UC Davis Professor Suggests Update to Agricultural Cooperative Extension

There is a Growing Network of New Technology to Update Cooperative Extension and Help California’s Farmers

By Diane Nelson, Senior Writer, UC Davis Ag and Environmental Sciences


California’s growers and ranchers get their agricultural information from multiple sources in a variety of ways. Intuitively, most of us know that. But new research by UC Davis Professor Mark Lubell, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, provides empirical evidence that the state’s agriculture community relies on a network of people using new information technologies to make land-use and orchard-management decisions.

Mark Lubell, professor of Environmental Science and Policy at UC Davis (Source: UC Davis)
Mark Lubell, UC Davis Professor of Environmental Science and Policy (Source: UC Davis)

“Over the last century, agricultural knowledge systems have evolved into networks of widely distributed actors with a diversity of specializations and expertise,” said Lubell, lead author of, “Extension 3.0: Managing Agricultural Knowledge Systems in the Network Age,” research recently published in Society & Natural Resources.

Lubell and his team hope their work will help agriculture cooperative extension programs harness the potential of these evolving personal and professional networks and make them explicit components of their outreach strategies.

Extension 3.0

Since land-grant universities were created in the late 19th century, University of California Cooperative Extension has been the state’s main campus-to-community connection that delivers sound, scientific data to growers and ranchers, landowners, environmental groups, and consumers to help develop practical solutions to real-world problems. In the early days, extension specialist shared information in person, meeting with farmers in fields or coffee shops or town halls.

The system has evolved over time, as farming has become more specialized. And the systems still works, said Lubell and coauthors Meredith Niles, UC Davis ecology alumna, and Matthew Hoffman, grower program coordinator with the Lodi Winegrape Commission. But, they argue, it could use an update. They outline a case for what Lubell calls “Extension 3.0,” a modern model for agriculture extension that capitalizes on social learning, information technology, and evolving networks of expertise.

Reviewing 10 years of surveys, Lubell’s team studied how California’s growers and ranchers make farming decisions and who they turn to for advice. They learned that Cooperative Extension specialists and farm advisers are still primary trusted sources, but respondents are also influenced by pest control advisors, local leaders, commodity groups, sales representatives, fellow farmers, and others.

“Our research provides an empirical layer to support what many Cooperative Extension specialists and advisors already do,” Hoffman said. “It’s about making sure information reaches the right people in the right way at the right place and time.”

The authors are not calling to eliminate traditional extension professionals nor suggesting all current outreach strategies be converted to more modern methods like social media, webinars and smartphone applications.

“Instead, Extension 3.0 seeks to understand how personal networks and new information and communication technologies can work together,” Lubell said.

The authors recognize social media is already a part of agricultural extension, and they know they aren’t the first to recognize its importance. But they encourage extension programs to formalize social media, information technology, and network science as part of their hiring, training and outreach strategies.

“Extension systems and professionals must be experimental, adaptive and creative with program design and implementation to maximize the synergy between experiential, technical and social learning,” Lubell said.


Encouraging conversation

Aubrey White, communications coordinator for the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis, says she finds news she can use in “Extension 3.0.”

“Understanding key linkages in a community or area of research can dramatically shorten the distance between knowledge-seekers and knowledge-holders,” White said. “Lubell’s article reminds us that extension is not just delivering information, but creating conversation.”

Cooperative Extension specialist Ken Tate, rangeland watershed expert with the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, has been a longtime proponent of collaboration and conversation.

“For me, the study reaffirms that we shouldn’t abandon what works — face-to-face meetings, for example — but we have to keep building and adopting new components. Content is the key. We need to produce good science and provide practical solutions, and then use the best means possible to make sure that information reaches the people we serve, and helps meet society’s needs.”

You can read the full journal article on the Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior website.

Three UC Davis students named Switzer environmental fellows

Source: John Stumbos University of California, Davis

Three UC Davis graduate students—Angela Doerr, Sarah Moffitt, and Meredith Niles—have been awarded prestigious fellowships for outstanding environmental scholarship from the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation. Twenty-two such awards were made this year to students from New England and California.

“We are very grateful to the Switzer Foundation for again choosing UC Davis students for its highly regarded fellowship program,” said Jan W. Hopmans, associate dean in the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “It is worth noting that all three awardees are conducting research on sustainable management practices for natural or agricultural ecosystems. These students recognize that informed policymaking demands a working knowledge of interdisciplinary science and that our top-ranked graduate groups are the best place in the world to get that education.”

