Energy use in farm production can be a significant contributor to per unit cost of commodities produced; depending on the commodity and farming practices the energy cost can be the difference between a profit and a loss in a growing season. The Farm Energy IQ (FEIQ) project was undertaken with the goal of helping agricultural producers recognize the importance and bottom-line impact of energy costs. Becoming knowledgeable enough to make wise decisions about energy procurement and usage can result in a competitive advantage.
FEIQ is a “train the trainer” curriculum designed to provide Ag Service Providers (ASP) with the level of expertise needed to effectively teach the farmers they serve. The project created a central library of information contained in 16 subject modules stored on the eXtension web site: http://articles.extension.org/pages/72595/northeast-farm-energy-iq-curriculum#.VPr4Hctuj3i.
The 16 modules form a progressive training sequence that begins with understanding energy fundamentals and modifying buying habits, then looks at specific energy use by type of farming, and concludes with applications of renewable energy technologies. The entire curriculum is taught over three days, but individual modules can also be taught on a standalone basis. Each module presents a consistent format of information, explaining the challenge, providing solutions, and quantifying benefits. Modules include two slide decks – one for ASPs to use teaching farmers – a factsheet, a case study and supporting information and resources. Authors are identified for each module and users are invited to contact authors for questions and one-on-one discussions.
The complete curriculum was taught in 2015 at three 3-day workshops in Vermont, Pennsylvania and New Jersey to 61 total participants who included employees of USDA-NRCS, Vermont Energy Conservation Service, Extension educators, graduate students and farmers. Surveys conducted after each workshop indicated overall that participants gained knowledge and ended each session with a much better understanding of the topic than they began with. Detailed analysis of learning outcomes was hampered by the wide range of experience and background knowledge among participants and the fact that not all respondents participated in all modules.
Since the spring of 2015 project team members have presented the FEIQ content a number of additional times including to 125 people at Penn State’s Ag Progress Days, 25 farmers at the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) annual conference, and at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. Negotiations are also underway with USDA, NRCS to present an FEIQ program in late 2016. Another project initiated as a result of FEIQ is a series of documentaries featuring farm modernization efforts based on FEIQ training materials produced in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy.
The broadest objectives for the FEIQ project were to develop qualified Ag Service Providers who would utilize the training and the resources to competently provide guidance while helping Ag Producers become more efficient in their day-to-day operations and overall more cost competitive. The specific performance target was that 60 agricultural service providers would provide energy-related services to at least 120 regional farmers, and 60 farm operators would make changes that reduce energy demand by 500 kW.
The FEIQ project team developed the comprehensive 16 module training course that includes a library of supporting material and taught this course to 61 people including service providers and farmers. The follow-up actions of trainees was not able to be verified.
An unplanned bonus feature that the team produced was a video recording of each of the 16 modules presented by the author. The team, having completed two of the three 3-day seminars, decided to record the third seminar that was conducted at Rutgers University for two reasons: 1) the attendance at the three seminars was less than predicted and 2) the content of the modules was so well developed and presented that converting them to YouTube videos was a compelling option to expand the audience for the training and increase their lasting educational value. See the eXtension web site for viewing and download: http://articles.extension.org/pages/72595/northeast-farm-energy-iq-curriculum.
Since the spring of 2015 project team members have presented FEIQ content a number of additional times including to 125 people at Penn State’s Ag Progress Days, 25 farmers at the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) annual conference, and at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. Negotions are also underway with USDA, NRCS to present an FEIQ program in late 2016. Another project initiated as a result of FEIQ is a series of documentaries featuring farm modernization efforts based on FEIQ training materials produced in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy.
Energy use in farm production can be a significant contributing cost to per unit cost of commodities produced. Depending on the type of commodity and farming practices the energy cost can be the difference between a profit and a loss in a growing season. The Farm Energy IQ (FEIQ) project was undertaken with the goal of helping to change the culture of agricultural producers from one that has little concern or interest in controlling energy costs to one that fully grasps the bottom-line impact and uses knowledge on the subject to make energy procurement and use a competitive advantage. FEIQ is a “train the trainer” curriculum designed to educate Ag Service Providers (ASP) so they gain a level of expertise to be qualified to transfer information to the agricultural producers they serve.
FEIQ is a library of information that includes recorded seminars that take the viewer through the presentations in the library and make available the author of each of 16 modules to answer specific questions. As such it remains a live and growing resource.
The FEIQ curriculum was designed to provide for each module a detailed overview with a supporting Factsheet and case study and support information to give the Ag service provider (ASP) a chance to become comfortable with and be able to share the information with farmers. Each module also provides a “Short Course” that the ASPs can share with their client while leaving the factsheet and support material on the topic.
Now the beauty of the FEIQ suite is the Ag Producer can take the information they have been provided and double back to the web site: http://articles.extension.org/pages/72595/northeast-farm-energy-iq-curriculum.
Here they are able to watch the original hour long video presented by the author of the module when they have the time to think and learn the subject. When they are ready to move forward they can contact the original ASP or they can even contact the author to ask questions and get guidance.
Performance Target Outcomes
We did conduct a survey after each of the sessions to weigh the impact of each. The data was rather difficult to interpret because many participants took part in some modules and not others so there was not a consistent number of participants. Another challenge was the wide varieties of life and education experiences of the participants. We found that the range of knowledge walking in the door was really broad. Overall the respondents found they gained knowledge and ended each session with a much better understanding of the topic than they began with.
Additional Project Outcomes
The FEIQ training was conducted at three separate events with the first being help at the Lake Morey resort in Fairlee, Vermont. The 3 day workshop had 21 attendees. In cross section of attendees included members of the local farming community, employees of the Vermont Energy Conservation Service, and employees of the USDA, NRCS. The second workshop was held on the main campus of Penn State University with 25 participants with a similar cross section of backgrounds but also included grad students and educators from the College of Agriculture. The third workshop was held at an affiliated research facility near the campus of Rutgers University with 15 attendees. This site was chosen because of the facilities use of biogas generated from nearby landfill for heating the main building as well as demonstration greenhouses that are part of the facility,
Since we completed the third seminar and completed the web site there has been continued interest in the FEIQ training. In August of 2015 FEIQ was the featured program at the Farm and Family education building at Ag Progress Days at the Penn State Rock Springs Research. About 125 participants sat through one or more recorded sessions, reviewed literature and participated in question/answer sessions. In January of 2016 FEIQ was showcased at the PA Farm Show in Harrisburg, PA where hundreds of people had a chance to learn about the FEIQ internet presence, and topics that are addressed there. In February FEIQ was a featured seminar at the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture annual conference where additional 25 farmers learned about the curriculum. This summer FEIQ will also be featured at Ag Progress Days.
So the FEIQ is an active program that continues to attract interest and build a following. I expect that over time that will continue to be true. What will have an impact is the future volatility in the energy market. Right now a large part of the low level of interest is attributed to historically low energy prices on all levels. While I would never wish for higher energy costs, the fact of the matter is we are only a major weather event away from price volatility. Of course there are many other factors that play in price volatility too, the point is when they cycle around again the FEIQ is positioned to answer the call for quality research based information to help Ag Producers lower energy costs and make good energy buying decisions
The format and high quality of the modules that comprise the library and the quality of the accompanying videos warrant their preservation into the future. When opportunities present a need to expand the library the new material should be created following the strict editing and quality standards that went into the first sixteen modules.