A video on sustainable tillage practices for vegetable farms

Final Report for ENE06-097

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2006: $99,504.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $14,229.00
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Dr. Vern Grubinger
University of Vermont
Expand All

Project Information

Summary:

A 45-minute commercial video titled “Vegetable Farmers and their Sustainable Tillage Practices” was produced as a tool to educate vegetable farmers about a range of reduced tillage practices that promote soil health. The practices were demonstrated and explained in the video by experienced farmers and researchers on nine farms in five northeastern states. Topics covered included: introduction to sustainable tillage, using a soil spader, a no-till mulch system, chisel plowing plus field cultivation, conventional no-till, zone-till research, zone-till on the farm, ridge-till research, and ridge-till on the farm.

As of March 2009, 335 copies of the video have been distributed to agricultural service providers and farmers. An e-mail evaluation, with subsequent reminders, yielded 102 completed surveys from video recipients, for a response rate of 30%. Of the respondents: 93% reported that viewing the video improved their awareness of new tillage practices; 91% said the video increased their understanding of how tillage affects soil health; 68% said they made the video available to others as an educational resource; and 41% said they used the video in their education programs to reach a total of 3,317 other people.

Performance Target:

Of the 400 agricultural service providers that receive the sustainable tillage video, 200 will use it in their programs, reaching at least 2,000 farmers.

To date, the target has only been partially achieved. The number of video recipients has not been reached, nor has the goal for how many agricultural service providers would use the video in educational programs. However, the number of people targeted to view the video during the duration of the project has been exceeded by 1,000. Further, when the relatively low evaluation response rate is considered, one can reasonably assume that even more people were reached.

Distribution of the video is ongoing, and based on the project coordinator’s experience with four previous videos produced with Northeast SARE PDP funding, distribution and utilization in educational programs will continue at a steady rate, so that the impact of this project will grow over time, although it will not be documented.

For example, the video titled ‘Vegetable Farmers and their Weed Control Machines’ resulted from project ENE95-9 in 1996. By 1999 it had been distributed to 632 people by 1999, and 1172 currently. Project ENE03-074 produced the video ‘Vegetable Farmers and their Innovative Cover Cropping Techniques in 2004, and by fall of 2005 only 245 people had ordered the video. The current distribution total for that video is 449. These numbers don’t include undocumented (some would say wanton) distribution by the project coordinator at on-farm meetings and events.

Introduction:

Timely tillage conducted with the least possible damage to soil structure is an integral part of maintaining soil health and sustaining agriculture. Tillage systems that leave the maximum possible amount of residues on the surface are also desirable for maintenance of long-term soil physical health.

Unfortunately, aggressive and frequent tillage is the norm on commercial vegetable farms in the Northeast. Moldboard plows, rotovators and heavy disks are some of the more common tillage tools used to incorporate residues and prepare vegetable seedbeds. Fortunately, there is a widespread desire among growers to promote soil health and to minimize compaction, erosion and soil aggregate destruction that can result from excessive tillage.

This video was produced to help extension educators, agency personnel and farmers learn about practical options that might be used to enhance soil health on vegetable farms they work with.

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

In early spring of 2006, a handful of beneficiaries were contacted by e-mail and phone to help identify vegetable farmers and extension/research specialists with useful knowledge and information to share about sustainable tillage practices. Then, the following farmers and specialists representing a range of practices, states, and production systems were asked, and agreed, to participate in the video.

Jay and Polly Armour, Four Winds Farm, Gardiner, NY
George Ayres, FreshAyr Farm, Shortsville NY
Erik Buzby, AT Buzby Farm, Woodstown NJ
Jean-Paul Cortens and Jody Bolluyt, Roxbury Farm, Kinderhook, NY
David Marchant, River Berry Farm, Fairfax VT
Dr. Charles Mohler, Dept. Crop and Soil Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Eric and Anne Nordell, Beech Grove Farm, Trout Run, PA
Edward Person, Ledgewood Farm, Moultonboro NH
Dr. Anu Rangaranjan, Dept. Horticulture, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Dr. Harold van Es, Dept. Crop and Soil Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

A half-day was spent on location at each of the farms, filming the people, the equipment, and the practices. A transcript of all the useful/usable statements made during the filming was developed, and from these selections were made and put in a sequence to form the audio portion of the final product. During winter 2006-2007, video portions of the video were selected and edited to fit the audio statements.

In spring of 2007, the availability and content of the video was promoted to the target beneficiary groups using list-serves, E-mail to SARE-PDP state and regional coordinators, Extension, NRCS, commodity association leaders and non-profit colleagues. Free copies of the video were offered to agricultural service providers throughout 2007.

A web page was set up to facilitate ordering and distribution, and it remains in place, see: http://www.uvm.edu/vtvegandberry/Videos/tillagevideo.html.

