This project provided training to 22 Extension educators/specialists and other farmer-educators on how to work collaboratively with farmers to generate and implement research projects. The project activities included workshops, on-farm research projects, and the development of communication tools. Three multi-day workshops covered the following topics: how to work with farmers to translate production and conservation problems into researchable questions, how to design on-farm experiments that are scientifically sound yet manageable, and how to analyze experimental data.
All of the Extension and farmer-educators worked with farmers to develop and implement a farmer-driven research project. These projects served as hands-on learning experiences for the project participants.
The proposed Performance Targets for this project were as follows: a) 20 agricultural educators, in partnership with at least 35 farmers, will complete an on-farm research project and incorporate the results into their educational programming, and b) 17 of the 35 participating farmers will change a production practice based on their on-farm research.
This Performance Target was met and exceeded with 22 agricultural educators collaborating directly with over 160 farmers, and indirectly with an additional 405 farmers to complete 21 farmer-driven research projects. Over 134 of the farmers involved adopted or changed a production practice as a direct result of the research they participated in.
A grassroots approach to education is the foundation of Cooperative Extension agricultural programs throughout the United States. Founded early in the 20th century, Cooperative Extension’s mission was to work locally with farm families to apply newly emerging information and technology from the land-grant system and agricultural experiment stations. The involvement of farmers through demonstration plots and on-farm trials soon became an effective method for increasing adoption of new ideas and technologies. Recently, many critics have voiced concerned that the land-grant system and Cooperative Extension are not as responsive to the needs of the public and societal issues as they should be (Kellogg Commission, 1999). University engagement involves mutually beneficial partnerships between campuses and communities to solve problems and improve communities.
The purpose of this SARE grant follows these early principles closely, but with even greater emphasis on grassroots-driven research. In addition to reporting on the innovative research completed by the participants in this project, data was compiled around what the educators and farmers learned about working with each other on a collaborative research project, and what kinds of lessons were learned about farmer-driven research in the process.
This SARE PDP grant funded 21 projects in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. Twenty-two Cooperative Extension and farmer-educators collaborated directly with over 160 farmers to complete farmer-driven research projects.
Additionally, over 500 producers and 50 Extension educators/specialists and other farmer-educators attended regional meetings or field days, increasing their awareness about the results of the farmer-driven research projects.
The core elements of the educational program included:
Training workshops: Three training events were held in Portsmouth, NH. The first training session focused on defining the Extension model of farmer-driven research. Distinctions between on-farm and farmer-driven were brought into focus, as well as multiple methods of garnering farmer-driven research ideas. The second workshop focused on experimental designs suitable for working farms, including statistical analysis, examples of successful experiments, and web sites that could help farmer-educators with statistical analysis. Time was also spent again differentiating between on-farm research and farmer-driven research. The final workshop focused on sharing learning outcomes from their participation in the grant and how to incorporate the farmer-driven model into all types of Extension programming. Participants at the final workshop included both farmer-educators, as well as farmers who took part in the research.
To facilitate the education at these workshops, experienced individuals were brought in from across the country. These people included Sue-Ellen Johnson from the New England Small Farms Institute, Scott Marlow for Rural Advancement Foundation International, and 12 farmers that conducted farmer-driven research on their farms.
On-farm research training: Grants were made to participants in the training who successfully submitted an application for funding for farmer-driven projects. Applicants included Extension, farmer researchers and NGO’s such as the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association technical staff. The review of applications was done by a committee comprised of a farmer, four Extension educators, two Extension specialists, an NRCS staff member and a non-profit member.
Farm tours: Many of the farmer-driven research projects were featured in field days and twilight meetings by farmers, Extension educators and other farmer-educators.
A web site and newsletters for continuous support and updates was developed. Below are the links to the web sites.
These core elements were designed to complement each other and provide the participants with an appropriate and exciting combination of hands-on learning and theoretical background knowledge. The workshops were arranged to provide education on the benefits of farmer research and the nuts and bolts of how to facilitate it. The farmer-driven projects served as hands-on learning experiences for project participants. Farm tours complemented both workshops and on-farm projects while the web site and newsletters served as tools to communicate and promote this innovative approach to farmer/educator/scientist partnerships.
