April 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 2 // Feature Articles // 2FEA6

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"The Impact of the Poultry Industry on the Environment" National Satellite Videoconference

"The Impact of the Poultry Industry on the Environment" National Satellite Videoconference is a method of delivering public policy education through distance education. Its success is based on a network of people concerned about this environmental issue and the dialogue generated during the videoconference. Over 90 people participated from around the country. Collaborators included Extension personnel, League of Women Voters, environmentalists, and the poultry industry. This is a "satellite town meeting" model for future Extension public policy education programs. The Extension System needs to be prepared for the multi-media revolution in distance education.

Sue Buck
Southeast District Home Economics Program Specialist
Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service
Ada, Oklahoma
Internet address: sue.buck@origins.bbs.voknor.edu

As the Cooperative Extension System evolves its efforts from a disciplinary agenda to issue-based programming, there is greater opportunity for interdisciplinary approaches within the organization using technology to address controversial issues. Extension has historically provided unbiased educational information to address issues of common concern. Using videoconferencing as a tool to do this is a relatively new method in the last 15 years. Networking with outside resources to accomplish a public policy education videoconference is a recent occurrence.

Why Videoconferencing?

When a public policy issue has broad appeal and impacts more than one state, videoconferencing is a solution to bring all parties to the table. It enables those persons concerned with an issue to be involved and it promotes dialogue among the participants. According to Geri Gay (1982) "Video can also be used to document physical conditions requiring change. It's a valuable tool for providing evidence to the opposing sides, when they may not understand the actual conditions or environmental concerns" (p. 24). With these thoughts in mind, "The Impact of the Poultry Industry on the Environment" National Satellite Videoconference was conceived, developed, and broadcasted by the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service and the U.S. and Oklahoma League of Women Voters.


The increasing consumption of poultry products, fueled by health concerns, has created the demand for more chicken and turkey production and processing. In the past decade or so, Oklahoma's poultry industry, located in the extreme eastern counties of the state along the Missouri/Arkansas borders, has more than quadrupled in economic importance. The farm value of broilers has increased from $54 million in 1982 to more than $240 million annually in 1992. In that same time, it has become the third largest component of Oklahoma's agricultural economy. It's projected that the industry will grow by an additional 40% by the end of this decade, according to Doye, Bellinghausen, Green, and Berry (1991).

The Issue

As agriculture comes under increasing environmental scrutiny, citizens and officials are voicing more and more concern over the potential environmental impacts of livestock operations, especially confinement systems. In the case of poultry, water quality is a major issue.

Eastern Oklahoma residents and others who utilize water from the Illinois River basin for consumption and recreation, question the impact of this industry on the quality of their water resources. Additionally, this region of the state is well aware of the tourism value of its natural resources, especially water. Fishing, swimming, boating, and river floating are key recreational industries. These industries depend upon clean water, but have the potential to create as many, if not more, pollution problems than agriculture.

The Partnerships

Clean water has become a major policy issue which has captured the interest of many organizations, including the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service (OCES) and the Oklahoma League of Women Voters. Since both organizations are concerned with providing citizens with educational information upon which to base informed decisions, a partnership was formed to produce a nationally distributed satellite videoconference, "The Impact of the Poultry Industry on the Environment," which was aired on May 12, 1992.

This project brought together many people from various disciplines and agencies. The Southeast District Home Economics Program Specialist, through contacts with the Oklahoma League of Women Voters, was able to obtain an agriculture community education grant from the U.S. League of Women Voters Education Fund; the state poultry specialist was able to identify key information sources and persuade them to participate in the program; and members of the Oklahoma State University Agricultural Communications staff provided the television, press and publications expertise to produce, publicize, and market the program.

The Videoconference

The videoconference focused on three key environmental areas related to poultry: litter waste disposal, processing waste, and dead bird handling. Utilizing both live and pre-taped segments, the program highlighted the potential problems and the various methods to address them. Attention was focused on a great deal of pro-active effort initiated by the poultry industry to prevent environmental problems.

Industry representatives, environmentalists, regulators, research specialists, and poultry producers appeared on the program, live or on tape, to examine aspects of the industry from each individual's perspective. Pre-taped segments were followed by brief discussion, which transitioned to a live, phone-in question and answer session.

The thrust of the information was to provide accurate, non-advocacy information regarding the issue of poultry and clean water. The different perspectives of the individual panel members provided the audience with a broad-base of facts and opinions. The consensus of these different perspectives was that the poultry industry has a great potential for adversely affecting water quality. The poultry industry is extremely aware of this and, at this time, is very proactive in promoting best management practices to minimize or eliminate water quality problems.

