Strengthening the Whole-Farm Planning Process through Producer-Agent Partnerships and Professional Development

Final Report for ENC96-015

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1996: $75,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information

Abstract:

Whole-farm plans allow farmers and ranchers to view and manage their operations as biological systems, so that dependence on purchased inputs may be reduced and nutrient cycles may be closed. In 1996, the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society (NSAS) and the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota (SFA) received NCR-SARE PDP funding to build partnerships among farmers, ranchers and agency personnel so that they could learn how to build effective, whole-farm plans from and with each other. Our specific objectives for this project were to:

– Train NRCS field staff and Cooperative Extension field staff alongside producers in the use of a site-specific, goal-oriented planning model to develop and evaluate whole farm plans that are based on producers’ goals.

– Train NRCS field staff and Cooperative Extension field staff to use decision case studies as a learning and teaching tool in holistic decision making, and provide them with sustainable agriculture case study materials for use in whole-farm planning.

This project trained 84 Natural Resource Conservation Service agents, Cooperative Extension educators, farmers, ranchers, and non-profit representatives in the use of Holistic Management to develop and evaluate whole-farm plans. 421 individuals participated in 12 follow-up events that addressed communication and goal setting, testing guidelines, biological and financial planning, monitoring, and marketing as a part of the whole-farm plan. 37 participants were trained in the use of decision cases in whole-farm planning.

On-farm workshops encouraged participatory learning strategies and team approaches to whole-farm planning. At each workshop, small teams including Extension, NRCS, and farmer participants spent a day listening to a farm family’s goals and evaluating their farming system. Everyone who participated in the on-farm workshops said that they clearly saw the benefits of working in teams of farmers, ranchers, educators and agency representatives.

Decision case study workshops presented facilitation techniques for teaching with decision cases. After completing these workshops, participants held a medium-high opinion of decision case studies as a discussion tool for whole-farm planning. Several Nebraska participants felt that there is a need to develop new decision cases that specifically address whole-farm decision-making rather than individual practices or enterprises.

Participants completed a written evaluation and/or paired-interview at the completion of each training event. In 1999, we surveyed a small sample of farmers and Extension Educators to see if they had put the information to use. 60% of the Extension Educators had used the information in one-on-one meetings with farmers, for designing trainings, for facilitating small groups, and for critically analyzing farming operations. 70% of the farmers said that they spent more time monitoring and taking inventory of their whole farm operations following the training, and 50% said that they felt more comfortable and prepared when working with technical resource providers as a result of this training.

Both farmers and Extension Educators told us that, in the future, they would like to participate in field days and workshops that emphasize whole farm planning, goal setting, monitoring, and marketing. Future trainings should include marketing as an important part of whole farm planning. Better utilization of on-farm resources may lower production costs, but this strategy may not significantly increase profits when prices are low. Both farmers and technical resource providers indicated a preference for hands-on training events held on farms and ranches.

Project Objectives:

Our specific objectives for this project were to:

Objective 1: Train NRCS field staff and Cooperative Extension field staff alongside producers in the use of a site-specific, goal-oriented planning model to develop and evaluate whole farm plans that are based on producers= goals.

Objective 2: Train NRCS field staff and Cooperative Extension field staff to use decision case studies as a learning and teaching tool in holistic decision making, and provide them with sustainable agriculture case study materials for use in whole-farm planning.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Chris Carusi

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

To meet our objectives, we provided Cooperative Extension personnel, NRCS field staff, farmers, ranchers, and other participants with training in whole-farm planning. Held in both Minnesota and Nebraska, the training events utilized hands-on, participatory strategies as much as possible. These events included introductory Holistic Management courses and follow-up sessions, whole-farm planning workshops and field days held on farms and at conferences, and decision case study workshops.

The introductory Holistic Management courses provided an overview of how to use this goal-oriented decision making tool to help farmers and ranchers develop whole-farm plans. We contracted with experienced Holistic Management educators to teach these courses. The course agendas included goal setting, decision making, testing decisions, monitoring and evaluating decisions, and financial planning. These courses used small-group problem solving and discussion activities, short lectures, video presentations and discussions, and other methods that encouraged collaboration between educators, technical resource providers, and farmers.