Individual copies of the video will remain available for $15 including postage for the foreseeable future. That fee allows for maintenance of video stocks (making new copies as needed) and covers mailing expenses as well as personnel time. Thus, distribution of the product produced by this project is self-supporting.

No milestones

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Outcomes

A 45-minute commercial video titled “Vegetable Farmers and their Sustainable Tillage Practices” was produced as a tool to educate vegetable farmers about a range of reduced tillage practices that promote soil health. The video was produced in cooperation with a commercial video company so the viewing and listening quality of is quite good. Cover design, DVD chaptering and titling, as well as special features are of professional quality.

The experienced farmers and researchers in the video do a good job of explaining their practical experiences and observations with a variety of reduced tillage techniques. They represent nine farms in five northeastern states, including conventional, organic, large and small producers. The topics they cover include: an introduction to sustainable tillage, using a soil spader, a no-till mulch system, chisel plowing plus field cultivation, conventional no-till, zone-till research, zone-till on the farm, ridge-till research, and ridge-till on the farm. The participants also explain how cover cropping and nutrient management fit into their tillage systems, thus providing viewers with an holistic view of reduced tillage.

E-mails, list serve, printed advertisements in industry publications, and personal communication (including educational presentations) were used to promote the video and urge its use in educational efforts.

As of March 2009, 335 copies of the video have been distributed. Of these, 158 self-identified as agricultural service providers of one sort or another, from extension agents to researchers to librarians; 67 self-identified as farmers; 110 did not identify their profession when ordering the video.

An e-mail evaluation, with subsequent reminders, yielded 102 completed surveys from video recipients, for a response rate of 30%. Of the respondents: 93% reported that viewing the video improved their awareness of new tillage practices; 91% said the video increased their understanding of how tillage affects soil health; 68% said they made the video available to others as an educational resource; and 41% said they used the video in their education programs to reach a total of 3,317 other people.

The video evaluation asked recipients how they had used the video as an educational tool, and these are some of the responses which shed light on the potential impact of the video:

“Used it in a farmer-to-farmer discussion group on reduced tillage and zone-tillage.”
“Showed part of it in "Sustainable Small Acreage Farming" class.”
“Showed to farm interns and neighbor farmers.”
“Viewed in the conference room of our research center and followed by a discussion on the possible use and impact of these tillage tools.”
“Because of the information provided in the video, our district had a field day where we discussed and demonstrated zone tilling.”
“... I use the video in my principle of Crop Production course…showed parts of the video series via local access television.”
“This was in a small vegetable crops meeting. We were talking about tillage, weed control and PSNT testing.”
“Intern education.”
“Farming friends and employees’”
“Mainly 2 different events. One event was with CSA subscribers the 2nd event was at an annual farmers market meeting with other producers.”
“Young and new farmers/gardeners.”
“Apprentices, will likely share with other growers.”
“Organic crop production class for undergrads, Extension program, PASA conference.”
“New Jersey Vegetable Meeting as part of program on soil health and tillage.”
“I used the video to education Extension agents during a training on Soils and Crop Management Practices. It was also utilized while conducting a workshop on crop management practices for limited-resource farmers at our demonstration center.”
“Will use in soil class. A class where the students (mostly agricultural majors) will be the audience. I may use it as educational tool before some farmers in summer as part of our Extension activities.”
“Farmers for a soil class.”
“This will be made available to the State PDP program for use in their SA program.”
“Used it as a resource for our Central Illinois Farm Beginnings students.”
“Apprentice training and colleague review at a land grant university.”
“We conducted a series on sustainable agriculture. The video was used for part of the one evening.”
“Used in class with 18 persons, student had a limiting orientation to agriculture and have trouble identifying machines.”
“Anabaptist vegetable and flower growers. Novice farmers. 130+ people.”
“Used in undergraduate introductory horticulture class, mostly non-ag majors.”
“I plan to use the video as part of an educational series for small acreage and beginning farmers in 2009. I expect about half will be limited resource farmers.”
“I have used the video at the PASA conference to a diverse audience of farmers, educators, and others.”
“Would like to get it incorporated into our Organic Certificate Program classes.”
“Ag natural resources class, high school vocational-tech, soil and soil erosion unit.”
“Besides 250 viewers, aired it on Berks Community TV (1hr show). Currently it is on loan to a farm family using it for home schooling. Have shown it at summer meetings for farmers.”
“Have used the video in our intro to soils class 2x.”
“I showed this at our Statewide Fruit and Vegetable Expo in Syracuse in February 2008. I used it for an educational video in the Trade Show. We ran it at least twice over a two day period and many people sat down to watch. We'll use it again in 2009.”
“The video was used for Extension agent in-service training.”
“Will make it available for my undergraduate Vegetable Crop Production class next fall, and to others interested in sustainable practices’”
“My sustainable ag class (U of MD).”
“Videos are an excellent source for educational purposes. They are much better than books since you can immediately apply what you have learned with very little error.”
“Master gardeners, fellow growers, students at Community garden. Still being reviewed by others.”
“We're a non-profit that advises, supports small organic farmers. Have also spoken about the video to about 50 other people, and will continue to use it.”
“Talks in NS, NB, PEI on cover crops and tillage practices (105+), Talks at HORT Congress in NS on cover crops and tillage practices (200+), Talks at ACORN conference on tillage (100+), Displayed videos at tradeshow table (500+) with handout (see attached) on where to purchase.”
“Agency training.”
“NRCS USDA colleagues, farmers seeking alternatives, community agriculture change supporters and advocates, extension workers. Used to describe educate less experiences people on the tension busy managers have between soil heath, alternative non-chemical weed controls. Also used to demonstrate there is no romantic free lunch for tillage, weed management, etc. As you reduce chemicals, you increase recreational tillage and fuel.”

