Final Report for ENE11-120

Soil Management in Berry Crops as a Model for Management Education

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2011: $78,534.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Dr. Marvin Pritts
Cornell University
Expand All

Project Information

Summary:

Commercial berry growers in the Northeast have traditionally made fertilizer applications based standard tables that vary only on crop age. This practice continues today, some 20 years or more after commercial berry growers have available to them tools to develop crop specific guidelines for individual fields and farms. Adoption of soil health testing and improved management practices has also been slow despite research demonstrating that an analysis-based approach to berry crop nutrition provides increased yields along with better fruit quality and plant health, and reduced environmental impact. Use of soil health management practices (i.e. cover cropping) reduces weed, nematode and soil-borne disease pressure, along with improving soil tilth, organic matter and nutrient content. Rising costs of products and concerns about environmental impacts of fertilizers make a whole farm approach to berry crop nutrient and soil management highly desirable.

Ag educators frequently are called on to cover multiple commodities and/or provide information in areas outside of their field of expertise. They often struggle to assist commercial berry growers with berry crop soil and nutrient problems. No single comprehensive resource on this topic is currently available for either educators or growers.

Year 1 of this project provided in-depth berry crop nutrition and soil management training and resources for ag educators and the commercial berry growers they serve. Year 2 of the project focused on 1) compiling existing resources for use by educators in grower training including a PowerPoint presentation, topic-related handouts and a soil and leaf analysis information packet, 2) providing support for educators holding grower educational events or volunteering to do training as part of another educational venue, 3) facilitating on-farm demonstration trial opportunities for educators to work directly with growers to build expertise in interpreting soil, soil health and leaf analysis test results and making subsequent recommendations, and 4) developing additional training resources including an educator/grower manual, content related web pages, and whole farm decision tool.

Seventy-seven educators, distributed across 13 US states and Canada with 59 from the NE region, participated in the in-depth webinar series to expand their expertise in berry crop nutrient and soil management. Of those, 16 educators developed and delivered outreach programs on the same, reaching 1233 commercial berry growers (who manage a total of approximately 616 acres of berry crops), 17 turf growers and 5 Christmas tree growers. This was accomplished via a combination of 13 stand-alone programs, 15 presentations of project-related information delivered at other educational venues, and 125 one-on-one grower consultations. Additionally, another 2195 berry-affiliated persons have viewed the YouTube versions of the recorded webinars to date. Eleven of the 16 educators mentored 40 growers undertaking on-farm demonstration trials as part of the project, providing assistance in interpretation of soil, soil health and leaf analysis test results, recommending corrective practices to be considered for implementation, and providing follow-up with growers in evaluating trial results. As a result, 19 growers (who manage a total of approximately 127 acres of berry crops) made analysis-based changes to their standard berry soil and nutrient management practices.

Performance Target:

Fifty educators from across the Northeast will participate in an in depth webinar series to expand their expertise in berry crop nutrient and soil management; of those, 15 will develop and deliver outreach programs on the same, reaching 150 berry growers who manage a total of 750 acres of berry crops; 50 growers will participate in preliminary soil, nutrient and soil health testing, receive one-on-one assistance with interpretation of results, and implement analysis-based fertilization and soil health management practices on farm.

Introduction:

Commercial berry growers in the Northeast have traditionally made standardized fertilizer applications based on crop age. This practice continues today, some 10 years or more after commercial berry crop guidelines for analysis-based fertilization programs became widely available. Adoption of soil health improving practices has also been slow.

Research demonstrates an analysis-based approach to berry crop nutrition provides increased yields along with better fruit quality and plant health. Use of soil health management practices (i.e. cover cropping) has been shown to reduce weed, nematode and soil-borne disease pressure, along with improving soil tilth, organic matter and nutrient content. Rising costs of products and concerns about environmental impacts of fertilizers make a whole farm approach to berry crop nutrient and soil management highly desirable.

Ag educators frequently called on to cover multiple commodities and/or information areas outside their field of expertise, often struggle to assist commercial berry growers with berry crop soil and nutrient problems. No single comprehensive resource on this topic is currently available for either educators or growers.

This 2 year project, led by Dr. Marvin Pritts, Small Fruit Horticulturalist and Berry Crop Nutrition Specialist, was designed to provide in-depth berry crop nutrition and soil management training and resources for ag educators and the commercial berry growers they serve. Year one of the project focused on helping ag educators build berry crop nutrient and soil management expertise through 1) a series of 12 in depth webinars and case study learning modules on the subject and 2) development of resources to be used by educators in grower training. Year 2 of the project focused on assisting ag educators to 3) develop and implement grower training programs and 4) carry out one-on-one consultations with participating growers. Year 2 also involved educators in monitoring adoption and success of analysis-based berry crop nutrient and soil health management by working with growers participating in on-farm demonstration trials.

A series of recorded webinars, an ag educator/commercial grower guide and web site, along with a whole farm soil and nutrient management decision tools for commercial berry crops was developed from existing resources. These tools provide a “one-stop-shop” resource for ag educators interested in building skills or providing training and/or commercial berry growers interested in improving berry crop soil and nutrient management. Soil and nutrient management principles and practices gained through this project are applicable to other crops currently or in the future produced on farm.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Mary Catherine Heidenreich
  • Laura McDermott
  • Jeff Miller
  • Mario Miranda Sazo
  • Keith Severson

Milestones

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

Publications

Subsection aIndividual milestone accomplishments

Milestone #1

150 Ag educators from the Northeast are invited to participate in the project through e-mail notifications, mailed brochures, extension calendar postings and professional development opportunity listings. July – August 2011.


Approximately 300 ag educators, consultants and other information multipliers were invited to participate in the project through direct e-mail notifications, newsletters, and internet calendar postings from 8/24/11 through 9/1/11. Groups invited to participate included but were not limited to extension educators, NRCS personnel, ag consultants, nurserymen, university faculty and staff, soil and water conservation personnel, and organic grower organization leaders.

Partial list of groups canvassed: NYS Association of Cooperative Extension Agents, Great Lakes Fruit Workers list serve, Cornell Cooperative Extension Staff ag leaders’ list serve, Extension and other ag service providers in Vermont

Cornell Fruit Program Work Team list serve, NE SARE Staff and regional coordinators, NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Organization) NY, VT, MA, NYS Soil and Water Conservation Department, NY and VT Natural resources Conservation Departments, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

Venues where information was distributed: NE Small Fruit Pest Management Issue Meeting 7/28/11, Great Lakes Fruit Workers Meeting, 11/1/11 (presentations given in addition to PR materials distributed).

Milestone #2

Out of those educators invited to participate, 50 will gain basic understanding and build expertise in commercial berry crop nutrition and soil management by participating in a series of 12 in-depth webinars on the subject and completing learning modules on interpretation of soil health and nutrient test results. Changes in learning will be recorded through use of pre and post-training berry crop soil and nutrient knowledge tests. September 2011 – March 2012

Final registration for the webinar series was 77. Registrants each participated in a demographics survey (Appendix A) along with an educator pre-test to measure understanding and expertise prior to training; a post-test was administered at the end of the in-depth webinars series in March 2012 to document changes in learning. Feedback from participants was extremely positive; the majority of the later registrants indicated they had been referred to the program by others already participating.

Appendix A: Registrant Demographics Questionnaire (attachment)

Comments received from participants:

“The series is great.  Even I thought I work in tree fruits not small fruits, the practical nutrient information is relevant and useful.  I can look up the academic aspects; the best part of the webinars for me is the practical real world perspective on how things work, problems that occur, and practical resolutions.”

“I caught up with the first two classes, which I missed live. The soils review was a nice refresher. I’m looking forward to this afternoon and this entire program.”

“I have been told that the SARE webinars you are doing are terrific and that I should check out the one on interpreting soil results before I do my talk on that subject for Christmas tree growers. Are they archived and is there a way I can get in to view it?”

“I listened to the soil testing webinar by Marvin yesterday….it’s amazing, every time I hear this stuff I retain a little bit more understanding. It was good. Thanks for doing all the work to edit and put these recorded webinars up. “

“Thanks for the wonderful webinars – great way to learn!”

Registrant Demographics

The 77 webinar registrants were distributed across 13 US states and Canada (Table 1) with 59 from the NE region. Of the 77 total registrants 48 were associated with a college or university; 12 were associated with a government agency; 40 were involved in extension activities; 8 were associated with USDA/NRCS; 3 were associated with organic production/producers; and 7 were associated with other enterprises.

Fifty-four registrants responded to a demographics questionnaire prior to participating in the webinars. Respondents ranged in age from 25 to 62 or over, with 67% of those responding within 10 years of retirement age (65). Twenty-two percent of registrants indicated they had a college education, 76 percent had post-graduate education. Occupations of respondents included: Extension & Ag educators, Professors, Instructors, Soil conservationists, Conservation agronomists & planners, Consultants, Horticulture, Research, IPM & Extension specialists, Scientists, District managers & conservationists, Technical advisors, Program coordinators, Water stewardship & Soil conservation technicians, Outreach coordinators, Program leaders, and Environmental biologists & engineers.

Areas of professional expertise of respondents included: Commercial agriculture & horticulture, Animal husbandry, Pest management, Farm business management, Postharvest technology, Natural resources, Environmental compliance, Consumer horticulture, Conservation technology, Plant pathology, Sustainable agriculture, Agronomy, Land protection, Pesticide education, Soil management, and Best management practices.

In terms of commodity responsibilities, 76% of respondents indicated they had small fruit responsibilities, 54% had tree fruit responsibilities, 22% had forage crop responsibilities, 52% had vegetable crop responsibilities, 30% had Natural Resources responsibilities and 13% each had Dairy, Animals or Maple responsibilities, respectively.

With 2 exceptions, all respondents indicated they had either some previous training in soil and/or nutrient management; 37 indicated they had some previous training in soil health management. In terms of assisting growers with interpretation of test results, 56% felt competent to do so with soil tests, and 26% felt competent to do so with foliar analyses. Only 17% felt competent in field identification of nutrient imbalances in berry crops. Numbers for those feeling competent in making recommendations to growers based on test results were lower, 35% for soil deficiencies, 12% for foliar deficiencies and 22% for soil health deficiencies.

