Enhancing professional development opportunities to improve technical capacity of Indiana conservation delivery professionals

Progress report for ENC18-175

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2018: $74,959.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Mike Smith
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
Sue Tull
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Project Information

Abstract:

This project will provide professional development opportunities for conservation practitioners in Indiana that will
improve the delivery of conservation information and drive the adoption of beneficial conservation systems on
Indiana cropland. The project will work with the Hoosier Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society to
augment and leverage their successful professional development program to provide focused conservation
outreach to their broad and diverse membership of conservation practitioners. Participants from professional
development events will be surveyed to better understand the effectiveness of the training and the extent to which
training events help improve delivery of conservation information to Indiana farmers and landowners. Also,
participants will be surveyed to better understand how they use the information learned to change landowner
behavior towards adoption of conservation practices on the landscape. Information from these surveys will
improve future professional development events and be presented to the Hoosier Chapter and other conservation
partners in Indiana, so that they can use the recommendations to improve events well into the future.
Also, this project will work to connect conservation practitioners with Extension experts from Purdue so that there
is a better awareness of the resources that each group offers to help drive the application of conservation
practices on Indiana farmland. These expanded relationships will help both sides better understand how they can
help one another to improve delivery of conservation information by improving awareness of one another’s
strengths and awareness of their programs and priorities.

Project Objectives:

There are three main areas where technical service providers and extension specialists will gain in knowledge,
actions and conditions relative to helping improve the adoption of conservation on Indiana cropland.
Conservation practitioners will gain in knowledge relative to priority conservation systems at 4 professional
development opportunities that will be organized by this project. The knowledge and skills presented during the
events will mirror agency and organization priorities and ultimately benefit the participants’ ability to provide
improved and focused outreach and education to landowners around these priorities. With this advanced
knowledge, the practitioners will employ the tools and techniques learned during the training events to enhance
their outreach to farmers and landowners whom they advise. Finally, because of the improved ability to provide
outreach and education to landowners using new skills and technical information learned at the professional
development events, it is expected that conservationists will host more productive consultations with landowners,
which will lead to additional conservation practices and systems being used by farmers and landowners on their
land. These metrics of knowledge gained, knowledge used and the impact of the training sessions on the overall
behavioral change of farmers and landowners towards using more conservation systems will be measured by
surveying attendees from the training opportunities presented. Through these professional development events,it is expected that 300 people will receive information on conservation practices and systems that can be applied
to improving conservation delivery to landowners.
Secondly, through a networking and sharing meeting organized as a part of this project, extension specialists and
conservation practitioners will be brought together to share information relative to one another’s priorities and
skills. As a result, each will be more aware of the other’s priorities and programs and will have a better chance of
working together more often to benefit conservation in Indiana. Awareness of one another’s programs and
priorities leads to greater collaboration on areas where they overlap, which leads to more information and
resources being shared that will benefit the adoption of conservation practices on the landscape in Indiana.
Finally, as a result of the information sharing and networking meeting organized by this project, extension
specialists will be encouraged to share information with conservation practitioners about research that is ongoing
at Purdue relative to soil and water conservation. It is expected that as specialists work with practitioners and
learn from them at the networking meeting, practitioners can share gaps in knowledge and resources that will help
them achieve greater adoption of conservation practices and systems that will benefit soil health and water
quality. As specialists learn the needs and knowledge gaps of Indiana conservation practitioners, they can reach
out to other researchers and specialists to explore the key questions with other researchers and experts and can
share information back to the practitioners. Also, over the longer-term, extension specialists can take the
knowledge learned from practitioners to influence research topics at Purdue to begin filling key knowledge gaps.
However, this is likely a longer-term effort than will be captured during the 27-month duration of this project.

Cooperators

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  • Leslie Fisher (Educator)
  • Lisa Holscher (Educator)

Education

Educational approach:

To provide enhanced training opportunities through meetings and webinars for conservation practitioners
working in soil and water conservation. This will be done by collaborating with the Soil and Water
Conservation Society’s (SWCS) Hoosier Chapter. Additional webinars with expert speakers and
follow-up surveys to determine the efficacy of trainings will be done to help augment the existing
training opportunities and provide additional opportunities for participants to interface with topic experts. 

The outreach for professional development events will be marketed through various channels, including
directly to federal, state and county governmental units that address soil and water conservation,
targeted newsletter articles through partner organizations, outreach through the SWCS list-serve and
social media outlets from various agencies and organizations. The intent is to develop training
opportunities such that it will be supported by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which will
allow them the opportunity to send employees. SWCS Hoosier Chapter members will be targeted, but
partner agencies and organizations whose missions include soil and water protection will also be
targeted. Outreach through the Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative newsletters and social media
will also be targeted to farmers who value soil health, and their advisors and partner agencies.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Soil and Water Conservation Society Hoosier Chapter Summer Meeting - The Culture of Adoption, went virtual December 16, 2021
Objective:

To educate and inform on the latest pertaining to Conservation Culture of Adoption.

Description:

The SWCS Hoosier Chapter Summer Meeting titled The Culture of Adoption, was postponed to fall and then took place virtually on December 16, 2021.

Training included the following topics:

  • Culture of Adoption
  • Boots on the Ground 
  • Interactive Networking/Training Opportunity 

Event Speakers included:

  • Linda Prokopy Purdue University, Professor and Department Head, Horticulture and Landscape Architecture
  • Carter Morgan Soil Health Consultant and Indiana farmer
Outcomes and impacts:

Meeting participants heard about the latest research on cover crop culture from presenter Linda Propoky with Purdue University— including the importance of relationships between farmers, government agencies and others.

Indiana farmer and Soil Health Consultant, Carter Morgan, presented on how to engage producers in getting them to adopt cover crops on their operations. He does this at the local level by leading small "coffee shop" discussions where he delivers honest information based on his own experiences with cover crops on his family's farm.

They also heard from others to learn about the strategies used to increase adoption of soil health practices.

Attendees were able to network with other conservation professionals, ask questions as well as participate in a training activity.

Note: The virtual event had 207 registrants, 116 unique viewers and the recording has had 82 views as of February 21, 2022.

Educational & Outreach Activities

20 Consultations
2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
3 Online trainings
3 Webinars / talks / presentations
2 Workshop field days
3 Other educational activities: Three workshops completed, either in-person or virtually.

Participation Summary:

8 Extension
36 NRCS
5 Nonprofit
51 Agency
13 Farmers/ranchers
233 Others

Learning Outcomes

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

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The SWCS Hoosier Chapter Winter Meeting titled the Culture of Adoption, was held virtually on December 16, 2021. The meeting had 207 participants. The Q & A segment garnered lots of participation amongst the registrants. CTIC created and sent a short survey post meeting. A total of 28 responded to the survey.

Success stories:

The following are some quotes from the survey...

QUESTION: What did you find most valuable about the event?

"Hearing about the variety of ways that farmers might approach adoption of a new system or technique"
"The boots on the ground and how it is accepted or not accepted by producers.  How to approach producers about conservation and implementation on their land"

"The direct experience of a farmer"

"I loved the boots on the ground conversation"

"Having a better understanding of why producers may make certain decisions"

"Just different focus topics around cover crops"

 

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.