With the end of our eighth and final training in April 2007, we celebrate the culmination of the Eco-Apple Project’s SARE Professional Development Program (PDP). More than 100 Extension educators, NRCS field and state office staff, conservation employees, and private consultants participated in the workshops and field days. We began this project in 2005 in hopes that the project would produce more Eco-Apple grower networks, more professional support for growers learning IPM, and robust EQIP involvement. The project resulted in considerably more support for fruit growers in the state.
The purpose of our work was to engage agricultural service providers on pest management issues faced by modest-scale commercial fruit growers. Protecting local sources of apples is key to maintaining food crop diversity and supporting a local food economy. Without assistance in reducing reliance on high-risk pesticides, these growers face an uncertain future as pesticide regulations are strenghtened in response to real risks to human health and the environment.
Currently the single biggest obstacle to success in our local fruit industry’s efforts to reduce pesticide risk is the lack of coaching. The limited number of people available to provide IPM coaching is due in part to the fact that IPM in apple production is particularly challenging and there are great distances between growers, thereby making it difficult to make money as a crop consultant.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
We originally planned to conduct three interactive workshops targeted to county-based Extension educators. Instead, our workshops attracted participation from a diverse audience interested in apple production, including NRCS field and state staff, land conservation staff, and private consultants.
We were also able to stretch resources so that the grant, originally intended to cover costs associated with three workshops, partially supported eight separate events. Details of the first seven events are discussed in project reports for Report Years 2005 and 2006.
Our last PDP session was with staff from Wisconsin county Land Conservation Departments. Regina Hirsch along with Dave Pagoria, apple grower from Lincoln County, presented the Eco-Fruit project and new EQIP 595 Standard for Wisconsin orchardists to the Wisconsin Association for Land Conservation Employees (WALCE) on Thursday April 12, 2007. There were 38 counties represented at that meeting.
We ended the project with a bang — a thank you letter for participating in events went out to all. The letter included a review of project successes and recognized the special efforts of the “PDP grads” who further engaged apple growers in their work. All received a copy of the “Field Guide for Identification of Pest Insects, Diseases, and Beneficial Organisms in Minnesota Strawberry Plantings” and were encouraged to stay in touch with the Eco-Fruit project.
Outreach and Publications
We plan to write up our work on these training sessions for publication. In the meantime, we have given presentations at two national meetings on our work, particularly the effort to up-grade EQIP to serve apple growers. Work to revise the 595 standard to better address orchard grower needs would not have been possible without SARE’s support for an on-going training effort inclusive of NRCS and LCDs.
Our proposed outcomes were modest — to introduce Extension educators to sustainable apple production practices; to increase educators contact with researchers on campus; and to strengthen information channels between apple growers and other agricultural professionals.
Five networks of growers are now up and running, up from two in 2004 when the training began. Grower networks are in Bayfield County, Chippewa Valley, Northeast WI, Southeast WI, and Dane County. Workshop participants stepped up to facilitate these networks. Jerry Clark of UW Extension, with help from apple grower Craig Schultz, is heading up the Chippewa Valley Network. Extension agent Jason Fischbach hit the ground running as facilitator of the Bayfield County network after Vijai Pandian left to work for UWEX-Brown County. Both Jerry and Jason worked with the program to secure money for field interns through June 2009. PDP participant Tom Green of the IPM Institute and student intern Libby Rens are working with the Dane County Network funded through a grant secured by Tom, and Matt Stasiak of the Peninsular Agriculture Research Station continues to work with Northeast apple growers. John Aue of Threshold IPM services is now the network facilitator for the Southeast Network after Kristen Kleeburger was promoted to a new position within Extension.
In addition, to this increased support for network facilitatation, apple growers can now count on help from new Eco-Apple staff members. PDP participant Regina Hirsch began her association with the project as a consultant, and has now moved on to a staff position within CIAS. Regina takes the lead on EQIP and abandoned orchard efforts, as well as making sure that project data is collected and analyzed for apple and strawberry growers. In 2006, Regina Hirschand NRCS State Resource Conservationist Pat Murphy (also a PDP “grad”) worked with the Apple-Cherry EQIP Subcommittee to successfully make the case for a $120 per acre EQIP cost share for apple growers to cover basic or advanced methods. This is a marked increase from the $39 per acre cost share available to growers in 2005 and 2006.
Eight workshops served to catalyze the following accomplishments.
* Seven participants from our early training sessions are actively involved in supporting farmers and farmer networks in their efforts to grow apples more sustainably.
* Three new farmer networks are up-and-running.
* The project made it possible to up-grade our state EQIP program to better support orchard growers.
* Wisconsin’s EQIP 595 standard for orchardists was twice a core topic in training for IPM Extension educators and others around the country.
More than any other lesson, we’ve learned that education is an interative process. As this project has unfolded, new audiences and opportunities presented themselves. What started out as a straightforward effort to educate Extension staff on challenges facing apple growers morphed into an opportunity to work with NRCS and LCD field staff, making it possible for them to assist fruit growers through federal conservation program implementation, particularly EQIP.
We expect to hear by summer 2007 about the success of apple growers in their efforts to secure EQIP contracts for the 2008 season. Statistics on EQIP participation may signal a need for future training and identify the content and target audience for that training. In the meantime, implementing EQIP continues to change. The insight from LCDs regarding local program focus versus consistancy at the regional level may provide clues about the shape of our next adaptive strategy for pesticide reduction in fruit production.