Mississippi Crop Situation Blog, 2012 Friends of IPM Award Winner
Pulling Together

Mississippi Crop Situation Blog teamCoffee senna hasn’t hit the national farm news yet as the latest “worst weed,” but on July 26--the same day that the members of the team that maintains the Mississippi Crop Situation Blog were receiving an award for their outreach--coffee senna was receiving special attention as well: it was the “Weed of the Week” on the Mississippi blog.

The Mississippi Crop Situation Blog was created in February 2011 to replace a growing Mississippi Crop Situation newsletter. The team that creates and regularly updates it consists of experts from several agricultural departments of Mississippi State University as well as some from US Department of Agriculture. Seventeen experts contribute to the blog, and it received about 100,000 page visits during the first year. In addition, as of late July 2012, page views have increased to nearly 160,000 since its inception. Because of the impact of their teamwork, the blog team received the 2012 Friends of Southern IPM Pulling Together Award.

The Friends of Southern IPM Pulling Together Award recognizes extraordinary achievements by a multi-disciplinary team. Because IPM is naturally team oriented, teams that receive the Pulling Together award usually cover several disciplines, several agencies and often more than one state.

The blog began as a newsletter about insect pests in row crops, edited by entomologist Blake Layton. When Layton became the state IPM Coordinator, he could no longer fulfill his role as newsletter editor, so he handed the job to fellow cotton entomologist Angus Catchot. Wanting to make the newsletter more inclusive of other IPM-related disciplines, Catchot invited specialists from plant pathology, weed science, soil science and other related disciplines to contribute to the newsletter.

What Catchot was not prepared for was the flood of responses to his invitation. Lengthy articles and photos began to fill his e-mail inbox.

“Over time, contributors began to lengthen their articles,” said Darrin Dodds, assistant extension professor and cotton specialist at Mississippi State. “And then there were the pictures. In several cases, the images provided in the newsletter made the file size so large that it was very difficult to open with a smartphone or other mobile device, particularly in the rural areas of the state.”

In less than a year, the newsletter had grown from a 4-page Word document to a 17-page magazine. Each Friday morning during field season, Dodds, Catchot, and others would start copying and pasting text and photos and then mail it out. Often it would take the majority of the day to collect individual articles, format them, and email the newsletter to their clientele. The sheer weight of the printed newsletter made postage prohibitively expensive. Growers and specialists would call and complain that they couldn't open the file on their iPhones. So the team of contributors to the newsletter knew something had to change--and quickly.

Fortunately, Owen Taylor, editor with AgFax Media proposed a solution: turn the monstrous Adobe Acrobat newsletter into a blog. Each specialist could write articles directly into the blog, so no copying and pasting would be required. One member of the team could still send out the weekly e-mail with titles and teasers to the articles without having to lose a full day of their regular work. But the best part was that growers who received hard copy mailouts of the newsletter--who up until now had to wait for one to two weeks to learn about pest situations that could affect their crop--would be able to access that information immediately.

The blog did indeed make a difference to Mississippi agriculture. During the blog's first year, growers saved about $10 to $20 an acre, up to $70 million dollars. The blog has 17 contributors, from various IPM-related departments at Mississippi State and US Department of Agriculture.

The team received the Friends of Southern IPM Pulling Together Award in front of about 300 industry tradespeople on July 26 at the Mississippi Agricultural Industry Council’s 52nd Annual Convention in Orange Beach, AL. The award recognizes their extraordinary collaboration, as well as their initiative and dedication in seeking other avenues to deliver important information to their audience.

The following specialists contribute to the blog:

  • Darrin Dodds, Mississippi State University
  • Angus Catchot, Mississippi State University
  • Erick Larson, Mississippi State University
  • Tom Allen, Mississippi State University
  • Larry Oldham, Mississippi State University
  • Jeff Gore, Mississippi State University
  • Don Cook, Mississippi State University
  • Jason Bond, Mississippi State University
  • Tom Eubank, Mississippi State University
  • Fred Musser, Mississippi State University
  • Ryan Jackson, USDA - ARS
  • Trent Irby, Mississippi State University
  • Bobby Golden, Mississippi State University
  • Nathan Buerhing, Mississippi State University
  • John Michael Riley, Mississippi State University
  • Mike Howell, Mississippi State University 
  • Tim Walker, Mississippi State University