Changes in Learning – Educator Pre-and Post-test Results

Webinar registrants participated in an on-line pre-test (Appendix B) during the introductory webinar of the series, consisting of 20 berry crop soil and nutrient management related questions posed through the use of opinion polls. Answers were recorded for each question and % correct responses were calculated. The same test was re-administered at the end of the final webinar in the series and % correct responses were calculated for these as well.

Appendix B: Educator pre- and post-test (attachment)

Table 2 provides a summary of pre- and post-test results by question. Total respondents for the pre-test were 50; total respondents for the post-test were 28. Change in learning was calculated for each question as % correct responses post-test minus % correct responses pre-test. Average change in learning per question was a positive increase of 20.1; median change in learning was a positive increase of 17.3.

Exit Survey Summary

Participants were requested to complete an on line exit questionnaire (Appendix C) to provide feedback on their webinar experience. Thirty-seven participants responded. Of those responding 75.7% best described their involvement in berry crop production as Cooperative Extension; 13.5% described their involvement as NRCS; 2.7 percent each of the remaining respondents best described their involvement either as commercial grower, Agri-business or private sector, University research and/or teaching, or other.

Appendix C: Berry soil and nutrient management webinar series evaluation (attachment)

Regarding webinar viewing, 91.9% of the respondents indicated they viewed the webinars alone at a home or office computer; 8.1% viewed the webinars with one or more others in a group setting. Most respondents experienced little or no problems in viewing the live webinars. In terms of webinar attendance, 21.6% of participants affirmed they had completed the entire webinar series; 81.0% completed 50% or more of the webinars in the series (Table 3). When asked if they later viewed recorded versions of live webinars they missed, 81.3% indicated they had. Fifty-eight percent of participants found the recorded versions of the webinars to be as informative as the live webinars; 84% indicated recorded versions were as convenient as or more convenient than the live webinars as they could be viewed (and reviewed) at any time (Table 4).

Ninety-four percent of respondents felt their expectations were met or exceeded through their participation in the series. This was further reflected in the responses regarding webinar speakers and topics. More than half indicated the material presented was informative, timely, understandable, and research-based (Table 5). Most respondents rated the speakers’ pace of presentation as good; they also rated the speakers’ knowledge of the topic presented, organization and visual quality of the presentation and responsiveness to participants as either good or excellent (Table 6). Ninety-five percent indicated they would be likely to recommend attending future webinars to others involved in berry production.

Fifty percent or more of participants indicated they would likely not have attended the same session(s) if they had been conducted as a 2-day workshop either 1-2 or 4-6 hours from their location rather than as webinars.

A majority of participants indicated their understanding of the 29 topics presented during the webinars was slightly to greatly improved (Table 7). In some instances no change in understanding was noted; in one instance a participant indicated they were more confused about soil test options than prior to listening to the webinar.

More than half of participants indicated they were likely to take some action in the next 12 months as a result of attending the webinar series (Table 8), including such actions as:

  • Seek more information on berry soil and nutrient management
  • Relay information from webinars to commercial berry growers in one-on-one setting
  • Relay information from webinars to commercial berry growers through formal educational event i.e. workshop or educational meeting
  • Relay information from webinars to commercial berry growers through an informal educational event i.e. twilight or field meeting
  • Encourage commercial berry growers to view archived webinars
  • Relay information from webinars to others in one-on-one setting
  • Relay information from webinars to others through formal educational event i.e. workshop or educational meeting
  • Relay information from the webinars to others through informal educational event i.e. twilight or field meeting
  • Encourage other growers to view archived webinars
  • Encourage colleagues to view archived webinars
  • Make use of web site and/or training materials provided through this project in programming

Other possible actions included:

  • I do plan to view archived webinars that I haven’t viewed yet.
  • I will definitely be able to look for/find answers to specific questions. In the beginning I had little confidence in finding answers to questions. While I may not have retained all of the information presented in the webinar series, I will be able to use the recordings as a resource to seek the correct answers.
  • Create handouts summarizing key take-home points, for presenting to and giving to commercial cranberry growers.
  • Write better newsletter articles
  • I would be unlikely to relay info in twilight meeting or formal setting only because soils and nutrients are not my area of expertise, but I would definitely encourage specialists in soil/nut areas to use the info and/or the webinars.

Participant Comments from Post-Webinar Evaluation

  • I find the webinar format a very useful way to learn information.
  • I found the presentation done by Marvin Pritts, Eric Hansen, and Harold Van Es to be very well presented. The Soil Testing webinar in week 3 was not well presented, and I found the information provided to be of little value. Speaker went on talking about Dairy program in New York, information that was not necessary
  • Excellent series. For future viewing it might be nice to have an index with topic details as you do in question 15 above.
  • The series was great. Just hard to commit the time I would have liked to and focus completely on the webinar. In my case a manual or something like that would be useful to refer to sections of the webinars. Each webinar being its own section. I can listen to a webinar but I’d learn more if I had a hard copy to refer to and use in field situations
  • Very worthwhile!! I expect to learn a lot more as I re-watch each one, when developing my handouts.
  • I was hoping for a more enlightened approach to fertility management that really addresses biology and chemistry in the soil and their relationship. All of the information that I listened too seemed very conventional. I quit coming to the seminars.
  • Marvin and Harold were great speakers! Information was delivered in a straight forward easy to understand manner!
  • Very well planned out and organized. I enjoyed the series greatly.
  • Many of the areas discussed where very basic. Would have liked to hear more about measures growers are using successfully to address some of the nutrient and soil health issues successfully. Dr. Hansen did a good job of this in his sessions. The pre- and post -test had questions poorly worded and hard to interpret – choices did not match what info was given in webinars.
  • There did seem to be a fair amount of overlap when covering topics that seemed unnecessary. Overly reliant on Cornell Soil Health Assessment.
  • Very well done; great info and very well presented!
  • I think it was very well done, but a lot of the information I already knew, so it may not have been appropriate for me. But I would like our NRCS field staff to view the archived webinars.
  • I thought these were an excellent use of technology to disseminate research-based info to ext. specialists. Excellent work for the organizers and the speakers.
  • Would help to have handouts that could be given out with each webinar
  • My work is in tree fruit, viewed webinars to increase my competency in soil management. Great series!
  • Excellent!
  • I had to miss 2 because of scheduling conflicts. When the links were not timely, I was unlikely to go watch the missed webinar.
  • Well done, I need to view two of the webinars, then do the post test.
  • I was very impressed with the caliber of lectures. It was nice to have cross department programming and speakers from outside of the university – thank you.
  • In the future please make available the PowerPoint as a PowerPoint or a pdf handout of the PowerPoint. I spent a lot of time writing when I could have jotted a few notes on the handout and spent more time actively listening.
  • This was too basic on soils and not enough on crop particulars.
  • Even though the focus here was small fruits, I found many topics that will assist me in my area of tree fruit extension education.

Certificates of participation (Appendix D) or completion (Appendix E) were mailed to attendees 6 months after the webinar series finished, along with a post-webinar verification tool and beneficiary forms to capture how information learned during the series has been multiplied forward.

Appendix D: Certificate of Participation (attachment)

Appendix E: Certificate of Completion (attachment)

Results from Post-Webinar Verification Tool for Participating Educators/Multipliers

Twenty-six participants responded to a post-webinar verification questionnaire (Appendix F) regarding how they had utilized knowledge gained from the webinar series 6 months after the series concluded. Respondents were from 6 of the 13 NE States (24), along with Illinois (1) and Michigan (1). Fifty-eight percent indicated they had conducted one-on-one berry soil and nutrient management consultations with commercial berry growers as a result of their participation in the series for a total of 84 consultations. One participant indicated although he did not work with commercial berry growers he had conducted 5 one-on-one consultations with commercial Christmas tree growers. When asked if they now felt more confident in assisting commercial berry growers with the following they responded positively: interpretation of soil analysis results (80.8%), interpretation of foliar analysis results (76.9%), making field identification of nutrient imbalances in berry crops (73.1%), Suggesting corrections for: berry crop soil deficiencies (76.9%), foliar deficiencies (69.2%), and soil health issues (61.5%).

Appendix F: Post webinar verification tool for educators (attachment)

Eleven of the 26 respondents indicated they had held a grower training event, with 71 growers participating for a total of 76.5 contact hours. When asked if as a result of holding a berry soil and nutrient management training the 11 participants now felt more confident in assisting commercial berry growers with the following they responded positively: interpretation of soil analysis results (81.8%), interpretation of foliar analysis results (90.9%), making field identification of nutrient imbalances in berry crops (81.8%), Suggesting corrections for: berry crop soil deficiencies (90.9%), foliar deficiencies (90.9%), and soil health issues (90.9%).

When asked what further training would be helpful to improve their confidence and capacity to assist growers with nutritional issues the following responses were received:

  • Perhaps even more coverage on the roles of the nutrient inside the plant (their functions)
  • Not necessarily further training because I refer back to the webinars, but the opportunity to work with growers with real numbers and maybe review my recommendations with project staff. Having the opportunity to actually measure yield data for the 2013 season should be helpful.
  • I attended to further my own knowledge in order to direct County Master Gardeners. They didn’t feel comfortable dealing with Berry questions. I don’t work with any commercial growers.
  • Our county had 2 Master gardeners attend the berry webinars at our office. They found the webinars to be a great source of information and valuable. It was offered as a train-the-trainer. They do not feel confident to present information that they learned as of yet. Maybe future training for participating volunteers, have them sign a contract that they would need to present a class or two on the basics. That would help county educators who are doing multitasks, and you too, Cathy, and other specialist staff.
  • I am sorry but I don’t recall using this information. I have trouble digesting webinars.
  • More fundamentals in berry growing in our county
  • Just more practice to keep building my confidence!
  • Training on how to remediate soil compaction
  • Further information session/refresher on foliar symptoms and deficiencies
  • More info on field id of nutrient deficiencies; offer this training on an annual basis
  • Irrigation and interaction between nutrition and irrigation.
  • An in-person field trip where we can look at foliar deficiencies with the experts right there would always be helpful.
  • I would like to have the series of classes on DVD so I can watch them and re-learn the information as needed.
  • None, just more practice with lab and field results.

