Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 4, Issue 1 - June, 2011

The Effect Of RSVPs On Attendance Of Agriculture Producers At Extension Events

Wilde, T., Millard County Extension Agent, Utah State University Extension

ABSTRACT

The Effect Of RSVPs On Attendance Of Agriculture Producers At Extension Events

Wilde, T.

Extension Agent, Utah State University Extension, Millard County, Delta, Utah 84624

Attendance of agricultural producers at Extension events has been difficult to achieve.  Agricultural production has been a very unpredictable occupation.  This unpredictability discouraged agricultural producers from committing to Extension events that requested a RSVP.  Not requesting an RSVP allowed agricultural producers the flexibility of making a last minute decision to attend Extension events.   When this flexibility was combined with a reminder within twenty four hours of an Extension event, 47.6% of contacted producers attended the event.


The Effect of RSVPs on Attendance of Agricultural Producers at Extension Events

 

Introduction

The traditional workshop format has proven to be a viable tool in Extension (Torell, Bruce & Kvasnicka, 1999).  Some Extension Agents have lacked the programming skills necessary to be successful in Extension (Gibson & Brown, 2002).  Defining the needs of the customer base has proven to be an essential step in program development (Bazik & Feltes, 1999).  Agricultural producer participation in Extension activities has been difficult to achieve (Miller & Cox, 2006).  This study explored the effect RSVPs (formal requests asking for a commitment to attend an event) had on full-time agricultural producer attendance at Extension events.

Methods

In February of 2010, Utah Department of Agriculture and Food in cooperation with Utah State University Extension encouraged private pesticide applicators to become licensed in compliance with state and federal regulations.  Pesticide licensing workshops were organized throughout the state.  These workshops targeted agricultural producers who use restricted use pesticides on their own property.  The workshops did not require the producers to RSVP.  Attendance at the workshops was high throughout the state.  In Millard County alone, seventy two private pesticide applicators were licensed.

Because of the large response, additional private pesticide licensing workshops were organized in November of 2010.  Due to overcrowding at some of the smaller sites throughout the state during the February 2010 workshops, it was decided that an RSVP would be requested for the November workshops.

Millard County has a very large facility, so overcrowding was not a problem at the February workshops at the Millard site.  But, because the program was administered from a state level, RSVPs were requested for all workshops throughout the state- including Millard County.

Millard County is one of the top two agricultural production counties in the State of Utah and is one of the few counties in Utah where agricultural production remains the main source of income for many county residents.  This demographic produces a clientele pool that responds differently to organized events than areas where the clientele consists largely of part-time farmers.

Full-time agricultural producers are forced to make their agricultural production needs the top priority because their livelihood is completely dependent on agricultural production.  The priority of agricultural production to full-time producers coupled with the unpredictable nature of agricultural production makes it difficult for full-time producers to commit to scheduled events.  Often, their schedules are altered on a daily basis due to weather, animal behavior/health and other unpredictable factors determined by nature.

This reality created the concern that the full-time agricultural producers in Millard County would avoid committing to an RSVP because they may not know if they would be able to keep the commitment.  It also created the concern, if they were not comfortable making the commitment of an RSVP, even if they were available the day of the workshop, they would not come, because they hadn’t RSVP’d and would feel they were unexpected.

These concerns were verified when only ten RSVPs were received for the November 2010 private pesticide workshop with only two of these being full-time agricultural producers.  Although a drop in attendance was expected due to the large number of producers licensed in the February 2010 workshop, the drop was significantly larger than expected. 

An analysis of the drop in attendance suggested that the larger than anticipated drop in attendance may have been affected by the request of an RSVP.  This suspicion was verified at a local Conservation District meeting later that month where a Conservation District Board Member reported he had been approached by agricultural producers in the area who wanted to attend the pesticide licensing workshop but did not because they had not RSVP’d.  This information confirmed the earlier suspicions that the request for a RSVP had affected attendance at the November workshop.

With this information, a small study was devised to further substantiate the affect RSVPs may have on attendance of full-time agricultural producers at Extension events.

Several Extension events were scheduled in the months of January and February 2011.  Some of these events requested an RSVP and others did not.  Attendance was tracked and results evaluated.

The first event did not request an RSVP and yielded very low participation with only four people attending.

The second event did request RSVPs.  Only six RSVPs were received for this event with no full-time agricultural producers RSVPing.  The total participation was ten with only two full-time agricultural producers in attendance.

The third event was held in February 2011.  RSVP’s were not requested for this event, but a targeted group of full-time agricultural producers were contacted with a personal visit within twenty four hours of the event. 

Attendance at the third event was significantly higher than at the previous two events in the study.  Eighteen people attended the event.  Of the eighteen people attending the event, fourteen were full-time agricultural producers.  Of the fourteen full-time agricultural producers attending the event, ten of them were from the group of full-time agricultural producers contacted within the previous twenty four hours.

In total, twenty one full-time agricultural producers were contacted in the twenty four hour period before the third event.  Ten of the twenty one were present at the event yielding a 47.6% response rate from those contacted immediately prior to the event.

Conclusions

Although not requesting an RSVP did not appear to increase the attendance of full-time agricultural producers at Extension events, removing RSVPs from event planning allowed full-time agricultural producers the flexibility to make a last minute decision to attend.  When this flexibility was combined with a last-minute personal reminder of the event, participation of full-time agricultural producers at theExtension event increased significantly.

Discussion

This study included three separate Extension events with different topics.  Ideally, the events in this study would have been identical removing any bias topic preference or other factors may have played in the results.  Unfortunately, the reality of Extension programming made an ideal scenario extremely difficult to design.  Further study is needed to conclusively determine the affect RSVPs have on full-time agricultural producer attendance at Extension events.

It should also be noted that removing RSVPs from event planning can create issues with overcrowding, food arrangements, hand outs, etc.  These are very real issues events planners should consider before eliminating RSVPs from event planning.  In situations where agriculture agents have had a difficult time getting full-time agricultural producers to attend Extension events, finding creative ways to deal with unpredictable attendance may be worth the effort to attract more clients from this demographic.

References

Bazik, M. & Feltes, D. (1999). Defining your customer profile- an essential tool. Journal of Extension [Online], 37(6) Article 6FEA4. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1999december/a4.php

Gibson, J. D. & Brown, A. S. (2002). Maximizing agents’ effectiveness: Virginia Cooperative Extension’s answer to training new Extension agents.Journal of Extension [Online], 40(1) Article 1TOT4. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2002february/tt4.php

Miller, R. L., & Cox, L. (2006). Technology transfer preferences of researcher and producers in sustainable agriculture. Journal of Extension [Online], 44(3) Article 3RIB2. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2006june/rb2p.shtml

Torell, R., Bruce, B. & Kvasnicka, B. (1999). Promoting and organizing agricultural Extension meetings. Journal of Extension [Online], 37(1) Article 1TOT1. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1999february/tt1.php