Soil quality workshop: Concepts and practices

Final Report for ENE05-089

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2005: $43,659.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Mary Barbercheck
PSU Dept. of Entomology
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Project Information

Summary:

Twenty agricultural professionals attended the workshop, “Soil quality: concepts and Practices,” at the Rodale Institute, on July 5-7, 2006. The purpose of the workshop was to build capacity among extension agents and other agricultural professionals in the NE for and promoting the soil quality paradigm to agricultural professionals and other stakeholders. We conducted an on-site evaluation of the workshop, and an electronic evaluation in early 2008 to evaluate the longer-term impacts of the workshop. Nineteen of the 20 workshop participants responded to the evaluation survey. Seventeen out of 19 evaluation respondents presented information about soil quality to their clientele in the year following the workshop. These participants delivered information about soil quality to approximately 7500 people in the year following the workshop.

Performance Target:

Milestones: 1) A selected group of extension agents and agricultural professionals will respond to an informal survey to express their needs, desired topics, dates of availability, and preferred learning formats. 2) Extension educators and other ag professionals in the NE will learn of the workshop through notices from SARE PDP State Coordinators, Cooperative Extension State Program Leaders and other sources, and will respond to these program recruitment notices. 3) The Project Team and selected CE will plan the project’s activities, choose potential educational materials from existing sources, identify topics that require new materials, and develop a project time line. 4) 25 agents will attend the workshop, develop a soil quality action plan and complete a post-workshop evaluation. 5) Based on the workshop and evaluations, the project team and participants will develop and distribute a resource package with soil quality educational tools and materials and information resources. 6) In a 6 to 9 month post-workshop evaluation, 20 agents will report competency, leadership capacity, attitude and behavior changes. 7) Of 25 extension agents and other agricultural professionals that participate, 25 will increase their knowledge about the relationship of ag practices to soil quality, 23 will accept that managing soil quality is critical to a more sustainable agriculture, and 15 will develop at least one new or transform at least one existing program to incorporate soil quality concepts, practices and evaluation to motivate farmers and others in the ag community to adopt practices that enhance soil quality. These agents will deliver at least one program on soil quality in the subsequent year for their clientele.

Performance Target: Extension agents will develop new and transform current programs to incorporate soil quality/health concepts and practices to motivate farmers and other members of the ag community to adopt practices that enhance soil quality.

We met our milestones and performance target. owever, 20 out of a proposed 25 agricultural professionals attended the soil quality workshop. Seventeen out of 20 workshop participants reported that they incorporated information on soil quality from the workshop into their educational programs or other work, and delivered this information to approximately 7500 people in the year following the workshop.

Introduction:

We held a two-day soil quality workshop at the Rodale Institute, on July 5-7, 2006. The purpose of the workshop was to build capacity among extension agents and other agricultural professionals in the NE for evaluating and promoting the soil quality paradigm to agricultural professionals and other stakeholders. Workshop topics and activities included: background and introduction to soil quality (inherent vs. dynamic soil quality, soil carbon and its role in soil quality); physical, chemical and biological aspects of soil quality; biology, ecology and management effects on mycorrhizae; in-field evaluation of soil quality; reading and interpreting a soil test; use and interpretation of selected tests from Doran/Gempler soil Quality Test Kit (infiltration, respiration, slaking; use and interpretation of the permanganate test of active C; use of a soil pit as an instructional tool; use of soil condition cards; holistic monitoring of land and soil; soil management equipment (crop roller and organic no-till) a wagon tour of The Rodale Institute (The Farming Systems Trial, Compost and Manure study, Organic and conventional no-till and cover crops, Mycorrhizae production); Steve Groff presentation on cover crops, reduced input no-till; an introduction to the NRCS Soil Conditioning Index; a nutrient budgeting exercise; facilitated small group discussions and participant team report back to whole group for incorporation into action plans (topics included Strategies for using cover crops and reduced tillage, and nutrient management to improve soil and environmental quality, and strategies for incorporating soil quality information and practices into home horticulture and landscape systems; development of participant Action Plans; and a wrap-up discussion and an on-site workshop evaluation. Participants received a notebook and supplementary materials, and a CD containing the workshop Powerpoint presentations, the action plans developed by all participants, and supplementary reference materials. In 2007, the workshop participants an electronic evaluation survey to determine the longer-term impacts and outcomes of the Soil Quality Workshop. Seventeen out of 19 evaluation respondents presented information about soil quality to their clientele in the year following the workshop. These participants delivered information about soil quality to approximately 7500 people in the year following the workshop.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Sjoerd Duiker
  • Nancy Ellen Kiernan

