Environmental Farm Analysis and Planning: A Whole Farm Planning Training Exercise Designed for Extension and NRCS Personnel

Final Report for ENC99-046

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1999: $82,994.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
William Hargrove
Kansas State University, KCARE
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Project Information

Abstract:

[Note to online version: The report for this project includes appendices that could not be included here. The regional SARE office will mail a hard copy of the entire report at your request. Just contact North Central SARE at (402) 472-7081 or ncrsare@unl.edu.]

A total of seven farms in priority watersheds were identified as sites for introducing the River Friendly Farm Environmental Assessment tool over the past two years. Cooperating farmers worked through the assessment tool on their farms, and then a farm financial analyst worked through Finpack’s Long Range Budgeting (FinLRB) with each of them prior to the training sessions. Training sessions examined the cooperating farmer’s notebooks, using it and FinLRB to develop options that the operator could use to address environmental issues identified. A total of 85 participants went through the seven training sessions. We surveyed key informants from the 85 participants to document follow up activities. Two extension agents hosted their own training with a total of 31 farmer participants. The original participants had recommended the assessment to over 100 individual farmers. We documented that at least 45 farmers actually completed the assessment and another 30 40 are in progress. As a result of completing the assessment we estimate at least 7 farmers have applied to the Clean Water Farms program for cost share assistance.

Project Objectives:

Trainees, including Extension, NRCS, and state and federal agency personnel, will:

1. Increase their understanding of integrated decision making on potential farm business economics, family goals, and environmental impact.

2. Gain first-hand exposure to farm family goal setting, farm financial analysis and environmental farm planning tools.

3. Practice the integration of best management practices for environmental stewardship on farm level decision making.

4. Improve their understanding and skills for teaching whole farm environmental assessment,
analysis, and implementation planning.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

Over the past two years an interdisciplinary working group, including KSU, Kansas Rural Center, and NRCS has developed and pilot tested the River Friendly Farm Assessment Tool. A description of the tool may be found at the following website: www.oznet.ksu.edu/kcsaac/publications/sus_ag7.pdf.

The Tool enables farm families to identify environmental impacts of on farm activities and results in an action plan for making management improvements to restore and/or protect water quality in concert with other farm goals. This project used this tool in concert with Finpack, a common farm financial assessment and planning tool, to provide a comprehensive whole farm plan and self assessment on seven selected farms/ranches identified as Category 1 Watersheds (highest priority for restoration) by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the USDA NRCS.

Members of the planning and training team prepared training folders with farm profiles, maps, farm goals, and the environmental assessment results for each of the farms A financial analyst visited each farm and prepared a balance sheet, cash flow statement, and enterprise budgets. The financial analyst also evaluated management options identified by the farm family using Finpack’s Financial Long Range Budgeting options.

Training sessions were organized in a two day format, with day one being an introduction to the River Friendly Farm Assessment tool, an introduction to how the RFF tool fits with NRCS’s whole farm planning process, an introduction to the farm family and their farm, the financial analyst’s presentation of Finpack output, an afternoon tour of the farm, and an evening of clarification of goals/objectives/workbook assessment results, etc.

Day two included an introduction to the farm families’ goals and action plan, and identifying management options for the farm family in breakout groups of 3 4 trainees. Technical specialists were available as a resource in most training sessions as options were being developed. The day was wrapped up with two activities, an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the assessment tool and workshop format, and a group by group reporting to the full group including the farm family. Workshop output was compiled into reports that were shared with the farm family and training participants.

After the training, K-State extension personnel and/or staff from the Kansas Rural Center followed up with participants who expressed an interest in either hosting their own training for farm families or in working directly with one or more farm families to facilitate the use of the RFF Assessment Tool.

Outreach and Publications

Farmer Adoption, Impact, Involvement

Observations of the impact of the on-farm training process on the host farm families are listed under Results above. At each location, the cooperating farm family expressed appreciation for the process and input that they received from workshop participants. This definitely broadened their thought processes, providing them options, but often pointing them back to the need for more clarification of farm and family goals in making decisions about options presented. For each of the seven farm families, six to ten items were identified as needing action.

We surveyed the seven farm families that hosted the trainings to learn what changes they had made as a result of doing the assessment. Some examples of their responses include:

• replaced a household septic system
• re-designed feedlots and runoff lagoon (has applied to NRCS for assistance)
• improved recordkeeping
• more detailed soil sampling
• increased use of cover crops
• developed an alternative enterprise of organic asparagus production
• dismantled an old silo and used as rip-rap for streambank erosion control
• modified a milking barn for better efficiency and improved wash water management
• plans for moving a feedlot (waiting on NRCS assistance)
• plans for modifying a waterway that drains water from a feedlot directly into the Arkansas River (waiting on NRCS assistance)

Additionally, a number of other farm families were introduced to or completed the Assessment Tool as described under Impacts and Potential Contributions above. Particularly noteworthy, is that we estimate that at least seven farmers have applied to the Clean Water Farms program (a cost share program funded by EPA 319 funds and administered by the Kansas Rural Center) for cost share assistance to implement practices as a direct result of completing the assessment.

