Water conservation practices for sustainable food production systems: developing an on-line, participatory training vehicle for ag-professional to enhance interaction with farmers

Final report for ENC18-174

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2018: $74,959.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2020
Grant Recipient: University of Wisconsin - Madison
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Yi Wang
University of Wisconsin - Madison
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Project Information

Abstract:

Water is a critically important resource in agroecosystems across the US. We will develop an on-line, participatory training opportunity for ag-professionals that will provide them with the tools and researched based knowledge to expand educational programs targeting agricultural water use that will allow farmers to more effectively balance water conservation with sustainable food production on their farms. The target audience for this train-the-trainer initiative will include a broad range of ag-professionals that educate or advise farmers on water management including: Extension Agents; Natural Resource Conservation Service; Dept. of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection; Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources; High-School and Technical School Agricultural Educators; Certified Crop Advisors; Wisconsin Assoc. of Professional Agricultural Consultants; and NGOs programming in water conservation (e.g. Wisconsin Wetlands Assn., River Alliance, Ducks Unlimited). Participants will become proficient in water management, on farms and in agroecosystems, enabling them to better influence farmer behavior and achieve the primary outcome of improving water use efficiencies and conservation in all forms of sustainable production systems. Short term outcomes will be measured in improved knowledge among participants and increased development of new educational programming in on-farm water conservation for farmers. To achieve training that is both practical and relevant to ongoing agricultural and environmental needs, the course will be delivered as a self-directed on-line module developed by University of Wisconsin Extension specialists. Farmers actively practicing water conservation as a component of sustainability and WDNR water specialists will aid in outreach. Targeted field workshops, linked to on-line curricula, will provide hands-on experience.

Project Objectives:

OUTCOMES
Detailed short, mid and long-term outcomes are outlined below: Expected short-term outcomes ( 1-2 years):

1. Establishing the base: This project will bring together a broadly focused coalition of partners representing all stakeholders in the ongoing debate over how Wisconsin can balance a productive and sustainable agricultural economy with water conservation.
2. Developing the tools: The coalition will work together to develop an in-depth yet practical on-line training vehicle that will provide a diverse audience of ag-professionals with the knowledge they need to interact more effectively with farmers on water issues. This in-depth training is not currently available in a format that addresses all stakeholder concerns, and will be vital for individual training of participants and associated farmers.
3. lncreasing knowledge: The effectiveness of this training vehicle in providing target participants with the tools to interact with farmers more effectively is critical to project success and will be measured directly throughout the course with direct feedback in webinars and detailed evaluations.

Expected medium term outcomes (2-3 years):

1. eutting Knowledge into action: The translation of increased knowledge into new and innovative ways for ag­professionals to interact with farmers is critical to success of the project. We will measure the potential for this translation by interacting with participants during webinars and field workshops during the course and with a follow-up survey.
2. Beaching the next generation of farmers: For the first time, this project will work directly with Vo-ag and technical college instructors to determine ways in which the course curriculum could be used in their ongoing educational programs for young prospective farmers. We will assess this potential during the course through interactive webinars.

Expected long term outcomes (2-5 years):

1. Beaching the farmer via train-the-trainer opportunities: The ultimate goal of this proposal is to impact farmer behavior by working through ag-professionals to encourage farmers to adopt practices which will lead to improved water conservation in concert with profitable and sustainable production systems. We believe that our inclusion of farmers as important coalition partners in all stages of this project, from planning, through pilot-testing to teaching, will ensure that the course is practical and meets the needs of farmers. This participation will give us valuable feedback on how we can expect to influence farmer behavior.
2. ldentifying direct access to farmer participants: This course curriculum can be modified and updated overtime to provide direct access to farmer participants, where instructors could work individually with interested growers to aid in the development and integration of BM P’s for water use, conservation and stewardship. This one-on-one training effort would impact on-farm practice adoption and could provide a key link to “Water Stewards”.
3. lssessing farmer buy-in: The “Water Stewards” program will provide the mechanism to assess changes in farmer behavior directly. Many of included partners who will work on this proposal were instrumental in the establishment of the “Water Stewards” program to provide recognition to farmers who adopt new water conservation practices and this approach was endorsed by all stakeholders in 2018. The inclusion of this stewardship program as a certifiable standard in the Healthy Grown program will provide a quantitative measure to assess farmer behavior through independent audit.
4. Buture expansion. The potential to increase the scope of this project to encompass farmers and ag­professionals throughout Wisconsin and in neighboring states would improve the ability of participants to balance water conservation with profitable and sustainable food production across the Midwest. Furthermore, once course curriculum is developed, we envision that this approach and outreach mechanism could be expanded to include more aspects of sustainability (beyond just water stewardship), and ultimately could include full sustainability modules training for ag-professionals and farmers.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand