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

Workshop topics and activities included: background and introduction to soil quality (inherent vs. dynamic soil quality, soil carbon and its role in soil quality); physical, chemical and biological aspects of soil quality; biology, ecology and management effects on mycorrhizae; in-field evaluation of soil quality; reading and interpreting a soil test; use and interpretation of selected tests from Doran/Gempler soil Quality Test Kit (infiltration, respiration, slaking; use and interpretation of the permanganate test of active C; use of a soil pit as an instructional tool; use of soil condition cards; holistic monitoring of land and soil; soil management equipment (crop roller and organic no-till) a wagon tour of The Rodale Institute (The Farming Systems Trial, Compost and Manure study, Organic and conventional no-till and cover crops, Mycorrhizae production); Steve Groff presentation on cover crops, reduced input no-till; an introduction to the NRCS Soil Conditioning Index; a nutrient budgeting exercise; facilitated small group discussions and participant team report back to whole group for incorporation into action plans (topics included Strategies for using cover crops and reduced tillage, and nutrient management to improve soil and environmental quality, and strategies for incorporating soil quality information and practices into home horticulture and landscape systems; development of participant Action Plans; and a wrap-up discussion and workshop evaluation.

Participants created a Soil Quality Action Plan to help increase the ability of participants to incorporate soil quality/health concepts and practices to motivate farmers and other members of the ag community to adopt practices that enhance soil quality into their educational programs. All of the action plans were distributed to all of the participants. The Action Plans included information on intended target audiences or clientele for programs on soil quality; kinds (e.g. field days, demonstrations, conferences, bulletins, websites, articles, etc.) and how many activities on soil quality participants will organize or participate in over the next 2 years; kind of information or materials on soil quality that the target clientele will receive; location of these planned activities or programs, and outlets for published articles or bulletins; the time-frame for producing electronic or written materials, or conducting programs, demonstrations or activities that incorporate information on soil quality; and information on how participants will incorporate soil quality into their current or new educational activities or other work. All of the action plans were distributed to all of the participants.

Participants received a notebook and supplementary materials, and developed an action plan to detail how they would incorporate information on soil quality into their educational programs and other work. After the workshop, participants received a CD containing the workshop Powerpoint presentations, the action plans developed by all participants, and supplementary reference materials. A copy of the CD is available from Mary Barbercheck, meb34@psu.edu.

During the Soil Quality Workshop participants completed an evaluation survey immediately following the workshop. In 2007, the workshop organizers developed an electronic evaluation survey to determine the longer-term impacts and outcomes of the Soil Quality Workshop. The evaluation survey instrument was comprised of ten closed- and open-ended questions that assessed: 1) the integration of soil quality information and assessment methods into educational programs or other work; 2) the utility of educational materials created from the workshop; 3) the utility of soil quality action plans developed by workshop participants; 4) audiences, outlets, and numbers of clients reached with information on soil quality following the workshop; and 4) and suggestions for improvement of the workshop.

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
Accomplishments:

Publications

We were successful at accomplishing what we set out to do. We planned, held, and evaluated a soil quality workshop. We had five fewer participants (20 vs. 25) than we had planned for, but overall a greater number of participants (17) changed their behavior than was estimated (15) in the proposal. Based on the workshop and evaluations, the project team and participants developed and distributed a resource package with soil quality educational materials and information resources. In the post-workshop evaluation, all 19 respondents reported increased competency and behavior changes. The respondents developed at least one new or transform at least one existing program to incorporate soil quality concepts to motivate their clients (approximately 7500) to adopt practices that enhance soil quality.