Involvement of Other Audiences

K-State Research and Extension has recently hired six Extension Watershed Specialists to work in high priority TMDL watersheds in the state. These watershed specialists will be working with agricultural producers, landowners, and homeowners to implement BMPs to improve water quality in the Kansas, Arkansas and Marais des Cygnes River basins. These workshops provided opportunity for these specialists to attend multiple training sessions that had a variety of field situations (organic crop farm, vegetable crop farm, dairy, beef finishing, sheep, no till, marketing, etc). We are seeing them as foundational to the ongoing use of these tools. The watershed specialists plan to use the assessment tool as a “hook” to get individuals concerned and involved in making water quality improvements at a local level.

Attached in the appendices are informational brochures developed for the RFF Assessment Plan and the training, and data on the number of and agency profile for participant trainees.

Outcomes and impacts:

A total of 85 participants went through one of the seven training sessions. A listing of the numbers of trainees by agency type and location is given in the Appendix. With respect to the trainees’ evaluation of the workshops, generally there was a very strong, positive response to the experiential format of the workshops. Relative to other SARE PDP training activities that we have hosted over the last several years, these training sessions developed some of the best workshop interactions among extension professionals and farm families that we have experienced. All participants got involved in the process and actively participated throughout the sessions. The on-farm, experiential nature of the training plus the fact that each training group was relatively small (10-15 participants) made for a very effective training experience, based on comments and enthusiasm of the trainees. Participants left the training sessions with a high level of energy to make use of these tools with farm families in their respective locales.

The following observations can be made concerning the on farm training process:

1) Seeing and experiencing actual farm operations and having the direct participation of the farm families as they shared the critical issues facing them, made for a very powerful experiential learning experience. Trainees were not making assumptions, but dealing with real issues that affect families and financial bottom lines.

2) Participants recognized that family interpersonal relations are extremely important in this process. As most of the output was shared back to the farm family, the farm family, which often included either siblings and spouses or grown children and spouses, had to reexamine farm and family goals and objectives as they considered new options.

3) Having the Finpack analysis for each operation was highly appreciated by the farm family; the farm families were very open with their financial records and shared freely with the trainees. They did this in order to get help in addressing critical issues facing them.

4) A new appreciation was gained for the link of environmentally sound (options for BMPs),
socially responsible (family quality of life issues), and financially viable (economic goals) aspects of a family fanning operation.

5) The small size of the training sessions made for an effective learning environment where the participants were free to interact with trainers, farm families, technical resource staff, and each other.

6) A number of the cooperating farm families had preconceived notions of the critical issues that needed to be addressed as they began the assessment. These issues were addressed, but additionally, there were usually several other issues that got added into the action plan that had not been recognized earlier. We recognized the power of this assessment for broadening the horizon for the farm families as they go through the assessment.

7) Group brainstorming and the synergy of group process were very positive. In several of the sessions, new ideas were generated that had not been considered before.

8) From training to training, different comments were made about how to make the RFF assessment notebook more effective.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Future Recommendations

Areas Needing Further Study

1) Participants and cooperating farmers appreciated the assessment tool, but had numerous ideas on improvement in a next edition of the notebook.

2) Until now through various grant projects, we have provided incentive payments for farm families to work through the RFF assessment notebook. Some farm families will do the assessment without incentive payments because they seek ways to improve their operations and desire to proactively address environmental issues rather than being regulated. Others will require an incentive payment or other incentives. What is the best way to encourage farm families to make use of this tool: incentive payments, cost share for implementing action plans, etc.?

3) Can this become a tool that is used/recognized across agencies? How can we as agencies work at better coordination/cooperation?

Potential Contributions

We surveyed key informants from 85 participants to document follow up activities. Two extension agents hosted their own county level training with a total of 31 additional farmer participants. The original participants recommended the assessment to over 100 individual farmers. We documented that at least 45 farmers actually completed the assessment and another 30 40 are in progress. As a result of completing the assessment we estimate at least 7 farmers have applied to the Clean Water Farms program (a cost share program funded by EPA 319 funds and administered by the Kansas Rural Center) for cost share assistance. Having the Finpack output for each farm as a component in this training provided a novel way of thinking in terms of options instead of “a recommendation” for the farm families. Continually we were reminded that the financial goals have to be congruent with family quality of life goals. Some of the farm families had strong spiritual and other family goals that had to be balanced with the financial and environmental goals.

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.