Ensuring Sustainable Agriculture in the Face of a Changing Climate

Final Report for ENC11-127

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2011: $74,286.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Tapan Pathak
University of Nebraska
Co-Coordinators:
Julie Doll
Michigan State University
Expand All

Project Information

Abstract:

Sustainable agriculture in the North Central Region of the United States is vital to our nation’s economic and environmental security. It is well understood that climate change will greatly impact agriculture: changes in temperature, precipitation, cloud cover, and carbon dioxide levels affect plant growth, field practices, insect and weed pests, and plant diseases. Because of the complexity of climate change challenges, we believe a regional approach is needed to provide professional development on climate change. The objective of this project is to provide regionally tailored climate change and sustainable agriculture professional development for Extension and NRCS educators. We propose these activities: 1) creation of a Climate Change and Sustainable Agriculture Resource Handbook and a curriculum and 2) two climate change and sustainable agriculture workshops. Each workshop will include regionally tailored scientific training, a farmer panel, a “fishbowl” activity, and a demonstration of the curriculum. Regional trainings will improve knowledge and awareness of educators on climate change interactions and foster collaboration among the educators. In the long-term, this program will result in educators and farmers making informed choices that lead to sustainable agriculture in the face of climate change. The NCR SARE State PDP Coordinators confirmed that this topic supports their regional initiative and that our program is on target with momentum in the region. With the vast experience and perspectives of the project PIs and partners we are uniquely poised to successfully execute this project. This project will help SARE fulfill its goal of a truly sustainable agricultural future.

Project Objectives:

The objective of this project was to provide regionally tailored climate change and sustainable agriculture professional development for Extension educators. We wanted Educators to increase knowledge and confidence about communicating climate information and learn from farmers on the topic, leading to the development of effective programming on sustainable agriculture and climate change for farmers. The target audience for this project was NCR Extension educators and NRCS personnel who work with agricultural communities.

Introduction:

Sustainable agriculture in the North Central Region of the United States is vital to our nation’s economic and environmental security. It is well understood that climate change will greatly impact agriculture: changes in temperature, precipitation, cloud cover, and carbon dioxide levels affect plant growth, field practices, insect and weed pests, and plant diseases. Because of the complexity of climate change challenges, we believe a regional approach is needed to provide professional development on climate change. The objective of this project wass to provide regionally tailored climate change and sustainable agriculture professional development for Extension and NRCS educators. We completed these activities: 1) creation of a Climate Change and Sustainable Agriculture Resource Handbook and a curriculum and 2) two climate change and sustainable agriculture workshops. Each workshop included regionally tailored scientific training, a farmer panel, a “fishbowl” activity, and a demonstration of the curriculum. Regional trainings were designed to improve knowledge and awareness of educators on climate change interactions and foster collaboration among the educators. In the long-term, we hope these programs will result in educators and farmers making informed choices that lead to sustainable agriculture in the face of climate change. The NCR SARE State PDP Coordinators confirmed that this topic supports their regional initiative and that our program is on target with momentum in the region.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Dr. Jeff Andresen
  • Karen Deboer
  • Dr. Betsy Dierberger
  • Julie Doll
  • Henry Miller
  • Dr. Cheryl Peters
  • Dr. Martha Shulski
  • Marilyn Thelen

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

2012 activities:

 We created a resource handbook on climate change and sustainable agriculture for educators. We compiled credible sources of information from various sources such as governmental documents, USDA reports, and university fact sheets to create a resource handbook that is unbiased and has science-based information relevant to educators in the North Central Region. The resource handbook was organized into six subsections that include: climate change basics, climate change trends and projections, climate change effects on agriculture, agricultural adaptation and mitigation to climate change, climate change communication, and Frequently Asked Questions.

 We developed a core curriculum lesson on climate change and agriculture that can be used during a farmer meeting or agricultural program. It consists of a PowerPoint presentation along with the explanation of the content in those slides. It also includes an optional one-page evaluation to use with farmers to measure reactions of this primary audience to the materials, thus helping educators evaluate their own programs.

Co-PIs Pathak and Doll attended the 2012 NCR SARE meeting on Carbon, Energy, and Climate and distributed the resource handbook/curriculum and informed educators about the climate change training in 2013.