Performance Target Outcomes
Twenty-two Extension educators, Extension specialists and farmer-educators participated in this project to increase their skills in collaborating with farmers to conduct research. A total of 21 farmer-driven research projects were initiated and completed. In the majority of the cases, the research questions were driven by the farmer directly, with the farmer (or group of farmers) generating a question about something they wanted to have investigated. In other cases, the projects came about as a result of an Extension educator or specialist asking their audience for ideas they would like to see investigated in their county or local setting. In a few cases, the idea for the research project came about as a result of the Extension educator or specialist responding to an increase in requests for information about a particular topic.
The evaluation of the project outcomes listed below was assessed in two broad areas: a) Professional Development Outcomes – findings about what the Extension educators, specialists and other farmer-educators learned in regards to working in partnership with farmers on research projects, and b) Research Outcomes – findings from the research projects themselves and practices changed on farms as a result of the research. The research outcomes are described in abstract form, although further information can be gathered by contacting the project leader if desired. The project leader’s name and email is listed to assist the reader.
Professional Development Outcomes:
Extension educators, specialists, and other farmer-educators were asked several questions at a regional meeting and later in a web survey about their experience doing on-farm and farmer-driven research, and their responses provided several themes that might be used as future “best practices” for farmer-driven research projects. Thirteen of the 20 educators who responded to the survey question said the project helped to increase their ability to implement research projects on farms. In addition, many of the educators and several farmers indicated the entire project was successful in building a stronger relationship and greater trust between the educator or specialist and the farmer.
Below are comments made on the survey by the educators when asked, “Please describe how this project helped you as an Extension or farmer-educator.”
“This project helped me build relationships with farmers in my area. As a new Extension Specialist, relationship building helps with success. Success is determined by farmers that contact you for information that they trust.”
“Extension being on the farm buys ‘chips’ with growers. We need to be out on the farm and more accessible.”
“This was the first replicated trial on a farmer’s field. I learned that management here is just as important as, or even greater than, at an experiment station.”
“I think farmers better realize that we want to help them in this area.”
“I continued to build my capacity to work with farmers with on-farm research by learning how to communicate and trouble-shoot with farmers.”
“It was a good opportunity to do on-farm, hands-on activity of immediate benefit to farmers.”
“Interestingly enough, I found that the farmers I worked with expected me as the Extension educator to do most of the work. They felt that they did not have extra time and that I was the paid professional. I learned that despite saying upfront many times that this was a “farmer-driven” project and that farmers should drive it, that they wanted it done, yet did not want to devote any time as they were already too busy. Now in the future I will be prepared to do the lion’s share of the work when it comes to on-farm research.”
“I have learned the difference between research on a farm and farmer-driven research.”
“I learned that an on-farm trial should be kept as simple as possible so the grower can easily apply the treatments without risk of error. Simpler experimental design would also reduce the time needed to apply treatments.”
“The project provided invaluable training and collaboration with regional Extension, farmers and plant breeders. On-farm research cannot be learned in a university setting. It must be conducted in the real field under typical farm pressures to work for farmers. I feel I have just begun this work, and will seek future support to continue. Long-term funding is needed to address the critical unmet need for training in participatory plant breeding. Participatory plant breeding (PPB) puts the farmer at the center of the breeding process. PPB is a proven strategy to generate locally-adapted crops that is urgently needed to feed a growing population in a period of climate change with fluctuating weather extremes and altered seasonal patterns.”
“As a farmer trying to lead an on-farm education project, I was reminded of my limitations during a growing season. While the ideal of performing research in my own market garden and extending this project to other farmers around me was nice, it was also unrealistic. The project did help me to realize the challenges of trying to record data on a farm during a busy growing season. Unless a project is set up very simply (with very little variation from how other similar crops are grown and collected), it is unrealistic for most farmers to collect data during the season. There needs to be an outside participant that is organized and available for data collection throughout the duration of the experiment.”
“This project was very important in helping me become a better Extension educator. On-farm research can be a very challenging but rewarding experience. Each year as I participate in more on-farm research projects, I become a better resource for the farmers in our community.”
“It called to my attention an area of concern I wasn’t addressing. It has identified me as a person to go to for this type of information within Extension.”
