Building Capacity for Climate Extension

Final Report for ENC12-136

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2012: $65,934.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Lois Wright Morton
Iowa State University
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Project Information

Abstract:

The overall intent of this NC SARE professional development project was to increase the capacity of 18 extension educators, representing 10 institutions across nine states in the upper Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin), 1) to learn about regional long term weather patterns, climate change and agricultural relationships and 2) to engage farmers in learning opportunities that build farmers’ knowledge and capacities to implement risk management strategies that address climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The eighteen extension educators participated as a team in a USDA-NIFA coordinated agricultural project (CAP), increasing their own knowledge of agro-climate science and their expertise in sharing that knowledge with farmers and other agricultural stakeholders. The name of the CAP: Climate and Corn-based Cropping Systems CAP (CSCAP).

Their participation in CSCAP expanded their agro-climate knowledge and their professional networks by working with and learning from climate scientists, biophysical scientists, social scientists, and economists in the region, who are part of the CSCAP and are conducting research to understand how to make corn-based agriculture more resilient in response to climate change.  

During the course of the 5-year project, the extension educators assisted with the social science of the project by conducting one-on-one data gathering discussions with 159 farmer leaders and farmer groups to learn about their production systems and changes. They also completed two rounds of surveys of the 159 project farmers to understand their perceptions, practices, and responses to a changing climate.

CSCAP’s partnership with the USDA, Purdue-led Useful 2 Usable project (U2U) provided the extension educators opportunities to learn how to use the new U2U farmer decision support tools, pilot test the tools and provide feedback to enhance the usability and effectiveness of the tools, as well as promote decision tool experimentation by farmers and agricultural technical advisors.

The extension educators created new and enhanced existing priority extension and outreach programs featuring climate information and agricultural education at each of their institutions and reached over 7000 farmers, crop consultants, and other extension educators. Overall, the extension team has presented in numerous local and regional settings with most presentations themed around cover crops, soil health, crop productivity, and weather variability. The Extension team has a total of 385 outputs to-date and 15,520 individuals reached in-person. Outputs include: promotional reports, grant proposals written, extension publications, conference presentations, extension presentations, blog articles, Twitter entries, popular press articles, news releases, radio and television spots, and educational videos.

Through annual whole-team meetings, annual extension team meetings, monthly conference calls, and occasional webinars, the extension educators developed a professional support group network of educators among the nine states that has increased and is expected to continue to increase the capacity of the Upper Midwest land grant university extension system to deliver science-based education to agricultural sector stakeholders regarding risk management, and adaptation and mitigation strategies under changing climate conditions.

Project Objectives:

Professional development goals were to learn: 1) about regional long term weather patterns, climate change and agricultural relationships and 2) how to build farmers’ knowledge and capacities to implement risk management strategies that address climate change mitigation and adaptation. To this end, the objectives included the following:

  1. Convene the Climate Extension Educator team yearly to learn from the multidisciplinary team of agronomists, agricultural engineers, climate scientists, economists, sociologists, and entomologists, in the 9-state region.
  2. Create sessions at the Climate CSCAP annual meeting for extension educators to build relationships with other climate educators.
  3. Work as a team to refine and improve extension curricula that increase farmer implementation of climate risk management strategies.
Introduction:

This USDA-NIFA Climate Change, Mitigation, and Adaptation in Corn-Based Cropping Systems Coordinated Agriculture Project (CSCAP) was a 5-year project (2011-2016) focused on risks to and sustainability of the corn-soybean rotation. The project included participation by 18 extension educators representing 10 institutions across nine states in the upper Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin). SARE funding expanded project capacity to provide travel funding and professional development for the 18 extension educators.

In addition to the team of extension educators, the CSCAP project convened teams of  biophysical and social scientists, including soil scientists and agronomists, sociologists, economists, agricultural engineers, modelers, climatologists, and educators. One hundred and sixty five farmers within the region also participated in the project.

Through collaborative research, education and extension, the CSCAP teams worked to identify and advance farm practices that increase Midwestern crop resilience, while minimizing environmental impacts, in response to increasingly more erratic and extreme weather events. Specifically, the project explored practices with the potential for: 1) retaining and enhancing soil organic matter and nutrient and carbon stocks, 2) reducing off-field nitrogen losses that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution, 3) better withstanding droughts and floods and 4) maintaining productivity under different climatic conditions.

Other collaborative studies that involved the extension educator team, included surveys and one-on-one discussions to gain knowledge of farmer beliefs and concerns about climate change, their attitudes toward adaptive and mitigative strategies and practices, and what supports farmers need to make farm management decisions.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Dr. Lois Wright Morton

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

N/A

Outreach and Publications

In addition to the presentations and field days described above sections of this report, the extension team contributed articles and photographs for the CSCAP project website, blog and Twitter feed. (www.sustainablecorn.org; www.sustainblecorn.org/blog; https://twitter.com/sustainablecorn)

Outcomes and impacts:

CSCAP extension educators have advanced the science and knowledge of current agricultural impacts and farmer perceptions of climate change, increased the usability and effectiveness of new farmer decision-making tools, increased their own knowledge of agro-climate science and their expertise in sharing the science with farmers and other agricultural stakeholders, and expanded their professional networks. They have created new and enhanced existing priority extension and outreach programs featuring climate information and agriculture education at each of their institutions.

The Upper Midwest land grant university extension system now has increased capacity to deliver science-based, education to agricultural sector stakeholders regarding risk management and adaptation and mitigation strategies for changing climate conditions. Extension and outreach educators have programmatically synthesized what they have learned from this project and shared that knowledge via the “Climate Change and Agricultural Extension” technical report. This climate education for agricultural stakeholders represents a significant shift relative to past efforts. Our extension educators in Indiana and Michigan have conducted extension in-services this past year to address the need to incorporate agro-climate education into extension programs.

