This project provided training on alternative energy topics to extension professionals, educators, and agency personnel in Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois. The first annual conference (December 5, 2008) featured 13 speakers addressing grassy biomass, woody biomass, wind energy, financing bioenergy projects, and case studies of bioenergy enterprises. A second conference (December 4, 2009) addressed alternative oilseeds for biofuels, anaerobic digestion/methane capture from livestock manure, algae for biofuel, biomass feedstocks handling, and bioenergy policy, with 12 presenters and 6 additional demonstrations or exhibits. Short-term outcomes of the project were increased knowledge of a broad range of bioenergy topics among extension, educational and resource professionals in attendance; intermediate-term outcomes were presentations, curricular integration, and client presentations made by these attendees; long-term outcomes were reexamination by agricultural producers of their farming operations and practices.
The short-term outcomes of the training were:
• increased awareness among participants of the selected topics (woody biomass crops, grass/legume cellulosic biomass feedstocks, wind energy, alternative oilseeds for biofuels, anaerobic digestion/methane capture from livestock manure, and composting of livestock manure/bedding),
• increased knowledge of the applicability of technologies/practices to producers in their service area, improved attitudes toward alternative energy technologies, and
• increased skill/ability to deliver information on alternative energy to clients using acquired resources and knowledge.
The project goal was that 85 percent of workshop participants in each year would show a gain in awareness, knowledge, and confidence in their skill/ability to deliver bioenergy program information, as measured by an increase in their confidence score on at least 50 percent of the knowledge survey items from pre-workshop to post-workshop.
Intermediate-term outcomes were program presentations, client consultations, and curricular integration of information on alternative energy by participants. The intermediate outcome goal was that 85 percent of workshop participants who received a scholarship to participate would conduct at least one outreach program (field day, presentation, etc.) or develop and present one curricular unit in an instructional setting within one year of attending the conference.
The ultimate long-term project goal was farms contributing to agricultural and energy sustainability by conserving energy, contributing to generation of non-biomass renewable energy, participating in production of biofuel feedstocks that offer a higher net energy yield than corn-ethanol, and capturing a significant share of the profits from these energy generation efforts. True evaluation of such outcomes is beyond the scope of this project. Therefore, the long-term outcome goal for the project will be farmers, ranchers, and landowners who have received information on new techniques or practices covered in project workshops and evaluated these techniques/practices (whether adopted or only considered) in light of their impact on the economic, ecological, and social (quality of life) sustainability of their operation.
This project provided training on selected alternative energy topics through two day-long conferences (the 2010 conference also included a field trip). The goal was to address renewable energy topics of interest in the North Central Region, particularly those that integrated livestock production and energy generation/conservation or were well-suited to complement livestock production on Midwestern farms and ranches. In the first year, the conference addressed grassy biomass, woody biomass, wind energy, financing bioenergy projects, and case studies of bioenergy enterprises. Attendee input, along with the list of topics outlined in the original proposal, was considered in developing the conference program for year two. The resulting topic list for year two encompassed alternative oilseeds for biofuels, anaerobic digestion/methane capture from livestock manure, algae for biofuel, biomass feedstocks handling, and bioenergy policy (the latter two topics were identified as priority issues by year one attendees). Project outcomes were evaluated by knowledge surveys and program evaluation surveys given to attendees during the two conferences and by a follow-up email survey.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
The primary method utilized to deliver training information was a day-long workshop format with plenary and breakout sessions. The first conference featured 13 speakers and the second conference featured 12 session presenters plus 6 additional special exhibits or poster presentations. This format allowed attendees to receive general information about a broad range of topics in the plenary sessions and then select those topics about which they wanted to learn more through breakout sessions. Attendees commented favorably on how the format offered exposure to presenters with expertise in a range of bioenergy topics, rather than being focused on a single or narrow range of topics. For example, many of our attendees were working with a range of clients on projects ranging from wind energy to alternative oilseed production to production of biomass from perennial grasses. They were able to gain new information on each of these topics at one conference.
Each year the conference was held the day before the Missouri Livestock Symposium, and many attendees chose to stay and attend that event, which featured additional speakers addressing not only major livestock species, but also topics related to conservation and natural resources. In 2010, the conference was accompanied by a half-day field trip (the day before the main workshops) to Crystal Peak Fertilizer, a facility using methane digestors to handle swine effluent and producing a solid fertilizer which is sold to area farmers. The 2010 conference concluded with a set of exhibits, ranging from an educational biofuels trailer to an exhibit on energy production and conservation options for the home and farm.
Outreach and Publications
• The primary means of outreach was dissemination of conference and resource materials to those in attendance to use in their own outreach programming.
• Five press releases were generated to publicize the conferences.