Participant Comments from Post-Webinar Verification Tool

  • Very glad I took part in this program! It has stretched me in my career and has brought me out of my comfort zone.
  • I plan to hold a training for a larger audience beyond those who are participating in the project. I think even more will be learned as they (participating growers) actually apply a practice this growing season.
  • Participated to broaden my experience but not a nutrition professional. Work with cranberries, so much of this was not applicable to our soil conditions. I still learned but not more confident for my growers. But plan to hold grower training in 2013.
  • If I practiced more this would be a “yes” (Q3c) as the information provided was helpful. I do hope to initiate more soil health workshops this year, or promote ones already planned with my clients. This would not specifically be berry growers, but many diversified vegetable operations also plant small fruit.
  • I have not yet held a grower training.
  • I am a commercial horticulture educator serving the nursery, landscape, turf and Christmas tree audience. I learned about small fruit as a result of these webinars. I used some of the info on interpreting soil test results to train my audience.
  • Too busy with freeze and drought (to hold a grower training this season). Excellent workshop. I learned a lot. Especially useful was introduction to Cornell’s soil health concepts- I was already familiar with soils and plant nutrition. Good to have presented as an integrated whole, rather than parts. Also liked background on soil tests methodology and different tests.
  • Thanks for the classes.
  • Great webinar series
  • Sorry, they were Christmas tree growers (not berry growers) but used information form these sessions. Thanks for letting me join in. Although I don’t work with berry growers, it was an excellent series on soils and plant nutrition.
  • It was an excellent and very useful project.

Milestone #3

Of those educators completing training, 15 will develop and deliver grower education programs using training materials provided to 10 or more commercial berry growers in their county or region. March 2012 – December 2012

Sixteen educator participants trained through the webinar series in turn provided training to 397 commercial berry growers through one-on-one consultations and/or meetings and workshops. To date, 11 educators (8 from New York, 1 from Maine, 1 from Connecticut) have developed and delivered grower education programs to commercial berry growers using a core PowerPoint presentation (Appendix G), handouts (Appendix H), recorded webinars and other project materials. At least 4 additional educators (2 from NY and 1 each from Michigan and Massachusetts) are actively planning berry soil and nutrient management grower training for 2013.

Appendix G: Berry Soil and Nutrient Management Presentation (attachment)

Appendix H: Grower Handout Packet Materials (attachment)

One educator participant, C. Armstrong, crafted 6 commercial cranberry grower fact sheets highlighting cranberry-relevant information from the webinar series and shared them with his commercial growers during his annual on-site IPM cranberry twilight meetings during summer 2012. They are also accessible from his website at: http://extension.umaine.edu/cranberries/grower-services/whats-new/.

Milestone #4

500 commercial berry growers from the Northeast will be invited to improve soil and nutrient management skills by attending grower training through monthly berry newsletters, e-mail event calendars and mailed invitations. 150 growers will participate in soil and nutrition management training. Changes in learning will be recorded through use of pre- and post-training berry crop soil and nutrient knowledge tests. January 2013 – March 2013

From August 2011 through January 2014, a total of 1250 growers (1233 berry and 17 turf growers) attended soil and nutrient management training included as part of various other educational venues where project information was presented (Table 10). On most of these occasions berry soil and leaf analysis kits, including instructions, submission forms, sample bags and boxes, and fact sheets on interpretation of results were provided free of charge for attending growers.

In addition to oral presentations, berry soil and nutrient management educational information was shared through written and/or electronic media. A special August 15, 2012 edition of NY Berry News (Appendix I) focused on soil and nutrient management for berry crops; this newsletter has a circulation of 580 including commercial berry growers, small fruit faculty and extension staff and private industry members.

Appendix I: New York Berry News Vol 11 No 8b August 2012 (attachment)

A list of other project-related publications follows below:

  1. Cook, E., 2012. Annual Nitrogen Fertility Management in Blueberries for Organic and Conventional Farms. NY Berry News 11 (6):12 June 21, 2012
  2. Heidenreich, C. 2012. Highbush Blueberries – Planting, Early Care and Nutrition. NY Berry News 11 (1): 28-31. January 23, 2012.
  3. McDermott, L. 2012. Managing Fertility in Bramble Crops. NY Berry News 11 (1): 226-28. January 23, 2012.
  4. Pritts, M. and Heidenreich, C. 2012. Late Summer is the Time for Leaf Analysis. New York Berry News Vol 11 (8b):1-2.
  5. Heidenreich, C. and McDermott, L. 2013. Day Neutral Strawberry Fertility Management. NY Berry News, 12(9):5, July 3, 2013.

Webinars from the original educator training series were made available for viewing through YouTube on the Cornell Berries playlist of the Cornell Horticulture YouTube Channel. As of 2/21/2014, these videos had been viewed 2,195 times (Table 11).

Milestone #5

Out of those 150 growers attending, 50 will be recruited to participate in first time soil/leaf analysis and soil health testing, along with receiving one-on-one assistance with interpretation of results and advice for implementing knowledge gained on farm from educators. March 2013 – September 2013

Of the 380 commercial berry growers receiving training in 2012, 40 were recruited by educators  to take part in on-farm berry soil and nutrient management demonstration trials by 11 project educators. Each grower received receiving complementary soil, leaf and soil health analyses in exchange for their participation. Growers received training and assistance in soil, leaf and soil health sampling, as well as preparation and shipping of samples. Additionally, they had one-on-one consultations with educators to discuss test results and select a new analysis-based management practice to try on-farm.

To assist in preparing for the one-on-one meetings with growers educators participated in a 4-hr hands-on learning event either live or remotely by webinar October 2, 2012. This educational event provided educators with training on and experience in how to interpret soil, leaf and soil health test results. This was accomplished through review and group discussion of 12 grower case studies from the project and culminated with development of grower recommendations based on test results. Berry soil and nutrient specialists and soil health specialists from Cornell University also participated in the group meeting providing additional training, resources, feedback and insights as needed. Later each educator met one-on-one with their growers to discuss test results and their implications on berry productivity.

Educators conducted either group or one-on-one training with grower participating in on-farm trials. Grower pre- and post-tests (Appendix J) were used to gauge changes in learning by training attendees. Answers were recorded for each question and % correct responses were calculated. Change in learning was calculated for each question as % correct responses post-test minus % correct responses pre-test. Table 12 provides a summary of pre- and post-test results by question. Total grower respondents for pre-test = 39; Total respondents for post-test = 28. Average change in learning was a positive 13.5; median change in learning was a positive 14.9.

Appendix J: Grower Pre- and Post-test (attachment)

During one-on-one meetings with educators, each grower selected a new management practice (as suggested by test results) to implement on-farm, to be compared with their standard practice. Plant growth and development, yield, and economics data were collected for both new and standard management practices in 2013 to evaluate costs/benefits of analysis based soil and nutrient management vs. calendar and/or plant age based fertilizer applications.

Roughly 80% of growers agreeing to participate in on-farm demonstration trials implemented one or more new techniques or made adjustments to their berry soil and nutrient management practices as a result of their participation in the project; of those, only 28.1% found themselves able to complete the requested data collection during the peak harvest season. None-the-less, those who were able to not able to collect harvest data provided observational data (plant growth and pest pressure) and/or anecdotal information by way of evaluating the success of their analysis-based treatment in comparison to their standard practice.

Of the nine growers collecting yield data, 6 saw slight to modest gains in yield in their “test” plots vs. their standard practice plots. There appeared to be no major difference between treatment and grower standard plots in terms of numbers of berries per unit or rotted berries per unit (Table 12a).

In terms of growth observations, growers either saw no differences or slight to modest improvement in plant growth and development in their “test” plots vs. their standard practice plots. (Table 12b).

There were no apparent differences in pest incidence (apart from weeds perhaps) between the treated plots and grower standard plots (Table 12c).

19 participating growers responded to a post-trial verification questionnaire (Appendix K); 89.5% found the training improved their understanding of berry crop soil and nutrient management; 100% indicated they found participating in an on-farm trial improved their understanding of berry crop soil and nutrient management. Here also, 78.9% indicated implemented one or more new techniques or made adjustments to their berry soil and nutrient management practices as a result of their participation in the project (Table 13a).

Appendix K: Grower post-trial verification questionnaire (attachment)

When asked, “Which techniques/procedures have you implemented on your farm?” the 19 respondents provided the following information:

Soil testing was by far the most adopted management practice of all those evaluated with 78.9% of respondents using soil analysis in the past; 15.8% did soil analysis as a result of participating in the project; the same percentage planned continue to do so in the future as a result of their project participation, resulting in an overall gain in terms of change in practice for soil analysis usage. Percentages were similar for analysis-based fertilizer applications (Table 13b).

Unlike soil testing, only 47.4% of respondents had done leaf testing in the past. Use of leaf analysis slightly less than doubled through project participation.

Soil health testing was not as commonly employed with only 21.1% of respondents having done soil health testing in the past. 42.1% tried soil health testing for the first time as a result of participating in the project; the same percentage planned to do so in the future as a result of their project participation, doubling usage of this management tool among participants.

Soil health improvement was another tactic not as commonly employed by commercial berry grower participants with only 36.8% of respondents having implemented soil health improvement practices in the past. 26.3% implemented soil health improvement practices for the first time as a result of participating in the project; 42.1% planned to do so in the future as a result of their project participation, likely more than doubling usage of this management tool among participants.

Soil health improvement tactics undertaken by grower participants as part of participating in the project included: compost additions, increased amounts of compost additions to rows, mulching, cover cropping, lime to increase soil pH (blueberries), applying manure, and use of various plowing techniques.

