by SUSAN MANN
CropLine, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs’ toll-free telephone service providing recorded segments on field crop production is continuing for now but it’s being evaluated to determine if this is the best way to give farmers information.
Ministry spokesperson Abigail Dancey says by email with today’s technological advances farmers have many sources for information, “which means that the ministry needs to take a look at our stakeholders’ information needs, sources and best ways to provide needed information.” After 12 years, the “CropLine recorded message format is being evaluated as an ongoing means of communication and information transfer.”
She adds the ministry provides “many ways for stakeholders to access important and timely ministry production and pest management information,” including its website, the Agricultural Information Contact Centre, its publications and its social media accounts.
CropLine acting host Mike Cowbrough, the ministry’s weed management lead, has been in charge of the service since former cereals crop specialist Peter Johnson retired from the ministry in February after 30 years of service. He was the founder of CropLine and was its former host.
Johnson now has a similar service called Wheat Pete’s Word offered through the Real Agriculture website and there’s also a recorded telephone information segment where people can listen to information and leave questions. The number of Wheat Pete’s Word is 1-844-540-2014.
The ministry’s service provides weekly field crop management tips, herbicide recommendations and pest alerts. People can also leave a message and the ministry’s field crop specialists answer questions on the next edition of CropLine. The service is also available for people to listen to on their computers or M3P players.
There were some recent computer software glitches with the agriculture ministry’s CropLine so the latest downloadable audio version on the website was April 23. The most recent recorded phone version is from May 5 and covers common weed control questions.
Cowbrough says there are 700 to 1,000 people listening to and downloading the CropLine service and that’s about the same as when Johnson hosted it. He adds it’s too soon to tell if Johnson’s Wheat Pete’s Word is taking users away from the ministry’s CropLine. “I’m sure the answer to that will ultimately be ‘yes.’”
Johnson’s service to provide a recorded message over the phone began about two weeks ago, while his web-based service began about a month ago, Cowbrough says, adding it’s the same service as the ministry’s.
“People have asked about it (Wheat Pete’s Word) over CropLine and I’ve given out that number to them,” Cowbrough says. “It’s a very personal medium and he’s developed a relationship over a long period of time and people want to listen to him.”
Cowbrough says they’d like to think people will listen to both services but “the reality is there will be a good chunk of people that would rather listen to Peter. He has a good following and I’m sure that will affect the audience” of CropLine.
Johnson could not be reached for comment. BF