Professional Training for Sustainable Agroforestry in Kansas

Final Report for ENC11-125

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2011: $50,946.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Nicole Ricci
Kansas Forest Service
Co-Coordinators:
Dr. Megan Kennelly
Kansas State University
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Project Information

Abstract:

The overall objective of this SARE professional development project (PDP) was to provide

training (short-term learning) that will be the foundation of middle and long-term (ie,

career-long) interest and expertise in agroforestry and tree health. This project raised the level of

expertise of our county educators through a series of four training sessions in 2013 and the development of a new tree health (disease, insect, environmental stress) publication. Dates and sites for the workshops were selected in conjunction with our target audience of county educators who provided information on their availability. The events were designed with a goal of “train the trainer.” Evaluations showed that participants gained knowledge, skills, and abilities in the target area of focus.

Project Objectives:

Based on the challenges outlined above in the introduction, we recognized a need for professional development training for extension personnel. Our main objective was to develop and deliver this training through a series of hands-on workshops and corresponding reference information.

Introduction:

According to the USDA National Agroforestry Center, “agroforestry intentionally combines agriculture and forestry to create integrated and sustainable land-use systems” and can include practices such as the use of windbreaks and riparian forest buffers. Kansas farmers and ranchers frequently have questions related to tree health in windbreaks, riparian buffers, and other agroforestry plantings important to our rural communities. However, a 2009 survey revealed that most of our county Extension educators have backgrounds in animal science (45%) field crop production (11%), agriculture education (15%), or agricultural economics (15%) and need further training in agroforestry, including basic tree identification, tree physiology, tree diseases, tree insects, invasive species ecology, and other agroforestry issues. The overall objective of this SARE professional development project (PDP) was to provide solid training (short-term learning) that will be the foundation of middle and long-term (ie, career-long) interest and expertise in agroforestry. Trees for conservation and other uses are an important component of sustainable agriculture, and this project fits with the SARE PDP goal of developing “educators who are knowledgeable in the general concepts of sustainable agriculture, and motivated to work in partnership with farmers, ranchers, and the general public on developing programs and activities that enhance the sustainability of rural communities and the food and agricultural system.”

 

Kansas is known for its millions of acres of wheat, corn, sorghum, soybeans, and cattle ranching operations. Its tree resources are often overlooked. However, in Kansas’s rural agriculture, trees are critical as windbreaks and riparian buffers which reduce wind erosion, reduce livestock stress, and provide other economic and ecological services. According to a recent (2010) data-intensive research project, the KS Forest Resource Assessment & Strategy, Kansas has 43,436 miles of windbreaks providing protection to 1.2 million acres of land (59% protecting fields, 28% protecting farmstead, 12% protecting livestock). Kansas also has 562,000 acres or riparian forests that border 23,731 miles of streams and rivers, helping to prevent erosion. Along with these conservation plantings Kansas has a forest products industry that provides $1.3 billion to the state’s economy.

 

Unfortunately Kansas’s tree resources are at risk from insects, diseases, invasive plants, and environmental stresses. A recent pilot study by the Kansas Forest Service in 7 of our 105 counties revealed that about 77% of our windbreaks are in decline from a variety of factors, and 12% of our cropland exceeds tolerable limits for erosion which demonstrates a need for improved windbreaks/buffers.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Robert Atchison
  • Dr. Charles Barden
  • Larry Biles
  • Dr. Raymond Cloyd
  • Judy O'Mara
  • Nicole Ricci

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

In 2013, tree health and agroforestry professional development trainings were held in four locations around Kansas (Hays – May 4; Manhattan – June 26; Haysville – July 31; Parsons – August 23rd). The total number of participants across all four locations was 57. The majority of participants were K-State Research and Extension educators from various counties/districts. Other participants included a few Extension Master Gardeners who also serve on city or arboretum tree advisory boards and several NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) personnel. A new tree health publication was also developed over the course of about a year, with meetings and discussion among plant pathology, entomology, horticulture, and forestry personnel.

Outreach and Publications

A new publication related to tree health is in the final proofing stages.

Outcomes and impacts:

We asked the participants to fill out evaluation forms at the end of each meeting, with both quantitative and qualitative categories.

 

Rating scale: 1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = neutral, 4 = agree, 5 = strongly agree

The training improved my general knowledge about agroforestry practices (types of agroforestry practices, their potential benefits, etc)

4.4

The training improved my general knowledge about woody invasive species (biology, life cycles, etc)

4.5

The training improved my general knowledge about insect pests of trees (biology, life cycles, etc)

4.6

The training improved my general knowledge about tree diseases (biology, life cycles, etc)

4.5

The training improved my ability to identify tree species

3.8

The training improved my ability to identify insect pests of trees

4.5

The training improved my ability to identify diseases of trees

4.5

The training improved my ability to identify woody invasive species

4.2

The training improved my ability to answer client/stakeholder questions about agroforestry and tree health

4.4

I am now more aware of existing resources about agroforestry and tree health and how to access such information

4.5

OVERALL AVERAGE

4.4

 

 

Open-ended questions

 

There was some overlap in the first three questions, so I will summarize them collectively below.

  • What were the most important items you learned from the training session, and why?
  • What types of resources that were presented in the training sessions do you think will be most valuable in your programming with clients?
  • How will the information you obtained from the training assist you in your own programming with clients?

Participants highly valued the hands-on nature of the training, including the outdoor tree walks and also the opportunity to view and touch insect, disease, honeysuckle, and tree-id samples that we brought. Several participants noted that this type of training works much better for their learning style than traditional classroom lectures.

 

We provided flash drives that we filled with a large array of resources on agroforestry, general tree care, diseases, insects, woody invasives, and other topics. Numerous participants noted in the comments that they were excited to obtain this information and they looked forward to using it. We also provided print copies of some publications and they appreciated that as well.

 

Many participants said that with the increased knowledge from the day’s training, plus the flash drive, they are much better equipped to answer stakeholder questions about tree health, agroforestry, etc.

 

Participants appreciated the small discussion-oriented nature of the training. Several mentioned the benefit of networking with each other as well as with the instructors. For example, several county educators met each other for the first time, or they met their regional district forester for the first time, or the local NRCS person. They can now work together on local issues.

 

How could these training sessions be improved?

There weren’t many suggestions here. Many participants left it blank or used it to note more positives about the event. The few suggestions included making the outdoor part longer and making the whole event even more hands on.

 

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

We provided train-the-trainer experiential learning for 57 individuals around the state who are now better equipped to answer questions about agroforestry and tree health in their own communities. Though not a direct objective, we also helped build local communication networks among county educators, forestry personnel, and NRCS personnel in neighboring counties who can now work together on joint projects and programming.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

Long term, we hope the increased awareness of agroforestry and tree health by our extension educators, NRCS personnel, and other participants will lead to improved conservation practices by rural landowners.

Future Recommendations

It is hoped that the momentum gained from this project will continue. Experienced agents can coach newer ones based on their participation. Kansas has a mentoring program that places new extension educators with experienced ones for on-the-job training. In addition the project leaders will keep the lines of communication going with the participants and newer educators as they join K-State.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.