The information presented in the Holistic Management workshops was reinforced through twelve different workshops. On-farm workshops and field days gave participants an opportunity to apply what they had learned in the introductory course. At each on-farm workshop, participants listened to the farm or ranch family as they presented their goals and dreams for their operation, as well as their frustrations. The participants then analyzed the entire farming or ranching operation and worked in multiprofessional teams to identify the operation’s weak link. These teams then presented their observations and recommendations to the farm and ranch families. The workshop hosts were left with a concrete set of recommendations, and the participants were able to apply holistic management principles to a real-life situation. Other follow-up sessions and whole farm planning workshops were presented at conferences and other more traditional training sites.

Workshops were held on the use of decision case studies as learning and facilitation tools for teaching whole-farm planning. Staff members from the University of Minnesota Program for Decision Case Studies led these workshops in both states. Workshop participants were given an opportunity to facilitate a decision case study exercise. Participants were provided with a decision case study teaching kit that included slides and written cases.

Outreach and Publications

In addition to the workshops, field days, and conferences listed under #4, the following articles were published about this project:

Westfall, Sally. 2/1/98. Whole farm concept includes pasturing pigs. Farm and Country Record, Morris, MN. Volume 29, # 46.

Frahm, C. 2/5/98. So, what is sustainable agriculture? Verndale Sun, volume 33, # 9.

— 3/4/98. Sustainable farmers focus on their role in environment. Leader.

Edenloff, Al. 3/12/98. Environmental warning sounds at sustainable farming meetings. Wadena Pioneer Journal.

— 7/9/98. SFA group plans farm tour, workshop. Staples World.

— 7/9/98. Whole farm planning workshop set. Wadena Pioneer Journal.

— November, 1998. Whole farm planning at Sunup Ranch in northern MN. The Whole Farm Planner, volume 3, # 3.

— November, 1998. Workshops train farmers, advisors to plan for farm goals. The Whole Farm Planner, volume 3, # 3.

See Appendix 1 for copies of articles and events materials.

Outcomes and impacts:

Objective 1: Train NRCS field staff and Cooperative Extension field staff alongside producers in the use of a site-specific, goal-oriented planning model to develop and evaluate whole farm plans that are based on producers’ goals.

This project trained 84 Natural Resource Conservation Service agents, Cooperative Extension educators, farmers, ranchers, and non-profit representatives in the use of Holistic Management to develop and evaluate whole-farm plans. 421 individuals participated in 12 follow-up events that addressed communication and goal setting, testing guidelines, biological and financial planning, monitoring, and marketing as a part of the whole-farm plan.

In Nebraska, all of the Extension and NRCS participants in the on-farm follow-up workshops said that the training provided them with a starting point to incorporate Holistic Management into their work. They said that they would initiate similar kinds of group sharing in their work. They liked the format of the workshops and felt that it could be used to create community within a group. They reported that they would use Holistic Management to look at how farm resources are used. They said that the group process and Holistic Management framework provided a good way to understand needs and barriers when making decisions, and to come up with alternative solutions. Everyone who participated in the on-farm workshops said that they clearly saw the benefits of working in teams of farmers, ranchers, educators and agency representatives. In a follow-up survey, 15 out of 18 Extension Educators said that they planned to use Holistic Management with their clients within the next 18 months.

In Minnesota, 20 farmers, ranchers, and NRCS and Extension personnel responded to a follow-up evaluation for the Holistic Management training. A majority (17 out of 20) said that they had adopted or implemented the goal setting step of Holistic Management. 50% of the respondents said that they had adopted brainstorming techniques, the use of testing guidelines, grazing planning, and land planning skills that they had learned in this training program. 75% of the respondents said that the training had improved their planning skills and their family or team involvement. 50% said that managing holistically had helped them protect soil and water resources, enhance wildlife, improve quality of life, and improve monitoring skills.

In both states, it appeared that the participatory processes that NRCS and Extension learned through Holistic Management training were at least as important as the actual training content. Through brainstorming, goal-setting, and team approaches, these resource providers felt that they could help farmers and ranchers “think outside the box” for whole-farm and whole-ranch planning.

Objective 2: Train NRCS field staff and Cooperative Extension field staff to use decision case studies as a learning and teaching tool in holistic decision making, and provide them with sustainable agriculture case study materials for use in whole-farm planning.