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Outcomes

On-Site Workshop Evaluation Results

A total of 30 people (20 workshop “students” and 10 planner/trainers) attended the soil quality workshop. 60% of attendees were male, and 40% were female. 87% reported that the workshop was a considerably good use of their time, and 13% reported that it was a moderately good use of their time. 94%, 3%, and 3% of the participants found the workshop facilities at the Rodale Institute very, moderately, or somewhat conducive to learning about soil quality, respectively. 55% of participants reported an increased likelihood of attending educational events related to organic agriculture as a result of the soil quality workshop.

In this project 20 extension educators and other agricultural professionals increased their awareness and useable knowledge and obtained resources (in the form of a workshop information and resource binder) for developing extension and outreach programs on the concepts, benefits of and evaluation tools for promoting soil quality and soil health in the Northeast. Participants benefited by making new contacts for networking and developing extension programs, projects and demonstration projects on soil quality. Of 14 technical topics covered, 64% of the participants increased their understanding of 9 to 13 topics, 23% increased their understanding of 6 to 8 topics, and 13% increased their understanding of 3 to 5 topics. 56%, 28%, and 16% of the participants found it very useful, moderately useful, and somewhat useful, respectively, to participate in the facilitated small group discussions. 50%, 27%, and 23% of the participants found the Soil Quality Action Plan very useful, moderately useful, and somewhat useful, respectively, to develop an action plan for using information from the workshop. 54%, 31%, 12% of the participants are very likely, moderately likely, and somewhat likely, respectively, to make a change in their educational programs and activities to include soil quality in the next year.

Post-Workshop Evaluation

The Post-Workshop Evaluation determined the longer-term impacts and outcomes of the Soil Quality Workshop using closed- and open-ended questions that assessed: 1) the integration of soil quality information and assessment methods into educational programs or other work; 2) the utility of educational materials created from the workshop; 3) the utility of soil quality action plans developed by workshop participants; 4) audiences, outlets, and numbers of clients reached with information on soil quality following the workshop; and 4) and suggestions for improvement of the workshop. Closed questions consisted of ratings of 0 to 4, with a score of 1 = Not at all, 2 = Minimally, 3= Moderately, 4 = Considerably, and 0 = Don’t recall. The evaluation was distributed via e-mail to the workshop students in January 2008, and reminders were sent in February and March 2008. Nineteen workshop “students” (out of 20) responded to the evaluation survey.

Soil Quality Concepts

During the first morning of the workshop, participants learned about six fundamental topics in SQ: Basic concepts, physical aspects, chemical/fertility aspects, biological aspects, mycorrhizae, and effects of tillage on soil quality (SQ). As a result of the workshop, 56.1% of the participants (n=19) were moderately able, 25% were considerably able, 15.85% were minimally able, and 2.6% were not at all able to integrate or increase coverage of information about the six fundamental concepts into their educational programs during the year following the workshop. In order of degree of usefulness, the topics ranked, from most to least useful, were: basic concepts of soil quality (SQ) (ave. score = 3.42), biological aspects of SQ (3.21), physical aspects of SQ (3.11), chemical/fertility aspects of SQ (3.05), effects of no-till on SQ (2.89), and biology and significance of mycorrhizae on SQ (2.58). We consider that we were successful in the delivery of useable information on soil quality concepts.

Soil Quality Assessment Tools

During the first afternoon of the workshop, participants learned about and used six soil quality assessment tools: soil sampling and tests, the SQ Test Kit, permanganate techniques for measuring active soil organic matter, soil condition cards, holistic monitoring of land and soil, the NRCS Soil Conditioning Index, and nutrient budgeting. As a result of the workshop, 29.3% of the participants were moderately able, 27.8% were minimally able, 23.3% were not at all able and 12% were considerably able to integrate or increase coverage of information about the six SQ assessment tools into their educational programs during the year following the workshop. In order of degree of usefulness, the assessment tools ranked, from most to least useful, were: reading and interpreting a soil test (ave. score 3.21), holistic monitoring of land and soil (ave. score 2.53), nutrient budgeting (ave. score 2.42), contents and use of the SQ test kit (ave. score 2.16), use of soil condition cards (ave. score 1.95), the NRCS Soil Conditioning Index (ave. score 1.79), and permanganate techniques for measuring active soil organic matter (ave. score 1.53).

