Modernizing grazing resources for the next generation of agriculture and natural resource professionals

Final report for ENC19-177

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2019: $87,977.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2022
Grant Recipient: GrassWorks, Inc.
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Jill Hapner
GrassWorks, Inc.
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Project Information

Abstract:

The proposed project will build upon GrassWorks’ ongoing initiative to create new resources and increase the breadth, depth and reach of existing tools, resources, and networks throughout the state to scale up agency awareness and support of managed grazing. The target audience for the project is university, non-profit, and agency staff throughout the state of Wisconsin and neighboring states. Over the last decade, Wisconsin has lost nearly all of its Extension and state-level agency capacity to provide research-based information on managed grazing. GrassWorks, a state-wide farmer-run non-profit, has stepped in to fill the void in partnership with the University of Wisconsin Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems. Activities planned include bringing together grazing farmers and agency staff to produce a new series of on-farm videos about managed grazing, developing an online grazing resource library and an “Ask A Grazier” forum, expanding and updating the Grazing Ambassador program, creating a master resource list of grazing events and professionals throughout the state, and recruiting incoming agency staff and Technical Service Providers (TSPs) to join Wisconsin’s growing network of grazing professionals.

Project Objectives:

The on-farm videos series will produce twelve or more brief, 5-10 minute videos explaining key concepts of grazing management in a “show & tell” format in which interviewees explain a concept and demonstrate it in the field. These videos will be freely available on a common online platform (YouTube) and linked on the GrassWorks website, with shareable links available for collaborators. Through sharing with partners, use in events, and online promotion, we anticipate each of these videos generating at least 1,000 views by the conclusion of the grant. These videos will be intended for incoming agency staff and beginning graziers, but could also be accessed by experienced grazing professionals or members of the public.  

The GrassWorks website will be expanded to include new pages listing contact information for grazing professionals in the Upper Midwest, an updated and comprehensive list of grazing events in the area, and grazing resource library featuring links to key grazing instructional materials. An “Ask A Grazier” forum will also be established based on input from the web designer, in which users will be able to post questions and comments that can be responded to by knowledgeable GrassWorks members identified by the project coordinator. Using Google Analytics or a similar web traffic monitoring system, we anticipate having at least 1,000 unique visitors to the GrassWorks website, and more than 25 active discussions in the “Ask A Grazier” forum, in the final year of the grant. The project coordinator will work with collaborators to develop a promotional strategy for the website utilizing word-of-mouth, mailing lists, and social media campaigns.

New materials will be developed for the Grazing Ambassadors program, enabling agency staff or GrassWorks members to deliver presentations for local community organizations such as library groups, nature centers, and high school classes. The project coordinator will oversee this program and work with presenters to maintain records of attendance and participation. With a target of at least 12 Grazing Ambassador presentations within the grant timeline and a conservative estimate of at least 20 attendees per presentation, the Grazing Ambassador program is expected to introduce the concepts and benefits of managed grazing to at least 240 individuals in the Upper Midwest.

In-person training events for incoming agency staff will build upon existing training efforts and will utilize the new grazing resources and individual and interagency competitions to motivate engagement. Quarterly meetings held in conjunction with the GrassWorks grazing conference or in collaboration with the three RC&D partners are conservatively estimated to draw at least 25 attendees each, for a total of 300 attendees at in-person training events. Based on estimates of incoming staff in NRCS, University Extension, DNR, and county conservation divisions, these meetings aim to reach up to 100 unique individuals who are early-career conservation professionals. End-of-meeting evaluations will be used to record attendance and impact of meeting activities.

Cooperators

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Education

Educational approach:

This grant focuses on using farmer-to-farmer and train-the-trainer collaborative instruction methods, in which farmers and grazing specialists are encouraged to work together to share experiences and find solutions together using modern outreach methods such as websites, webinars, online videos, and social media platforms.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

On-farm video series
Objective:

The first program activity, which is targeted to both incoming agency staff and farmers, is a series of 5-10 minute on-farm videos about implementing managed grazing.

Description:

The project coordinator worked with farmer collaborators, River Country RC&D, and Trempealeau County Public Television to collect on-farm interviews with experienced graziers. These videos are now shared on the GrassWorks YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmvk-Q_iN2vAUVkhRlN0UkQ) where they have been posted along with webinar recordings of additional GrassWorks educational events.