“It gave me evidence to use potassium sulfate more confidently with growers.”
“It helped me see problems with replanting in old peach orchards and in the future will help me with varieties appropriate for NH.”
“I think it probably helped the county educators more than me (the specialist) in understanding how to set up replicated field trials, work with the grower to collect needed data, collect and tabulate survey data in ways meaningful to growers.”
A major area this grant focused on building capacity was in understanding the difference between farmer-driven research, where farmers generate the research ideas and implement the methods, versus on-farm research, where the farmer-educator creates both the research idea and methods and simply implements the project on a farm. The educational activities sought to increase the knowledge of the participants in this area, as well as build their skills by having them collaborate with farmers to implement farmer-driven research projects. The evaluation data demonstrated two major findings: 1) the participants did increase their knowledge and skills in farmer-driven research, and 2) a rigid model of farmer-driven research was invalid for many participants. True partnership and collaboration was more important than who generated the research idea or how it was derived. Below are some of the data supporting these findings.
Some educators/specialists interviewed expressed they learned that their role in developing research questions should be one of a convener and facilitator, more than that of an expert with the answers. Listening to farmers was important and using requests for information or observations about an issue or phenomenon (crop loss for instance) were ways to develop ideas for research. Several other educators/specialists said that sometimes it was okay to suggest ideas or ask farmers if they would like to test something the educator had heard about, or provide a menu of ideas for producers to react to, rather than simply ask, “What do you need?”
Most farmers were grateful for the help from the educator/specialist in designing the research project itself, even when the question was farmer-driven. “Extension legitimized the research, making it much more of a benefit.” Simple research designs helped to reduce the time required by the grower as well, making errors less likely.
The most successful projects were those where the farmer had ownership in the question and the project. The level of grower commitment in the research project was a primary key to success. This interest may be driven by desperation (i.e., crop failure) or a farmer’s inability to find answers to their questions in other ways (i.e., only anecdotal data exists) but the more farmer-driven the project, the more likely the farmer is to make sure the work gets done.
Barriers to successful projects included the amount of time required to do the on-farm research. Farmers often didn’t have the time during the growing season to tend to the details of research projects and tended to lean on the Extension educator/specialist for assistance in providing some of the labor for the projects. Simply scheduling time when the educator/specialist could come and take samples or set up trials was a challenge during the growing season. Several educators/specialists felt they needed to be on the farm continuously and be very clear in the schedule of what needed to be done or else the activity didn’t get done, or didn’t get done correctly. Communicating openly with the farmer up-front was important so that the farmer understood the time commitment involved in conducing the research project.
Even if the research project didn’t yield useful results, educators/specialists said the experience was overall positive, providing them with more experience in collaboration with farmers and building stronger relationships with growers. Knowing that farmers learn best from each other, one educator indicated, “The experience has provided me with another tool to work with farmers effectively.”
Weed control in forage crops: Bedstraw management in pastures – Rick Kersbergen firstname.lastname@example.org Reported Findings: This research project was developed due to repeated calls farmers made requesting information on how to control bedstraw in forage crops. This project built upon an existing NESARE Partnership Grant. The research concluded that the biology of the plant must be understood, no matter what type of control (cultural or chemical) is used by the producer. Herbicide trials were ineffective if the seed deposition from the weed was not controlled prior to treatments. Alternative treatments (Nitrogen fertilization or burning) were not effective in controlling bedstraw. Practices Adopted: Timing and management of control measures changed. Research results were presented at meetings in NH, RI (Northeast Weed Science) and Maine. Articles were published in Country Folks, and Solar Dollar.
Corn variety trials on open pollinated corn – John Jemison email@example.com. Reported Findings: Two farmers were involved in shaping this research project, as was a UNH specialist in agroecology. The research found that open pollinated corn can do as well as hybrid corn in most conditions and situations. Practices Adopted: The farmer has continued to buy open pollinated corn as a result of his participation in the project.
Forage soybeans and farm integration – Mark Hutchinson firstname.lastname@example.org Reported Findings: Two farmers approached Mark with the idea for this project and he helped them design and implement this research. The project had very good farmer collaboration. The farmers now know they can work on projects together with Mark and other Extension educators in Maine. Practices Adopted: Crop rotation; potential new dairy forage.
