Soil Health Bootcamp and Applications to Sustainable Vegetable Cropping: Professional Development for Local Agriculture Educators

Final report for ENC15-146

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2015: $64,307.00
Projected End Date: 05/31/2018
Grant Recipient: Kansas State University
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Megan Kennelly
Kansas State University
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Project Information

Abstract:

The overall goal of this project is to develop, deliver, and evaluate a comprehensive training program about soil health with specific applications to sustainable vegetable cropping. The training involves online learning and face-to-face hands-on workshops. The primary audience is K-State Research and Extension county/local educators who identified this as a professional development need.  Other participants include NRCS educators and a few Extension Master Gardeners.

Project Objectives:

Broad learning objectives of our targeted audience include: i) Develop an understanding of the structure, function, and biological complexity of soil; ii) Learn and practice skills to measure and assess soil quality; iii) Build a toolbox of various methods including cover crops to improve soil health; iv) Understand the concepts of ecological pest management; v) Practice whole-farm system planning; and vi) Understand sustainable vegetable production.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Raymond Cloyd
  • Kim Oxley
  • DeAnn Presley
  • Cary Rivard
  • Chandler Day (Educator)

Education

Educational approach:

Our approach was to combine online, self-paced learning with hands-on interactive workshops to reinforce and build on the online topics. We developed 8 brief introductory webinars as “prerequisites” for the hands-on workshops. A main goal of the webinars was to cover all the “classroom” material ahead of time to maximize the hands-on, field-based activities for the workshops. Then we used that knowledge base as the foundation for our in-person activities.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Soil Health Bootcamp and Applications to Sustainable Vegetable Cropping
Objective:

i) Develop an understanding of the structure, function, and biological complexity of soil; ii) Learn and practice skills to measure and assess soil quality; iii) Build a toolbox of various methods including cover crops to improve soil health; iv) Understand the concepts of ecological pest management; v) Practice whole-farm system planning; and vi) Understand sustainable vegetable production.

Description:

Webinars: We developed 8 brief introductory webinars as “prerequisites” for the hands-on workshops. A main goal of the webinars was to cover all the “classroom” material ahead of time to maximize the hands-on, field-based activities for the workshops:

  1. Soil Physical Properties
  2. Soil as a Living Ecosystem
  3. Cover Crops I – Functions of Cover Crops
  4. Cover Crops II – Specific applications to Vegetables
  5. Vegetable Production -Equipment, Fertigation, No-till
  6. Diseases
  7. Pollinators and Beneficials
  8. Insect Pests

 

Workshops:

We held two hands-on workshops in 2017, to build on the three we did in 2016. One was at a KSU research/extension center (north central Kansas – Hays), one was at a private farm (Southeast Kansas – Fort Scott). We initially had one planned for south central, but only 4 individuals pre-registered and they were contacted and were able to attend another site as an alternative, so they were able to meet their training goals . We held three workshops in 2016. One was at a KSU research/extension center (northeast Kansas), one was at a private farm (North Central), and one was at a community college (Southwest). Participants greatly appreciated having the workshops close to their locations in the state, with a focus on their local climate, growing conditions, etc. We provided copies of the SARE books Building Soils for Better Crops and Managing Cover Crops Profitably to all participants.

Soil health and vegetable crops resource display table

We added a face-to-face professional development engagement opportunity that arose during 2017. At K-State, nearly all the local/county educators/agents were coming to the main campus for a multi-day conference. We were able to use this opportunity, on October 31 2017, to talk to an estimated 40 individuals at a high-traffic 1.5 hour resource fair/poster session using a simple display table set-up. At this resource fair, we provided them with the SARE books Building Soils for Better Crops and Managing Cover Crops Profitably along with the Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide, and walked them through the books so they would know what was there and how to use them. In addition, we had a laptop to show people our website, including how to find and view the webinars, our online collection of resources, and our team contact information. The URL’s were all provided on a short handout to refer to later. Several individuals we interacted with were brand new (within a couple of weeks!) extension educators who had not even been on staff when the face-to-face workshops were offered. They were disappointed to learn that the workshops would not be offered in 2018, but they were very excited to receive some printed resources and to find the online webinars to view at their own pace. Many others were individuals who had not been able to attend the hands-on workshops due to scheduling conflicts, and they too were excited to gain at least some of the information. This was a very effective strategy to reach people who had missed the workshops, and it may be responsible for some of the extra web hits we saw on certain webinar topics.