We consider that, compared with soil quality concepts, we were less successful in the delivery of useable information on soil quality assessment tools. The most useful information from this group of topics was in the session on taking samples and interpreting results from soil tests run by soil analytical labs. This may be because it is a method already that the participants were already familiar with, and it was relatively easy to increase their confidence in interpretation. The least useful tool was assessment for active soil C by the permanganate method. Although the participants showed interest in seeing the methods demonstrated and using the various assessment tools at the workshop, the participants primarily deliver educational programs and are not engaged in research on assessing soil quality. Therefore, they may not be comfortable with or have budgets and facilities to conduct “wet-chemistry” – based assessment methods or be willing to invest in the USDA soil quality test kit.

Soil Quality Research

During the early evening of the first day of the workshop, participants went on a research field tour of the Rodale Institute. As a result of the field tour, 36.8% of participants were moderately able, 29.9% were considerably able, 23.7% were minimally able and 7.9% were not at all able to integrate or increase coverage of information about non-chemical cover crop management and effects of organic crop production on SQ into their educational programs during the year following the workshop. In order of degree of usefulness, the topics ranked, from most to least useful, were: Effects of organic crop production on soil quality (ave. score 3.16) and non-chemical cover crop management (ave. score 2.61). We conclude that the tour of soil quality research at the Rodale Institute and presentations by Rodale staff were worthwhile activities.

Soil Quality Resources

Participants received three types of educational resources from the workshop: a binder containing workshop materials and books distributed at the workshop, and a CD with information resources and workshop Powerpoint presentations (mailed in April 2007). During the year following the workshop, 35.1% of the participants were moderately able, 31.6% were considerably able, 28.1% were minimally able, 3.5% were not at all able, and 1.7% did not recall being able to draw on information from the three types of educational resources. In order of degree of usefulness, the topics ranked, from most to least useful, were: Books -- Soil Biology Primer, Building Soil for Better Crops, and Rodale research reports (ave. score 3.26), workshop binder materials (ave. score 3.16) and the workshop Powerpoint presentations on CD (ave. score 2.58).

Soil Quality Action Plans and Dissemination of Soil Quality Information

Near the end of the Soil Quality Workshop, each participant developed a Soil Quality action plan with details about how they would use the information and materials from the workshop, including the types of information, potential audiences, venues and outlets. The workshop CD that participants received contained a copy of all of the participants’ action plans. In the year following the workshop, 7 (36.8%) of participants were moderately, 6 (31.6%) were considerably, 3 (15.8% ) were minimally, and 2 (10.5% ) were not at all able to draw on the ideas recorded on their own or other participants’ action plans. One (5.3%) participant didn’t recall drawing on the action plans.
The participant action plans listed a number of potential audiences to receive information on soil quality. Audiences that participants were able to provide original or modified materials or information from the Soil Quality Workshop included: the general public/customers, non-governmental organizations, students, farmers, Master Gardeners, Cooperative Extension educators, and agricultural professionals from agencies other than Cooperative Extension.

88.9% of the participants were able to distribute or present information on soil quality to their clientele in the year following the workshop. These participants provided information about SQ to approximately 7500 people in the year following the workshop. The numbers and percentages of workshop participants disseminating information and the numbers of people receiving this information, by audience type, were: 12 (63.2% ) workshop participants to 4200 general public/customers; 11 (57.9%) participants to 1320 farmers; 8 (42.1%) of participants to 650 Master Gardeners; 4 (21.1% ) participants to 100 agricultural professionals from agencies other than Cooperative Extension; 2 (10.5%) participants to 650 non-governmental organization members; 2 (10.5%) participants to 40 Cooperative Extension educators; and 1 (5.3%) participants to 450 students. One participant disseminated SQ information to an unspecified number of home gardeners. 14 (87.5%) of the workshop participants reported that they are very likely, and 2 (12.5%) of the participants are moderately likely to distribute or present information on soil quality to your clientele over the next year.