Photoperiod manipulation to increase milk production – Steve Turaj email@example.com Reported Findings: The idea for this research project came about from a dairy farmer who had read some findings in the literature. Other dairy farmers expressed interest at a kitchen table meeting, and even more responded when personal contacts were made and newsletter articles were written about the project. In addition to the farmers, a UNH Extension dairy specialist and educator were also involved. There were not many new findings, instead the results were that farmers implemented new practices to improve milk production. No measures of the effect of these impacts were made at the time of this report. Practices Adopted: Improved barn lighting, placement of cows in barn to achieve better light exposure; and increased awareness of energy efficiency methods.
Buy local research – Seth Wilner firstname.lastname@example.org Reported Findings: This project came about due to the expressed interest of three farmers and one farmers’ market manager. The group wanted to explore low cost methods to increase consumption of local agricultural products and services. By project’s end, the group grew to 18 members. Seven radio ads were generated to increase consumer purchasing of local agricultural products and services. A survey of patrons at three farmers’ markets over the course of the growing season found that 19% (31 of 163 people) had heard the radio ads. The impacts of the radio ads on the buying habits were indiscernible. The survey also showed that 84% of patrons traveled less than 10 miles to the farmers’ markets. Over 84% of the patrons also learned about the farmers’ market as a result of driving by or knowing someone. The full survey report is available at http://extension.unh.edu/Counties/Sullivan/SuCNews.htm Practices Adopted: Farmers’ markets managers used the data to change their advertising methods.
Soil nutrient balancing in forage cropping systems – Heather Darby email@example.com Reported Findings: The project grew out of a question different growers inquired about at meetings, workshops and one-on-one meetings. The question asked if “we need to balance nutrients in the soil to improve crop productivity?” Due to a lack of scientific data, no answer could be given, so the experiment was explored. In this experiment, the soils were balanced for two years on one farm and one year on another other farm. Balancing nutrients on “poor” fields and “good” fields were tested. In the end, the quality and yield of the crops did not differ between the treatments. The treatments were applied in replicated strips in fields and varied depending on soils tests. Practices Adopted: The participating farmers decided not to continue purchasing expensive inputs that did not result in increased crop productivity on their farms, thus saving money.
Testing a biological material Coniothyrium minitans (Contans) for the control of white rot in garlic – Eric Sideman firstname.lastname@example.org Reported Findings: This research project resulted because a farmer lost nearly 100% of her garlic the previous year to white rot. Contans has been demonstrated to be effective in managing Sclerotinia sclerotiorum and Sclerotinia minor, the agents that causes white mold. C. minitans works by attacking the sclerotia of the disease organism and white rot, similar to white mold, also reproduces by sclerotia. The project leader had read that “Contans” may offer some remedy, yet lacked research data. The manufacturer of the product was contacted and they felt research on the subject would prove useful. The project was implemented, yet in the end, the material showed no efficacy at all. However, it may be worth trying in a university setting with various practices because using a biological material is so hard to research as many factors can influence the organisms (both the disease and the beneficial organism). Practices Adopted: None using this material. The farmer has opened new fields that have never had alliums and hopes to keep these fields free of white rot.
Testing feasibility of growing oilseed sunflowers for on-farm oil production, variety trial of different hybrids – Becky Grube email@example.com Reported Findings: This project was initiated by a farmer who had returned from Brazil and saw sunflowers used to produce bio-diesel and the cake used to feed livestock. The farmer contacted the University looking for a research partner. By project’s end, over 10 farmer-educators had offered input and interest. The results found that sunflowers can be grown in the northeast region with reasonable yields and that there is much more research needed to grow this crop and generate the bio-diesel. Further research needs include weed control practices, appropriate harvesting equipment, appropriate planting time, and good crop rotations. Practices Adopted: The entire production system was untried prior to the project; yet the research provided a great deal of information on how to grow the crop and the farmer will now use that knowledge in the coming years.
