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Be a “Bell Cow”

Early adapters put research and recommendations to the test.

Raney Rapp, Senior Writer

April 30, 2024

2 Min Read
Rice Irrigation
Bell cows are the ones that lead the crowd, like first adapters for new irrigation technology.SebastianKnight/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Peer leaders. Early adopters. Bell Cows. Farmers on the forefront go by a lot of unique names but the impacts one well-meaning plow pusher can have on the greater industry are profound.

If you didn’t grow up in a dairy barn like me, a bell cow is the cow that signals the start of a milk shift. Essentially, when the time is right – according to her – she starts the march from field to stall, bell ringing to alert the other cows along the way and the rest fall in behind her.

For agricultural advancement and research, “Bell Cows” are early adopters - people who put research or recommendations to the test in the rigorous real world of their own farms and let friends, neighbors, researchers, and fellow farmers know how it worked.

A study conducted at the University of Arkansas in 2023 found that peer influence is strong especially in irrigation practice choices in the Mississippi Delta. What does that mean? Basically, a farmer with a friend or neighbor who uses flow meters is more likely to use them himself. The same principle was found to be true over a wide variety of practices like center pivots and scientific scheduling.

I like to think of peer influence as being less like the old adage about jumping off a bridge just because a friend is doing it, and more like purchasing an item or service that has plenty of positive reviews.

Early adopters or “Bell Cows” jump in when there is still an unknown element to a new practice or technology. They put new ideas to the test in a relatable, achievable way that is unique to agriculture.

The entire land grant education system depends on early adopters to provide a proving ground for agricultural research, to promote profitable and safe ag practices and to educate friends and neighbors in a low-pressure, relatable way.

The result is progressive improvement in solutions for farmers that actually work, that have value in the real world and can foundationally change the way ag in our nation operates.

When an early adopter invests in a new idea, brings it to culmination and shares the results, everyone along the supply chain benefits from that investment. And often, early adopters themselves see the best financial return from jumping into uncharted territories first.

Do you have what it takes to lead the way? I know immediately a friend or neighbor comes to mind as an early adopter. Everyone likes to have a trusted source of information in their corner. But consider becoming a “Bell Cow.” A little courage, an open mind, and a willingness to try are all it takes to make a big difference.

Bell Cows take on the risk.

Bell Cows lead the way.

Bell Cows tell a friend.

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About the Author(s)

Raney Rapp

Senior Writer, Delta Farm Press

Delta Farm Press Senior Writer

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