We successfully disseminated resource handbook and core curriculum to more than 150 extension professionals at the Carbon, Energy, and Climate meeting in Michigan. We also networked and informed educators about our SARE PDP meeting for 2013. At this stage of project, it was premature to document any impacts since the primary focus during 2012 was to develop and disseminate climate change and sustainable agriculture resources. Measurable impacts were documented during the 2013 PDP workshops and will be reported in 2013 annual report. 

2013 activities:

We conducted two climate change and agriculture regional workshops in February (Nebraska) and March (Michigan). There were 32 participants at the Nebraska workshop from Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota, Missouri, and Iowa. We had 39 participants from Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio attend the March workshop. Each workshop included a farmer panel so Extension Educators could hear first hand the challenges and adaptations that are being experienced and taking place. Speakers addressed topics relevant to the NCR and challenges facing agriculture.

Project partner Cheryl Peters created evaluation tools for each workshop; one was distributed immediately after each workshop and one six months later. Analyses of the results are discussed in the next section.

We disseminated the climate change and agriculture resource handbook and a climate change and agriculture curriculum lesson that can be used during a farmer meeting or agricultural program. Both resources include science-based information from various sources such as governmental documents, USDA reports, and universities. These resources were disseminated at the workshops on flash drives distributed to each participant as well as via links where they can be downloaded.

Following the workshops, speakers’ presentations were shared with participants via a Dropbox folder. With fewer funds used for travel and workshop expenses than anticipated, Co-PIs Pathak and Doll wrote a no-cost extension request that was approved at the end of 2013; the remaining funds were used to hold targeted meetings and workshops on climate change and agriculture and to update the resource handbook and curriculum.

We successfully completed two regional workshops on climate change and agriculture, disseminated a climate change and agriculture resource handbook and core curriculum to educators, and evaluated our activities at two stages. Educators who attended the workshops worked across all areas of agricultural sectors, including field crops, dairy, vegetable, beef, fruit, hog, poultry, nursery crops, and mixed livestock.

During the no-cost extension period (2014) for NCR-SARE PDP grant the following activities were completed:

Updated the climate change & sustainable agriculture curriculum and handbook  

Previous project evaluation results indicated that while many participants did not use these materials, for those who did they were able to reach a significant number of stakeholders. These individuals provided valuable feedback on ways to improve the materials. To improve the usability of these resources, we updated and revised the curriculum based on evaluation results and new climate change materials (e.g., the new IPCC and National Climate Assessment reports). The materials are available at http://lter.kbs.msu.edu/get-involved/educational-resources/. 

Extension bulletins about climate change and agriculture

We created a new peer-reviewed Extension bulletin, Management of Nitrogen Fertilizer to Reduce Nitrous Oxide Emissions from Field Crops (http://lter.kbs.msu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Nitrogen-fertilizer_climate-fact-sheet_FINAL.pdf). Results from researchers at Michigan State University show that farmers are largely unaware of the link between nitrogen and climate change and they note the need for education on this topic. This bulletin explains the ways that nitrogen fertilizer contributes to climate change and can be managed in a way to promote crop growth while not contributing greatly to climate change. This bulletin is the latest in a series about climate change and agriculture, available at http://lter.kbs.msu.edu/get-involved/educational-resources/; all bulletins will be used in outreach activities for years to come.

Provided content training for educators and other professionals 

Among the issues raised by the educators were continued opportunities for professional development on climate change and sustainable agriculture. To best attain this request with limited available funds, we hosted events in both Michigan and Nebraska. The Michigan training events included:

  • Climate Change and Sustainable Agriculture Field Tour: on August 6, 2014 we hosted a climate change and sustainable agriculture day for Extension Educators from Indiana. Participants learned about current research efforts related to climate change and agriculture as they toured research trials at the Kellogg Biological Station. 7 Educators attended this event.
  • Extension Climate Change Retreat held at the Kellogg Conference Center on Sept 25, 2014. The goal of the retreat was for professional development for Michigan Extension Educators to help them develop climate change programming. As such, we had a presentation from our state climatologist, heard from other Extension programs across the country on how they are addressing climate change, and held a strategic planning session where we mapped out goals for climate change programming in 2015. 15 Educators attended this event; several followup meetings and activities have resulted from this retreat.
  • We co-hosted a climate change session at the annual Fall Conference for Michigan State University Extension. This session provided scientific information about climate change and led participants through a series of activities to help organize programming around the topic of climate change. Approximately 30 participants attended this session.
  • We organized a workshop “Climate Resilient Agriculture: Tools and Resources for Agricultural Decisions”, the first workshop of its kind in Nebraska focused on how to utilize weather and climate resources to make short and long-term agricultural decisions. There are so many credible climate resources out there and sometimes it is overwhelming to find out how one can utilize those resources to make my decisions on a farm. Our idea was to showcase some of the important resources to make the agricultural community aware of it. Our hope was that participants find significant value in this research-based, unbiased information and utilize it to make informed decisions. We had an excellent mix of producers, crop consultants, Cooperative Extension colleagues, federal and state government colleagues, agricultural industry representatives, and University researchers signed up for this free workshop. Overall, we had approximately 83 attendees. We covered range of climate based tools and resources in series of presentations and also had a panel discussion. The panel was comprised of producers, Extension educators, National Weather Service, and Natural Resource District personnel.

Outreach and Publications

We created a resoure handbook and a curriculum that can be used by Educators. These materials, along with Extension bulletins on the topic, are available at http://lter.kbs.msu.edu/get-involved/educational-resources/.

Outcomes and impacts:

We evaluated each workshop and the resources immediately after each event and six months later. Results confirm the success of project activities:

1) Immediate evaluation results:

Quantitative evaluation data (see Table 1) show that the workshops met the project goals: Educators increased their understanding, motivation, ability, and confidence regarding climate change and agriculture knowledge and programming. One participant commented, “I thought the workshop was perfectly crafted to promote co-learning.” In addition, the majority of participants said it was ‘very likely’ they would use the resource handbook and curriculum. We asked for potential barriers to using these resources and will try to incorporate that feedback in our updated handbook and curriculum as well as in future programming.

Participants had positive feedback for the farmer panel and said there was co-learning between farmers and participants, with one participant noting, “I learned of a number of different ways that farmers were actually adapting to climate change and new perspectives on how they have been affected. The panel was a great addition to the workshop. Also had good conversations during breaks and over lunch with farmers and other Extension educators and NRCS professional about other influences on our perspectives on climate change that were helpful. [I] Also found encouragement to hear of farmers that believed in the scientific basis for climate change.”

We appreciate the support of SARE in holding these effective workshops and look forward to future collaboration with workshop participants. Two participant comments help sum up the positive energy present and the networking that took place during the workshops: “I appreciate the interaction and felt it could have gone on for a longer time. Thank you for organizing this conference and for helping us as a team,” and “Well, it was just good. Good presentations. Thoughtful discussions. There was a lot discussion around sustainable Ag.”

2) Six month follow-up evaluation:

         87% of participants reported the training somewhat to greatly improved their ability to respond to climate change questions from others with science-based information.

         67% reported they had used the materials in the Resource Handbook.

         Ratings on the individual sections of the resource handbook were positive, with none of the sections rated as not useful. Materials that had Midwest climate examples and examples of mitigation, adaption and change being rated the most useful. 

         Suggestions to improve the resource handbook included adding a pocket guide with key points and adding more applied information.

         100% indicated some to very high satisfaction with all the materials available electronically. Although comments indicated it was convenient with the materials all in one spot, but that materials were less likely to be picked up and looked at than if it were a hard copy because it required more intentional study.

         65% of participants said they will not use the factsheets provided in Spanish. However, 35% reported they might use the Spanish materials, including passing it along to colleagues.

         No participants had used the curriculum in its entirely.

         18% had partially used the curriculum slides in presentations with others. 12% had used the discussion questions that accompanied the curriculum and/or the audience worksheet handouts provided.

Of those that had used the Resource Handbook and Curriculum materials, a total of 733 people were reported as reached with the materials, by 16 different program participants with the average audience size 44 (range 2 to 250 people).

Type of audience the materials were shared with:

         67% Farm owners/operators

         53% General public

         47% Extension professionals

         27% Agriculture business consultants

         27% State agency/department professionals

         13% Farm workers (includes seasonal)

Most of the suggested changes for improved materials related to showing more examples. For example, “You must consider the location and crop types produced by the clientele to be effective. Practical steps such as utilizing cover crops should be mentioned so they understand how it applies to their situation.”