Comparing the efficacy of three alternative fungicides: compost tea, Bacillus subtillus+ milk and compost booster (adaptive to compost tea) in controlling leaf mold on greenhouse tomatoes – Cheryl Smith firstname.lastname@example.org Reported Findings: This topic was chosen by the farmer-collaborator as he learned about the impact of using compost as a soil media and its reduction of root diseases. The farmer was interested to see if compost tea would serve as an effective fungicide against leaf mold. The diseases did not develop on the tomatoes, thus comparisons of the treatments for disease control were not possible. Yield data from the treatments found that compost tea provided a small yield benefit, but the increase in profit would likely be offset by the increase in labor inputs. The labor inputs included brewing the compost tea, spraying the plants, and washing the fruit. The fruit required washing to remove the compost tea residue. The residue problem would not have been an issue in field-grown crops since rain or overhead irrigation would have periodically washed off the compost tea. Practices Adopted: The grower does not plan to adopt the use of compost tea in his production of greenhouse tomatoes.
Participatory plant breeding for on-farm crop improvement to enhance local adaptability, disease resistance and flavor of vegetables – Eli Rogosa Kaufman email@example.com Reported Findings: The topic was introduced by the project leader to farmers in response to broad scale concerns of farmers for increased locally adapted crop varieties. A network of farmers met and identified critical crop needs that were not being addressed by conventional industrial breeders. Key problems addressed were cold-soil emergence, early maturity, and flea beetle resistance. The farmers wanted heirloom tomatoes with rich flavor but greater blight and septoria resistance. This project was part of a much larger project that involved two other Extension specialists. An accumulation of disease resistance data in the heirloom tomato, brassica and cucurbit genotypes was measured over a four year period, however the dramatic weather variability over the four years did not allow for even scoring comparisons. In the first season, the composite cross gene pool populations yielded more than the parents. After four years of selection, an average of 10 to 15 percent less disease was observed compared to the original parent population. The heirloom tomato cross of Brandywine x Rose de Berne was very popular with the farmers, with about half selecting this cross primarily for flavor, and the other half for attractive appearance. Practices Adopted: 1) Farmers implemented whole-farm cropping system with appropriate spacing and beneficial insect habitats; 2) farmers conducted on-farm selective seed-saving and crop improvement; and 3) farmers learned small-scale seed harvesting and cleaning techniques that they will use in future growing seasons.
Economics of drip-irrigation in small scale salad mix production – Beth Schiller firstname.lastname@example.org Reported Findings: This project originated from a farmer approaching a UMaine Extension educator (Mark Hutchinson) for help developing this project. The farmer became the lead investigator and worked with two other farmers. The results of the project were mixed due to variations in the weather and also due to the fact that all three farm participants had moved to new pieces of land during the implementation of the project. Yet the project participants found that irrigated plots produced more greens overall than non-irrigated plots. Non-irrigated plots appeared to show a greater production of the red lettuce types than the irrigated plots. None of the farmers involved were happy with the pinpoint seeder used for production, and have now all abandoned the use of this tool. All three farmers will continue to irrigate their salad mix when possible. Practices Adopted: Farmers in the project are using drip irrigation whenever possible in their salad mix production, and are developing plans for greater use of irrigation in their market gardens.
Pastured poultry production and marketing – Richard Brzozowski email@example.com Reported Findings: This project was implemented as a result of requests for information fielded by the project leader on pasture poultry. The data was collected from some of the farms yet was insufficient to draw conclusions. Poultry processing became a problem in Maine as there were no inspected plants available for the producers. Many of the individuals chose not to participate, or not to submit data so as not to “get in trouble” with the State Department of Agriculture. Practices Adopted: Some farmers sell live birds to clients – the clients then slaughter these on their own. Some farmers now don’t sell to clients. Some farmers have made arrangements with a state inspected plant and had their birds processed through them for sale. This method is temporary as the state has given an exemption year-by-year. Producers have not been able to plan in advance and expansion of poultry meat enterprises for now is out of the question.
Alternative methods for parasite control for organic dairy production – Dorothy Perkins firstname.lastname@example.org Reported Findings: Growers had requested information and interest in effective alternative parasite control for organic dairy production. Preliminary investigations were done and baselines were established. Practices Adopted: Combining best management practices with health care.
