iGrow.org is online source for research-based information | TSLN.com

iGrow.org is online source for research-based information

Lura Roti
for SDSU

Launched in 2011 by SDSU Extension, iGrow.org has quickly become South Dakotan's go-to source for unbiased, research-based information.

According to a recent annual report, in 2014 almost 600,000 users from across the globe visited the online platform which delivers on the Land Grant mission to meet needs and challenges with timely access to science-based information.

"How people access information today is much different than it was even five years ago. It is our responsibility as the outreach arm of the state's Land Grant University to ensure that the SDSU Extension delivery system meets societal expectations," said Karla Trautman, SDSU Extension Associate Director.

iGrow has a captive audience. For more than a century, South Dakotans have depended upon SDSU Extension for unbiased, research-based information. iGrow.org enhances the experience with 24-7 access.

"Through this online education environment, SDSU Extension removes geographic boundaries," explained Lindsey Gerard, SDSU Extension iGrow Technology Coordinator. "iGrow.org provides information when and where South Dakotans' need it. Access is not limited by geography or office hours."

Involved with SDSU Extension for more than 20 years, Darrell Deneke appreciates the speed and efficiency at which iGrow allows him and his colleagues to broadcast information. Deneke is the SDSU Extension IPM (integrated pest management) Coordinator.

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A few weeks before harvest, a private crop consultant contacted Deneke's colleague, Paul O. Johnson, SDSU Extension Weed Science Coordinator, after he discovered Palmer Amaranth in a field.

An invasive weed that has devastated farmers in the southern region of the United States for decades, Palmer Amaranth cannot be easily controlled by contemporary herbicides.

"The consultant contacted us because he knew we could get the word out to South Dakota farmers and field scouts before combines rolled this harvest," Deneke said.

Within hours of the weed's confirmed identity, information was published on iGrow.org and a news release was distributed to media outlets throughout the state. A farmer near Martin read the news release and contacted Bryan Lutter, a private crop consultant with Outback Ag in Chamberlain. "He said that he had a strange weed in a small corner of one of his fields and based on the images published with the article, he thought it was Palmer Amaranth. I confirmed this and we were able to hand pull and burn the weed before it went to seed and combines polluted the rest of his farm and ultimately the entire county with this invasive weed," Lutter said. "SDSU Extension potentially saved this farmer hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost yields and control efforts."

Lutter's brother, Russ, was the consultant who initially contacted Johnson. Lutter said both men regularly rely on information found on iGrow.org. "I can go to one location and get all the information I need on a variety of things from seed treatments in wheat and weed control in soybeans or pest infestations – it's all right there," Lutter said.

Compiling libraries-worth of information, tools and resources into one location was no small feat, but it was needed, explains Barry Dunn, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences and Director of SDSU Extension. "In order to adapt to the evolving needs of our consumers, SDSU Extension needed a strong online presence," Dunn said. "Originally I felt we were late in the game – I'm excited about how quickly we caught up."

When the site launched, Dunn said leadership set a goal of half a million users by 2018. He said surpassing the target four years early is evidence iGrow is doing the job it was designed to do and South Dakotans' embrace it.

Carrie Johnson would agree. The SDSU Extension Family Resource Management Specialist and Assistant Professor of Consumer Sciences at South Dakota State University frequently uses the platform to provide resources, tools and host webinars for an audience which she said has grown due to iGrow.org's convenience.

"Through SDSU Extension I'm able to empower individuals to overcome financial challenges and enhance their own lives and the lives of those they love," said Johnson, who has been with SDSU Extension since 2009. "Through iGrow I can reach a broader audience because instead of driving to a community and hosting one workshop, I can host a webinar and folks from communities from across our state and other states can join in."

Johnson added that she appreciates the fact that folks can view the webinar anytime that works for them. "Careers and other obligations make attending real-time workshops a challenge for many. Because the webinar is available on iGrow, folks have access to the information whenever is convenient for them," Johnson said. "And, if they have questions, my contact information is right there."

Access to the people behind the research is another unique benefit to iGrow. "Science-based information that comes with a relationship is a strength of SDSU Extension. Consumers can view information on iGrow and then reach out to the staff member who posted the information to ask questions so that they can apply the information to their unique situation," Trautman said.

Building relationships has always been integral to SDSU Extension programming – much of which is developed based on consumer questions or local and regional trends.

When South Dakota Public Broadcasting was looking for ways to enhance the food safety content on their website, they turned to iGrow said Brian Gevik, a Producer with Online Services and Television for SDPB. "We very quickly saw the need to display food safety-related content," explained Gevik, of the site which hosts national cooking content from PBS and Create TV. "The iGrow Food safety content is unique on the web. The internet is full of recipes and cooking shows, but there are not many credible sites for food safety and food prep."

SDPB is one of more than 300 media outlets throughout the state and nation who regularly visit iGrow.org for information and content. "iGrow content is credible. We understand it is coming from specialists who made their careers in understanding and communicating research-based information," Gevik said.

Since its start in 1914, communicating information has been at the heart of SDSU Extension. Today the tradition continues through iGrow.org, other resources and SDSU Extension staff who proudly serve South Dakotans.

–SDSU Extension