Education

Educational approach:

Educational approaches:

  • On-line course curriculum consisting of 6 modules
  • Interactive webinars supporting modules and providing feedback
  • Two to three participatory field workshops providing hands-on experience
  • Participant gathering to share experiences, provide input and plan educational follow-ups with farmers

Education & Outreach Initiatives

develop the Wisconsin Water Stewards Course, a self-guided, online course which reaches to a broad audience
Objective:

The overall goals for this course are: 1) to use science-based vocabulary, terms and approaches for developing and implementing water conservation and stewardship practices, 2) to employ optimal water use efficiency tools in water stewardship planning, and 3) to implement water conservation strategies that provide multiple benefits (e.g. environmental benefits, best management practices, water quality/quantity approaches, economic viability).

Description:

SARE funds were used to develop the Wisconsin Water Stewards Course, a self-guided, online course which focuses mainly on water quantity issues within Wisconsin, but also discusses water quality since water quantity and quality are closely linked. The six module course is designed to be self-paced but requires that each module be completed (with a quiz at the end) before the next module can be started. Each module consists mostly of video materials but may also contain reading materials and links to additional resources and takes between 30 to 60 minutes to complete.  The modules are entitled: 1) Basic terms and principles of water conservation in agriculture, 2) Water management in Wisconsin in regards to wetlands, natural landscape, and restoration ecology for farm management of landscapes, 3) New approaches to optimize water use, 4) Managing irrigation to optimize water use, 5) Modeling water use: approaches and practices, and 6) Implementing water conservation: Wisconsin Water Stewardship Program.  Each module also has Lessons from the Field video(s) that highlights real world situations of the overall topic of the module.  Certified Crop Adviser (CCA) credits can be received upon completion of the course.

Using SARE funds, project PI and staff developed the course and that involved outlining objectives and topics, coordinating experts and filming options, editing videos and content, and finalizing written materials.   Additional faculty, growers and experts volunteered their time for filming either in a studio or in field and those videos and resources were added to course. 

Outcomes and impacts:

In fall/winter of 2019/20, the course was pilot tested with 10 participants where feedback was solicited and changed made to enhance the course experience.  Changes were made, then full implementation of the online version was finalized by March of 2020.  During the spring and summer of 2020 with more than 50 participants signed up for the online course with some participants receiving CCA credits.  Due to Covid19, a proposed field tour for participants during the summer of 2020 was cancelled, but an online, virtual question/answer session based on the class was developed for participants who were looking for more details.

To increase outreach and to make it easier to receive course information and materials without needing to formally sign up and do the course online, project staff developed a downloadable, non-credited, pdf option to review information, videos, and receive course materials. This option has been successful at reaching more participants and has attracted views outside of Wisconsin.  Materials can be found at project PI Yi Wang’s website (https://uwveggies.wiscweb.wisc.edu/)  with specific link to materials here: 

(https://uwveggies.wiscweb.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/1447/2020/06/All-course-mateirals_Water-course_Wang2020-1.pdf

Educational & Outreach Activities

6 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
6 Online trainings
4 Published press articles, newsletters
3 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary

