Professional Training in Soil Quality

Final Report for ENC97-027

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1997: $15,400.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1999
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Stephen Baertsche
Ohio State University Extension
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Project Information

Abstract:

The purpose of this Professional Development Program was to train Extension and NRCS personnel, crop consultants, farmers, and members of other agencies and agricultural groups in the principles of soil quality/soil health from an ecological perspective. The program provided teaching materials and assessment tools, along with training in their effective use, so that future educational efforts in the participants’ communities will encourage and assist farmers to make the transition from conventional to alternative management systems. This “train the trainer” program featured three groups of in-service training workshops.

The first workshops were an overview that focused on soil biology and organic matter, soil ecology, nutrient cycling, and implications of these processes for soil management. The second workshops provided participants with skills, materials, and tools to conduct informative and effective workshops for farmers and other landowners. Teaching materials and soil assessment tools were developed for this program with the assistance and review of a farmer advisory committee. These assessment tools and copies of the educational materials were distributed to seven locations throughout the state for the use of anyone interested in promoting sound soil management practices. The third workshop, conducted once during the period of the grant, provided hands-on field experience and training in using the USDA Soil Quality Test Kit for a group of NRCS & Extension personnel, crop consultants, and farmers.

Project Objectives:

I. Train Extension and NRCS personnel, crop consultants, farmers, and members of other agencies and agricultural groups in the fundamentals of soil quality/health, soil biology, soil tilth, and organic matter & nutrient management.

II. Provide soil quality/health, soil biology, soil tilth, and organic matter/nutrient management teaching materials and assessment tools for use by the above individuals and organizations in educational programs they conduct for farmers and other groups.

III. Train Extension, NRCS, and other agency personnel to use soil quality/health assessment tools and learn effective methods of teaching the fundamentals of soil quality/health, soil biology, soil tilth, and organic matter/nutrient management to farmers and other groups.

IV. Develop partnerships between Extension, NRCS, farmers, and farm organizations that will foster the success of this project and support future cooperative programs in sustainable agriculture.

Cooperators

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  • Steve Baertsche

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

This Professional Development Program featured three groups of in-service training workshops. The first was designed to be primarily informational and give background knowledge on the principles of soil quality/soil health. It provided extensive reference materials (a copy of the notebook of selected articles is included as an Attachment) and focused on subject matter related to soil organic matter, soil biology, soil ecology, carbon/nutrient cycling and agricultural soil management. The second series of workshops gave participants educational materials and teaching tools to conduct informative and effective workshops of their own for farmers and other groups. Hands-on activities helped them develop skills in using soil assessment tools. These assessment tools and copies of the educational materials were distributed to seven locations throughout the state. The third workshop, conducted only once during the period of the grant, provided hands-on field experience and training in using the USDA Soil Quality Test Kit for a group of NRCS & Extension personnel, crop consultants, and farmers.

A diverse team with representative from OSU Extension and research, NRCS, Innovative Farmers of Ohio, Ohio No-Till Council, Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association, and the Ohio Forage and Grasslands Council was assembled to carry out this project. Teaching materials and techniques, and agendas for the workshops, were developed for the program with the assistance and review of a six-member farmer advisory committee. Evaluations from the first workshops were used to focus the second series of workshop, and the educational tools that were developed, on the strongest needs of participants. The farmer advisors helped ensure that the needs of the end users were not overlooked. The third workshop was not originally planned, but grew out of the desire expressed by a number of participants for an in-depth day of training and use of the tools in the USDA Soil Quality Test Kit. It was conducted a single time during the grant period, but we plan to offer it at different location throughout the state over the next two years.

Outreach and Publications

As described above, a number of teaching materials were developed and distributed throughout the state. A complete inventory of these products is included as an Attachment. Some of these products are on the Piketon Res. & Ext. Center web-page (http://www.ag.ohio-state.edu/~prec) and all of them will be there eventually. Three slide presentations: Soil Quality: What Is It? And Why is it Important?; Nutrient Cycling & Maintaining Soil Fertility, and Soil Tilth: Managing & Improving Soil Physical Conditions are included on disks as Attachments, along with hard copies of other teaching materials. Copies of two publications: the “Ohio Soil Health Card” and “Nutrient Cycling & Maintaining Soil Fertility” are included as Attachments to this report. Also included is a copy of the notebook of selected Soil Quality reference materials distributed at the first set of workshops and a copy of the folder used at the second set of workshop.

Outcomes and impacts:

Objective I. An in-service training workshop titled “Soil Quality & Soil Health” was held at two Ohio State University locations on January 29 & 30, 1998: 145 people attended at Wooster in northern Ohio and 95 at Piketon in southern Ohio. Dr. Red Magdoff of the University of Vermont was the keynote speaker. He gave presentations on organic matter management and nutrient cycling & nitrogen management. A vegetable and grain farmer from NW Ohio discussed sustainable soil management practices used on his farm. Other presentation included methods of measuring and assessing soil quality, initiatives of the Soil Quality Institute, and a video picturing ‘Life in the Soil’. A notebook with 25 articles and papers on soil quality was given to each participant for future reference. (See the Workshop Program in the Notebook that is included as an Attachment).

