Wikipedia has replaced encyclopedias as the go-to tool for people conducting a little research — and that’s just what Alberta Pulse Growers is banking on with the launch of its pulse crop wiki.
“The PulsePOD — or the pulse crop wiki, as we sometimes call it — is designed to take the place of a paper manual that was created some years ago,” said Leanne Fischbuch, executive director of Alberta Pulse Growers.
“Our organization wanted to have something that was updated and accessible for growers, and in the age of new technology, a manual in hard copy didn’t really seem to be the way to go.”
The POD — which stands for Pulse Online Database — was designed to look and work like Wikipedia, where people can access the most current information on a given topic from their smartphones or computers, said Fischbuch.
“Our goal is to see the PulsePOD become a way for us to extend information from our research projects and extension projects and be able to put up relevant, current, and proven scientific information up on the site as soon as we get it,” she said.
One of the challenges of conducting agricultural research is that the reports are usually “very scientific,” said Fischbuch, and as a result, the papers tend to gather dust on the shelf.
“Sometimes, the information is hard to distil down to a level that’s useful, where growers can grasp what the research was about and how it would benefit them,” she said.
“We feel that we can get that information distilled into the wiki format easily.”
That means working with researchers to make sure they communicate their results “in a way that’s easy for growers to understand,” with pulse growers’ staff populating the wiki with updated information. But eventually, researchers and other experts will be able to make changes themselves.
“We hope to see our researchers become engaged and help support it by providing information through the wiki format,” she said. “What we see in the future is working with them to give them access to the wiki to post their results.”
The wiki format offers “controls” so that “you don’t just get anybody putting random information about pulse crops up on the site,” said Fischbuch.
“There are controls in place with the wiki format, where we are gatekeepers who can add information to the site.”
With the increase of pulse crop acres over the past five years — including relative newcomer faba beans (which saw acreage nearly triple to 80,000 acres last year) — the wiki holds “a lot of knowledge” for both first-time growers and seasoned veterans seeking the latest agronomic information.
“We’re constantly learning about new best practices for the different crops,” said Fischbuch. “Once we have research that’s been completed and published, we can add that new information up on the site to keep people on top of the advancements.”
Keeping information current will be the biggest priority — and the biggest hurdle — moving forward, she said.
“That was one of the challenges with the previous paper copy of the manual,” said Fischbuch. “While it was a fantastic resource and a good base for growers, because it was developed years ago and not updated, there were a lot of things that were out of date.”
The pulse crop wiki is available at the POD website.