There has been so much information shared this past year — especially virtually. It can be difficult to determine credible information from non-sense. If you’re going to be applying these practices to your farm and/or business, you need to have confidence in the information you are receiving.

Let’s face it, anyone can share information online or at a meeting; how do you know what to believe? I asked Suzanne Wainwright Evans, Buglady Consulting, who has extensive experience in guiding people in her industry as they determine the credibility of information.

For Suzanne, it comes down to a few simple concepts that could be carried out in person or virtually. Don’t worry, I already checked her credibility and, believe me, she checked mine too before we talked!

  • Have a set of “pre-loaded” questions. These may be ones that you know the science-based answer to, or have experience with, or maybe they are just questions that require a common-sense answer. Asking these questions will allow you to gauge the response of the individual sharing information. Have a few of these ready to ask and have an idea of the answer you expect.
  • Think about the presenter’s motivation. Do they have something to sell? Are they willing to recommend someone else’s product or just their own? Try to think through their thought process as they share information and why they may be sharing that information. You can always find out more about your source to help pin down motivations. A basic web search to find their webpage or profile on LinkedIn can help. Sometimes you can gather motivations by checking posts on Twitter or another social media source.
  • Ask yourself, are they qualified to share the information I just heard from them? If they are talking about soils, do they have the credentials to do so? Again, that web search is going to be helpful here. Also check out their employment history and look for job hopping and rapid expertise changes. Have they suddenly become a soil health expert after being trained and having a career as a something totally unrelated? Maybe they should have training in soil science to have some basic understanding of this complex system before you take their recommendations at face value.
  • Think critically. This is the most important one. If something they say doesn’t make sense to you, then take the time to think it through. Why doesn’t it make sense? Or why does it make sense? Did you believe them because they were a dynamic speaker, a popular presenter on the circuit or is there substance behind what you hear that actually makes sense to you?

Suzanne encourages her clients, and I will be encouraging all the farmers I work with, to follow all or some of these concepts. If something doesn’t make sense, then take the time to question it. Question all your sources of information to reduce the risk of adopting new practices or approaches on your farm. In fact, you can start your investigations now by looking up Suzanne (https://bugladyconsulting.com) and me (https://www.ndsu.edu/soilhealth) to decide if we are qualified to provide guidance on this topic!

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Abbey Wick is an Extension soil health specialist at North Dakota State University.