“If you want a yardstick and a bag of popcorn, don't come to our field days.”

Nebraska Extension educator Keith Glewen is only half joking as he offers that comment on the annual Soybean Management Field Days. He helps arrange them under a turnkey contract between the University of Nebraska Extension and the Nebraska Soybean Board.

What should you, as a producer, get out of a field day? Broadly speaking, Glewen answers: unbiased research-generated information that can contribute to your operation's profitability and enhancement of your farm's natural resources (groundwater quality, for example).

Producer comments on completed field day evaluations for 2005 included several recurring themes that shed light on some benefits producers expect to get from a field day. Among them were:

  • An opportunity to become acquainted with concepts that you can ponder for the future, not just those ideas that you can take home and implement immediately. Some profitable ideas may lie dormant and not “germinate” right away, Glewen says. “Sometimes we expect too much immediate reaction from some of our programs.”

  • An opportunity to interact with speakers and other producers at the meeting.

  • An opportunity to reaffirm that what you're doing in your farming operation is on the right track. It's a way to build confidence and optimism about the future of your profession, according to Glewen.

  • A reminder to continue to hone knowledge you already have (the importance of paying attention to details).

Issues and topics today, compared to just a few years ago, are much more complex, says Weston, NE, farmer and Nebraska Soybean Board Chairman Gregg Fujan. And the level of technology is much more advanced than it was 6-8 years ago.

Glewen's contract includes conducting evaluations of the field day program by those who attend and then compiling the results.

In the evaluations, attendees estimated that attending the field day last August was worth $7.21/acre farmed. Documenting effectiveness of Extension meetings is a University of Nebraska Extension division policy, says Glewen, in the Agricultural Research and Development Center near Mead, NE.

The $7.21 estimated value is the “average value placed on the knowledge gained and/or anticipated changes in practices,” reported in evaluations returned by 348 of the total 433 registrants among the field day's four locations in 2005. Every year, four different topics are presented during a 1-day program, with the program presented at a different farm location each day. New locations are selected each year.

The 564,558 acres represented on the completed evaluations came to a $4 million value last year. Evaluations have been conducted each of the past seven years that the Soybean Management Field Days have been held, with an estimated average value of $8.11/acre farmed for that period. Responses have been similar from year to year, according to Glewen.

“As a board, we strive to stay on the cutting edge” in educational efforts such as the Soybean Management Field Day programs, Fujan says. The evaluations are a measure of whether those goals are being met.

A sampling of wishes for future field days that producers expressed on their evaluations includes:

  • More field time…“Farmers see and believe with their eyes.”

  • Keep updating topics and bring new ones in every year.

  • Fertilizer/water management to produce 100-bu. soybeans.

  • Marketing information, including value-added opportunities for soybeans.

Dozens of comments on specific topics that participants said they would like to see at future field days ranged from the whimsical (“air conditioning in tents and cold beer”) to serious suggestions (“lengthen each session and get more in depth,” and “more localized information”).

Now under discussion is whether to take the evaluations a step further, and try to track whether growers actually made the changes they indicated on their evaluations, Glewen says, which would be a major undertaking.