• In addition, conference planners have responded to approximately fifteen email inquiries for bioenergy resource information, generated from the website or press releases about the conferences.
• The 2008 and 2009 conferences received television coverage in northern Missouri and southern Iowa through KTVO-3 news and were reported in articles in the Missouri Farmer Today and Iowa Farmer Today newspapers.
• The grant proposal for this project stated that process and implementation indicators would be assessed in part via a program evaluation survey instrument administered to conference attendees. Evaluation results from 2008 and 2009 conferences indicate that the project was highly successful in fulfilling this process outcome. Ninety-eight to 100 percent of attendees gave “good” or “excellent” ratings for quality of speakers, resource materials, and overall quality and organization of the conference (detailed program evaluation summaries were provided with the annual reports).
• Positive impact was also reflected by the number and range of people who were reached with the two conferences. Per the grant budget, 40 travel scholarships ($200 each) were awarded to qualified members of the target audience to attend the 2008 conference. Due to last-minute cancellations, three travel scholarships were carried over to year two, so a total of 43 scholarships were awarded for the 2009 conference. Because of high demand for the conference, we also made available an option to register for the conference for a $50 fee, to cover meals, refreshments, and resource materials. Registration data indicates that attendees at the conferences were from the target audience. Tables 1 and 2 show the breakdown of conference attendees by state and occupation for 2008 and 2009. Total registered attendance was 107 in 2008 and 70 in 2009, with 79 percent and 63 percent, respectively, of pre-registrants from the groups identified as a target audience (extension, ag educators, agency personnel). In addition to those officially registered for the conference, approximately 30 undergraduate students in agriculture and environmental studies attended selected workshops in each of the two years.
• Short-term knowledge gain outcomes were assessed via a pre- and post-test knowledge survey completed by conference attendees. Participating attendees completed a knowledge survey, in which they rated their confidence (1=not confident, 2=somewhat confident, 3=confident) in their ability to answer a question or provide accurate information about specific bioenergy topics. The distribution of responses by confidence rating was compared for pre- and post-conference responses and the null hypothesis of no difference in pre-/post- confidence was assessed using the chi-square test. The comparison showed a difference in the distribution of confidence ratings, which was statistically significant, for all knowledge survey items in 2008 and 2009 (in all cases the post-conference responses had a higher relative frequency of responses in the “confident” category). This exceeds our short-term outcome goal (that 85 percent of participants would show a gain in knowledge on at least 50 percent of content items.) The knowledge survey questionnaire, frequency distributions, and chi-square statistics were submitted with the 2008 and 2009 annual reports.
• Program resource materials—a resource notebook, CD with PowerPoint presentations, and DVD of interviews with conference speakers—were disseminated to extension professionals, high school and college agricultural educators, and natural resource agency personnel from a three-state area. Comments from the program evaluation surveys indicate that these resources will have a positive impact on bioenergy education and program delivery. For example, when asked about the best features of the conference, attendees responded with comments such as these:
o “Good information to take back to the school where I teach! Speakers were well prepared and very organized. Binder with info will be very helpful for future teaching lessons. Much info I can use with high schoolers!”
o “Great speakers, great meal. I have been to 4 bioenergy meetings this year (one a national meeting) and this was the best.”
o “This was a very interesting and educational day. As a complete novice, my brain feels a little over loaded; your notebook and upcoming CD offer the chance to review and to learn more. Very well organized and run. This greatly expanded my eyes to a whole different world! Well done, I like the mix of topics and viewpoints. I compliment you on this conference.”
o “Having speakers that bridge academic theory into possible future applications that must be cost effective.”
o “The best feature of the conference was the excellent, well-informed presenters. Each presenter was very impressive.”
• A follow-up email survey was used to assess intermediate and long-term outcome goals. The survey was sent to scholarship recipients and other attendees for whom email addresses were available (n=110). Twenty-eight individuals completed the survey (25% response rate).
o Survey respondents were asked to indicate the topic areas from which they were able to utilize conference resources in their educational and outreach efforts. The most utilized topic areas, as indicated by the percent of respondents answering yes, were grassy biomass (61%), wind energy (54%), anaerobic digestors/methane capture (50%), alternative oilseeds (39%), and bioenergy policy (39%). Financing, algae, case studies, and biomass feedstock handling were utilized by between 14% and 36% of respondents.
