The Green Lands Blue Waters (GLBW) partnership organized six workshops on Integrating Continuous Living Cover (CLC) into Farming Systems, three on August 4, 2014 and three on August 6, 2015. The project team compiled the first edition of the Continuous Living Cover Manual prior to the 2014 workshop. Based on input from trainers and trainees, the Manual was updated and expanded prior to the 2015 workshops.
More than 40 people contributed to preparing the Manual, including experts from area universities and experts associated with the Midwest Perennial Forage Working Group, Mid-American Agroforestry Working Group, and the Midwest Cover Crops Council. The Manual served as the basis for train-the-trainer events, where 93 agriculture and natural resource professionals from Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin learned about the concepts and practices of CLC farming. We recruited trainees directly from local agency office nearby the training venues and following recommendations from our partners. Each year, the workshops were simultaneously held in three locations. For the morning sessions, all sites were connected by state-of-the-art web-based video conferencing. Each site had multiple cameras, microphones, and super-size TV monitors. Trainees saw and heard presentations made from any location and discussions extended across all locations. The morning sessions provided information on the latest science behind CLC farming, including use of CLC crops in multi-year rotations and the importance of perennial crops placement on the landscape. In the afternoon, each of the three trainee groups visited one or two farms where farmers showed their CLC practices, followed by discussions among the trainees, farmers, and local experts in CLC farming. CEU credits were available to participants. Evaluations were conducted at the start and end of the day-long workshops; approximately six months after the workshops; and again 18 months after the 2014 events. Trainees and instructors were added to the GLBW mailing list and are receiving the GLBW Update, which provides information about CLC farming news, publications, and events and professional development opportunities in the region on a twice-monthly basis.
The main objectives of this SARE PDP project were to create the CLC Farming Manual used in the CLC farming workshops and to organize and host day-long train-the-trainer workshops attended by agriculture and natural resource professionals. The long-term objective of the project is to help increase adoption of CLC farming in the Upper Mississippi River Basin; with goals of improving resilience, long-term profitability, and environmental performance of farms.
Overall performances objectives for the two year project were to: 1) Publish the CLC Manual 2) Organize and host six workshops at venues with appropriate video–conferencing technology and include farm tours; and 3) Recruit and train 90 agricultural and conservation professionals; approximately 15 at each of the six locations.
The Green Lands Blue Waters partnership originated ten years ago with the goal of increasing the use of perennial crops and cover crops, what we call Continuous Living Cover, to maintain a healthy environment and farm profitability while meeting the growing demand for food, fiber and fuel. We are a network of universities, agencies, non-profits, and farmers, ensuring multi-directional flow of information within the Midwest region.
Continuous Living Cover farming is a variety of practices that improves environmental performance of agriculture by increasing vegetation cover of farmlands. We organize our work into five CLC strategies: 1) perennial forage and pasture, 2) perennial biomass for energy, 3) agroforestry, 4) perennial edible grains, and 5) winter annual cover crops. Both above and below ground, CLC crops deliver multiple benefits to soil health and long-term farm profitability, water quality, and habitat. CLC crops keep soil in place, reducing losses of nutrients and agricultural chemicals and protecting water quality. Use of CLC in cropping systems increases plant species diversity on farms, which in turn benefits a variety of wildlife and pollinator species. Research in Iowa shows that perennial plants, strategically located on as little as 10% of the farming landscape can reduce soil and nutrient loss from fields by as much as 90% (Liebman, M, M. Helmers, L. Schulte, and C. Chase. 2013. Using biodiversity to link agricultural productivity with environmental quality: Results from three field experiments in Iowa. Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, Digital Repository at Iowa State University).
This project consolidated existing resources on all CLC options (perennials and winter annual cover crops) and focused on their integration within a whole farm and/or landscape scale framework. The CLC Manual provides research-based information and strategies to assist farmers in integrating multiple CLC practices into their cropping systems and optimizing placement of perennial crops within the farm landscape. The Manual was used in training cohorts of farm advisors from a variety of agencies within a region to build supportive communities of advisors who are equipped and empowered to recommend CLC implementation to the farmers and landowners they advise.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
The project leadership team, including regional experts in CLC farming systems, experienced educators, and farmers, prepared the outline for the CLC Manual and the curriculum for the training workshops. GLBW staff then recruited more than 40 experts who assisted with compiling information and helping to writing and review the CLC Manual.
