are embracing smart phones, GPS guidance systems, webinars and the Internet to produce and market their agricultural products and says the future will see more and more technology employed across the industry.
“A few years ago it was nothing more than an idea in someone’s head. But today more and more people are turning to technology to help them keep up with the changing world of agriculture,” he says.