By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
POCATELLO – The social distancing restrictions resulting from COVID-19 have resulted in University of Idaho Extension field days being canceled this year, but they were held virtually and are available for viewing online.
“The University of Idaho did a real nice job of shifting to virtual field days,” said Casey Chumrau, executive director of the Idaho Wheat Commission, which provides a significant amount of financial support to UI’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
That money, as well as funds from other agricultural commissions in the state, helps support the research that UI scientists do to try to develop better crop varieties and help growers address a variety of agronomic challenges.
UI researchers host research trial field days at various sites across the state each year to provide farmers a close-up look at that research.
But those in-person field days were not held this year because of COVID-19. They were replaced by virtual, taped events that included researchers speaking about the results of their field trials and other things they would normally talk about during a normal, in-person field day.
“We just weren’t able to have field days in person but the university did conduct virtual field days and they are taped and available for people to view online,” said Laura Wilder, administrator of the Idaho Barley Commission, which spends about a third of its budget funding research projects, most of them conducted by UI scientists.
Virtual field days cannot replace in-person field days but the taped events do provide a silver lining in that they allow more people than normal to “attend,” Chumrau said.
“While you miss the in-person connection, there is a huge advantage in that more people can attend the virtual events,” she said. “Also, because the videos are recorded, people can watch them” any time.
UI researcher Juliet Marshall, a plant pathologist based out of Idaho Falls, said that in the virtual field days she created this year, she was able to include video presentations about certain crop varieties from plant breeders across the country who normally wouldn’t be able to attend a field day in-person.
“It’s interesting how some things work out even better than one would expect,” she said. “I thought it went pretty well especially considering what the alternative was, which was to do nothing.”
Marshall said the virtual field days aren’t professionally produced but they do provide the information that growers would be looking for during an in-person field day.
“None of us are professional videographers or actors so there is going to be some roughness to the videos,” she said. “But I think it worked really well.”
One of the main take-away messages from the virtual field days is that the normal agricultural research conducted by UI scientists has not stopped during the pandemic, even though researchers have had to alter how they get the results out to growers, Wilder said.
“We weren’t able to have summer field days but the research is ongoing,” she said. “We’re working closely with the U of I … to continue projects and work that will help growers. Researchers are being supported and they are continuing their work.”
“The university has given us the OK to continue with our research,” Marshall said. “The information is still available and still being delivered.”
To view UI’s virtual field days online, go to www.uidaho.edu/extension/news/field-day