Trainers for each of the workshop sites were drawn from among the contributors to the Manual. A local host and a technical support person were assigned to each site. Farmers practicing CLC farming methods nearby each of the training locations were recruited to host farm tours.
Venues with the right video-conferencing equipment were identified months in advance of the workshops. Site visits to test the interactive technology well in advance of the workshops was essential to the preparation. Video conferencing experts at the University of Minnesota provided technical support during site selection and pre-workshop testing, and managed the bridging services that connected the sites during the workshops.
Recruiting trainees was an active process. Invitations were extended to the NRCS and SWCD staff from the 6 to 8 counties nearest each training sites. The GLBW network partners were asked to nominate people for the training workshops.
The morning classroom sessions included ample time for Q&A. Afternoon sessions were conducted as farm tours. The tours were particular valuable when there was ample time for the group to convene at the end of the day to discuss opportunities for CLC farming from the perspective of the trainees.
Per- and post-workshop surveys and surveys taken months after the events were used to evaluate the project and document our results.
Outreach and Publications
The workshops themselves were an outreach success. To recruit 93 trainees, we reached out to approximately 150 agriculture professionals. Most of the trainees, approximately 90%, were newly added to our mailing list following the workshop, as were many people contacted during the recruitment process who were unable to attend. They now receive the GLBW Updates, approximately biweekly, with information and news about CLC farming in the Midwest.
GLBW printed and distributed 105 copies of the 2014 edition of the Manual and 100 copies of the 2015 edition, including to trainees and trainers the day of the workshops. Additional copies were distributed to state-level staff and in other parts of the Midwest. The 2015 edition were all gone by January 2016 so we ordered a second printing of 25 Manuals. Both the GLBW Steering Committee and our Watershed Initiative group are already planning ways to increase the reach and impact of the CLC manual.
GLBW presented a poster about the CLC Manual at our 2015 Conference attended by over 150 people. We now have two copies of the poster, which will be displayed at two events in March 2016 and others going forward.
2014 Survey results
Short-Term and intermediate Outcomes:
- 46 participants were trained in CLC farming practices, including integration of CLC crops into rotational cropping systems, and optimizing placement of perennial crops on the landscape.
- 90% of trainees reported improved understanding of one or more CLC farming practice
- 82% of trainees reported improved understanding of integration of CLC practices into crop rotations.
- 100% of trainees reported they were more prepared to advise or recommend CLC practices.
- 100% of trainees reported they were more likely to recommend CLC practices.
The top rated aspects of the training were, on a scale of 1 (effective), 2 (neutral) and 3 (effective):
- Training on CLC in rotations (2.80)
- Farm visits (2.75)
- Training on location of CLC on the landscape (2.72)
Based on a survey six months following the workshops, with 19 responses from the 46 trainees:
- 95% of respondents are now using or recommending farmers use one or more CLC practices. Only 35% of trainees reported using or recommending CLC practices prior to the workshop.
- 58% of the trainees have maintained contact with other trainees for the workshop, including 20% who had collaborated with other workshop trainees in hosting a farm field day, workshop, or other training event presenting CLC farming practices.
- 68% of the trainees have used one or more sections of the CLC Manual in their work. Several comments received in the 6-month survey indicated that people appreciated having that resource and intended to use it, even if they hadn’t found an opportunity to do so yet.
2015 Survey Results
Short-Term and intermediate Outcomes:
- 47 participants were trained in CLC farming practices, including integration of CLC crops into rotational cropping systems, and optimizing placement of perennial crops on the landscape.
- The number of trainees reporting they felt knowledgeable about one or more of the three CLC practices increased by about 60% from pre- to post-workshop.
