A project was initiated to determine the most effective ways to deliver information on grazing and pasture management to farmers. An evaluation team composed of project participants, farmers, and selected extension professionals from Pennsylvania and Maryland selected the topics for training, a farm at Penn State University was dedicated to use for the project, and several methods of information delivery were selected for testing and evaluation. These methods included classroom instruction, computer-assisted conferencing, teleconferencing, self-directed education, web site instruction, and on-site demonstration. Three training sessions were conducted over two years that incorporated these delivery methods with 18 extension professionals from Maryland and Pennsylvania as the audience. The audience then developed and conducted farmer training sessions using the delivery methods selected for the project with an extensive evaluation of the value and impact of the training.
In the three training sessions we determined the most effective delivery methods were teleconferencing and on-site demonstration, while the least-effective delivery was web-based training and classroom instruction. Evaluations from farmer training sessions using many of these delivery methods indicated on-site demonstration, teleconferencing, and hard-copy fact sheets and instructional manuals were the preferred methods. An educator’s kit for grazing and pasture management was developed that contained demonstration topics, PowerPoint slides, pasture plate meters, a conference telephone, three binders of printed material, selected videos, and four instruction manuals. The contents of the kit were evaluated by the project audience and four kits were made available in each of the two participating states. Potential users of the kits for training farmers include extension professionals, USDA personnel, vocational agriculture teachers, 4-H leaders, and farmer organizations.
The objectives of the project were:
1. To effectively train farmer-educators in pasture-based livestock production by coupling electronic media with demonstration and interactive application.
2. To provide timely, localized training for farmers that will significantly impact the level of expertise in pasture-based livestock production in the agricultural community locally and regionally.
Pasture-based livestock production systems are the core of the production of protein foods for humans. Some dairy producers have also found pasture can be a profitable part of their nutrition and management program. The Northeast contains both unique opportunities for pasture-based livestock production and important challenges to livestock farming. The region is characterized by small livestock operations with relatively low inputs, which are consistent with pasture-based systems. The region is also highly populated, and the rural-urban interface is a source of challenge.
Pasture-based livestock production is appropriate to the Northeast because time and labor inputs are minimized for part-time managers, there is an abundance of land best suited to grass production, and grazing is generally a more acceptable alternative to confined animal production by non-agricultural entities. For producers, there is an expressed need for information about cost-effective pasture management, grazing systems that will be profitable, and the infrastructure needed to most effectively use grass.
Much of the information available to these producers, however, is testimonials based on New Zealand production systems. While these systems have great value, they are inappropriate in some ways to the Northeast for a number of reasons. Therefore, the incorporation of grazing information from around the world with the environmental requirements in the Northeast will provide the most effective management for the region. Secondly, the delivery of this information must be effective and easily adapted from farm to farm.
The objectives of this project were to determine what methods of information delivery for grazing and pasture management were most effective for farmers, and to provide training that would significantly impact the level of expertise of farmers in the region.
The “Grazing and Pasture Management Educator’s Kit” was developed, evaluated, and distributed to eight locations in Pennsylvania and Maryland as a resource for farmer-educators for instruction in grazing and pasture management. Each kit contains 500 fact sheets, 600 Powerpoint slides, four copyrighted training manuals, a rising plate meter for measuring standing forage dry matter, sample demonstration projects, and a conference telephone. This allows the most flexibility and portability possible with the material.
Performance Target Outcomes
Overall evaluations for the farm management and assessment workshops were 9.0 of a possible 10. Scores for pre-and post-tests increased by 27%. One hundred percent of participants found the information to be very useful in presentation to farmer audiences. For the grazing management and grazing systems material, 80% of the participants rated the level of instruction for a farmer audience as fairly to very high, and 80% of the participants found the workshop to be very helpful to extremely helpful as an extension educator. The level of knowledge about the subject matter increased 23%. This increase in knowledge of the subject matter increased from a score of 6.6 to one of 9.4 (of 10) for the livestock management session, and confidence in teaching the material increased from 7.6 to 9.2 after the training.
Extensive evaluation of the information delivery methods provided consistent results. The ranking of the methods and a discussion of the possible reasons are as follows.
1. On-site demonstration.
Grazing and pasture management is intrinsically suited to demonstrative training because the environment and resources that are used will vary over a grazing season and from farm to farm within a season. This variability becomes more apparent when demonstrated on-site, and the educational value is greater for the adult audience.
The use of a conference telephone provides substantial flexibility and quality to instruction. The method is portable because it requires only access to a telephone line to use. Secondly, it can provide excellent instruction because the instructor can be located anywhere in the world accessible by telephone. Third, it is cheaper to produce a quality instructional program because there are no travel costs to primary instructors. Finally, it is interactive because the audience can ask questions in real time. Some other factors that make it effective include using a slide show simultaneously, using a picture of the remote instructor to provide “identity,” and providing effective background information about the topic.
One-to-one instruction is very effective for many types of subject matter, particularly that which is not easily demonstrated. This is particularly true for financial and planning training. Additionally, it was shown farmer audiences need hardcopy material to support the lectures. This can be in the form of fact sheets with sufficient detail, and training manuals as a resource tool.
4. Computer- and web-based
The least effective delivery method to farmer audiences was clearly computer- and web-based programs. The primary reason appeared to be the lack of computer skills with this audience. The quality of PicTel presentation was not sufficient. This, however, is probably an evolving issue as more people become familiar with computer technology, and more effective use of the web occurs.
The evaluations of training sessions with farmer audiences clearly followed the same results as with the extension professionals. Thus, it became apparent some necessary tools needed to be put in place to most effectively train farmers. An “Educator’s Kit” was developed to provide these tools. Each kit contained demonstration activities, training manuals, videos, a rising plate meter, a conference telephone, and a CD with 600 Powerpoint slides created from the training sessions and elsewhere. These materials were evaluated completely by the project participants, and four of the kits are available in each of the two participating states. They can be used by extension professionals, USDA personnel, 4-H leaders, and farm commodity groups as a resource to teach a wide range of material that may include short meeting presentations on a limited subject, or a complete grazing and management school for farmers.
I. Information delivery methods for training farmer-educators and farmers in grazing and pasture management were thoroughly evaluated and the most effective methods were identified.
II. A cadre of extension professionals in Pennsylvania and Maryland were trained in grazing and pasture management, and they indicated their increased expertise with the information, and their increased confidence in teaching the subject matter.
III. The most important concepts, delivery methods, and media sources for information on grazing and pasture management for farmer audiences in the Northeast were identified.
IV. An “Educator’s Kit” was developed, evaluated, and distributed to eight locations in Pennsylvania and Maryland for use by farm-educators to train farmers in grazing and pasture management. The kit may be used to teach one lecture, or it may be used as the resource for teaching extensive grazing management schools.
1. Farmer-educators will be able to more effectively deliver information about grazing and pasture management to farmers because more educational resources are available, effective delivery methods are identified, and more educational opportunities can be made available to farmers.
2. Northeastern farmers will be able to more effectively use their land, labor, and livestock resources using improved grazing and pasture management practices.
3. Northeastern farmers can be more profitable and sustainable.
The current project is a followup to a previous SARE project, and was intended to take the next logical step in providing the most effective training tools poossible for farmer-educators in the Northeast. The next step in the process should be the use of the training methods and devices that have developed and provided in a comprehensive, collective, coordinated, and extensive training program in grazing and pasture management for farmers in the Northeast.