Continuous Living Cover 101 - Building a Foundation for Early Career Conservation Professionals

Progress report for ENC22-217

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2022: $89,982.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2024
Grant Recipient: Green Lands Blue Waters/MISA/UM
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Erin Meier
Green Lands Blue Waters/MISA/UM
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Project Information


This project will design accessible introductory Continuous Living Cover (CLC) training materials that meet current professional development needs of early career conservation and technical advisors. This self-paced, online training will explain CLC strategies and benefits and how they integrate with NRCS soil health principles. Learners will gain confidence communicating CLC practices to farmers and identifying CLC resources. Trainings will be hosted on an accessible platform, such as the Green Lands Blue Waters (GLBW) website and the Regenerative Ag Idea Network (REGAIN) platform, and will be compatible with the NRCS AgLearn Learning Management System, a potential future host to maximize availability to key audiences. During the project 24-40 advisors will pilot the training; delivery partners will identify plans to train at least 100 additional the following year; and the training will be promoted to reach several hundred more.

GLBW will partner with University of Wisconsin-Madison, Division of Extension's Conservation Professional Training Program (CPTP) to design curriculum; seek review feedback from subject matter experts and delivery channel partners; produce a series of video modules; assist with pilots; make the training available online; and promote it widely through extensive networks. Outputs include the CLC 101 training, a CLC Resources Toolkit and Champions List, a robust promotions plan, commitments from delivery channel partners for future training, and plans for hosting the training on AgLearn in the future. Ultimately, this training will help new advisors encourage and support farmers in the adoption of CLC practices, resulting in positive environmental, social, and economic outcomes.

Project Objectives:

Output 1: CLC 101 self-paced training developed. The first output will be a self-paced, online training with video modules and companion resources designed to introduce advisors to the basic terminology and concepts of Continuous Living Cover. Training will frame CLC as a broad, flexible approach to agriculture that protects soil and water health and also provides economic opportunity to farmers and benefits to farming communities. 

Proposed training content outline:

  1. Understand what Continuous Living Cover is and why it’s important
  2. CLC and the four principles for maintaining and improving soil health
    • Key basic research-based supporting material for each principle
    • Success stories of how farmers have integrated practices into row crop systems
  3. What CLC looks like on farm
    • Cover crops and rotations - cover crops, small grains, diverse rotations, winter annuals
    • Buffers, prairie strips, and wind breaks
    • Incorporating perennials - grains, forage, biomass
    • Agroforestry and silvopasture
    • Integrating livestock
  4. Sources of information to support conversations with farmers
    • Economics
    • Practices
    • Troubleshooting issues
    • Sources of further information

Output 2: CLC Resources Toolkit

The toolkit will summarize all resources mentioned in the training, organized for easy reference. It will also be shared as a stand-alone resource.

Output 3: CLC Champions Network resource developed

The CLC Champions Network resource will list CLC farmer and practitioner experts across the Upper Midwest who have volunteered to be identified as resources for ongoing CLC presentations, training, or on-farm visits. 

Output 4: Easily accessible hosting platform for CLC 101 training

An online platform will be developed for all curriculum and supplemental resources.

Output 5: Four pilot trainings completed; 24-40 early career conservation professionals trained in CLC

Each delivery partner will engage a cohort of 6-10 early career staff members to pilot the training and provide feedback prior to broad public outreach of the new CLC 101 curriculum. The training will provide staff with a new way of thinking about land use with many examples, as well as the technical and training resources to support them in learning more and helping farmers to implement these practices. 

Output 6: Pilot phase evaluation summary 

Summary will include improvement suggestions and information on interest in future CLC-related training.

Output 7: Broad public CLC 101 curriculum outreach and promotions plan developed and implemented

GLBW promotions will include a press release shared via Morning Ag Clips in six states and other platforms that GLBW frequently uses, as well as CPTP’s email contact list of over 1,000 conservation professionals including agency staff and private sector consultants; promotions via GLBW newsletter [1,300 subscribers] and social media [16K+ Facebook, 270K Twitter impressions annually]; and direct outreach to our partner cohort working on increasing CLC training for advisors [50+ key leaders representing nonprofits, researchers, agency staff].