Soil health improvements berry growers planned to undertake in the future as a result of project participation included: applying manure, pre-plant cover cropping, crop rotation, use of biofumigants, various plowing techniques, use of the Cornell soil health test in difficult fields before cropping.

Other management techniques mentioned were the need to learn how to improve soil quality in established plantings, and the intent to incorporate the Cornell soil health test with other crops pre-plant.

When asked, “Have you used the knowledge learned from this project/ training in soil and nutrition management decisions for other crops on your farm?” 63.2 % of the 19 respondents said yes, 26.3% said no, half noting the caveat “but I plan to”; 0.11% were uncertain? (Table 13c).

As with berry crops a high percentage of respondents were already using soil analysis with non-berry crops also. 15.8% of the 19 respondents planned to do soil analysis in the future for their non-berry crops as a result of participating in the project.

Again, roughly the same percentages were already making analysis based fertilizer application for non-berry crops as well as planned to make analysis-based fertilizer applications in the future for their non-berry crops as a result of participating in the project.

Only 10.5% of respondents had done soil health testing for their non-berry crops in the past. 15.8 % did soil health testing with their non-berry crops a result of participating in the project. 63.2% planned to use soil health testing in the future for their non-berry crops as a result of participating in the project.

Soil health improvement was also not commonly employed by commercial berry grower participants with their non-berry crops with only 21.1% of respondents having implemented soil health improvement practices in the past. 15.8% implemented soil health improvement practices for the first time with non-berry crops as a result of participating in the project; 47.4% planned to do so with non-berry crops in the future as a result of their project participation, doubling usage of this management tool with non-berry crops in addition to berry crops.

Soil health improvement tactics for non-berry crops undertaken by grower participants as a result of participating in the project included: Reducing soil compaction, use of 3 cover crops/year buckwheat (x ), followed by rye prior to planting, continuing organic management practices already in use, crop rotation, biofumigants, more attention to cover cropping, and zone tillage.

Soil health improvements berry growers planned to undertake with their non-berry crops in the future as a result of project participation include: additional cover crops and compost additions, more attention to cover cropping and no-till or reduced till production practices.

Other management techniques mentioned were routinely using the Cornell soil health test and cover cropping on vegetable crop land.

Milestone #6

Changes in educator practice will be documented through post project educator interviews by the project coordinator. One-on-one interviews of participating growers will document adoption of new knowledge and practices. December 2013, 2014, 2015

A post-project educator verification questionnaire (Appendix L) was used to document changes in educator practice instead of one-on-one interviews in the hopes educators would not be hesitant to be completely candid in their responses.

Appendix L: Post-project verification tool for educators working with grower collaborators 

Nine of the 11 educators responded to a post on-farm demonstration trial questionnaire. Responses varied as to whether the on-farm trials were a success, with 66.7% indicating yes, 11.1% indicating no, and 22.2% being unsure. Educator comments clarified this variation in response; yes in terms of grower gain in knowledge and utilization of berry soil and nutrient management tools and no or don’t know in the sense that growers were not in many cases willing/able to collect the requested data during the busiest part of their production season that would assist them in evaluating the effectiveness of the treatment they had selected in comparison to their standard practice.

66.7% of educators reported their growers adopted changes in berry soil and nutrient management practices as a result of participating in on-farm demonstration trials. Changes included: routine use of Cornell soil health test preplant; starting their own composting process incorporating farm-generated materials, more closely monitoring soil pH and nutrient status.

Most educators felt confident in assisting with interpretation of test results and making suggestions for correction of deficiencies; those answering “no” to these questions indicated they had already felt very comfortable doing this prior to participating in the project. While 88.9% indicated they felt more confident in making field identification of nutrient imbalances in berry crops several felt more hands on experience would be beneficial.

77.8% of educators felt more confident in discussing soil health assessment techniques; the same percentage indicated they also felt more confident in making soil health recommendations after participating in the project but added they felt they still needed more expertise in this area.

Subsection b Cumulative Milestone Accomplishment Table (required)
Cumulative Milestone Accomplishment Table ENE11-120 (attachment)

Subsection c Assessment of Project Approach and Implementation: (what worked, what didn’t)

Using in-depth webinars as the educational delivery method in this instance was particularly successful; 50% or more of participants indicated they would likely not have attended the same 12 session(s) if they had been conducted as a 2-day workshop either 1-2 or 4-6 hours from their location rather than as webinars. Fifty-eight percent of participants found the recorded versions of the webinars to be as informative as the live webinars; 84% indicated recorded versions were as convenient as or more convenient than the live webinars as they could be viewed (and reviewed) at any time.

Things to be done differently to be beneficial in future endeavors would be to increase the educator/grower ratio in respect to on-farm demonstration trials. Having more educators involved with fewer numbers of growers would provide more time for educators to mentor growers during the process as well as assist with collection of data during peak harvest periods when growers are often short-handed and/or on very tight schedules.

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Outcomes

Subsection a:Performance target outcome data and discussion 

Seventy-seven educators, distributed across 13 US states and Canada with 59 from the NE region participated in the project webinars. Of the 77 total registrants, 48 were associated with a college or university; 12 were associated with a government agency; 40 were involved in extension activities; 8 were associated with USDA/NRCS; 3 were associated with organic production/producers; and 7 were associated with other enterprises. Areas of professional expertise of respondents included: commercial agriculture & horticulture, animal husbandry, pest management, farm business management, postharvest technology, natural resources, environmental compliance, consumer horticulture, conservation technology, plant pathology, sustainable agriculture, agronomy, land protection, pesticide education, soil management, and best management practices. 21.6% of educator participants completed the entire webinar series; 81.0% completed 50% or more of the webinars in the series. When asked if they later viewed recorded versions of live webinars they missed, 81.3% indicated they had.

Twenty-six webinar participants responded to a 6-month post-webinar series questionnaire regarding how they had utilized knowledge gained from the educational series. Respondents were from 6 of the 13 NE States (24), along with Illinois (1) and Michigan (1). Fifteen of the educators indicated they had conducted a total of 84 one-on-one berry soil and nutrient management consultations with commercial berry growers as a result of their participation in the series. One participant indicated that although he did not work with commercial berry growers he had conducted 5 one-on-one consultations with commercial Christmas tree growers.

Eleven of the 26 respondents indicated they had held a grower training event, with 71 growers participating for a total of 76.5 contact hours.

By the end of the 2012, 16 educator participants trained through the webinar series in turn provided training to 397 commercial berry growers through one-on-one consultations and/or meetings and workshops. To date, 11 educators (8 from New York, 1 from Maine, 1 from Connecticut) have developed and delivered grower education programs to commercial berry growers using a core PowerPoint presentation (Appendix G), handouts (Appendix H), recorded webinars and other project materials (i.e. soil and leaf analysis packets). At least 4 additional educators (2 from NY and 1 each from Michigan and Massachusetts) are actively planning berry soil and nutrient management grower training for 2013.

One educator participant, C. Armstrong, crafted 6 commercial cranberry grower fact sheets highlighting cranberry-relevant information from the webinar series and shared them with his commercial growers during his annual on-site IPM cranberry twilight meetings during summer 2012. They are also accessible from his website at: http://extension.umaine.edu/cranberries/grower-services/whats-new/.In total by project end, the 16 educators participating in the project, along with project leaders and collaborating educators, reported providing training to a total of 1255 growers (1233 berry, 17 turf growers and 5 Christmas tree growers) either as a stand-alone program or as a topic-related presentation at other educational venues; they also carried out 125 individual grower consultations.

Educator supervision of on-farm demonstration trials

Growers who participated in the trainings conducted by the 11 educators were then eligible to take part in on-farm berry soil and nutrient management demonstration trials. Forty growers participated in demonstration trials, and received training and assistance in soil, leaf and soil health sampling, as well as preparation and shipping of samples. Additionally, they had one-on-one consultations with educators to discuss test results and select a new analysis-based management practice to try on-farm.

Nine of the 11 eucators who conducted trials responded to a post on-farm demonstration trial questionnaire. Responses varied as to whether the on-farm trials were a success, with 66.7% indicating yes, 11.1% indicating no, and 22.2% being unsure. Educator comments clarified this variation in response; yes in terms of grower gain in knowledge and utilization of berry soil and nutrient management tools and no or don’t know in the sense that growers were not in many cases willing/able to collect the requested data during the busiest part of their production season that would assist them in evaluating the effectiveness of the treatment they had selected in comparison to their standard practice.

Six (66.7%) of educators reported their growers adopted changes in berry soil and nutrient management practices as a result of participating in on-farm demonstration trials. Changes included: routine use of Cornell soil health test preplant; starting their own composting process incorporating farm-generated materials, more closely monitoring soil pH and nutrient status.

Grower participation in on-farm demonstration trials

The 40 growers who took part in on-farm demonstration trials received a post-project verification tool, and 19 growers responded. Seventeen (89.5%) of these growers found the training improved their understanding of berry crop soil and nutrient management; 100% indicated they found participating in an on-farm trial improved their understanding of berry crop soil and nutrient management; and 78.9% implemented one or more new techniques or made adjustments to their berry soil and nutrient management practices as a result of their participation in the project. Techniques implemented included soil nutrient and leaf analyses, soil health testing, and soil improvement practices such as crops compost additions, increased amounts of compost applied to rows, mulching, cover cropping, lime to increase soil pH (blueberries), applying manure, and use of various plowing techniques. Soil health improvements berry growers planned to undertake in the future as a result of project participation included: applying manure, pre-plant cover cropping, crop rotation, use of biofumigants, various plowing techniques, use of the Cornell soil health test in difficult fields before cropping. The growers also planned to adopt similar soil health improvement strategies in their non-berry crops.