37 participants were trained in the use of decision cases in whole-farm planning. After completing these workshops, participants held a medium-high opinion of decision case studies as a discussion tool for whole-farm planning. Several Nebraska participants felt that there is a need to develop new decision cases that specifically address whole-farm decision-making rather than individual practices or enterprises. Based on evaluation responses, NRCS and Extension participants in this project were more inclined to use the Holistic Management framework than decision case studies in their work.

Summary of Training Events

NEBRASKA TRAINING EVENTS

1. Title: Introduction to Holistic Resource Management (Broken Bow)
Date: 1/13/97 – 1/15/97
Number of individuals and educators trained: 25
Organizations represented: University of Nebraska, Natural Resource Conservation Service, farmers, ranchers, Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska
Number of farmers teaching: 0

2. Title: Holistic Resource Management On-Farm Workshop (David and Connie Hansen farm, Anselmo)
Date: 8/14/97
Number of individuals and educators trained: 14
Organizations represented: University of Nebraska, farmers, ranchers, private business
Number of farmers teaching: 2

3. Title: Holistic Resource Management On-Farm Workshop (John and Mary Ridder’s ranch, Callaway)
Date: 8/15/97
Number of individuals and educators trained: 14
Organizations represented: University of Nebraska, Natural Resource Conservation Service, farmers, ranchers, youth/students
Number of farmers teaching: 2

4. Title: Holistic Resource Management On-Farm Workshop (Tom Larson’s farm, St. Edward)
Date: 8/25/97
Number of individuals and educators trained: 17
Organizations represented: University of Nebraska, Natural Resource Conservation Service, farmers, ranchers, Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska
Number of farmers teaching: 1

5. Title: Decision Case Study Workshop (Leadership Center, Aurora)
Date: 1/7/98
Number of individuals and educators trained: 16
Organizations represented: University of Nebraska researchers and Extension, farmers and ranchers
Number of farmers teaching: 0

6. Title: Introduction to Holistic Resource Management (Aurora)
Date: 3/11/99
Number of individuals and educators trained: 31
Organizations represented: University of Nebraska researchers and Extension
Number of farmers teaching: 0

7. Title: Holistic Resource Management On-Farm Workshop (Nick Eberspacher’s farm, Seward)
Date: 6/2/99
Number of individuals and educators trained: 15
Organizations represented: University of Nebraska Extension, farmers
Number of farmers teaching: 1

8. Title: Holistic Resource Management On-Farm Workshop (Dick Wilson’s farm, Hazard)
Date: 6/3/99
Number of individuals and educators trained: 8
Organizations represented: University of Nebraska Extension, farmers
Number of farmers teaching: 1

MINNESOTA TRAINING EVENTS

1. Title: Three Day Training in Holistic Management
Date: 1/22/97 – 1/24/97
Number of individuals and educators trained: 28
Organizations represented: Natural Resource Conservation Service, farmers, ranchers, Catholic Church

2. Title: Follow-up Session: Communications and Goal Setting
Date: 2/18/97
Number of individuals and educators trained: 25
Organizations represented: Natural Resource Conservation Service, farmers, ranchers,

3. Title: Follow-up Session: Testing Guidelines and Decision Making Process
Date: 3/13/97
Number of individuals and educators trained: 10
Organizations represented: Natural Resource Conservation Service, farmers, ranchers,

4. Title: Follow-up Session: Basic Financial Planning and Monitoring
Date: 4/14/97
Number of individuals and educators trained: 12
Organizations represented: Natural Resource Conservation Service, farmers, ranchers,

5. Whole Farm Planning Workshop (Little Falls)
Date: 1/98
Number of individuals and educators trained: 18
Organizations represented: Farmers, University of Minnesota Extension, NRCS

6. Decision Case Study Workshop (Wilder Forest)
Date: 2/9/98
Number of individuals and educators trained: 8
Organizations represented: Natural Resource Conservation Service, farmers, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (nonprofit)

7. Whole-farm planning field day (Ann and Duane Morgan Farm, Midheaven Farm)
Date: 2/21/98
Number of individuals and educators trained: 28
Organizations represented: Farmers, University of Minnesota Extension

8. Whole-farm planning workshop at SFA Annual Meeting (Alexandria)
Date: 2/28/98
Number of individuals and educators trained: 140
Organizations represented: Farmers, University of Minnesota Extension, NRCS