Determine the optimum agronomic and environmental nitrogen application rate for BMR Sorghum Sudangrass, and 2) evaluate the forage quality characteristics of BMR Sorghum Sudangrass – Mike Hunter email@example.com Reported Findings: This project resulted from local farmers expressing an interest in conducting on-farm research to determine what nitrogen rates applied to Brown Mid Rib Sorghum Sudangrass would provide the best return. Optimum N rates ranged from less than 50 lbs N/acre per cut in a manured field and in the field with a recent sod history to 120-140 lbs N/acre per cut for three sites, to 170 lbs N/acre per cut at a site with no manure or sod history. Preliminary results to-date suggest that BMR Sorghum Sudangrass needs to be fertilized as a grass rather than as a corn crop using split applications ranging from 100-150 lbs N/acre per cut in fields without a sod or manure history to no more than 50 lbs N/acre per cut where manure or sod N credits are expected. The results of these six trials need to be combined with a previous year’s work on N rate studies to be able to draw conclusions across a wider number of years. Practices Adopted: The farmers that participated in the project began using the nitrogen rates that were determined to have the highest optimum economic return based on this research project.
Sources of organic potassium fertilizer and its impact on greens and Brassicas dealing with flavor – George Hamilton firstname.lastname@example.org Reported Findings:
This project was implemented as a result of several farmers questioning whether the fertilizer sources of the plant nutrient potassium had an effect on causing off flavors in Brassica and green crops. In a previous growing season, an on-farm demonstration showed that applications of high amounts of Sul-Po-Mag fertilizer perhaps caused bitterness in kale. In response to these questions, three fertilizer sources were assessed for their impact on flavor in Brassica; greensand, Sul-Po-Mag, and potassium sulfate. For the first farm, the greensand resulted in an off-flavor in some Brassica crops compared to both the potassium sulfate and the Sul-Po-Mag fertilizer and applied at rates determined by soil test recommendations. No difference in growth or yield was found between these potassium sources. For the second farm, no final data is in, yet no major differences were noted in growth or yield. Practices Adopted: Farmers are changing their potassium fertilizer from greensand to potassium sulfate. You get more potassium using potassium sulfate per dollar, so growers are saving money.
A variety trial of peaches to see which are most adaptable to NH growing conditions and comparing an Open Vase Tree with a Central Leader Trained Peach Tree for each variety – George Hamilton email@example.com Reported Findings:
Over 15 farmers requested information on what peach varieties were suited to NH, as well as the impact of pruning techniques on yield, disease and tree health. No winter hardy data has been collected yet, as it is too early in the experiment. Peaches were planted in two different sites, one in an old apple orchard, and the other in an old peach tree orchard. It was observed within the first growing season that the peaches planted in the old peach orchard did not grow as well as those planted in the old apple orchard. In some cases, only half the growth was observed in the former peach orchard setting compared to the former apple orchard setting. Practices Adopted: Growers have been able to see the difference in growth of newly planted peach trees in the previous peach orchard site versus the former apple orchard site. This reinforces the Extension recommendation of not planting in an old peach orchard site for at least four years after tree removal. Additionally, if planting in a former peach orchard site, the land needs to be cropped with an annual crop for 3 to 4 of those years.
Evaluations of Eustoma grandiflorum cultivars in field and high tunnel systems, and 2) consumer survey of preferred Eustoma cultivars – Cathy Neal firstname.lastname@example.org Reported Findings: This project came about from a recognition by the project leader that Eustoma is a popular cut flower in many parts of the country but only a few growers in NH plant and use this flower. Two county educators worked with the project leader and farmer to conduct this research at two locations, a university research farm and at the farmer’s operation. The results showed that the yield per square foot in tunnel was over twice the yield in the field, and the flowers matured earlier and stems were of longer length in the tunnel. Within tunnels, planting three weeks late reduced yield by 36%. The best cultivars for field production were ABC Rose, Cinderella Blue, Echo Champagne, Echo Light Blue, with all yielding 16 stems per sq. ft. Only ABC Rose had a high proportion of long stems in the field. In the early tunnel production, those which yielded over 20 stems/sq. ft. AND over 90% long stems were: ABC Blue Blush, ABC Rose, and Echo Champagne. Cinderella Blue and Pink also yielded over 20 stems/sq. ft. and 85% long stems. The consumer survey indicated people loved but were not previously familiar with this species of cut flower. The favorite cultivars are still being tabulated, but the preference seemed to be for deep purple and pink cultivars compared to whites and light blue colors. Practices Changed: The producer increased production of Eustoma and intends to continue with several of the new cultivars. He increased space efficiency by planting closer than he had previously. At least 15 of the people who attended field days will produce this crop in 2007 for the first time, or will use new cultivars.
