A new Web site for news and interactive learning promises to be a whole new way of doing business for the U.S. Cooperative Extension Service, thanks to the widespread use and popularity of the Internet by U.S. farmers.

Cotton eXtension, which will be launched Jan. 8 at the 2008 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Nashville, Tenn., will be one of many Web communities within a national eXtension initiative which has been signed onto by each land-grant university.

eXtension already has several live sites with information on horses, personal finance, dairy cattle and fire ants. The national site will launch officially in February 2008.

According to Louisiana Extension cotton specialist Sandy Stewart, “The concept of eXtension is to build an interactive learning environment that’s Web-based. It’s a portal to the nation’s largest educational information system, and is branded with the individual university Extension identifications. It’s really a different way of doing business for Cooperative Extension Services across the country.

Cotton eXtension is no less an undertaking, according to Stewart. “It’s not only a library of information on cotton production, but we will have learning modules, where growers, consultants and others can get continuing education credits. We’re just at the tip of the iceberg of what we can do with these tools.”

“We feel like this site has the potential to reach a broad audience,” said Joel Faircloth, Extension cotton agronomist, Virginia Tech University, during a recent teleconference. “Crop consultants and producers are now using the Web more than ever, and the number is increasing.”

“The eXtension platform provides us an opportunity to bring together experts from across the United States to address problems,” said Dale Monks, cotton agronomist, Auburn University. “So really, the sky is the limit with the eXtension platform.”

Cotton eXtension “will serve as a reference for all phases of cotton production, and address issues of pressing importance,” Stewart said. “It will be a one-stop place to access individual state pest management recommendations, variety trial information and Extension newsletters. Every effort will be made to localize the information as much as possible.”

The Cotton eXtension effort is being led by Extension cotton specialists across the nation, who are currently generating the content for the interactive Web site. Content posted on each eXtension site will go through a review process before it’s posted live, noted Stewart.

The service is free, but if users provide some login information the first time they visit, then the site can be personalized to their locality and interests. Cotton eXtension will also include a frequently-asked-questions feature and searchable database.

Once it launches, Cotton eXtension will be available 24/7 for 365 days out of the year, said Stewart. Extension directors across the Cotton Belt are funding the eXtension effort, but more partnerships could be available. The national site is located at www.extension.org.

email: erobinson@farmpress.com