Increasing the Capacity of Agency Staff and Agricultural Professionals to Increase Farmer Adoption of Cover Crops in Wisconsin

Final report for ENC15-150

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2015: $74,602.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2018
Grant Recipient: Michael Fields Agricultural Institute
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Dr. James Stute
Michael Fields Agricultural Institute
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Project Information

Abstract:

This project will increase the knowledge and capacity of agency staff and agricultural professionals including Technical Service Providers to help them increase farmer adoption of cover crops in the various regions of Wisconsin. Cover crops need to be demonstrated at a local level to encourage adoption since successful use is highly dependent on local soils and weather.  We will host a series of professional development outdoor learning events at cover crop demonstration sites around the state to teach best management practices.

Agency staff and professionals will use the information that they learn at these outdoor learning events with their farmer clientele to increase farmer’s successful use of cover crops. Our overall goal is to increase the farmer’s initial success with cover crops in hopes of long-term adoption.

Project Objectives:

The goal of this project is to increase the confidence and proficiency of agency personnel in delivering research-based recommendations to their clients with an ultimate goal of increasing long-term cover crop acreage in Wisconsin.

Targets:

Conduct eight learning events across Wisconsin in 2016-17.

400 agency staff (NRCS, County Land Conservation Department, Extension, Temporary Service Providers) will attend learning events and apply gained knowledge in work with clients.

Produce and distribute educational materials including launch and maintenance of the “Cover Crops in Wisconsin” website.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Jeff Endres
  • Adam Kuczer
  • Dan Marzu (Educator)
  • Dr. Jamie Pattor (Educator)
  • Pat Socha
  • Daniel Smith (Educator)
  • Jerry Clark (Educator)

Education

Educational approach:

We used 2 approaches, outdoor learning events and workshops. The learning events were held on farms which practice cover cropping using information from the sites including the cover crop and the crop which follows. Workshops used short topical presentations followed by group discussion. Evaluation used two approaches, pre and post event survey to measure change in knowledge and intended actions followed by a six-month evaluation to measure action. 

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Cover crops in Wisconsin cropping systems
Objective:

The objective of this project is to increase the confidence and proficiency of agency personnel in delivering research-based cover crop management recommendations to their clients with an ultimate goal of increasing long-term cover crop acreage in Wisconsin.

Targets:
Conduct eight learning events across Wisconsin in 2016-17.

400 agency staff (NRCS, County Land Conservation Department, Extension, Temporary Service Providers) will attend learning events and apply gained knowledge in work with clients.

Produce and distribute educational materials including launch and maintenance of the “Cover Crops in Wisconsin” website.

Description:

Eight professional development outdoor learning events were conducted at cover crop demonstration plots around the state in the fall of 2016 and 2017. The learning events provided attendees with the opportunity to observe cover crop growth and performance in the plots and professional development on best management for cover crops based on the region.  An education delivery team, consisting of the local agent and farmer, local NRCS representatives, and regional and statewide specialists were responsible for the educational part of the on-farm events. 

The local Extension agent and farmer presented a comparison of erosion reduction, nutrient cycling and impact on following cash crop yield between the cover crops treatments at each demonstration site. Local NRCS staff conducted soil health visual demonstrations using soil from non-cover cropped and cover cropped soil.  Specialists presented cover crop research updates and recommendations.  Learning events included regionally specific information if available, including hearing from local farmers that are already successfully using cover crops.

The professional development learning events provided networking time for agency staff and professionals with the hope of developing local groups to continue working on cover crops. If functional, these groups could continue coordinating research and educational on-farm demonstrations in future years.

Demonstrations sites

Extension educators collaborated with local farmers to host demonstration plot sites.   Three plots were located across the northern half of Wisconsin (Dunn, Lincoln and Shawano counties) and three in the southern half (Dane, Walworth and Grant counties).

The demonstration plot sites for the 2016 field days will be planted to cover crops in the fall of 2015. This will allow site coordinators to assess the impact of the previous cover crop on cash crop yield. The same process was repeated for the 2017 outdoor learning event demonstration plot sites.  Site coordinators monitored cover crop growth, took soil samples, and measured cash crop yield.  Soil erosion modeling and cover crop economics will be calculated for each of the sites once the information is compiled, then distributed to event participants for their work helping farmers make decisions about cover crops.