Outcomes and impacts:

Fourteen online webinars and twelve in-field interviews have been shared on the GrassWorks YouTube channel. To date, the videos have received over 2,700 views, with 5,000 additional views on the GrassWorks, Inc Facebook page.  These videos are publicly available at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmvk-Q_iN2vAUVkhRlN0UkQ

Online grazing resource hub
Objective:

Developing a comprehensive online resource hub for grazing information.

Description:

The GrassWorks webpage is a regularly-used source of grazing information, but details of upcoming events and agency contacts quickly becomes outdated. The project coordinator position provided stable and consistent management of the grazing news and resources throughout the state. Cooperator Rachel Bouressa has updated the GrassWorks lists of statewide grazing groups, grazing specialists, and maintained the GrassWorks events calendar for the past three years.

The GrassWorks Facebook page has also been expanded to include an “Ask A Grazier” Facebook group and Google group, where incoming agency staff and beginning graziers are able to post questions and receive responses from experienced graziers and agency staff. The group now has over 600 members and averages multiple weekly posts. It can be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/groups/550684955557954

Outcomes and impacts:

Cooperator Rachel Bouressa has updated the GrassWorks lists of statewide grazing groups, grazing specialists, and maintained the GrassWorks events calendar for the past three years. These resources have been advertised at GrassWorks and related grazing events, and are maintained on the following pages:

Grazing Networks

Grazing Specialists

Pasture Walks and Events Calendar

The GrassWorks Facebook page has also been expanded to include an “Ask A Grazier” Facebook group (296 members at the end of 2020, 492 members at the end of 2021, 660 at the end of the grant period) - https://www.facebook.com/groups/550684955557954) and Google group, (grassworks-ask-a-grazier@googlegroups.com) which have been quite active. These online networking resources seem to have been especially helpful to producers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Grazing Ambassadors program
Objective:

The project coordinator will oversee the update and expansion of the Grazing Ambassador program.

Description:

This objective was significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thelma Heidel-Baker, a Wisconsin grazier who has given several Grazing Ambassador presentations, was contracted to update the Grazing Ambassador program and materials. An updated presentation slideshow was developed and a new photo collection & storage system was implemented, but limitations on in-person gatherings prevented presentations from being held as planned. GrassWorks intends to use the revised slideshow to re-launch these Grazing Ambassador presentations. 

Outcomes and impacts:

The Grazing Ambassador program has been updated and expanded by farmer and project partner Thelma Heidel-Baker, who has held two "virtual" versions of the presentation for small audiences in 2021.

G-Team meetings
Objective:

Quarterly in-person trainings were held for grazing-focused agency staff (the "G-Team") throughout the three-year duration of the project.

Description:

Quarterly in-person trainings were held for grazing-focused agency staff (the "G-Team") throughout the three-year duration of the project: one in each of the three collaborating RC&D areas, which may include a pasture walk or other hands-on event, and a winter meeting for agency staff in conjunction with the annual GrassWorks conference.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to shift many of these meetings as online webinars, and have held nine  meetings to date (details below):

Aug. 15th, 2019 - Marshfield Ag Research Station - 32 attendees

Nov 12th, 2019 - Marshfield Ag Research Station - 45 attendees

Jan 23rd, 2020 - Chula Vista Resort (GrassWorks conference) - 29 attendees

May 7th, 2020 - online webinar - 131 attendees

Sep 29th, 2020 - online webinar - approximately 40 attendees

Nov 17th, 2020 - online webinar - 49 attendees

April 20th, 2021 - online webinar - approximately 50 attendees

Sep 23rd, 2021 - Marshfield Ag Research Station - approximately 50 in-person attendees

Dec 7th, 2021 - online webinar - approximately 50 attendees

April 6th, 2022 - Maple Valley Farms, Waupaca County - approximately 20 attendees

June 1st, 2022 - Dairy Forage Research Center, Prairie du Sac, WI - approximately 30 attendees

September 27th, 2022 - Kevin Mahalko's farm, Chippewa County - 24 attendees

Outcomes and impacts:

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to maintain these meetings as online webinars, and have held twelvemeetings to date:

No.  Date Location Attendees Host Topic
1 15-Aug-19 Marshfield Ag Research Station 32 CIAS, GrassWorks Utilizing emergency forages
2 12-Nov-19 Marshfield Ag Research Station 45 CIAS/Golden Sands RC&D Financial analysis
3 23-Jan-20 Wis. Dells (GrassWorks conference) 29 CIAS, GrassWorks Hosting pasture walks
4 7-May-20 online webinar 131 Glacierland RC&D Grazing & grassland birds
5 29-Sep-20 online webinar appx. 40 River Country RC&D Grazing environmental benefits
6 17-Nov-20 online webinar 49 Golden Sands RC&D Pandemic response
7 20-Apr-21 online webinar appx. 50 Golden Sands RC&D Overview of grazing & soil carbon research
8 23-Sep-21 Marshfield Ag Research Station appx. 50 Glacierland RC&D Discussion with new NRCS state grazing specialist
9 7-Dec-21 online webinar appx. 50 Glacierland RC&D Training - new NRCS grazing plan req's
10 6-Apr-22 Maple Valley Farms, Waupaca County, Wisconsin appx. 20 Glacierland RC&D Winter grazing; stockpiling forage
11 1-Jun-22 Dairy Forage Research Center, Prairie du Sac appx. 30 CIAS, GrassWorks Silvopasture establishment
12 27-Sep-22 Kevin Mahalko's farm - Chippewa County 24 River Country RC&D Organic dairy management

Educational & Outreach Activities

4 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
10 Online trainings
14 Webinars / talks / presentations
6 Workshop field days
6 Other educational activities: Six live webinars were held in 2020 with the theme of "Ask-a-Grazier", providing graziers a chance to ask questions that might normally come up at a pasture walk or field day. The best of these webinars were shared on the GrassWorks YouTube channel.

Participation Summary:

25 Extension
40 NRCS
25 Researchers
25 Nonprofit
30 Agency
20 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
20 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

1000 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
100 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

3 Grants received that built upon this project
4 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

The outcomes of this SARE PDP grant came at a key time for Wisconsin's grazing networks. When the grant proposal was first submitted, none of us had any idea how essential it would become to take advantage of modern technology to maintain grazing networks and relationships in the state, but less than a year after the project began, the COVID-19 pandemic had hit the state and severely restricted in-person meetings and events. GrassWorks' "Ask-a-Grazier" Facebook group, which was developed as a part of this grant project, became heavily used as a way for graziers to connect and support each other. Engagement on the page has only increased in the following years, and it now has over 600 users. Online webinars and videos came to serve as a replacement for in-person pasture walks, and the best of these webinars and videos were used to launch GrassWorks' YouTube channel, which now has twenty-seven videos and over sixty subscribers. The revived "G-Team", a network of interagency grazing-focused technical service providers representing NRCS, university extension, county conservation departments, resource conservation & development (RC&D) councils, and more, became an important hub for maintaining and sharing institutional knowledge around grazing programming in the state. At a time when over a third of NRCS staff are incoming and new to their positions, this network provided an invaluable resource, and became an important discussion space for two new statewide grazing positions that emerged during the life of the grant: Adam Abel as NRCS's statewide grazing specialist and Jason Cavadini as UW Extension's statewide Grazing Outreach Coordinator. The reinvigorated G-Team network provided a space for these two new positions to get a more comprehensive view of needs and opportunities for grazing in the state and connect with other agencies and technical service providers. These collaborations led to GrassWorks submitting and receiving a new Professional Development Program grant seeking to build on the work of this grant with a renewed focus on incoming agency staff members and certified crop advisors. Ultimately, this grant has helped to support Wisconsin grazing professionals through an extremely challenging and unprecedented time in their careers, and lay the foundation for continuing to expand this work to new and beginning agriculture professionals. 

100 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
1000 Farmers reached through participant's programs
Success stories:

"Strong local networks can really lead to successful operations, having conversations, troubleshooting and getting ideas! Not to mention, makes it more fun." -central Wisconsin farmer & grazing technical service provider

Recommendations:

We appreciate our continued work with NCR SARE and are grateful for the opportunity to work on this project!

Information Products

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.