Sustainable Vegetable Disease Problem-Solving Training

Based on anecdotal feedback from agents at the previous workshops and display table mentioned above, we developed and implemented a vegetable disease hands-on problem-solving activity for county agents to build on their ability to help producers manage diseases and enhance their confidence in using the Midwest Vegetable Production Guide to make sustainable IPM decisions. We developed ten detailed “case studies” of tomato health problems for the agents to work on in groups. We conducted this 1.5 hr training on Friday, January 19 2018 in Emporia KS (24 agents) and January 16th in McPherson Kansas (10 agents).

Online professional development in soil health

Based on feedback from agents at all the events mentioned above, we developed and delivered an online “Soil Health Series” to deliver using the already-existing Horticulture Newsletter. Agents had consistently told us they wanted soil health information in an easy-to digest format that they could use at their own pace. They also requested it to be accessible to their Extension Master Gardeners. The Horticulture Newsletter already was being sent to all agents and Extension Master Gardeners, plus many others, with a total subscriber base of about 2,700. We developed a set of 13 topics in spring 2018 and then delivered them during summer 2018, roughly one per week:

  1. Why is soil important?
  2. Soil is alive, part 1
  3. Soil is alive, part 2
  4. What makes soil soil?
  5. What is soil texture
  6. Roots need to breathe! (Soil pore space)
  7. Organic matter “The living, the dead, and the very dead”
  8. OMG! – Organic Matter’s Great!
  9. Composting- Where to begin and how it works
  10. Compost- Do’s, Don’ts, and Usage
  11. What is nutrient cycling?
  12. Soil pH- What is it and why does it matter
  13. Beware of Soil Degradation

For each topic, we developed a brief article that has also links to 1-2 short sections of the SARE book Building Soils for Better Crops for further reading plus links to 1-2 short videos from NRCS, the Soils Science Society of America, and others. We posted the links using our own “Bitly” links so that we could track how many people we directly drove to the content. Engagement has been high. For each of the 30 bitly links we have provided across the 13 articles, the average number of hits is 91, and the total is 2747. The average number of hits for each of the Building Soils for Better Crops sections for our unique links is 109, with a total of 1428. That means this SARE online resource has gotten an additional 1428 hits directly due to our outreach efforts over just one summer. The highest number of hits for one single bitly was 212, for a video called “Soils Sustain Life” from the Soil Science Society of America, in our very first post.

 

Academic outreach

A summary of the project will be presented as a poster at the 2018 joint meeting of the Agronomy Society of America, Crop Science Society of America, and Canadian Society of Agronomy. It will be in the Education and Extension poster session.

Presley DR, Cloyd RA, Rivard CL, Oxley K, Day C, and Kennelly MM. 2018. Flipping the Classroom in Extension: Vegetable Crop IPM and Soil Health Webinars and Workshops. Poster 1136.

The abstract can be accessed here: https://scisoc.confex.com/scisoc/2018am/meetingapp.cgi/Paper/111388

Outcomes and impacts:

Outcomes are described in the project outcomes section

Educational & Outreach Activities

14 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
3 On-farm demonstrations
5 Tours
10 Webinars / talks / presentations
5 Workshop field days
1 Other

Participation Summary

73 Extension
4 NRCS
1 Nonprofit
351 Others

Learning Outcomes

62 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
62 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

3 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

2017 Outcomes and Impacts

We held two hands-on workshops in 2017, to build on the three we did in 2016, which follow. One was at a KSU research/extension center (north central Kansas – Hays), one was at a private farm (Southeast Kansas – Fort Scott). We initially had one planned for south central, but only 4 individuals pre-registered and they were contacted and were able to attend another site as an alternative, so they were able to meet their training goals . Participants greatly appreciated having the workshops close to their locations in the state, with a focus on their local climate, growing conditions, etc. We provided copies of the SARE books Building Soils for Better Crops and Managing Cover Crops Profitably to all participants.