 

 

 

Outcomes and impacts:

The PD events were delivered to achieve these short-term outcomes with agency staff and agriculture professionals as the targeted audience:

  1. Heightened awareness, knowledge and skills about cover crop management.
  2. Heightened awareness, knowledge and skills about the benefits of cover crops (to crop, soil and water).
  3. Identify and define issues regarding best management practices (BMPs) for cover crops.
  4. Create localized networks of agency staff and ag professionals working together to increase farmer adoption of cover crops

These short-term outcomes were measured immediately after the learning events by using pre and post written evaluations. Local Extension staff were tasked with helping to continue fostering local groups of agency staff and professionals after the PD learning events. 

Intermediate outcomes of the targeted audience anticipated as a result of attending the PD trainings include:

  1. Agriculture Professionals will apply knowledge gained by educating farmers on cover crops through recommendations and educational programs.
  2. Farmers will increase planting of cover crops:
    1. After winter wheat
    2. After corn silage
    3. After soybeans
    4. After corn for grain

These intermediate outcomes will be measured at the end of this project in year 3 using written evaluations and focus groups.

 

Educational & Outreach Activities

2 Consultations
14 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
7 On-farm demonstrations
9 Workshop field days

Participation Summary

27 Extension
50 NRCS
14 Researchers
3 Nonprofit
75 Agency
10 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
80 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

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

Project Outcomes

4 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Impacts

Not able to assess at this time. We will be conducting 6-month follow-up evaluations in March to determine how participants are using knowledge gained in their work with clients.

Accomplishments

CCAG google forms response Cover crop meetings for agency staff

In 2015/16 we established eight demonstration sites with cooperating farmers for 2016 and 2017 learning events. Sites are located in NW, NC, NE, SW, SE and S. central Wisconsin representing a range of climate, soil types and cropping systems.

In 2016 we held four learning events located in S. central, NW and NE Wisconsin with a total of 157 participants. Rain limited participation at one of the events. A total of 103 participants (65.6%) returned evaluations (attached), highlights of which include:

On average, 88.4 rated knowledge gain at 3 to 4 on a scale of 1 (low) to 4 (high)

86.4% indicated content will improve discussions about cover crops with clients.

51.5% will incorporate information in cover crop programming.

84.5% will attend future learning events.

68.9% signed up for our cover crops email listserv.

In 2016 we launched the “Cover Crops in Wisconsin” website which is designed to be a central clearinghouse for cover crops in Wisconsin http://fyi.uwex.edu/covercrop/. We are tracking site visits, unfortunately that data is not available to the author at this time. All participants at our learning events learned of the website.

In 2017 we held four learning events located in Southern and Northwest Wisconsin with a total of 98 participants. Forty-six percent of participants returned evaluations, highlights of which include:

On average, knowledge gain measured 0.7 on a scale of 1 (no knowledge) to 5 (highly knowledgeable). Average post event knowledge measured 3.9, on the border of some and moderate knowledge.

100% indicated content will improve discussions about cover crops with clients.

And will incorporate information in cover crop programming.

Evaluations collected research and educational needs which are attached.

Sixty-three board approved continuing education credits (CEU’s) in crop management were awarded to 21 Certified Crop Advisors.

Lower than expected attendance prompted us to design a six-part “Wisconsin Cover Crop and Soil Health Research” webinar series to reach a larger audience. Topics and materials from the learning events formed the framework for this effort. The series was delivered in January and February 2018 and 461 people participated, earning 233.5 continuing education credits. Participants increased their general cover crop knowledge by 0.36 (1-5 scale) and their specific topic knowledge by 0.71. More importantly, 89.6% indicated they will use the knowledge in work with clients. 2018-Webinar-evaluation WCC-Webinar-Series-flyer-1

https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/covercrop/2018-wisconsin-cover-crop-and-soil-health-webinar-series/

 

 

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.