Output 8: Scoping done for incorporation of the CLC 101 training on NRCS AgLearn Learning Management System
Introductory conversations with NRCS Soil Health Division to develop a project plan and budget for incorporating the training on their national AgLearn Learning Management System. A plan for seeking additional funding to implement in AgLearn will be drafted.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Jason Gruenenfelder
  • Wendy Johnson
  • Kurt Kimber
  • Dorothy Priske
  • Ben Penner
  • Eric Rund
  • Dr. Lois Braun - Technical Advisor
  • Matt Leavitt - Technical Advisor
  • Rebecca Clay - Technical Advisor
  • Margaret Chamas - Technical Advisor
  • Marlee Giacometti - Technical Advisor
  • Dr. Jessica Gutknecht
  • Jane Jewett
  • Omar de Kok-Mercado - Technical Advisor
  • Dr. Diane Mayerfeld - Technical Advisor
  • Steffen Mirsky - Technical Advisor
  • Dr. Helene Murray
  • Kimberly Ross
  • Dr. Nicole Tautges - Technical Advisor
  • Michael Hook
  • Brent Rudolph
  • Rachel Bush
  • Jon Sellnow - Technical Advisor


Educational approach:

A self-paced, online training with video modules and companion resources - called CLC 101 - is being designed to provide accessible, introductory Continuous Living Cover (CLC) training materials that meet current professional development needs of early career conservation and technical advisors. CLC 101 is based on a conceptual approach to sustainable agriculture: keeping the ground covered year-round through a variety of stackable, flexible strategies. Even for those with extensive experience in agriculture, this new framework could be useful to help improve the sustainability of operations they advise. After establishing that concept, we provide detailed but approachable information on what these strategies are, the benefits they provide, and how they can be implemented. Through the course, we emphasize the availability of many types of technical and informational resources to support trainees in actually getting these practices into place on farms. All resources, including websites, farmer-serving nonprofits, relevant agencies, funding opportunities, and more, are collected in an extensive CLC Resource List, which is linked throughout the course. The educational approach could be summarized even more briefly as follows: introduce a high-level conceptual shift in how to look at sustainable agriculture; provide the basic information and follow up resources needed to shift practices on the ground.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Continuous living cover: strategies, benefits, implementation, and supporting resources

Provide technical services providers working in agricultural conservation with a framework for an approach to regenerative agriculture, inform them of methods to achieve CLC, and provide them with concrete resources to help farmers implement these practices.


Continuous Living Cover (CLC) is a flexible set of strategies that provides a conceptually simple, yet in practice, complex and adaptive approach to agriculture that restores and maintains ecosystem services. CLC 101 is an online, introductory training course aimed at early career agricultural conservation professionals and technical advisors. 

The course begins by presenting CLC as a framework for thinking about how to implement regenerative and sustainable agriculture. The main content starts with a module on basic soil health to ensure that trainees have the background to understand why these practices are so significant for soil health. Then, we describe five CLC strategies in detail, with an example crop for each. The third module covers the wide range of benefits that CLC provides. Finally, the fourth module addresses  implementation, providing extensive resources, tips on how to talk to farmers, and ways to address barriers. The summary module reiterates the key points from each of the preceding modules and highlights the resource list so trainees can find more information.

Outcomes and impacts:

Learning outcomes:

  • Define the term “continuous living cover” (CLC) in plain language
  • Explain the basic physical makeup of soil and why CLC impacts it
  • Recognize that CLC strategies can be used to achieve the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) soil health principles 
  • Describe the five CLC strategies of agroforestry, perennial grains, perennial biomass, perennial forage and managed grazing, and CLC with annuals
  • Explain the benefits of CLC on agricultural landscapes
  • Recognize that CLC strategies fit into NRCS practice standards for addressing resource concerns

Impact: This course will support early-career technical service providers by training them to:

  • Identify potential opportunities to use CLC practices in various farming scenarios
  • Recognize that implementation of CLC will be different for each farm site
  • Identify factors that make implementation different for each site
  • Locate sources for additional assistance and decision-making

Educational & Outreach Activities

3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools

Participation Summary:

2 Extension
3 Researchers
5 Nonprofit
1 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
6 Farmers/ranchers
1 Others

Project Outcomes

1 Grant received that built upon this project
7 New working collaborations
Additional Outcomes:

Reportable outcomes are currently in progress, since we are now recruiting participants to pilot the course, all of whom we expect to gain knowledge and awareness as a result of piloting the course. We have at approximately 10 participants confirmed to pilot the course and are on track to reach our objective of piloting the course with 24-40 staff. After the piloting phase, we will promote the course widely through email newsletters, partner organizations, and social media and hope to have 100-200 people complete the course within the first year.

We will also ask participants about their intention to use the new knowledge from this course in their work with 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.