By the numbers:

Extension educators in all CSCAP states incorporated climate and agriculture presentations, information, and discussions into their existing extension programming efforts and reached over 7000 farmers, crop consultants, and other extension educators. Cover crops, water quality and drainage and soil health were popular topics. CSCAP Extension educators have increased their knowledge and confidence in talking about climate and agriculture. Evidence of this is the increasing frequency at which they are being asked to share their expertise because of their knowledge and experience they gained participating in the CSCAP.

The Extension team has a total of 385 outputs to-date and 15,520 individuals reached in-person. Outputs include: promotional reports, grant proposals written, extension publications, conference presentations, extension presentations, blog articles, Twitter entries, popular press articles, news releases, radio and television spots, and educational videos.

The CSCAP website (www.sustainablecorn.org), with an intended audience of Corn Belt farmers, has had 25,520 users who have had 48,728 sessions at the site. It continues to have steady traffic at 4,055 for the first 4 months of 2016. The newest Extension publication, “Climate Change in the Cornbelt” (CSCAP-0193-2016), has been downloaded 98 times and only been on the website for a couple months. This is typical of most of the publications made available at the site. The most visited pages include the AgriClimate Connection blog, field research pages, and pages about farmer perspectives on agriculture and weather variability.

Extension publications and videos produced by this project for use by educators and farmers can be found at http://store.extension.iastate.edu/Topic/Crops/Climate-and-Agriculture.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The Accomplishments of CSCAP extension and outreach team, were 1) one-on-one data gathering and discussions with 159 farmer leaders and farmer groups to learn about their production systems and changes from 2012 to 2015, 2) completion of two rounds of surveys of the 159 project farmers to understand their perceptions, practices, and responses to changing climate, 3) state-specific field days and crop management meetings to convey science findings and recommendations, 4) assisting with the development and enhancement of new farmer decision tools and other training materials and messages that appeal to farmers and farm advisers, 5) presentations to the CSCAP advisory board, highlighting the potential to successfully integrate climate science education into land grant university extension agricultural programming, and 6) the publication of a technical report, developed jointly with the USDA Useful 2 Usable project, that is being distributed to North Central Region land grant university administrators and other extension and outreach educators in order to share the lessons they learned as they interacted, throughout the project years, with farmers and farm advisors to convey climate science.

Specifically the extension team:

  1. Carried out series of locally adapted presentations and field days to extend project science to farmers and farm advisers, most often focusing on cover crops, nitrogen timing, no-tillage, and soil health.
  2. Worked with 159 project farmers to build knowledge and evaluate implementation of practices similar to CSCAP experiments.
  3. Conducted a second assessment of 159 project farmers on 1) agronomic practices on two of their fields to compare 2015 to their baseline 2012 practices, and 2) survey of farm practices and responses to changing climate conditions. Data were analyzed and used for graduate student papers and dissertation.
  4. Received training on, pilot tested and demonstrated new farmer decisions tools at topic specific field days and training programs. The tools were developed by developed by the USDA Useful 2 Usable project.
  5. Contributed articles and agriculture photographs for the CSCAP website, blog and twitter feed, targeting farmers and farm advisers.
  6. Assisted with the development and distribution of print and video products for agricultural stakeholders on the topics of soil and carbon, water, climate, extended rotations, and tillage.
  7. Met with CSCAP social scientists and U2U team to identify lessons learned from extension programing and outreach about climate science and agriculture; wrote and published findings.
  8. Attended annual CSCAP whole team meetings, annual extension team meetings, monthly conference calls, and occasional webinars to learn from CSCAP scientists, share what they were experiencing and learning from their work with farmers, and coordinate the work of their team.

The Climate Change and Agricultural Extension Technical Report, a joint effort between CSCAP and the Purdue-led U2U project, was published in March 2016. Two face-to-face meetings and numerous virtual meetings were used to identify professional educator challenges and develop a report that not only lays out the issues associated with extending climate and agricultural science to stakeholders but also addresses individual and institutional options to improving ways extension programs work with and help audiences learn and change behaviors. This time consuming effort is just beginning to pay off with the circulation of this report to North Central land grant university administration, leadership, and extension educators. “Climate Change and Agricultural Extension” is available to download and print at  http://store.extension.iastate.edu/Product/Climate-Change-and-Agricultural-Extension     The executive summary of the report is also available at the same link.

A number of other products for agricultural extension educators, stakeholders and general public audiences have been published by the Extension team. These publications and videos will be located at several online locations of collaborating NC land grant universities. Iowa State Univ., Purdue Univ., Lincoln Univ., University of Missouri. The Ohio State Univ., University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Michigan State University. Iowa State and Michigan State are currently the only ones whose online Extension stores are live. The link for ISU is http://store.extension.iastate.edu/Topic/Crops/Climate-and-Agriculture

And the link for MSU: http://msue.anr.msu.edu/program/climate_change_and_variability/educational_materials ; scroll down and click on “Corn-based Cropping Systems climate and agriculture resources”

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

The contributions of this project’s extension educators may programmatically strengthen all North Central land grant universities’ focus on climate education within their agricultural programs; generate increased communication among North Central extension educators and state climate specialists about climate change and its agricultural impacts; and encourage the development of more audience-specific tools, products, educational materials, media, and other online resources about climate and agriculture.

Future Recommendations

Continue to support opportunities for extension educators to build professional networks and to increase their knowledge of climate science, how climate change is impacting agriculture, and how to help farmers adapt to climate change impacts and build more resilient cropping systems.

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.