European Fruit Lecanium Scale Control for blueberries – Alan Eaton email@example.com
Reported Findings: This research project resulted from a regional outbreak of scale in blueberries and the (temporary) loss of spray oils legal to control the problem. One farmer who was looking for control methods found that the suggested timing regimes for Esteem and other oils in California were different than those suggested here in NH. He wondered if the alternative timing regimes would improve control of scale. The project leader explored the effect of using a fall application of Esteem (an insect growth regulator) and an oil to control European Fruit Lecanium Scale on blueberries. Spring applications of these materials had worked, but oil labels changed, leaving us without a known effective option. The research found only slight effectiveness using a fall application instead of a spring application. By the end of our experiments, labels for spray oils changed, once again giving us an effective spring option. Practices Adopted: The two farmers involved in the project tried the new timing on their farms, yet given the lack of results, they may not repeat this in upcoming years.
Organic lice management for livestock – Diane Schivera firstname.lastname@example.org Reported Findings: This project was conducted because farmers working with the Maine Organic Farmers Association have an issue with lice depending on the year. Lice infestations reduce production of cows. Three treatments were explored: 1) use of a pyganic, 2) use of Neem powder mixed with turmeric powder, and 3) use of a homeopathic product, staphasagria. The implementation of the research methods ran into numerous problems and as such, no major findings resulted. It was found that the pyganic worked against lice, yet no conclusions on the other materials were reached. Practices Changed: No practices were changed, as the results were not conclusive enough for farmers to adopt.
Sweet potato variety trials for NH growers – Becky Grube email@example.com Reported Findings: This project originated because the project leader recognized that sweet potatoes may be a high value crop for local farmers, and there is little information about profitability and best growing practices for sweet potatoes in this region. Sixteen varieties of sweet potatoes were compared in a replicated trial, and in a separate trial, different mulch and rowcover treatments were compared. Varieties were ranked by total marketable yield and flavor. Whereas several varieties produced good yields of good quality sweet potatoes, others did very poorly. Mulch/rowcover results were not conclusive; another year of testing is needed. Practices Adopted: At least ten NH growers plan to grow recommended varieties of sweet potatoes on a trial basis in the coming growing season.
Organic No-till Forages – Chris Reberg-Horton firstname.lastname@example.org
Reported Findings: Ten organic dairy farms in Maine participated in a trial of reseeding pastures and hayfields with a no-till drill. The approach did not work on any of the farms. However, being engaged with developing and implementing the project allowed me to work with farmers that had never worked with Extension. Practices Adopted : One outgrowth of this engagement is the Dairy Forage Conference which is now held twice yearly. The planning for that conference follows the same principles used for the research. Extension acts only as a facilitator and all decisions about the conference is made by growers.
Additional Project Outcomes
Recommendations to improve farmer-driven research projects beneficial to the broadest groups of growers would include having the Extension and farmer-educators working as a multi-disciplinary group. Of the 22 participants, 15 did projects in their primary skill area and only five engaged in projects outside their skill area. This by-and-large was due to the fact that most worked with farmers they knew, so these relationships were built from past experiences and partnerships. A multi-disciplinary group would probably seek to identify farmer-driven research projects from a broader group of farmers and hence one would get more diverse ideas for projects.
If offering an alternative approach or skill to one that has been imbedded in educators’ cultures, then a second recommendation would be to have techniques that introduce the new idea or skill while at the same time honoring tradition methods. We found drawing a distinction between traditional farmer-driven research and traditional on-farm research was disturbing to many of our participants. Much energy was spent either defending the virtues of on-farm research (which are not argued) or explaining that farmer-driven methods were in effect the same. As project leaders, we were unprepared to effectively deal with this issue when it arose.
A final recommendation is to incorporate farmer-driven research projects into state PDP programs as a way to study sustainable agricultural issues, train Extension educators, and increase relationships between Extension educators/specialists and farmers. This is especially true to new educators/specialists.