DICKINSON, N.D. – Out in the fields west of NDSU’s Dickinson Research Extension Center (DREC), where crop variety and other research trials are held, filming for a virtual field day took place June 23.

NDSU’s research centers have never had virtual field days before, but COVID-19 is making the change for them.

“COVID-19 has created some challenging times for our ag producers, and our Research Extension Center (REC) network has also had to make some adjustments, including moving many of our field day events to a virtual format,” said Greg Lardy, interim director for NDSU Extension.

“While this is certainly different than the way we have conducted field days in the past, we hope this shift allows producers to get the knowledge and information they need and provides appropriate flexibility in their schedules to attend a number of different field days without the need for additional travel,” Lardy said.

Bruce Sundeen, NDSU electronic media specialist at NDSU Ag Communications, pointed his 4Kvideo camcorder at Ryan Buetow, NDSU DREC cropping systems specialist, filming an overview of field days. Up next was Chris Augustin, director of NDSU DREC.

Sundeen plans to take the videos at all the research centers this week, while Scott Swanson, also an NDSU electronic media specialist, films the Agronomy Seed Farm in Casselton.

“We’ll take videos this week, edit them next week and have them ready for each center’s field day – hopefully,” Sundeen said.

In spite of the adversities and risks producers have had to endure in 2020, NDSU is ensuring they stay updated with the latest crop and livestock research – all be it through a virtual field day format.

“I know our scientists and staff are excited to talk about the work they are doing and to showcase the projects that are vitally important to the future of agriculture in the region," Lardy said.

Chris Augustin, director of NDSU DREC, said the virtual field day format was a great idea because it allows NDSU Extension to get their research out to producers during these unique circumstance.

“I do enjoy greeting people, shaking hands, and this is not a replacement for that. I see this as great way to reach a broader audience with our research,” Augustin said. “You’ll be able to sit down for an hour or so and hear an overview of all the field days – anytime, day or night.”

That makes it very convenient for producers and others who are interested in what research is going on at the centers.

Augustin hopes the pre-recorded videos continue in the future – along with in-person field days.

To that end, NDSU Ag Communications has trained the scientists at the centers on how to make a video, with advice on lighting, sound and other tips.

Whether live over Zoom or recorded for the website, all seven NDSU RECs and the Agronomy Seed Farm will have some sort of virtual field day in July or August.

Becky Koch, NDSU Ag Communications, said Sundeen will travel across the state, recording whatever the research center wants to showcase to producers.

Koch is hoping each research center focuses more on “results” during their pre-recording rather than just a description of research.

Each REC can choose from 1-3 options for their virtual field day, including: pre-recorded video presentations of each scientist’s research to be posted on the REC’s website on their designated field day; a presentation followed by a Q&A session live over Zoom on the designated field day; and/or each REC may have a small in-person field day.

The only other center that is planning an in-person field day, so far, is NDSU Hettinger Research Extension Center (HREC). HREC’s scientists were recorded in the morning on June 23.

Both DREC and HREC are requiring that people pre-register for the field day, as only a small number of people will be allowed due to social distancing. There will be no food served.

“It is required by NDSU and state guidelines that people do need to pre-register before attending an in-person field day, and it will only be a limited number of people that can attend. No one can just show up and go to the field day,” Koch said.

A committee headed by Chris Schauer, NDSU HREC director, initially came up with the idea of videos being recorded for the REC websites for virtual field days.

All the research centers saw it as a good way to go this year, with COVID-19 still battering the nation, although numbers are low in North Dakota.

“We’re hoping the virtual field day actually expands the number of producers who have access to the information (research),” Koch said. “It is always fun and interesting to be there in person and to develop those relationships, but as far as the reach, we’re hoping producers from other states, around the country, or even in Canada, watch the videos.”

Producers, who see the videos and still have questions about the research, are encouraged to reach out to the scientists at the research center.

Koch explained that if the research center is having a live Zoom meeting during their field day, producers could sit in their sprayers or in their shop, tune in and ask a question after the presentation.

The Q&A session is an important addition for the centers.

“Questions are always important to be answered, and that is why many of the research centers are choosing to do a live virtual field day over Zoom, show their pre-recorded videos and have a live Q&A,” she said.

Research may be totally different at other centers.

“Producers will have the opportunity to see research that they may never have heard about before,” Koch said. “Crops and research may be different in another area of the state. In fact, people from all other states or anywhere in the country could tune in and see our research.”

Koch talked about what NDSU Ag Communications does for the NDSU network. They assist centers in communications, write NDSU press releases on ag topics and staff hires, and take videos for YouTube and NDSU websites, among other communication work.

Her office provides each center with a template so they can create a website.

Currently, they are creating an Ag Hub online.

“We are working on an Ag Hub. If someone wants to know about a topic, say hemp, they can go to this site and it will link to the information about it,” she said. “We are trying to pull the content together to better serve our users.”

For Sundeen, traveling throughout the state to all the research centers has been an enjoyable experience.

“I learn a lot about research while filming,” Sundeen said. “I filmed a horticulturist and learned so much about how to care for my own lawn and garden. I use the information I hear.”

He is planning to do a second round at the RECs in August.

“Jerry Bergman at Williston Research Extension Center requested he come back. For one thing, the size of the crops will be different in a month,” Koch said. “In addition, some centers want to feature crops now and livestock or other research later.”

For more information on what each research center and the seed farm have planned for field days, see the list at www.ag.ndsu.edu/research/field-days.