A more detailed description of the growers’ post-project survey responses is included in the milestones section

Subsection b:Beneficiary outcome stories
Beneficiary outcome story #1

Educator Cathy reported that introducing farm owner Warren and his production manager Mike to the Cornell soil health test (CSHT) resulted in an on-farm composting system being implemented to provide finished compost for use in improving soil organic matter. Encouraged by grower Warren to participate in the project, farm manager Mike selected their blueberry crop as one he was most interested in working with. Cornell soil health test results indicated a need to lower pH and improve organic matter content (active carbon and mineralizable nitrogen) in the blueberry planting. As they were already using wood chip-based mulch, compost addition seemed to Mike to be the best method for increasing organic matter. After some discussion with Warren and checking out local compost sources and pricing, Mike opted to set up an on-farm composting system as they annually generated an abundance of compostable material from their cider making process as well as crop debris from other fruit and vegetables produced on farm that they had no specific use for. Previously it had simply been spread randomly to cropland not currently under production. By actively collecting and composting these by-product materials they could recycle them into an organic matter form usable for application to their blueberries and other crops. After investigation of the various composting systems available Mike set up an aerated static pile system and was able to create 8-10 yards of usable composted material in 2013. As the compost they would produce the first year would not be ready for use during the 2013 season Mike purchased bags of finished compost to add to the blueberry test plot to compare with their standard practice. While he did not see an immediate difference in yield between the test plot and their standard practice, Mike felt they saw an improvement in overall plant health and development, making the experiment a success for him. Mike was one of 3 project growers who agreed to participate in a grower panel discussion on the project during the 2014 Empire Producers EXPO berry session. He gave a brief PowerPoint presentation on their on-farm trial as part of the discussion, indicating their satisfaction with the trial outcomes and their renewed commitment to using soil and nutrient management tools for all their berry crops.

Beneficiary outcome story #2

Educator Linda reported grower Philip and his 2 farm managers attended a berry soil and nutrient management training in summer 2012 where their interest was piqued but they were too late to get their CSHT collected while sampling conditions were favorable. Educator Linda immediately assisted them to collect and submit standard soil and leaf samples for analysis, and followed up with a CHST in spring 2013. Grower Philip chose his black raspberry planting to work with primarily because it was a new planting and because it was a big investment. In hindsight educator Linda indicated she wished he had chosen his new blueberry field, as during farm visits for the project it became clear they had not done appropriate site preparation for that field. The blueberries were really suffering, but it allowed educator Linda to discuss the challenges of amending the site while blueberries were in situ. The ‘Jewel’ black raspberries had excellent harvest seasons in 2012 and 2013. Growth was almost excessive, so perhaps the most important management change grower Philip made was to start pruning more aggressively. Training is also a challenge but last year Educator Linda thought the overall result of training was much more effective in keeping the plants up and off the alleyway, making it much easier for pickers and farm workers to maneuver and resulting in a planting that did not have much in the way of spotted wing drosophila pressure. The 2013 CSHT results were good; none of grower Philip’s foliar results indicated that any fertilizer was needed and because the overall growth was so robust, he decided not to add anything but Boron at the rate of 10 lb/A of Solubor during the fall of 2013.The grower commented the changes he made in terms of improved pruning likely had more impact on reduced pest pressure than did the fertility changes. Still grower Philip’s overall assessment was that the information gathered through the CSHT was very valuable. Educator Linda commented that future work in his blueberry planting would likely reveal to him the increased importance of using the testing tools available to him.

Beneficiary outcome story #3:

Educator Thomas reported that test results for all 5 participating cranberry growers fell within satisfactory ranges for all parameters measured and that he was at a loss as to what he might recommend as treatments for on-farm trials. Farm manager Tina expressed interest in testing a custom-fertilizer blend purported by its distributor/salesman to provide a balance of nutrients that would halt excessive runner growth and basically “feed the fruit,” thereby increasing yields. A 2012 application of the product was made on half a bed and Educator Thomas blind-sampled for fruit set, berries per upright, tip length and berry weight on each of the 2 halves. Interesting results showed a statistically significant difference in berry weights, with the half getting the custom-blend product being the winner; educator Thomas noted the difference was slight, however.

The experiment was repeated in 2013 on a larger scale, with side-by-side beds being compared, one with the custom-blend applied and one with the grower standard. The same data was collected and leaf analyses were done on each bed. The treated bed did have ever so slightly higher values for most nutrients, educator Thomas reported, but with such slight differences he said it was difficult to be overly impressed by anything. And unfortunately, he added, parameters measured for 2013 were higher for the grower standard (berry weight, fruit set, average number of berries per upright) plot that time than those for the treated area. It was a great introduction for the growers, however, to the practice of doing independent study and the potential value it holds.

Beneficiary outcome story #4:

Educator Laura stated participation in the project demonstrated to grower Kevin the importance of using soil analysis results in tandem with leaf analysis results to understand how best to manage his fall raspberry fertility. While grower Kevin did not take harvest data as part of his on-farm trial he did however treat a troubled area of his black raspberry planting differently than the bulk of his planting in accordance with the results from testing. From his observations there was no difference between the 2 blocks in 2013. This was excellent news because normally the troubled area was well below the rest of the block in both yield and appearance of vigor. Grower Kevin added Sul-Po-Mag at a rate of 350 lb/A and phosphorus in the form of P2O5 at the rate of 15 lb/A; he also reduced the amount of nitrogen that he was feeding the entire block. Educator Laura said participating in the on-farm trial highlighted to grower Kevin the discrepancies between the results of soil tests and foliar testing. If he had done only a soil test he would have likely never understood he was applying too much nitrogen, and also wouldn’t have known that potassium and magnesium were in such short supply in the plant tissue.

Beneficiary outcome story #5:

Educator Ken reports, “The NE SARE berry soil and nutrient project was valuable to me and the four fruit growers in my county in a number of ways. This was a project that was initiated by a former staff person who vacated his position in the middle of the grant. I had no background in fruit but an extensive background in agriculture. I was delighted to see the soil health test used because it truly hasn’t received the interest that it needs to move forward as a decision making tool. It became a valuable reference to suggest considerations because it related to the soils not to a specific crop of which I had little background on.

The project allowed me to work more in conjunction with the fruit specialist as opposed to just referring the question on. This provided a level of assuredness to risk being involved in an area I knew I couldn’t allocate a large portion of time to even though we had growers who needed some help. The tests and the interpretation of the tests were a process I was fully aware and confident in.

This grant allowed me to go beyond my comfort zone to use the skills and network to work with growers new to me, while allowing those growers to avail themselves for initial contacts with a local unbiased person easy to access that could solve an initial consideration and move it forward with greater vigor.

I feel the true impact was to involve and create one additional resource to the grower who might have not thought their situation was important for a specialist to be aware of. This was very clear when leaf sample collection resulted in the discovery of a contagious and deadly disease to a mature planting of blueberries – blueberry scorch virus.

Subsection c: Additional outcomes

The first unanticipated project outcome was development of a new working partnership with Cornell Soil Health Team members Harold van Es and Robert Schindelbeck. Outcomes from this new collaboration not specifically related to the project performance target include the following changes/adjustments to the Cornell soil health test and it’s reporting of test results respective to commercial berry growers:

  1. Soil testing information for optimizing berry production. The Cornell Soil Health Assessment (CSHA) tests essential soil functions in the areas of soil nutrition, soil biological functioning and soil structural integrity (soil tilth). These soil functions are tested in the Cornell Soil Health lab. To accommodate these special requirements, they have expanded the soil lab tests offered to berry growers. In particular, there was a demonstrated need to also evaluate: hot-water soluble boron, soluble salts (conductivity) and heavy metals (total digestion). This additional laboratory information is often part of the essential information needed by berry growers.
  2. Interpreting soil lab test data values for berry production. Interpreting the CSHA lab values for berry growers also requires modification of lab result interpretation ranges germane to the specific needs of berry crops. They score the lab test results (low, medium, high) based on vegetable and agronomic land uses. Certain berry commodities have growth requirements outside this “standard range” used for most agricultural production. Work is now in development using the collected berry land data in conjunction with expert knowledge and current practice. These berry interpretations will be targeted to the berry growers.
  3. Suggested management practices for optimizing berry production. The semi-perennial nature of berry crop production methods affords a different suite of available soil management practices compared to agronomic row crops. The “suggested management practices” used to address soil functions that are measured to be out of range for optimum berry production are currently being compiled using the data collected during the grant implementation. In 2014, berry growers will receive a page of linkages between soil functional issues and soil management practices germane to their berry crop production.

A second unanticipated project outcome is new research being conducted to answer questions arising from Cornell soil health test results common to berry farms across the project. By aggregating Cornell Soil Health test results according to crop, it was apparent that the biological fraction of soil in strawberry fields was a soil constraint. Organic matter, active carbon, and potentially mineralizable nitrogen primarily had scores 25 and below on the 0-100 scale developed for all agricultural soils. The matted row system of strawberry production is most common in the Northeast. Straw is utilized for winter protection, weed suppression, water control, and to increase sanitation during berry development.   A strawberry farmer may cover their crop with 3-6 inches of straw in the winter (2-5 tons/acre) and then again after each time they cultivate for weed management. Soil organic matter usually fuels soil biological activity, so low scores are puzzling in a field with high additions of straw. In order to increase the biological health of soil in strawberry fields, we must first understand where the current organic matter additions are in the soil profile. Therefore, a soil organic matter survey in a strawberry field is planned in Ithaca, NY, looking at nitrogen mineralization, particulate organic matter, and total soil carbon. Treatments with different tilling intensities and types of organic matter additions are expected to affect the levels of organic matter in the soil. This work, inspired by Cornell soil health test results from the project, will be conducted by Cornell graduate student Maria Gannett during the 2014 and 2015 growing seasons.

A third unanticipated project outcome was the informal formation of a peer networking group between project educators providing a forum for berry soil and nutrient management discussion and problem-solving in NY.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Subsection aIndividual milestone accomplishments

Milestone #1

150 Ag educators from the Northeast are invited to participate in the project through e-mail notifications, mailed brochures, extension calendar postings and professional development opportunity listings. July – August 2011.