“Today’s environmental issues are increasingly complex and require an ability to translate scientific, ecological, and social knowledge across disciplines and apply it in real-world settings,” said Lissa Widoff, the Switzer Foundation’s executive director. “The 2013 Switzer Environmental Fellows are at the cutting edge of science and policy and will be supported with funding, professional coaching, and a network of leaders to help them achieve results. Their problem-solving abilities and innovation will make a difference.”

The program began in 1986 and now has a network of more than 530 fellows. Each student will receive $15,000 to help them complete their degrees and advance skills and expertise needed to address critical environmental challenges. Their work covers a broad range of studies, including environmental policy, economics, conservation, public health, journalism, architecture, environmental justice, and business law, as well as traditional environmental science such as biology, chemistry and engineering. This year’s fellowship recipients from UC Davis are:

Marine scientist Angee Doerr studies lobster fishery in Bahamas

Angela “Angee” Doerr, a doctoral student in the Ecology Graduate Group, focuses on the sustainable use of natural resources. Her thesis work examines the intersection of policy, resource economics, and marine ecology in the Bahamian spiny lobster fishery. She is one of the first scientists working to develop a baseline of the use of small artificial habitats—locally known as “lobster condos—in the fishery there. She also serves as a subject matter expert for the U.S. Navy Civil Affairs Command, travelling internationally to both teach and present on aquaculture and sustainable fishing practices. Doerr earned her MBA while in the Navy through American Military University and holds a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science from Duke University.

“Angee was a rising star in the Navy before coming to UC Davis to study natural resource policy and I know her commanding officer was not happy to lose her to graduate school,” said Doerr’s faculty adviser, environmental science and policy professor James Sanchirico. “Since coming to UC Davis, Angee has continued her trajectory. She is a natural leader and I have no doubt that Angee will make important contributions to the management of natural resources during her career.”

Coral reef studies lead Sarah Moffitt to climate science

Sarah Moffitt, a doctoral student in the Ecology Graduate Group, is working at the interface between oceanography, earth science, and ecology. Her dissertation research is focused on rapid environmental change in upper ocean ecosystems, specifically the western continental margin of North America. Her goal as an ocean and climate scientist is to improve communication among climate scientists, policymakers, and citizens. She graduated from Western Washington University with a Bachelor of Science in Biology, during which time she worked on coral reefs in the Caribbean region of Costa Rica and in Bermuda. She then spent two years working for NOAA’s Coral Reef Ecosystem Division in Hawaii as a coral reef specialist and scientific diver.

“Sarah truly embodies the word ‘interdisciplinary’ when she approaches a scientific problem,” said Moffitt’s faculty adviser, UC Davis geology professor Tessa Hill. “She sees things from the perspective of an ecologist, an oceanographer, and a climate scientist. With her dissertation work, she is trying to accomplish an admirable task—trying to extract lessons from the recent ‘paleoclimate’ record to understand what future, anthropogenic climate change holds for marine ecosystems.”

Farmer perceptions on climate drive Meredith Niles’ research

Meredith Niles, a doctoral student in the Ecology Graduate Group, examines the variables that cause farmers to adopt climate mitigation and adaptation techniques, and farmer perceptions of climate change and environmental policy. Her research is centered on New Zealand and Yolo County, Calif. She worked with a New Zealand research institute, participated in the Climate Action Reserve workgroup, and served as a board member of the UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute. Her ambition is to work in public service at the interface of science and environmental policy. Niles is a summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa graduate in political science and environmental studies from the Catholic University of America.

“Meredith’s research focuses on public policy and decision-making in the context of agriculture and food systems,” said Niles’ faculty adviser, environmental science and policy professor Mark Lubell. “She has completed important empirical research on how farmers perceive and respond to climate change in New Zealand and California. As a Switzer fellow, Meredith is a proven leader with a deep commitment to doing research at the interface between science and policy.”

This is the 27th year of the Switzer Environmental Fellowship Program of the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation.

Fellowships are merit-based and rigorously competitive. Candidates must be recognized for their leadership capacity by their academic institution or by environmental experts. Applications are evaluated based on demonstration of environmental problem-solving, critical analysis and communication skills, relevant work and volunteer experience, necessary scientific or technical background for their field of study, the applicant’s career goals, and the potential of the candidate to initiate and effect positive environmental change.