9. Decision Case Study Workshop (Morris)
Date: 3/31/98
Number of individuals and educators trained: 13
Organizations represented: University of Minnesota Extension, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Soil and Water Conservation District, County Commissioner, Land Stewardship Project (nonprofit)

10. Workshop on marketing plans for whole-farm planning at SFA Annual Meeting (St. Paul)
Date: 3/12-3/13, 1999
Number of individuals and educators trained: 120
Organizations represented: Farmers, University of Minnesota Extension, NRCS

5) Educational Transfer

We did not include specific questions about educational transfer in our evaluation instruments. Sections 4 above and 6 below include information about how participants are applying, or plan to apply, what they learned from this project to their work.

6) Evaluation

Participants completed a written evaluation and/or paired-interview at the completion of each training event. In 1998, the Minnesota team did a follow-up survey with everyone who had participated in the Holistic Management/Whole Farm Planning training. In 1999, the Nebraska team surveyed a small sample of farmer and Extension Educator participants in the Holistic Management training, to see if they had put the information to use.

In Nebraska, 60% of the Extension Educators had used the information in one-on-one meetings with farmers, for designing trainings, for facilitating small groups, and for critically analyzing farming operations. 70% of the farmers said that they spent more time monitoring and taking inventory of their whole farm operations following the training, and 50% said that they felt more comfortable and prepared when working with technical resource providers as a result of this training.

In Minnesota, the majority of participants seemed to be more comfortable with “whole farm planning” workshops than “holistic management” workshops. Since both kinds of workshops covered the same material – goal setting, planning, quality of life, and financial management – this preference is probably just a matter of terminology.

In both states, participants stressed a need for more support groups for whole-farm planning. In Nebraska, several participants said that they would like to organize Holistic Management clubs in their communities. Some of the Nebraska participants said that isolation is a barrier to implementing what they learned in this program – no one else in their area is doing this kind of work. Workshop participants in both states said that they would like more printed handouts and maps. Both farmers and technical resource providers indicated a preference for hands-on training events held on farms and ranches.

Other evaluation comments include:

a) Holistic Management/Whole Farm Planning Workshops
I wish we had a locally semi-organized organization.

It was very useful to work through this process with a diverse group. I am thankful for the opportunity to participate. We need to advertise the benefits more!

There was too much of a livestock emphasis. More emphasis on crops would have been better. [This was a Nebraska comment.]

This training gave me a more in-depth view of what decisions should be critiqued in a biological sense and not just financial.

Before this training, I didn’t realize that the involvement of biological sustainability factors into a farm.

b) Decision Case Study Workshops

Using this approach helps each person to see a problem/solution from another person’s perspective.

The interaction between farmers and agency personnel is valuable.

This workshop did not cover whole-farm planning.

This has excellent potential for classroom use, with the right cases. Extension use is more difficult, but valuable.

Include a dimension based on a farm family’s long-range goal, related to their desired quality of life, forms of production, and future resource base. Try using Holistic Management testing guidelines to get “all the way around” a decision.

c) Follow up evaluations:

We are meeting with our customers to discuss their needs and looking at weak links and goal setting.

I still need work on biological and financial planning.

It would be nice, though difficult, to bring the group back for a refresher [course] and to compare experiences.

The training would be more useful with more hands-on, on-site application of the principles of HRM. Less philosophy. I didn’t get a lot out of the first [introductory] session.

The most important concept presented [was] that there is another way to do things than the current model.

What I gained was knowledge that county extension is more in tune with growers and more progressive than I had been led to believe. It has made me more vocal and visible in working with clientele. I learned a new perspective on the small world of small towns.

The workshop will help me with the kinds of questions I ask producers. We have started a graziers group and they are interested in analyzing each others’ operations. . . that is where I will implement what we did in the workshop.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Future Recommendations

Both farmers and Extension Educators told us that, in the future, they would like to participate in field days and workshops that emphasize whole farm planning, goal setting, monitoring, and marketing. Future training should include marketing as an important part of whole farm planning. Better utilization of on-farm resources may lower production costs, but this strategy may not significantly increase profits when prices are low. Future project support should be used for educational field days and workshops that have a whole farm planning, monitoring, goals setting, and marketing emphasis.

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.