81% reported the slides in the PowerPoint curriculum as useful.

86% reported the notes/script in the PowerPoint curriculum as useful.

Examples of how the materials were used with audiences:

Dealing with drought over the past 3 summers, followed by heavy rain and flooding. Information on the increased probability of extreme events. i.e., not that much difference in average annual precip for 2013, but extreme drought up until receiving 14-18″ of rain in a 2 week timespan in late July-early August, resulting in flooding. Just the precursor of things to come.

Distributed the MSUE climate change bulletins at a spring garden show in NE Michigan. Also, I used material from Chapter 2 (Get Your Audience’s Attention) of Psychology of Climate Change Communication with a group of farmers who were preparing to interact with the public in grocery stores.

Up to this point, my main use has been with leader/ advisory groups such as extension councils and others to discuss the need to address this issue as part of our work.

I believe that hearing the messages from Dr. Andresen, the state climatologist, in March and Dr. Mark Seeley from Minnesota in Sept. 2012 at the CEC conference about trends was the most helpful in my understanding of climate change. I’ve had one-on-one conversations with clientele explaining the important messages and how their situation is impacted.

I used a few PowerPoint slides at a regional agronomy day to help frame climate issues with relevance to production agriculture. Reasonable level of grower acceptance. With weather extremes we have experienced in our region, the general attitude toward climate change has become less “rejectable”.

I was presenting research results related to storm size frequency. The information exchanged was basic concept of climate change and how that may be a possible factor for the results we were seeing. Not necessarily a climate change specific presentation (oral or written).

Additional feedback of how the SARE Climate Change and Sustainable Ag training helped Extension Professionals in their Work. 

“I have a much better understanding of the issue and how it could be addressed as part of my program. My approach has been to slowly introduce the issue and resources to those around me. I plan to include more as time moves forward and opportunities present themselves.”

“I appreciated the interaction with others who work in Extension and university research. I recently attended the Food, Fuel and Fiber Tour at the University of Illinois because I want to continue learning more from other educators in nearby states.”

“I attended a climate training in NE and was able to bring a different set of folks with me instead of the same ones that went to MI. I’m trying to get as many educators as I can to understand these issues.”

“Some new partners with SARE at the state and multistate levels.”

?“It help[ed] with explaining the concept. As far as new partnerships, very little given the circumstances.”

Evaluation of 2014 Nebraska Workshop:

  • We evaluated the workshop with survey questions. On average, information provided to them during the workshop was relevant to 81% of the respondents and 67% are likely to use these tools next year for their agricultural decisions. One of the attendees responded, “This was one of the best meetings on this type of subject I have attended. If gave me info on sites I can and will use if making production decisions for my clientele. Thanks.”

    Specific comments obtained from the workshop attendees are listed below: 

 

 

Excellent opportunity to become acquainted with existing and emerging capabilities. Also an excellent forum to learn about / hear about the unsatisfied requirements and emerging challenges facing the ag sector customers / stakeholders. Looking forward to crop production clinic in Jan.

Excellent start for this topic area. May need to partner a good extension educator with some of researchers for future presentations.

Great workshop and very timely!

I’m a conservation director at Central NE Public Poewr & Irruption District. Good workshop; very informative, good opportunity to see new tools and ask questions.

Informative – Also interested in Ag Insurance response to Climate Change.

Informative and lots of good information.

Lots of information to digest.

Most new to me — I’d try to find out more.

This is a great workshop, and I learned lot from the presentations.

This was one of the best meetings on this type of subject I have attended. If gave me info on sites I can and will use if making production decisions for my clientele. Thanks.

Very good day! Thank you. All information should be geared toward how can we increase our profits while using less water. Produce more on less.

Very good tools and information for climate & resources in the future. Great panel also.

Concept of workshop great, just application to growers more difficult. Very good.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Described under the “Methods” section.

Recommendations:

Future Recommendations

Based on evaluation results, it is clear that the topic of climate change and sustainable agriculture is one that Educators want to learn about and help their stakeholders address. We recommend collaboration across the North Central Region between Educators, farmers, and others to learn mitigtation and adaptation techniques.

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.