RALEIGH, N.C. — “If I’d known I’d be doing these videos, I’d have paid better attention in class,” Tim Hambrick, four-county NC Extension agent joked about NC State Extension’s video training course. Many regional and local Extension agents are tapping video technology to fill the void of canceled field day gatherings. It’s a new, timely skill set that agents are scrambling to master for their clients’ benefit.
“I’ll never advocate for virtual replacing face to face events. But for educational purposes, I think videos are very effective,” said Jenny Carleo, Extension area specialized agent.
Short Format Success
Carleo dove into ag video production while previously working with Rutgers Cooperative Extension. She led a team producing 20-minute virtual field trip videos which were effective but long. In 2019 she took the initiative to use these honed skills for North Carolina growers benefit and received grants from the Corn Growers Association of North Carolina, the North Carolina Soybean Producers Association, and the North Carolina Small Grain Growers Association to develop shorter videos on commodity production for the state. The videos have been well received, and their success is creating more demand.
“Jenny was well ahead of the times on video production as she was making or planning many of these videos prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a huge catalyst in helping specialists and agents deliver content to their clientele in new formats,” said Rachel Vann, NC State Soybean Extension Specialist.
(photo by Anthony Thomas)
The COVID Catalyst
The current statewide recommendation limits in-person gatherings to 25 or fewer attendees. Tough math when local field days typically draw 100 or more. “Holding multiple events with 25 people at a time is hard to pull off – especially when we are trying to coordinate with Extension specialists across the state,” Hambrick said. He acknowledges that his events may take on a different format this year. “As farms get bigger and farmers’ time gets busier, these videos do allow us to present more information and get it out quickly.”
So the timing on Jenny Carleo’s video production career has been well-timed. And she is thinking beyond field days. “I’m using video to capture the entire research project. Field days are great for Q&A, but you’re standing in a field showing growers a snapshot of a project. You have no idea what the results will be,” she said. “We have this amazing advantage this year to intentionally capture the whole growing season and data analysis and then package and release it over the winter.” The new format promises a better knowledge gain for the farmer.
Carleo says her video quality has improved “night and day” over time thanks to an in-depth training course from NC State Extension IT and ongoing feedback from Simone Keith, NC State Extension Video Education Specialist. But Carleo’s not content.
“I want to improve the viewer experience of our videos,” she said. “Content is the easy part.” She is eager to add improvements like drone footage and data visualization. “Drone video isn’t a novelty. It provides an important perspective you can’t get at a field day. Growers can see variations in a field or clusters of pest problems. And it’s a new way to illustrate static data we already have from combines. I want to add these visual elements that bring the information to life and make the value of practice changes obvious to our farmers.”
Carleo’s videos have already had over 6,000 views on YouTube. “People are excited about them and asking for more,” she said. She maintains a running log of topic requests from county agents and farmers alike. When a topic gets repeated votes, she adds it to her production list.
“Based on our Youtube watch numbers, the cultural information is really what people are looking for. The videos on cover crops and pre-plant fertility have been our top performers. Farmers are looking for progressive information more than troubleshooting. They are asking ‘How can I prepare myself better to grow this crop?’ It’s a shift from what I was expecting.” Carleo said.
Carleo’s videos have a statewide application, but her territory includes 19 southern NC counties. Extension professionals across the state are struggling with similar content delivery concerns. Videos are a promising tool to reach a wide audience, but they are a tool requiring a knowledge base and significant time commitment.
Tim Hambrick would like to improve his video production quality too but has limited resources. “I’m a one-man show. I’m still learning how to make a video good, but it’s time-consuming. I need to be out in the field. It would be great to have someone dedicated to videos working statewide that we could call on for in-field video production and editing help. These videos are definitely something of interest to our growers,” he said.
Hambrick adopted the video platform out of necessity. “Tim has worked in NC Extension for decades, and his clients depend on him for important management information. He dedicates himself to serving our growers, whatever their needs, as evidenced by his willingness to adapt to the current circumstances with new technology,” said Vann.
Advice to Others
Carleo’s advice to others producing Extension videos? Keep it short. Her goal is a video that is under two minutes. Next, focus on the essential message farmers need to hear. “What’s the one thing they need to take away?” she asks herself. She also recommends training. Both Carleo and Hambrick rave over NC State Extension’s video resources. “They told us ‘Keep trying and your videos will get better’,” Carleo said, “I think my videos are improving. It‘s definitely something all Extension educators can learn.”
Looking for More Resources?
Management practices change like summer forecasts. Tune in to the latest Extension video resources through our new Virtual Event Library. We’re collecting all the training and workshop videos in a one-stop spot.
Then keep current with all our department’s roster of crop and soil research through our Friends of Crop & Soil Sciences weekly newsletter. We are growing the future.
–Jennifer Howard, N.C. State University
(Editors Note: To view previous videos from Carleo at Rutgers, please click here!)