 

IMPACTS

We implemented our evaluation tool for the hands-on workshops. 2016 workshops are reported below, and were captured in last year’s annual report. The 2017 results are:

For all, we used a 1-5 scale: 1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = neutral, 4 = agree, 5 = strongly agree

September 27, 2017 – Fort Scott, KS – 6 Evaluations Completed, 11 Attendees

 

Question

Avg

The hands-on workshop improved my knowledge of general vegetable cropping

4.33

The hands-on workshop improved my ability to diagnose vegetable diseases

4.17

The hands-on workshop improved my ability to identify insect pests

4.17

The hands-on workshop improved my knowledge of soil health

4.50

The hands-on workshop improved my ability to personally measure and assess soil health

4.50

The hands-on workshop was an effective educational method

4.83

 

May 25, 2017 – Hays, KS – 9 Evaluations Completed, 10 Attendees

 

Question

Avg

The hands-on workshop improved my knowledge of general vegetable cropping

4.44

The hands-on workshop improved my ability to diagnose vegetable diseases

3.14

The hands-on workshop improved my ability to identify insect pests

3.56

The hands-on workshop improved my knowledge of soil health

4.22

The hands-on workshop improved my ability to personally measure and assess soil health

4.00

The hands-on workshop was an effective educational method

4.63

 

We also asked the open-ended question “Name one concept or practice that you will put into use after participation in the workshop”. The answers below are pooled from both 2017 locations. These answers are also summarized in a word cloud that will be uploaded separately.

  • Fertilizer ratios
  • More knowledge on type of soil, cover crops, run off was gained
  • Dropping pH on insecticide
  • Testing/adding K for gardening
  • Soil maintenance of pH
  • Foliar testing for nutrients during growing season
  • Cover crop
  • Soil health and composition
  • Testing soil texture
  • Use soil ribbon to determine soil texture.
  • Mice a real problem in hoop house.
  • Educate more people about the effect of water pH and insecticide efficacy
  • Reinforce the benefit of organic matter and residue in/on soil
  • Identify pests
  • Cover crops roller tilled down
  • Rain simulator was good
  • Explaining the importance of cover crops and run off
  • Apply no-till
  • Use of soil penetrometer/probe to assess compaction
  • I learned key things to look for in soil texture/structure

Here is the word cloud for the 2017 workshops:

 

 

2016 Impacts

We implemented an evaluation tool for the hands-on workshops. For all, we used a 1-5 scale: 1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = neutral, 4 = agree, 5 = strongly agree

May 11, 2016 – Olathe, KS – 13 Evaluations Completed out of 17 participants

Question

Avg

The hands-on workshop improved my knowledge of general vegetable cropping

4.08

The hands-on workshop improved my ability to diagnose vegetable diseases N/A

The hands-on workshop improved my ability to identify insect pests

3.54

The hands-on workshop improved my knowledge of soil health

4.15

The hands-on workshop improved my ability to personally measure and assess soil health

3.92

The hands-on workshop was an effective educational method

4.38

*N/A – was not on the agenda for this meeting

 

May 26, 2016 – Courtland, KS – 8 Evaluations Completed out of 13 participants

Question

Avg

The hands-on workshop improved my knowledge of general vegetable cropping

4.25

The hands-on workshop improved my ability to diagnose vegetable diseases

NA*

The hands-on workshop improved my ability to identify insect pests

3.88

The hands-on workshop improved my knowledge of soil health

3.88

The hands-on workshop improved my ability to personally measure and assess soil health

4.13

The hands-on workshop was an effective educational method

4.75

*Was not formally on the agenda for this site

October 5, 2016 – Liberal, KS – 9 Evaluations Completed out of 11 participants

 

Question

Avg

The hands-on workshop improved my knowledge of general vegetable cropping

4.33

The hands-on workshop improved my ability to diagnose vegetable diseases

4.22

The hands-on workshop improved my ability to identify insect pests

3.57

The hands-on workshop improved my knowledge of soil health

4.22

The hands-on workshop improved my ability to personally measure and assess soil health