o Respondents rated how useful (from very to not at all) various resource materials had been in their educational programming. The percent responding “very useful” is reported below to show the rank ordering of resource materials:
– Presenter PowerPoint slides (50%)
– DVD of speaker interviews (15%)
– Printed resource materials (70%)
– Professional contacts made at conference (42%)
o Respondents were asked whether they had participated in various types of outreach/educational activities using bioenergy materials from these conferences. The percent indicating that they had carried out one or more of each of these activities is indicated below:
– Answering e-mail inquiries (81%)
– Answering phone inquiries (89%)
– One-on-one consultation (73%)
– Public presentations (56%)
– Classroom presentations (42%)
– Media contacts (42%)
– Displays/exhibits (48%)
Although not all scholarship recipients responded to the survey, these results indicate a high likelihood that the intermediate-term outcome goal was realized—that 85% of participants would make a presentation, curricular integration, or other outreach contact utilizing information gained through the bioenergy conferences.
o Finally, we attempted to assess the long-term outcome goal for the project (that farmers and landowners would receive information on these bioenergy topics and consider this information in light of its contribution to economic, environmental and social sustainability for their farm operation) by asking survey respondents to share information about landowners/clients/students with whom they had worked on bioenergy issues. Five respondents (18%) indicated that they had worked with individuals on specific bioenergy development projects, including a South Central Iowa biomass project; a St. Joseph, MO project with Lifeline Foods involving ethanol biobutanol, and burning corn bran; a client working on an integrated biomass/biobased products system; and an algae bioenergy project.
When contacted for additional information about their work with clients on these projects, two individuals responded with further information. One described work with the South Central Iowa project and how they were able to utilize general information gained from the conference to work with this client and to find further resources. The other described how they had utilized materials on plant-based biomass to support applicants for the MO Department of Natural Resources Energize Missouri Agriculture grant program which incentivized farmers adopting energy conserving technologies and practices. The individual reported that their county had three times the state average for participation in the program. While it is difficult to report conclusively on the achievement of this long-term outcome goal, particularly given the limited response to this portion of the survey, it seems that information from the bioenergy conference is certainly making it to farmers and landowners who seek assistance from extension educators and resource professionals. The extent to which farmers and landowners utilize this information and pursue bioenergy projects and technologies depends on a host of micro- and macroeconomic factors that are in constant flux.
• Bioenergy conference held in December 2008.
• Bioenergy field trip, conference, and exhibition held in December 2009.
• Printed resource materials, a CD containing slides of all speaker presentations, and a DVD containing interviews highlighting the key points of each speaker’s presentation were provided to all conference attendees.
• Extensive networking occurred between attendees and presenters at each of the conferences. For example, at the 2009 conference, attendees touring the mobile biofuels laboratory from Richland (IL) Community College inquired with the exhibitors about bringing the laboratory to other exhibition events.
• A website (http://bioenergyconference.truman.edu) created to publicize the conferences remains active with conference programs, speaker biographies, and resource links.
The resource materials produced for the bioenergy conferences remain in the hands of conference attendees and will continue to be utilized. The conference website will remain active for the immediate future and inquiries about bioenergy topics will be answered.
Perhaps the greatest strength of this program was the presentation of information on a range of bioenergy topics in a one-day conference format. This allowed attendees to pick and choose which of several related but distinctive bioenergy themes they wanted to emphasize. Importantly, it also provided a rather unique opportunity for attendees to network with one another as well as with the nationally-known presenters in attendance. Often the most enthusiastic attendees were those from outside of Missouri, who were interested in trying to produce related programming for their own state or region.
With that said, day-long conferences of this type are relatively expensive to conduct and may be difficult interested individuals to attend. Therefore, our recommendation would be to continue to look at multiple means of delivery for training programs: on-site regional conferences, webinars, online self-guided training modules, etc.
Our review of available educational materials and conversations with high school agriculture faculty indicated a relative sparsity of curricular materials related to bioenergy topics and tied to educational outcomes. Therefore, a further recommendation would be to use grant funds to support curriculum development, particularly for high school agriculture classes, on bioenergy topics. This could provide agriculture educators with better resource materials and introduce students to these concepts earlier in their educational careers.
Finally, we encourage efforts to bring together researchers and extension personnel engaged in bioenergy issues for continued discussion to determine what information landowners and producers need and how to deliver it to them so as to create a sustainable energy system. We found that the most interesting questions raised by attendees at the conferences were ones that no single speaker was well-positioned to answer, such as “what would a procurement system for a biomass-based liquid fuel plant in southern Iowa look like, what would be its impact on grain prices, on land prices, on soil tilth and fertility, on transportation infrastructure, etc.?” Even with integrated, systems-based research on these topics such as that occurring at the Energy Biosciences Institute, among others, the complexity of the topic, the myriad factors affecting the bioenergy market (oil prices, crop input prices, policy incentives and disincentives, etc.), and the possible cognitive disconnect between researchers and farmers/landowners make these conversations critical in setting a research agenda that serves the public need in this area.