Participants reported a number of venues and outlets where they disseminated information on soil quality. The numbers and percentage of workshop participants disseminating information, by venue/outlet type was: in consultations with clients (12; 63.2% of workshop participants), at field days or workshops (11; 57.9%), in newsletters (10; 52.6%), at professional meetings (5; 26.3%), in Extension bulletins or fact sheets (4; 21.1%), on websites (3; 15.8%), in the agricultural press or media (3; 15.8%), and in the popular press or media (1; 5.3%). Other venues and outlets reported by participants were Master Gardener classes and talks at group meetings.

Professional Networking

Having colleagues with whom one can share information and ideas is important when developing new program areas. 6 (31.6%) of the workshop participants met someone new at the Soil Quality Workshop with whom they have continued to share information about educational programs or other work.
Suggestions for Improvement
Participants were asked for suggestions on how the workshop organizers could do to facilitate the incorporation of materials and information from the Soil Quality Workshop into their educational programs or other work. Suggestions included:
• Have all materials in digital form so that elements of the materials, e.g., graphs, charts, can be moved to other digital formats.
• Have a list serve where participants could continue to ask questions, share experiences, and hear from others in the group on their efforts.
• More attention to soil quality for landscape and turf applications rather than strictly production agriculture.
• More information on vegetable production in small spaces--urban areas, urban soil, phytoremediation.
• Periodic or annual updates.

Participant Comments

“Because of what I learned at the class, we embarked on a major effort to develop a comprehensive rotation system using winter grains as a forage crop in order to keep a living crop on the ground year round. We focused on off-cycle crops to spread the workload on dairy farms. We switched from intensive managed grass with purchased petroleum-based nitrogen, to a short-term legume that supplies most of the nitrogen. Interestingly the legume (clover) provides a better dairy feed from a nutritional and milk producing basis than does alfalfa. Because we are switching from broad leaf crops to grass crops and back in a short period, it potentially reduces the build up of weed species. The entire system can be produced under no-till or minimum-till to protect the buildup of soil organic matter and soil structure. I have attached two articles that I have written that grew out of what I learned at your class. We are continuing more research into 12 month cropping systems. Thank you for the work in creating this opportunity for me and our farmers.” (Extension Educator, New York)

“I went to a field demonstration of some manure injection techniques in September held by Maryland Department of Agriculture. One of the demonstrations was for hay land. The technique they used disrupted far less soil than others, but most of us thought there was still a significant amount of disruption, albeit only in the strips where the injector contacted the soil (about 4” each side). Depending on the field this may/may not be a problem. Other than that the injection demonstrations and the equipment were very impressive. For those of us in more suburban areas trying to preserve farmland, the reduction in aroma was perhaps the biggest boon! I also attended a CCA continuing ed program in Maryland that dealt with surface applied manure applications and it’s movement from the application site through vertical worm burrows. It could be significant. Some of you may have already seen the research data – it’s been around awhile. Just something else to think about!” (Extension Educator, Maryland)