Objective II. Four educational modules were developed: 1) Soil Quality: What Is It? And Why Is It Important?, 2) Soil Biology & Organic Matter Management, 3) Nutrient Cycling & Maintaining Soil Fertility, and 4) Soil Tilth: Managing & Improving Soil Physical Conditions. For each module, a set of teaching materials were developed or assembled. The Soil Biology & Organic Matter Management module is focused around a 30-minute video “Life in the Soil” and two references. Each of the remaining three teaching modules consists of a set of 35-mm slides, a set of overheads, speaker’s notes and other teaching guides, and handout/reference material. A set of these materials is available for use in each of the five Extension Districts in Ohio, as well as in the state NRCS office, and offices of the Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association and the Innovative Farmers of Ohio. They are intended for use by anyone who wants to put on a Soil Quality educational program. In addition, the video “Life in the Soil” (Nature Farming, International Research Foundation), a USDA Soil Quality Test Kit, and the Ohio Soil Health Card are available at all seven locations. The Soil Quality Test Kit is both a teaching and on-farm soil assessment tool. The Ohio Soil Health Card was developed by farmers for farmers using a participatory approach designed by the NRCS Soil Quality Institute. It provides a simple way to assess soil conditions and identify areas that require more detailed evaluation using the USDA Soil Quality Test Kit or other tools. An Extension bulletin “Nutrient Cycling & Maintaining Soil Fertility” has been completed, but not yet printed. A preliminary copy is included as an Attachment, along with a copy of the Ohio Soil Health Card, and an Inventory of Soil Quality Educational Materials that were placed around the state.

Objective III. A second set of in-service workshops, “Putting Soil Health Into Practice”, was held at four locations October 26-29, 1998. Total attendance for the four sessions was 145. This in-service was in two parts. The morning session introduced the teaching materials for the four educational modules described in Objective II. The afternoon session consisted of applied, hands-on exercises that gave participants the chance to examine soils of different types, under different management conditions, and with different inherent properties; see examples of many organisms that inhabit soil and affect its condition; and use the Soil Quality Test Kit and Ohio Soil Health Card to evaluate different soils and composts. In both sessions of this workshop, the emphasis during discussions was on practical soil management practices that can maintain or improve soil quality & health. Handouts and reference materials were also provided for each participant. A folder of the handouts used at this workshop are included as an Attachment.

Because of interest in having a more thorough training session with the Soil Quality Test Kit, an additional workshop was recently held on Oct. 5, 1999. “learning to Use the USDA Soil Quality Test Kit” was attended by a diverse group of 15 Extension agents, farmers, SWCD conservationists, and crop consultants. They got a chance to use every part of the kit during a full day of in-field training and were given copies of the Test Kit Instruction Manual and Interpretive Guide. A copy of the Program for this workshop is included as an Attachment.

Objective IV. This project was very successful in developing partnerships between OSU Extension, NRCS, farmers, and individuals from other Ohio farm organizations such as the Innovative Farmers of Ohio, Ohio No-Till Council, Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association, Ohio Soybean Council, and Ohio Forage and Grasslands Council. Individuals from a variety of organizations had the opportunity to interact, get to know one another, and learn more about the nature of each other’s organization or farm. This was true for both those on the program planning committee, the farmer Advisory Committee, and those who attended the workshops. These relationships should foster more collaborative efforts in the future to work together toward common goals in sustainable agriculture.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Future Recommendations

More information on soil management practices that sustain or improve soil quality & health were desired by many participants in the workshops we held. Several of the individuals involved in this project are working to put together a Soil Health Management Guide for Ohio. The goal is to use similar language as the Ohio Soil Health Card, and an index based on the specific categories used in the Card, so users who identify problems can easily find the sections in the Management Guide that give options for correcting the problem. Nutrient Cycling & Maintaining Soil Fertility is the only part of the Guide completely written at this time.

An important area needing further study is more evaluations of the economics of foil improving practices such as cover crops and rotations. All farmers are interested in improving their soil, but they are often driven by short term economic pressures. It is easy to calculate the short term costs of planting a cover crop, but it is difficult to put a dollar value on the benefits of sustainable soil management practices like building soil organic matter.

The final area of work needing to be continued in Ohio was begun this month with the “Learning to Use the USDA Soil Quality Test Kit” workshop. More hands-on training is needed so these tools are frequently used and the testing done accurately. Interpretive guidelines for soil assessment developed by the Soil Quality Institute need to be evaluated more extensively, and work on evaluating new measurement techniques and assessment tools needs to continue, as does more basic research on the effects of different agricultural management practices on sustainable soil quality.

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.