200 Extension
50 NRCS
10 Researchers
30 Nonprofit
30 Agency
50 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

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

Project Outcomes

2 Grants received that built upon this project
20 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Short-term outcomes (1-2 years):

  1. Establishing the base: This project will bring together a broadly focused coalition of partners representing all stakeholders in the ongoing debate over how Wisconsin can balance a productive and sustainable agricultural economy with water conservation.
  2. Developing the tools: The coalition will work together to develop an in-depth yet practical on-line training vehicle that will provide a diverse audience of ag-professionals with the knowledge they need to interact more effectively with farmers on water issues. This in-depth training is not currently available in a format that addresses all stakeholder concerns, and will be vital for individual training of participants and associated farmers.
  3. Increasing knowledge: The effectiveness of this training vehicle in providing target participants with the tools to interact with farmers more effectively is critical to project success and will be measured directly throughout the course with direct feedback in webinars and detailed evaluations.

Medium term outcomes (2-3 years):

  1. Putting Knowledge into action: The translation of increased knowledge into new and innovative ways for ag-professionals to interact with farmers is critical to success of the project. We will measure the potential for this translation by interacting with participants during webinars and field workshops during the course and with a follow-up survey.
  2. Reaching the next generation of farmers: For the first time, this project will work directly with Vo-ag and technical college instructors to determine ways in which the course curriculum could be used in their ongoing educational programs for young prospective farmers. We will assess this potential during the course through interactive webinars.

Long term outcomes (2-5 years):

  1. Reaching the farmer via train-the-trainer opportunities: The ultimate goal of this proposal is to impact farmer behavior by working through ag-professionals to encourage farmers to adopt practices which will lead to improved water conservation in concert with profitable and sustainable production systems. We believe that our inclusion of farmers as important coalition partners in all stages of this project, from planning, through pilot-testing to teaching, will ensure that the course is practical and meets the needs of farmers. This participation will give us valuable feedback on how we can expect to influence farmer behavior.
  2. Identifying direct access to farmer participants: This course curriculum can be modified and updated overtime to provide direct access to farmer participants, where instructors could work individually with interested growers to aid in the development and integration of BMP’s for water use, conservation and stewardship.  This one-on-one training effort would impact on-farm practice adoption and could provide a key link to “Water Stewards”. 
  3. Assessing farmer buy-in: The “Water Stewards” program will provide the mechanism to assess changes in farmer behavior directly. Many of included partners who will work on this proposal were instrumental in the establishment of the “Water Stewards” program to provide recognition to farmers who adopt new water conservation practices and this approach was endorsed by all stakeholders in 2018. The inclusion of this stewardship program as a certifiable standard in the Healthy Grown program will provide a quantitative measure to assess farmer behavior through independent audit.
  4. Future expansion. The potential to increase the scope of this project to encompass farmers and ag-professionals throughout Wisconsin and in neighboring states would improve the ability of participants to balance water conservation with profitable and sustainable food production across the Midwest. Furthermore, once course curriculum is developed, we envision that this approach and outreach mechanism could be expanded to include more aspects of sustainability (beyond just water stewardship), and ultimately could include full sustainability modules training for ag-professionals and farmers.
80 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
500 Farmers reached through participant's programs
Success stories:

This online extension water course has been awarded the 2020 American Society of Agronomy Excellence in Extension Materials Award (see message from the award committee chair):

Dr. Wang:

It is my pleasure to write this email.  I would like to congratulate yourself and your colleges for your work on “Sustainable Water Stewards, Online Course and Extension Outreach Materials.” It was been awarded in the audiovisual section of the Excellence in Extension Awards for 2020.  This would typically be recognized at the business meeting at the national meetings; however, due to the current situation I wanted to let you know myself.  We will be mailing out the certificates after the meeting to make sure your team is well recognized.  If you have any further questions, please let me know.  Otherwise look forward to seeing you at the meetings.  Thanks and have a great day.

Josh Lofton

Cropping System Specialist

Oklahoma State University

 

Recommendations:

Thank you for providing this funding opportunity to us.

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.