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Risky venture reaches milestone: 1,000 posts on farmdoc daily

Published March 23, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – Four years ago, a crazy idea was hatched: post an original article that analyzed an aspect of Corn Belt farm economics every day. Today, University of Illinois agricultural economist Darrel Good had the honor of posting the 1,000th article on farmdoc daily.

The daily economics blog-style website was the brainchild of U of I agricultural economist Scott Irwin. He was the driving force behind its parent site farmdoc in 1999 and recognized the need for a change.

“By 2010, the smartphone/tablet revolution was in full swing, and blogs and 24/7 news sites were gaining in popularity,” Irwin said. “Farmers were using their smartphones as a portable office. That technology met their needs because they didn’t have to be tied to a desk. They were telling us that they loved farmdoc but wanted it in a more easy-to-read format on their phone. Our old legacy site was not mobile friendly.”

Irwin said that he became convinced that they needed to try something that was risky for an academic unit—create a monster that needed to be fed every day. Now he just had to convince the rest of the team.

“As director of the farmdoc project, I believe it’s important that all decisions are unanimous,” Irwin said. “I proposed this idea in February 2011. You could have heard a pin drop. They just blinked and said, ‘Do you really think we can pull off publishing every day?’ because we hadn’t come close to that with the old farmdoc site. A few people said that they really liked the idea but that it would never work, that we couldn’t supply that volume of high-quality articles. I worried about that an awful lot. And, in that first year, there were some pretty shaky times getting the articles generated. I’ve had to write quickly to fill in a few times when someone couldn’t meet the deadline, but that hasn’t happened very often.”

Irwin said that he intentionally wanted the word “daily” in the title to communicate the frequency up front and “tie the team to the mast.” The team includes 13 U of I agricultural economists, Chris Hurt from Purdue who submits posts on livestock economics, and Carl Zulauf from Ohio State who is a policy specialist. Mark Althouse serves as project coordinator with his assistant Hongxia Jiao.

“We’d like to attract a few more authors who are outside of this department to write on special topics,” Irwin said. “Long term, we’ll need to look at who will replace some of the team members when they decide to retire.”

According to Irwin, the team’s biggest challenge at this point is that they didn’t anticipate having 1,000 articles to archive. Consequently, they are working on ways to provide better search tools and categories so that it will be easy for people to find what they need.

The project has two corporate sponsorships – TIAA-CREF and Farm Credit – to help provide the base funding. farmdoc daily articles are distributed to over 11,000 subscribers via email and has over 1,300 Twitter followers. Irwin said that during the recent Farm Bill cycle, the site received 6,000 to 7,000 visits per day, and although about 85 percent of the visits are from users in the United States, every month the site has visitors from almost every country in the world.