Approximately 300 ag educators, consultants and other information multipliers were invited to participate in the project through direct e-mail notifications, newsletters, and internet calendar postings from 8/24/11 through 9/1/11. Groups invited to participate included but were not limited to extension educators, NRCS personnel, ag consultants, nurserymen, university faculty and staff, soil and water conservation personnel, and organic grower organization leaders.

Partial list of groups canvassed: NYS Association of Cooperative Extension Agents, Great Lakes Fruit Workers list serve, Cornell Cooperative Extension Staff ag leaders’ list serve, Extension and other ag service providers in Vermont

Cornell Fruit Program Work Team list serve, NE SARE Staff and regional coordinators, NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Organization) NY, VT, MA, NYS Soil and Water Conservation Department, NY and VT Natural resources Conservation Departments, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

Venues where information was distributed: NE Small Fruit Pest Management Issue Meeting 7/28/11, Great Lakes Fruit Workers Meeting, 11/1/11 (presentations given in addition to PR materials distributed).

Milestone #2

Out of those educators invited to participate, 50 will gain basic understanding and build expertise in commercial berry crop nutrition and soil management by participating in a series of 12 in-depth webinars on the subject and completing learning modules on interpretation of soil health and nutrient test results. Changes in learning will be recorded through use of pre and post-training berry crop soil and nutrient knowledge tests. September 2011 – March 2012

Final registration for the webinar series was 77. Registrants each participated in a demographics survey (Appendix A) along with an educator pre-test to measure understanding and expertise prior to training; a post-test was administered at the end of the in-depth webinars series in March 2012 to document changes in learning. Feedback from participants was extremely positive; the majority of the later registrants indicated they had been referred to the program by others already participating.

Appendix A: Registrant Demographics Questionnaire (attachment)

Comments received from participants:

“The series is great.  Even I thought I work in tree fruits not small fruits, the practical nutrient information is relevant and useful.  I can look up the academic aspects; the best part of the webinars for me is the practical real world perspective on how things work, problems that occur, and practical resolutions.”

“I caught up with the first two classes, which I missed live. The soils review was a nice refresher. I’m looking forward to this afternoon and this entire program.”

“I have been told that the SARE webinars you are doing are terrific and that I should check out the one on interpreting soil results before I do my talk on that subject for Christmas tree growers. Are they archived and is there a way I can get in to view it?”

“I listened to the soil testing webinar by Marvin yesterday….it’s amazing, every time I hear this stuff I retain a little bit more understanding. It was good. Thanks for doing all the work to edit and put these recorded webinars up. “

“Thanks for the wonderful webinars – great way to learn!”

Registrant Demographics

The 77 webinar registrants were distributed across 13 US states and Canada (Table 1) with 59 from the NE region. Of the 77 total registrants 48 were associated with a college or university; 12 were associated with a government agency; 40 were involved in extension activities; 8 were associated with USDA/NRCS; 3 were associated with organic production/producers; and 7 were associated with other enterprises.

Fifty-four registrants responded to a demographics questionnaire prior to participating in the webinars. Respondents ranged in age from 25 to 62 or over, with 67% of those responding within 10 years of retirement age (65). Twenty-two percent of registrants indicated they had a college education, 76 percent had post-graduate education. Occupations of respondents included: Extension & Ag educators, Professors, Instructors, Soil conservationists, Conservation agronomists & planners, Consultants, Horticulture, Research, IPM & Extension specialists, Scientists, District managers & conservationists, Technical advisors, Program coordinators, Water stewardship & Soil conservation technicians, Outreach coordinators, Program leaders, and Environmental biologists & engineers.

Areas of professional expertise of respondents included: Commercial agriculture & horticulture, Animal husbandry, Pest management, Farm business management, Postharvest technology, Natural resources, Environmental compliance, Consumer horticulture, Conservation technology, Plant pathology, Sustainable agriculture, Agronomy, Land protection, Pesticide education, Soil management, and Best management practices.

In terms of commodity responsibilities, 76% of respondents indicated they had small fruit responsibilities, 54% had tree fruit responsibilities, 22% had forage crop responsibilities, 52% had vegetable crop responsibilities, 30% had Natural Resources responsibilities and 13% each had Dairy, Animals or Maple responsibilities, respectively.

With 2 exceptions, all respondents indicated they had either some previous training in soil and/or nutrient management; 37 indicated they had some previous training in soil health management. In terms of assisting growers with interpretation of test results, 56% felt competent to do so with soil tests, and 26% felt competent to do so with foliar analyses. Only 17% felt competent in field identification of nutrient imbalances in berry crops. Numbers for those feeling competent in making recommendations to growers based on test results were lower, 35% for soil deficiencies, 12% for foliar deficiencies and 22% for soil health deficiencies.

Changes in Learning – Educator Pre-and Post-test Results

Webinar registrants participated in an on-line pre-test (Appendix B) during the introductory webinar of the series, consisting of 20 berry crop soil and nutrient management related questions posed through the use of opinion polls. Answers were recorded for each question and % correct responses were calculated. The same test was re-administered at the end of the final webinar in the series and % correct responses were calculated for these as well.

Appendix B: Educator pre- and post-test (attachment)

Table 2 provides a summary of pre- and post-test results by question. Total respondents for the pre-test were 50; total respondents for the post-test were 28. Change in learning was calculated for each question as % correct responses post-test minus % correct responses pre-test. Average change in learning per question was a positive increase of 20.1; median change in learning was a positive increase of 17.3.

Exit Survey Summary

Participants were requested to complete an on line exit questionnaire (Appendix C) to provide feedback on their webinar experience. Thirty-seven participants responded. Of those responding 75.7% best described their involvement in berry crop production as Cooperative Extension; 13.5% described their involvement as NRCS; 2.7 percent each of the remaining respondents best described their involvement either as commercial grower, Agri-business or private sector, University research and/or teaching, or other.

Appendix C: Berry soil and nutrient management webinar series evaluation (attachment)

Regarding webinar viewing, 91.9% of the respondents indicated they viewed the webinars alone at a home or office computer; 8.1% viewed the webinars with one or more others in a group setting. Most respondents experienced little or no problems in viewing the live webinars. In terms of webinar attendance, 21.6% of participants affirmed they had completed the entire webinar series; 81.0% completed 50% or more of the webinars in the series (Table 3). When asked if they later viewed recorded versions of live webinars they missed, 81.3% indicated they had. Fifty-eight percent of participants found the recorded versions of the webinars to be as informative as the live webinars; 84% indicated recorded versions were as convenient as or more convenient than the live webinars as they could be viewed (and reviewed) at any time (Table 4).

Ninety-four percent of respondents felt their expectations were met or exceeded through their participation in the series. This was further reflected in the responses regarding webinar speakers and topics. More than half indicated the material presented was informative, timely, understandable, and research-based (Table 5). Most respondents rated the speakers’ pace of presentation as good; they also rated the speakers’ knowledge of the topic presented, organization and visual quality of the presentation and responsiveness to participants as either good or excellent (Table 6). Ninety-five percent indicated they would be likely to recommend attending future webinars to others involved in berry production.

Fifty percent or more of participants indicated they would likely not have attended the same session(s) if they had been conducted as a 2-day workshop either 1-2 or 4-6 hours from their location rather than as webinars.

A majority of participants indicated their understanding of the 29 topics presented during the webinars was slightly to greatly improved (Table 7). In some instances no change in understanding was noted; in one instance a participant indicated they were more confused about soil test options than prior to listening to the webinar.

More than half of participants indicated they were likely to take some action in the next 12 months as a result of attending the webinar series (Table 8), including such actions as:

  • Seek more information on berry soil and nutrient management
  • Relay information from webinars to commercial berry growers in one-on-one setting
  • Relay information from webinars to commercial berry growers through formal educational event i.e. workshop or educational meeting
  • Relay information from webinars to commercial berry growers through an informal educational event i.e. twilight or field meeting
  • Encourage commercial berry growers to view archived webinars
  • Relay information from webinars to others in one-on-one setting
  • Relay information from webinars to others through formal educational event i.e. workshop or educational meeting
  • Relay information from the webinars to others through informal educational event i.e. twilight or field meeting
  • Encourage other growers to view archived webinars
  • Encourage colleagues to view archived webinars
  • Make use of web site and/or training materials provided through this project in programming

Other possible actions included:

  • I do plan to view archived webinars that I haven’t viewed yet.
  • I will definitely be able to look for/find answers to specific questions. In the beginning I had little confidence in finding answers to questions. While I may not have retained all of the information presented in the webinar series, I will be able to use the recordings as a resource to seek the correct answers.
  • Create handouts summarizing key take-home points, for presenting to and giving to commercial cranberry growers.
  • Write better newsletter articles
  • I would be unlikely to relay info in twilight meeting or formal setting only because soils and nutrients are not my area of expertise, but I would definitely encourage specialists in soil/nut areas to use the info and/or the webinars.