Additional Project Outcomes

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Future Recommendations

Many farmers and educators appear to value information in video form, especially when it is practical in nature and includes different perspectives or options that they can use in their job or on their farm. With the advent of widespread video accessibility on the Internet, there is great potential to use this approach to provide sustainable agriculture education on many topics.

However, making a high-quality educational video can be harder than it appears at first glance. The project coordinator was fortunate to have SARE support for several video projects, and that enhanced his ability to manage this project, as key elements to successful video-making fell into place over time. They include:

1) A relationship with videographers that have sufficient knowledge of agriculture and SARE’s target audience so as to be effective at producing the desired end product.

2) A group of advisors that help hone the project’s focus and help identify excellent on-farm participants.

3) A group of diverse farmers and agricultural service providers willing to participate in production of the video and able to communicate useful information on film.

4) Institutional capacity to manage the ongoing promotion and distribution of the video so it will have a greater impact than if those activities were to cease at the end of the project’s funding period.

Potential Contributions

The video has already been used in several dozen education events, including some sizeable producer conferences. It is anticipated that as interest in reduced tillage continues to grow, the video will be used as an education tool – stimulating discussion, new thinking about tillage options, and ultimately, adoption of improved practices that help sustain soil health.

When asked for comments on the video, many replies suggest additional educational contributions to come from the video:

“Great resource. I bought a second copy and put it in the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners library in Unity, where I hope many people and groups are using it.”
“I will use it as a technical resource. I can talk to the farmer in a more informative light by observing the video. We are promoting in our programs these types of practices. I will have it to offer to the farmer when he questions whether it will fit on his or her farm.”
“I wonder what the role of my 6' tiller is on the farmstead now that I see its destructive power in comparison to smarter tools.”“The series that has been developed is a great help in Extension programs!”
“This is a great technical tool. I plan on using it for educational purposes.” 
“This was a good video. Even a soil scientist I learned from it as the different form of conservation tillage practices are introduced as the farmers practiced it in their farms. 
“Thanks for putting together this video and others. We love seeing and learning about other local farms and what they are doing. This is a great way to do that when we don't have much time during the season to actually go on farm tours or workshops.”
"I don't have much experience with heavy equipment, but the video didn't make me feel dumb about what a coulter is or what a chisel plow does. Showing the equipment in action and explaining how it works in the bigger system increased my knowledge of the practices and awareness of lower tillage systems. 
“It was great to see different practices at the same place showing planting, tillage (or lack of) residues, and equipment design. I think it is funny that one farmer referred to the organic matter residue he worked so hard to grow as nothing more than “trash.”
“I really enjoy and appreciate the videos you have produced. They are very important for some of our educational efforts.”
“I really appreciate the dvd resources. It is very helpful for me to lend them out to farmers on an as-needed basis. They are also very good training resources for ME!!”
“I have worked extensively with tillage and soil quality issues over the past 7 years. I like the use of farms and the fact that you showed a wide range of options both organic and more conventional. Make more!”
“Thank you for providing this resource to me. I make it available to farmers as I can.”
“It is well done, but not as applicable to us with the SE clay soils as it is in the NE.” 
“My audiences have enjoyed seeing the little farms of the East and the small equipment being used. We should probably do a similar video here on the Plains to include some of the other types of equipment and also to discuss the moisture issue.”
“This, like the other dvds from your group, is excellent. They are a key part of our educational sessions at grower meetings.”
“Hope you are getting a lot of orders from the Maritimes…I have promoted them quite extensively…we have a program for farmers called Canadian Agricultural Skills Service in which farmers are able to purchase resources for their continued learning and I have recommended every producer to purchase these videos.”
“Spader and permanent bed practices were of high interest. Thanks.”
“Of all PDP teaching products produced by NE SARE, these video series have been the most useful for both inexperienced ag professionals as well as small, alternative, beginning farmers. The videos are less useful for full-time farmers deriving all their income from farming operations, who are more experienced on alternatives.”

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.