4.00

The hands-on workshop was an effective educational method

4.33

 

We also asked the open-ended question “Name one concept or practice that you will put into use after participation in the workshop”. The answers below are pooled from all three 2016 locations and are also summarized in the word cloud:

  • Increased issue diagnostic tools
  • Fertilization principles
  • Disease ID
  • Soil health
  • Identify different disease
  • Calculating amounts of fertilizer needs
  • Fertilizer concepts in vegetable crops
  • A green house and high tunnel knowledge learned
  • Identifying the soil type, it’s been a long time since I’ve done it last
  • Recommending predatory mites for 2 spotted spider mite problem in high tunnels and greenhouses
  • Direct sampling methods
  • Use rainfall simulator at Kids Ag Day
  • Insect scouting techniques
  • I thought the rain simulator was a good explanation of runoff and infiltration
  • Use of cover crops
  • Pest scouting and soil compaction
  • Recommended/use of cover crops, beneficial insects, and fertigation systems
  • Used beneficial insects for pest control
  • Soil infiltration/runoff demo most impactful for me and my job
  • Soil probing
  • Fertilizing calculations
  • Encouraging more conservation tillage/no-till. Retains soil particles, increases infiltration
  • Educating on soil health – teaching EMBs/Clients
  • Though there are a few people using high tunnels in my area, I will share what I’ve learned about that option – particularly fertigation and cover crop for fallow periods
  • Soil runoff and cover crops
  • Sampling insect populations. Cover crop management techniques
  • Identifying soil type by feel
  • The soil ribbon will be a great tool when I give soil lessons
  • Bucket method for fertigation
  • Continued knowledge building for cover crop wage
  • Wanted to learn more about cover crops – learned some. Would like to learn more – which use which crop for which situations

 

Webinars:

We developed 8 brief introductory webinars as “prerequisites” for the hands-on workshops. We developed our project website, which can be viewed at www.soilhealthbootcamp.org, and the webinars are housed there. A main goal of the webinars was to cover all the “classroom” material ahead of time to maximize the hands-on, field-based activities for the workshops. Our webinars and their “hits” so far are:

  1. Soil Physical Properties (~16 min) 431 views
  2. Soil as a Living Ecosystem (~21 min) 84 views
  3. Cover Crops I – Functions of Cover Crops (~23 min) 122 views
  4. Cover Crops II – Specific applications to Vegetables (~33 min) 228 views
  5. Vegetable Production -Equipment, Fertigation, No-till (~33 min) 145 views
  6. Diseases (~31 min) 16 views
  7. Pollinators and Beneficials (~15 min) 33 views
  8. Insect Pests (~7 min) 15 views

Based on web hits (varies, as listed above) versus workshop attendance (cumulative total of 62), we can see that the workshop participants did not view all the webinars.  On the other hand, several webinars had many more hits than our # of participants. Our website is open, not closed, so people other than participants may be finding and using the videos.  We have mentioned our webinars at some other venues, so they are being used beyond our specific target audience scope. Therefore, we list 351 as the “other participants” reached, counting the individuals who were reached by our highest-viewed webinar (soil physical properties) as part of that total, but not knowing exactly who they are.

Webinar feedback: 

Despite multiple emails and reminders, we only were able to get feedback from 15 webinar viewers. Overall the feedback was positive.

Question

(N=15)

Strongly agree

Agree/

Somewhat agree

Neither agree nor disagree

Somewhat disagree/Disagree

Strongly disagree

The webinars were an effective educational delivery method:

47%

40%

13%

0%

0%

The webinars improved my general knowledge about vegetable cropping

33%

60%

0%

7%

0%

The webinars improved my general knowledge about soil health

27%

66%

0%

7%

0%

The webinars improved my general knowledge about cover crops

33%

53%

7%

7%

0%

The webinars improved my general knowledge about diseases of vegetables

20%

60%

20%

0%

0%

The webinars improved my general knowledge about vegetable pests

27%

60%

13%

0%

0%

The webinars improved my ability to work with my local stakeholders about vegetable cropping

27%

40%

33%

0%

0%

 

 

 

62 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
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.