- The number of trainees reporting they felt knowledgeable about integration of CLC practices into crop rotations increased by about 63% from pre- to post-workshop.
- The number of trainees reporting they felt knowledgeable about placement of CLC practices on the landscape increased by about 55% from pre- to post-workshop.
- 89% of trainees reported they were more prepared to advise or recommend CLC practices.
- 77% of trainees reported they were more likely to recommend CLC practices.
The top rated aspects of the training were, on a scale of 1 (effective), 2 (neutral) and 3 (effective):
- Farm visits (2.74)
- Training on agroforestry (2.74)
- Training on perennial forages (2.66)
- Training on cover crops (2.66)
- Training on perennials in rotation (2.66)
Based on a survey six months following the workshops, with 19 responses from the 47 trainees:
- 100% of respondents are now using or recommending farmers use one or more CLC practices. 85% of trainees reported using or recommending CLC practices prior to the workshop.
- 84% of the trainees have maintained contact with other trainees from the workshop, including 11% who had collaborated with other workshop trainees in hosting a farm field day, workshop, or other training event presenting CLC farming practices.
- 58% of the trainees have used one or more sections of the CLC Manual in their work.
- In July 2014 the GLBW Regional Office released the CLC Manual in print and online versions. The Manual was updated in 2015 and re-released in July 2015 with the addition of four chapters and six more farm case studies. Production of the Manual directly involved more 40 people over the two-year project. It includes an overview of CLC farming systems; agronomic information on CLC crops; sections on integrating CLC into multi-year rotations and optimizing location of perennial for maximum farm and environmental benefits; a chapter on Women Caring for the Land; analysis of NRCS-EQIP funded Best Management Practices that can support CLC farming; ten farmer cases studies illustrating CLC practices; and informative annexes, including a bibliography. The print version was provided to workshop participants. The Manual is available in pdf format on the GLBW website.
- Regional CLC experts from the project team prepared training presentations to be viewed live at all three workshops locations. For each of the workshop sites, three CLC experts and one or more farmers were recruited to provide local training support.
- CLC Workshop locations were held in Webster City (2014) and Calmar (2015), Iowa; Willmar and Worthington, Minnesota (both in 2014); and New Richmond and Platteville, Wisconsin (both in 2015). Prior to the workshops, each site was visited by members of the project team and the technology evaluated by our technology support group.
- Ninety-three trainees attended the workshops, including 18 from USDA NRCS field offices, 29 from county Soil & Water Conservation District offices, 13 university extension agents, 18 NGO field staff, and 15 from other state agencies, university faculty, and private crop consultants.
- The workshops were held from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. For the morning sessions, Internet-based video technology was used to link the three workshop groups. Question and Answer sessions followed sets of presentations; inquiries and responses were heard and seen at all three locations. In the afternoon, each workshop group participated in farm tours that featured examples of CLC farming and were led by the farmers, with discussion sessions co-led by project team members.
- Five Continuing Education Credit units were awarded to eligible trainees.
- Pre- and post-workshop surveys were administered the day of the event. A follow-up survey was sent by email to the trainees six months following the workshops, and the 2014 class was asked to complete another survey the 18 months following the workshops.
By recruiting and training agricultural professionals from a small local area, where many of the trainees will continue to work together for many years, we can contribute to formation of a critical mass of expertise in CLC farming, which will perhaps lead to greater acceptance of CLC practices in the region.
Providing information and examples of CLC farming to local farm advisors and natural resource professionals may result in wider exposure for successes in the training locales, thus contributing to broader adoption of CLC near the training locales. Expansion of well-integrated and properly placed CLC practices throughout these areas can lead to measurable positive changes in soil health and water quality.
We recommend expanding use of the CLC Manual and training program to additional areas in the Midwest. This project reached audiences primarily in southwest Minnesota, western Wisconsin, and northcentral and northeaster Iowa. The training should be offered in additional regions; the materials are particularly applicable across large parts of Iowa and Illinois, and geographic gaps that remaining Minnesota and Wisconsin.