Participant Comments from Post-Webinar Evaluation

  • I find the webinar format a very useful way to learn information.
  • I found the presentation done by Marvin Pritts, Eric Hansen, and Harold Van Es to be very well presented. The Soil Testing webinar in week 3 was not well presented, and I found the information provided to be of little value. Speaker went on talking about Dairy program in New York, information that was not necessary
  • Excellent series. For future viewing it might be nice to have an index with topic details as you do in question 15 above.
  • The series was great. Just hard to commit the time I would have liked to and focus completely on the webinar. In my case a manual or something like that would be useful to refer to sections of the webinars. Each webinar being its own section. I can listen to a webinar but I’d learn more if I had a hard copy to refer to and use in field situations
  • Very worthwhile!! I expect to learn a lot more as I re-watch each one, when developing my handouts.
  • I was hoping for a more enlightened approach to fertility management that really addresses biology and chemistry in the soil and their relationship. All of the information that I listened too seemed very conventional. I quit coming to the seminars.
  • Marvin and Harold were great speakers! Information was delivered in a straight forward easy to understand manner!
  • Very well planned out and organized. I enjoyed the series greatly.
  • Many of the areas discussed where very basic. Would have liked to hear more about measures growers are using successfully to address some of the nutrient and soil health issues successfully. Dr. Hansen did a good job of this in his sessions. The pre- and post -test had questions poorly worded and hard to interpret – choices did not match what info was given in webinars.
  • There did seem to be a fair amount of overlap when covering topics that seemed unnecessary. Overly reliant on Cornell Soil Health Assessment.
  • Very well done; great info and very well presented!
  • I think it was very well done, but a lot of the information I already knew, so it may not have been appropriate for me. But I would like our NRCS field staff to view the archived webinars.
  • I thought these were an excellent use of technology to disseminate research-based info to ext. specialists. Excellent work for the organizers and the speakers.
  • Would help to have handouts that could be given out with each webinar
  • My work is in tree fruit, viewed webinars to increase my competency in soil management. Great series!
  • Excellent!
  • I had to miss 2 because of scheduling conflicts. When the links were not timely, I was unlikely to go watch the missed webinar.
  • Well done, I need to view two of the webinars, then do the post test.
  • I was very impressed with the caliber of lectures. It was nice to have cross department programming and speakers from outside of the university – thank you.
  • In the future please make available the PowerPoint as a PowerPoint or a pdf handout of the PowerPoint. I spent a lot of time writing when I could have jotted a few notes on the handout and spent more time actively listening.
  • This was too basic on soils and not enough on crop particulars.
  • Even though the focus here was small fruits, I found many topics that will assist me in my area of tree fruit extension education.

Certificates of participation (Appendix D) or completion (Appendix E) were mailed to attendees 6 months after the webinar series finished, along with a post-webinar verification tool and beneficiary forms to capture how information learned during the series has been multiplied forward.

Appendix D: Certificate of Participation (attachment)

Appendix E: Certificate of Completion (attachment)

Results from Post-Webinar Verification Tool for Participating Educators/Multipliers

Twenty-six participants responded to a post-webinar verification questionnaire (Appendix F) regarding how they had utilized knowledge gained from the webinar series 6 months after the series concluded. Respondents were from 6 of the 13 NE States (24), along with Illinois (1) and Michigan (1). Fifty-eight percent indicated they had conducted one-on-one berry soil and nutrient management consultations with commercial berry growers as a result of their participation in the series for a total of 84 consultations. One participant indicated although he did not work with commercial berry growers he had conducted 5 one-on-one consultations with commercial Christmas tree growers. When asked if they now felt more confident in assisting commercial berry growers with the following they responded positively: interpretation of soil analysis results (80.8%), interpretation of foliar analysis results (76.9%), making field identification of nutrient imbalances in berry crops (73.1%), Suggesting corrections for: berry crop soil deficiencies (76.9%), foliar deficiencies (69.2%), and soil health issues (61.5%).

Appendix F: Post webinar verification tool for educators (attachment)

Eleven of the 26 respondents indicated they had held a grower training event, with 71 growers participating for a total of 76.5 contact hours. When asked if as a result of holding a berry soil and nutrient management training the 11 participants now felt more confident in assisting commercial berry growers with the following they responded positively: interpretation of soil analysis results (81.8%), interpretation of foliar analysis results (90.9%), making field identification of nutrient imbalances in berry crops (81.8%), Suggesting corrections for: berry crop soil deficiencies (90.9%), foliar deficiencies (90.9%), and soil health issues (90.9%).

When asked what further training would be helpful to improve their confidence and capacity to assist growers with nutritional issues the following responses were received:

  • Perhaps even more coverage on the roles of the nutrient inside the plant (their functions)
  • Not necessarily further training because I refer back to the webinars, but the opportunity to work with growers with real numbers and maybe review my recommendations with project staff. Having the opportunity to actually measure yield data for the 2013 season should be helpful.
  • I attended to further my own knowledge in order to direct County Master Gardeners. They didn’t feel comfortable dealing with Berry questions. I don’t work with any commercial growers.
  • Our county had 2 Master gardeners attend the berry webinars at our office. They found the webinars to be a great source of information and valuable. It was offered as a train-the-trainer. They do not feel confident to present information that they learned as of yet. Maybe future training for participating volunteers, have them sign a contract that they would need to present a class or two on the basics. That would help county educators who are doing multitasks, and you too, Cathy, and other specialist staff.
  • I am sorry but I don’t recall using this information. I have trouble digesting webinars.
  • More fundamentals in berry growing in our county
  • Just more practice to keep building my confidence!
  • Training on how to remediate soil compaction
  • Further information session/refresher on foliar symptoms and deficiencies
  • More info on field id of nutrient deficiencies; offer this training on an annual basis
  • Irrigation and interaction between nutrition and irrigation.
  • An in-person field trip where we can look at foliar deficiencies with the experts right there would always be helpful.
  • I would like to have the series of classes on DVD so I can watch them and re-learn the information as needed.
  • None, just more practice with lab and field results.

Participant Comments from Post-Webinar Verification Tool

  • Very glad I took part in this program! It has stretched me in my career and has brought me out of my comfort zone.
  • I plan to hold a training for a larger audience beyond those who are participating in the project. I think even more will be learned as they (participating growers) actually apply a practice this growing season.
  • Participated to broaden my experience but not a nutrition professional. Work with cranberries, so much of this was not applicable to our soil conditions. I still learned but not more confident for my growers. But plan to hold grower training in 2013.
  • If I practiced more this would be a “yes” (Q3c) as the information provided was helpful. I do hope to initiate more soil health workshops this year, or promote ones already planned with my clients. This would not specifically be berry growers, but many diversified vegetable operations also plant small fruit.
  • I have not yet held a grower training.
  • I am a commercial horticulture educator serving the nursery, landscape, turf and Christmas tree audience. I learned about small fruit as a result of these webinars. I used some of the info on interpreting soil test results to train my audience.
  • Too busy with freeze and drought (to hold a grower training this season). Excellent workshop. I learned a lot. Especially useful was introduction to Cornell’s soil health concepts- I was already familiar with soils and plant nutrition. Good to have presented as an integrated whole, rather than parts. Also liked background on soil tests methodology and different tests.
  • Thanks for the classes.
  • Great webinar series
  • Sorry, they were Christmas tree growers (not berry growers) but used information form these sessions. Thanks for letting me join in. Although I don’t work with berry growers, it was an excellent series on soils and plant nutrition.
  • It was an excellent and very useful project.

Milestone #3

Of those educators completing training, 15 will develop and deliver grower education programs using training materials provided to 10 or more commercial berry growers in their county or region. March 2012 – December 2012

Sixteen educator participants trained through the webinar series in turn provided training to 397 commercial berry growers through one-on-one consultations and/or meetings and workshops. To date, 11 educators (8 from New York, 1 from Maine, 1 from Connecticut) have developed and delivered grower education programs to commercial berry growers using a core PowerPoint presentation (Appendix G), handouts (Appendix H), recorded webinars and other project materials. At least 4 additional educators (2 from NY and 1 each from Michigan and Massachusetts) are actively planning berry soil and nutrient management grower training for 2013.

Appendix G: Berry Soil and Nutrient Management Presentation (attachment)

Appendix H: Grower Handout Packet Materials (attachment)

One educator participant, C. Armstrong, crafted 6 commercial cranberry grower fact sheets highlighting cranberry-relevant information from the webinar series and shared them with his commercial growers during his annual on-site IPM cranberry twilight meetings during summer 2012. They are also accessible from his website at: http://extension.umaine.edu/cranberries/grower-services/whats-new/.

Milestone #4

500 commercial berry growers from the Northeast will be invited to improve soil and nutrient management skills by attending grower training through monthly berry newsletters, e-mail event calendars and mailed invitations. 150 growers will participate in soil and nutrition management training. Changes in learning will be recorded through use of pre- and post-training berry crop soil and nutrient knowledge tests. January 2013 – March 2013

From August 2011 through January 2014, a total of 1250 growers (1233 berry and 17 turf growers) attended soil and nutrient management training included as part of various other educational venues where project information was presented (Table 10). On most of these occasions berry soil and leaf analysis kits, including instructions, submission forms, sample bags and boxes, and fact sheets on interpretation of results were provided free of charge for attending growers.

In addition to oral presentations, berry soil and nutrient management educational information was shared through written and/or electronic media. A special August 15, 2012 edition of NY Berry News (Appendix I) focused on soil and nutrient management for berry crops; this newsletter has a circulation of 580 including commercial berry growers, small fruit faculty and extension staff and private industry members.

Appendix I: New York Berry News Vol 11 No 8b August 2012 (attachment)

A list of other project-related publications follows below:

  1. Cook, E., 2012. Annual Nitrogen Fertility Management in Blueberries for Organic and Conventional Farms. NY Berry News 11 (6):12 June 21, 2012
  2. Heidenreich, C. 2012. Highbush Blueberries – Planting, Early Care and Nutrition. NY Berry News 11 (1): 28-31. January 23, 2012.
  3. McDermott, L. 2012. Managing Fertility in Bramble Crops. NY Berry News 11 (1): 226-28. January 23, 2012.
  4. Pritts, M. and Heidenreich, C. 2012. Late Summer is the Time for Leaf Analysis. New York Berry News Vol 11 (8b):1-2.
  5. Heidenreich, C. and McDermott, L. 2013. Day Neutral Strawberry Fertility Management. NY Berry News, 12(9):5, July 3, 2013.

Webinars from the original educator training series were made available for viewing through YouTube on the Cornell Berries playlist of the Cornell Horticulture YouTube Channel. As of 2/21/2014, these videos had been viewed 2,195 times (Table 11).

