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For years, Utahns who wanted information on everything from farming to urban gardens and from computers to youth programs could contact local Utah State University extension agents scattered throughout the state.

That's still true, but USU has made it easier. USU extension has now entered the technological age, setting up a statewide communications network. Satellite dishes have been installed at 12 of the 30 USU extension offices to date, but the goal is to link every county office to USU over the next two years.Monday, USU extension officials at the school's Salt Lake County office used a visit by the new USU vice president of extension and continuing education, Robert Gilliland, and USU President George Emert to promote the new communications system.

In the past, Emert explained, a rancher, for example, who needed help would request it from the county extension agent who, in turn, would send a letter to a USU expert.

Now a rancher who visits his local USU extension office can get a response in several different forms, including through a computer link to USU or via the satellite communications system, Emert said.

And with the satellite system, USU has interactive, two-way communication capabilities. The university can also beam USU pro-grams, workshops, conferences and classes to its extension offices around the state.

Gilliland said he envisions the day when a Utahn can connect via a home computer to the USU extension services. "That's where we're headed," he said.

The new vice president called the USU extension service, which makes available the latest USU research, an excellent return for Utah taxpayers.

The extension service has saved Utahns and Utah businesses $19 million, including more than $900,000 in a sheep tick control effort, Emert said.