“Want you to know that some of the materials we received in the binder have been used for Soil Quality training of employees and contractors within Vermont. Some of these employees are new, and others just wanted to know more. There have been numerous impacts of disseminating these materials. The state staff leaped ahead in the desire to minimize soil compaction, increase organic matter and look at soil quality as the goal for conservation after we conducted a Soil Quality training day. We invited a man named Ray Archuleta to come and lead the training, while I assisted. His honest enthusiasm for the subject was contagious and we have employees researching
1. aerial seeding of cover crop seeds such as winter rye, perhaps to be seeded late in the corn growing season
2. no-till opportunities ( I have also made a map for one watershed of crop fields for which no-till potential is good or excellent - we'll be addressing this this year) in their counties
3. carbon sequestration
4. field injection of manure on hayland instead of broadcast application on the surface. Our SRC ran Phosphorus Index model runs with this practice, finding that there is a substantial reduction of transmittal of P to water bodies - as I recall something like 30% reduction or more!! We will be working with farmers to try this practice and will include it in EQIP ranking in the future.
The time was right, and some of the materials we got from the Rodale workshop will be used. Not all will be disseminated - there is a tipping point for information that overwhelms conservationists, but I have kept it all and will look for targeted opportunities.
THANK you all for contributing and for sharing your expertise.
A final note: as a result of the enthusiasm Mr. Archuleta saw in VT from employees, he sent us an NRCS soil quality testing kit with some end of year money they had at our Eastern National Technical Service Center. Partners may be using this kit to train others in soil quality, aside from our own agency use.” (NRCS Educator, Vermont)

“Attached is some work I am doing based on what I learned at the Rodale workshop. The first is a grant I received from NRCS. The second is an article I posted in our newsletter that explains the project which has been expanded with additional funds from the City of Syracuse.” (Extension Educator, Vermont)

“...just wanted to send you a little information on the workshops I have provided for the public, following attending your training last July. We had 9 workshops – subjects varied and were given two or three times. The following are some of the topics: Composting in the home garden, planning a garden and healthy soils, worm composting, helping to keep our water clean, putting your garden to bed and cover crops, gardening basics included soil samples, and fall gardening chores with cover crops included.” (Extension Educator, Delaware)

We were successful at accomplishing what we set out to do. We planned, held, and evaluated a soil quality workshop. We had five fewer participants (20 vs. 25) than we had planned for, but overall a greater number of participants (17) changed their behavior than was estimated (15) in the proposal. Based on the workshop and evaluations, the project team and participants developed and distributed a resource package with soil quality educational materials and information resources. In the post-workshop evaluation, all 19 respondents reported increased competency and behavior changes. The respondents developed at least one new or transform at least one existing program to incorporate soil quality concepts to motivate their clients (approximately 7500) to adopt practices that enhance soil quality.

This workshop enhanced the ability of agricultural professionals to deliver educational programs on managing for soil quality. The delivery of this information may contributes to the sustainability of farms and residential lands when people receiving this information improve their ability to protect their natural resources, reduce synthetic inputs and increase productivity through implementing practices that improve soil health. Communities benefit through improved soil and water quality, sequestration of carbon in soils, and reduced degradation of natural resources.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

We were successful at accomplishing what we set out to do. We planned, held, and evaluated a soil quality workshop. We had five fewer participants (20 vs. 25) than we had planned for, but overall a greater number of participants (17) changed their behavior than was estimated (15) in the proposal. Based on the workshop and evaluations, the project team and participants developed and distributed a resource package with soil quality educational materials and information resources. In the post-workshop evaluation, all 19 respondents reported increased competency and behavior changes. The respondents developed at least one new or transform at least one existing program to incorporate soil quality concepts to motivate their clients (approximately 7500) to adopt practices that enhance soil quality.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

This workshop enhanced the ability of agricultural professionals to deliver educational programs on managing for soil quality. The delivery of this information may contributes to the sustainability of farms and residential lands when people receiving this information improve their ability to protect their natural resources, reduce synthetic inputs and increase productivity through implementing practices that improve soil health. Communities benefit through improved soil and water quality, sequestration of carbon in soils, and reduced degradation of natural resources.

Future Recommendations

Workshop participants offered the following recommendations:
• Have all materials in digital form so that elements of the materials, e.g., graphs, charts, can be moved to other digital formats.
• Have a list serve where participants could continue to ask questions, share experiences, and hear from others in the group on their efforts.
• More attention to soil quality for landscape and turf applications rather than strictly production agriculture.
• More information on vegetable production in small spaces--urban areas, urban soil, phytoremediation.
• Periodic or annual updates.

Similar proposals should include requests for funding or institutional support for some of these recommendations, especially those concerning continued communication between the workshop participants.

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.