Milestone #5

Out of those 150 growers attending, 50 will be recruited to participate in first time soil/leaf analysis and soil health testing, along with receiving one-on-one assistance with interpretation of results and advice for implementing knowledge gained on farm from educators. March 2013 – September 2013

Of the 380 commercial berry growers receiving training in 2012, 40 were recruited by educators  to take part in on-farm berry soil and nutrient management demonstration trials by 11 project educators. Each grower received receiving complementary soil, leaf and soil health analyses in exchange for their participation. Growers received training and assistance in soil, leaf and soil health sampling, as well as preparation and shipping of samples. Additionally, they had one-on-one consultations with educators to discuss test results and select a new analysis-based management practice to try on-farm.

To assist in preparing for the one-on-one meetings with growers educators participated in a 4-hr hands-on learning event either live or remotely by webinar October 2, 2012. This educational event provided educators with training on and experience in how to interpret soil, leaf and soil health test results. This was accomplished through review and group discussion of 12 grower case studies from the project and culminated with development of grower recommendations based on test results. Berry soil and nutrient specialists and soil health specialists from Cornell University also participated in the group meeting providing additional training, resources, feedback and insights as needed. Later each educator met one-on-one with their growers to discuss test results and their implications on berry productivity.

Educators conducted either group or one-on-one training with grower participating in on-farm trials. Grower pre- and post-tests (Appendix J) were used to gauge changes in learning by training attendees. Answers were recorded for each question and % correct responses were calculated. Change in learning was calculated for each question as % correct responses post-test minus % correct responses pre-test. Table 12 provides a summary of pre- and post-test results by question. Total grower respondents for pre-test = 39; Total respondents for post-test = 28. Average change in learning was a positive 13.5; median change in learning was a positive 14.9.

Appendix J: Grower Pre- and Post-test (attachment)

During one-on-one meetings with educators, each grower selected a new management practice (as suggested by test results) to implement on-farm, to be compared with their standard practice. Plant growth and development, yield, and economics data were collected for both new and standard management practices in 2013 to evaluate costs/benefits of analysis based soil and nutrient management vs. calendar and/or plant age based fertilizer applications.

Roughly 80% of growers agreeing to participate in on-farm demonstration trials implemented one or more new techniques or made adjustments to their berry soil and nutrient management practices as a result of their participation in the project; of those, only 28.1% found themselves able to complete the requested data collection during the peak harvest season. None-the-less, those who were able to not able to collect harvest data provided observational data (plant growth and pest pressure) and/or anecdotal information by way of evaluating the success of their analysis-based treatment in comparison to their standard practice.

Of the nine growers collecting yield data, 6 saw slight to modest gains in yield in their “test” plots vs. their standard practice plots. There appeared to be no major difference between treatment and grower standard plots in terms of numbers of berries per unit or rotted berries per unit (Table 12a).

In terms of growth observations, growers either saw no differences or slight to modest improvement in plant growth and development in their “test” plots vs. their standard practice plots. (Table 12b).

There were no apparent differences in pest incidence (apart from weeds perhaps) between the treated plots and grower standard plots (Table 12c).

19 participating growers responded to a post-trial verification questionnaire (Appendix K); 89.5% found the training improved their understanding of berry crop soil and nutrient management; 100% indicated they found participating in an on-farm trial improved their understanding of berry crop soil and nutrient management. Here also, 78.9% indicated implemented one or more new techniques or made adjustments to their berry soil and nutrient management practices as a result of their participation in the project (Table 13a).

Appendix K: Grower post-trial verification questionnaire (attachment)

When asked, “Which techniques/procedures have you implemented on your farm?” the 19 respondents provided the following information:

Soil testing was by far the most adopted management practice of all those evaluated with 78.9% of respondents using soil analysis in the past; 15.8% did soil analysis as a result of participating in the project; the same percentage planned continue to do so in the future as a result of their project participation, resulting in an overall gain in terms of change in practice for soil analysis usage. Percentages were similar for analysis-based fertilizer applications (Table 13b).

Unlike soil testing, only 47.4% of respondents had done leaf testing in the past. Use of leaf analysis slightly less than doubled through project participation.

Soil health testing was not as commonly employed with only 21.1% of respondents having done soil health testing in the past. 42.1% tried soil health testing for the first time as a result of participating in the project; the same percentage planned to do so in the future as a result of their project participation, doubling usage of this management tool among participants.

Soil health improvement was another tactic not as commonly employed by commercial berry grower participants with only 36.8% of respondents having implemented soil health improvement practices in the past. 26.3% implemented soil health improvement practices for the first time as a result of participating in the project; 42.1% planned to do so in the future as a result of their project participation, likely more than doubling usage of this management tool among participants.

Soil health improvement tactics undertaken by grower participants as part of participating in the project included: compost additions, increased amounts of compost additions to rows, mulching, cover cropping, lime to increase soil pH (blueberries), applying manure, and use of various plowing techniques.

Soil health improvements berry growers planned to undertake in the future as a result of project participation included: applying manure, pre-plant cover cropping, crop rotation, use of biofumigants, various plowing techniques, use of the Cornell soil health test in difficult fields before cropping.

Other management techniques mentioned were the need to learn how to improve soil quality in established plantings, and the intent to incorporate the Cornell soil health test with other crops pre-plant.

When asked, “Have you used the knowledge learned from this project/ training in soil and nutrition management decisions for other crops on your farm?” 63.2 % of the 19 respondents said yes, 26.3% said no, half noting the caveat “but I plan to”; 0.11% were uncertain? (Table 13c).

As with berry crops a high percentage of respondents were already using soil analysis with non-berry crops also. 15.8% of the 19 respondents planned to do soil analysis in the future for their non-berry crops as a result of participating in the project.

Again, roughly the same percentages were already making analysis based fertilizer application for non-berry crops as well as planned to make analysis-based fertilizer applications in the future for their non-berry crops as a result of participating in the project.

Only 10.5% of respondents had done soil health testing for their non-berry crops in the past. 15.8 % did soil health testing with their non-berry crops a result of participating in the project. 63.2% planned to use soil health testing in the future for their non-berry crops as a result of participating in the project.

Soil health improvement was also not commonly employed by commercial berry grower participants with their non-berry crops with only 21.1% of respondents having implemented soil health improvement practices in the past. 15.8% implemented soil health improvement practices for the first time with non-berry crops as a result of participating in the project; 47.4% planned to do so with non-berry crops in the future as a result of their project participation, doubling usage of this management tool with non-berry crops in addition to berry crops.

Soil health improvement tactics for non-berry crops undertaken by grower participants as a result of participating in the project included: Reducing soil compaction, use of 3 cover crops/year buckwheat (x ), followed by rye prior to planting, continuing organic management practices already in use, crop rotation, biofumigants, more attention to cover cropping, and zone tillage.

Soil health improvements berry growers planned to undertake with their non-berry crops in the future as a result of project participation include: additional cover crops and compost additions, more attention to cover cropping and no-till or reduced till production practices.

Other management techniques mentioned were routinely using the Cornell soil health test and cover cropping on vegetable crop land.

Milestone #6

Changes in educator practice will be documented through post project educator interviews by the project coordinator. One-on-one interviews of participating growers will document adoption of new knowledge and practices. December 2013, 2014, 2015

A post-project educator verification questionnaire (Appendix L) was used to document changes in educator practice instead of one-on-one interviews in the hopes educators would not be hesitant to be completely candid in their responses.

Appendix L: Post-project verification tool for educators working with grower collaborators 

Nine of the 11 educators responded to a post on-farm demonstration trial questionnaire. Responses varied as to whether the on-farm trials were a success, with 66.7% indicating yes, 11.1% indicating no, and 22.2% being unsure. Educator comments clarified this variation in response; yes in terms of grower gain in knowledge and utilization of berry soil and nutrient management tools and no or don’t know in the sense that growers were not in many cases willing/able to collect the requested data during the busiest part of their production season that would assist them in evaluating the effectiveness of the treatment they had selected in comparison to their standard practice.

66.7% of educators reported their growers adopted changes in berry soil and nutrient management practices as a result of participating in on-farm demonstration trials. Changes included: routine use of Cornell soil health test preplant; starting their own composting process incorporating farm-generated materials, more closely monitoring soil pH and nutrient status.

Most educators felt confident in assisting with interpretation of test results and making suggestions for correction of deficiencies; those answering “no” to these questions indicated they had already felt very comfortable doing this prior to participating in the project. While 88.9% indicated they felt more confident in making field identification of nutrient imbalances in berry crops several felt more hands on experience would be beneficial.

77.8% of educators felt more confident in discussing soil health assessment techniques; the same percentage indicated they also felt more confident in making soil health recommendations after participating in the project but added they felt they still needed more expertise in this area.

Subsection b Cumulative Milestone Accomplishment Table (required)
Cumulative Milestone Accomplishment Table ENE11-120 (attachment)

Subsection c Assessment of Project Approach and Implementation: (what worked, what didn’t)

Using in-depth webinars as the educational delivery method in this instance was particularly successful; 50% or more of participants indicated they would likely not have attended the same 12 session(s) if they had been conducted as a 2-day workshop either 1-2 or 4-6 hours from their location rather than as webinars. Fifty-eight percent of participants found the recorded versions of the webinars to be as informative as the live webinars; 84% indicated recorded versions were as convenient as or more convenient than the live webinars as they could be viewed (and reviewed) at any time.

Things to be done differently to be beneficial in future endeavors would be to increase the educator/grower ratio in respect to on-farm demonstration trials. Having more educators involved with fewer numbers of growers would provide more time for educators to mentor growers during the process as well as assist with collection of data during peak harvest periods when growers are often short-handed and/or on very tight schedules.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Future Recommendations

Clearly this project has highlighted the need for additional research in soil health assessment and ensuing recommendations for soil health improvement as they relate to perennial crops such as berries. This was evident from the unanticipated outcomes described by the Cornell soil health team in section 5c.

Additional research is also needed in determining the most effective soil health improvement practices for ameliorating various soil health restraints for the same reason. This is being undertaken in part with the new strawberry project underway by Cornell graduate student Maria Gannet but comparable work needs to be done across other berry crops.

Subsequent educational work will need to be done as answers to these questions are forthcoming to keep both educators and growers current with the latest research-based thinking on berry soil and nutrient management.

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.