The videoconference was promoted through a variety of media. Printed material (including news releases, a flier, and camera ready copy for a brochure) was mailed to State League of Women Voters organizations, State Cooperative Extension Services, and national poultry associations prior to the broadcast. Similar materials were transmitted via electronic mail to poultry, home economics, and communications specialists at land grant universities across the nation. Additional marketing was conducted under the auspices of the Agricultural Satellite Corporation (AG*SAT).

The Participants

To encourage pre-registration, satellite coordinates of the program were only released to those who contacted OCES Agricultural Communications. More than 90 people pre-registered from 56 communities in 26 states, from Hawaii to Delaware, and from Minnesota to Louisiana.

Pre-registrants were mailed a packet of resource materials, including fact sheets and research bulletins. These resources were provided to give viewers extra background information on the issues. They were also designed to allow local sites to conduct "wrap around" sessions for discussions about the issues prior to and immediately following the videoconference.

The Results

A follow-up evaluation was mailed one month after the event to over 90 participants. Nearly one-half of those surveyed responded, with responses varying from "well done" to "wishy washy". Responses depended upon the individual's expectations and knowledge of the issues.

Those with technical skills found the program elementary. Some environmentalists expressed disappointment that the program did not "come down hard" on the poultry industry. Those with little or no pre-knowledge found the program helpful.

Intended to be a general education program for the lay public, the program focused on education rather than advocacy. An attempt was made to provide information from all sides of the issues. There was no intent to produce a "60 Minutes" confrontational "expose'." There was intent, however, to present facts, without editorial comment, to allow the public to make its own decision.

In addition to the initial airing of the videoconference, a tape of this program was placed in OCES's videotape lending library, making it available to every Extension agent and interested citizen in the state. Also, portions of this program were used to provide news features on OCES's SUNUP news magazine--a daily TV program aired over Oklahoma's state-wide public television network (OETA), reaching nearly 85,000 viewers per day. Many of these news reports were re-broadcast over OETA's evening newscast, which boasts a daily audience of 110,000. Finally, two feature segments were also used for OCES's OKLAHOMA GARDENING program, also aired on OETA, attracting 150,000 viewers per week. In total, more than a quarter of a million citizens in Oklahoma (the primary target audience), were presented with all or part of the videoconference information.

The Implications

Overall, the program was well received and was cited for being a positive learning experience. It helped expand working networks within Oklahoma, and it now serves as a role model for others to build non-traditional program linkages with organizations outside of our traditional networks. It is hoped that these new linkages can be utilized to expand the population base for future educational programs of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service.

Implications are great for future Extension program delivery methods. Many universities today have uplinking capabilities and more people have access to downlink sites, which make "satellite town meetings" within a state and across the nation a reality. The Iowa Public Policy Education Project (PPEP) used a similar format with their videoconferences that were a series of issue programs focused on Iowans' concerns. Videoconferencing allows the timeliness of the issue to be addressed by bringing the current information about an issue to the public through the interactive quality of the program.

Videoconferencing is only one step toward the "multimedia revolution in education." In the November-December, 1994 issue of The Futurist, William E. Halal and Jay Liebowitz indicated that interactive multimedia systems promise to revolutionize education. "Distance learning can be viewed as a vast increase in the range of instruction, permitting especially gifted lecturers to reach an almost limitless number of students around the world, while other teachers give the students individual assistance," according to Halal and Liebowitz (1994, p. 23). This promotes a lifelong learning system that allows almost anyone to learn almost anything from anywhere at anytime. The combination of videoconferences and computers will provide a powerful dynamic in the 21st century.

Gary E. Miller, assistant vice president for distance education at Pennsylvania State University, states that "Now technologies such as teleconferencing, the Internet, and other interactive media not only allow students to study at an individual pace but to interact with each other, with their teachers, and with the universe of information sources, from databases to international libraries" (Halal & Liebowitz, 1994, p. 25). He goes on to say that "Universities will become true communities of scholars and will focus not on how education is delivered but on the content of education and on developing learning communities" (Halal & Liebowitz, 1994, p. 25). The potential for developing these learning communities through the Extension Systems' use of its technical ability provides the broadest application of the collaboration process in discussing public policy issues.


Doye, D., Bellinghausen, B., Green, P., & Berry, J. (1991). The poultry sector: An overview. Stillwater: Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service Fact Sheet.

Gay, Geri. (1982). Using video to resolve community conflict. Journal of Extension, March/April, 21.

Halal, W., & Liebowitz, J. (1994, November-December). Telelearning: The multimedia revolution in education. The Futurist, p. 21.