2016 Northeast SARE Regional Cover Crops Training

Final Report for ENE15-141

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2015: $134,443.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Northeast
State: Delaware
Project Leader:
John Clendaniel
Delaware State University
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Project Information

Summary:

 

The need and interest

The strong participation and high level of enthusiasm for the February 2014 National Cover Crops Conference co-sponsored by North Central Region SARE and the Howard Buffet Foundation provided evidence of the interest in cover crops and soil health that exists currently among agricultural service providers and farmers nationwide. Additional evidence of regional interest in educational programs about cover crops and soil health came from needs assessment surveys conducted by SARE state coordinators for their 2014-2017 state program plans. Four state coordinators found cover crops and soil health to be top interest areas among the agricultural service providers they polled. Finally, the inclusion of soil health and cover crops in NRCS strategic training priorities demonstrates that not only is there keen national interest in advancing the implementation of cover cropping, but that it was an opportune time for Northeast SARE to engage in efforts to provide education and support for the adoption of cover crops and other beneficial practices to improve soil health.

Because of the strong interest among agricultural service providers for professional development in soil health and cover crops topics, this regional workshop was developed as a train-the-trainer professional development event, which meshed well with existing educational programs or several state coordinators.

The workshop

A 13-member planning committee comprised of researchers and educators from around the region developed the workshop agenda, which deliberately addressed the diverse crops and climate in the region, and its format, which included diverse participants from each state attending in teams. Teams had at least one farmer, one NRCS representative, one Extension professional and a designated team leader. Additional team members were from industry, research, non-profits, etc. Each team agreed to meet prior to the event, attend together, and perform follow-up educational activities.

The regional workshop took place from noon March 29 to noon March 31, 2016 and included a half-day field tour of USDA ARS projects at the Belstville Agricultural Research Center (BARC) in Beltsville, MD. 94 participants and 23 speakers attended the training, heard presentations and engaged in discussion about a range of cover crop topics including species, varieties and mixes, seeding rates and establishment techniques, termination methods and equipment, and fitting cover crops into different crop rotations. Video and PowerPoints from the presentations are posted here: www.sare.org/cover-crops-training.

The post-workshop outcomes

All 11 teams (RI and CT having a joint team) that attended the workshop submitted a plan under a special NESARE partnership grant initiative and received funding to conduct cover crop demonstration and education activities in all 12 northeast states. These projects will unfold over the next one to two years.

In a follow-up survey administered to all 94 participants, 45 respondents (7 farmers and 38 service providers) rated their knowledge gained in 7 topic areas, for a total of 314 ratings. More than 80% (253) of the ratings indicated that the workshop greatly or moderately increased participants’ knowledge in these topics areas: cover crop species and mixes, planting dates in different cropping systems, cover crop establishment methods, cover crop termination & cash crop planting methods, the role of cover crops in nutrient management, the role of cover crops for soil health improvement, and equipment innovations for cover cropping. 

Follow-up actions reported in the survey included 6 of 7 farmers taking one or more of these new cover cropping actions:  planting a new cover crop species or mix, planting cover crops in a new field or crop, using a new establishment technique, and/or a new termination technique. 20 of the 38 responding service providers reported recommending one or more of the same actions to farmers since the workshop.

video-and-powerpoints-of-nesare-regional-cover-crops-for-soil-health-training

Workshop Welcome

Agenda

Field Tour Agenda

Speaker Bios

Performance Target:

80 service providers and farmers who increase knowledge and skills through this training event will form implementation teams with competencies and intention to deliver education programs for farmers about cover crops to improve soil health.

Introduction:

The strong participation and high level of enthusiasm for the February 2014 National Cover Crops Conference co-sponsored by North Central Region SARE and the Howard Buffet Foundation provided evidence of the interest in cover crops and soil health that exists currently among agricultural service providers and farmers nationwide. Additional evidence of regional interest in educational programs about cover crops and soil health comes from needs assessment surveys conducted by SARE state coordinators for their 2014-2017 state program plans. Four state coordinators (in Delaware, Maine, Maryland and Massachusetts) found cover crops and other practices for improving soil health to be top interest areas among the agricultural service providers they polled. Finally, the inclusion of soil health and cover crops in NRCS strategic training priorities demonstrated that not only is there keen national interest in advancing the implementation of cover cropping, but that it was an opportune time for Northeast SARE to engage in efforts to provide education and support for the adoption of cover crops and other beneficial practices to improve soil health.

At the 2014 Northeast SARE Administrative Council (AC) winter meeting, the council expressed support for identifying and acting on ways to continue the momentum generated by the national conference and increase knowledge about and adoption of cover crops in the Northeast Region. A regional conference was one of the options recommended by a subgroup of the AC (Lauchlin Titus, Dean Hively and Jason Challandes – PDP liaison to the AC) who met to generate ideas for continued efforts by Northeast SARE to promote use of cover crops and related soil health improvement practices in the Northeast. This idea has been developed in this regional training event proposal

Because of the strong interest found among agricultural service providers for professional development in soil health and cover crops topics, the regional conference concept presented to the AC had a strong emphasis on professional development, and thus meshed well with the educational programs planned by the state coordinators from the above-mentioned states. Participation in the regional conference would be integrated into the suite of learning opportunities they provide. This conference would also provide an opportunity to extend the results of numerous researchers and educators who have been funded by Northeast SARE for work on cover crops and soil health, and would build on regional efforts such as the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee to the Chesapeake Bay Program (STAC) that met in Maryland in 2008 and identified opportunities for expansion of cover crops and made recommendations for programs to increase implementation of cover cropping practices.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Jason Challandes

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

After the Northeast SARE AC approved the development of the training and Jason Challandes agreed to be the Coordinator, a planning committee was formed from 13 professionals around the region. The team included AC members, SARE staff, researchers, and extension educators. Regular conference calls were held to develop the focus, format, content, speakers, and eventually agenda of the event. Throughout the process, the planning committee made sure to make the training relevant for the diverse agriculture conditions and sectors throughout the region. The field tour was planned with a subgroup of the planning committee and ARS staff via conference calls and a site visit in Beltsville, MD.

In addition to the Coordinator, the planning committee included Sonia Schloemann, University of Massachusetts, Extension Small Fruit Specialist, NESARE Massachusetts State Coordinator; Steven Mirsky, Agriculture Research Service, Research Ecologist, Researcher in cover crop systems; Masoud Hashemi, University of Massachusetts, Extension Associate Professor, Researcher in integrating cover crops into farming systems; Ellen Mallory, University of Maine, Extension Sustainable Agriculture Specialist and Assistant Professor of Sustainable Agriculture, NESARE Professional Development Program Coordinator; Sally Kepfer, Delaware Natural Resources Conservation Service, State Resource Conservationist; Charlie White, Penn State UniversityExtension Associate in Sustainable Agriculture, NESARE Pennsylvania State Coordinator; Nevin Dawson, University of Maryland, Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator, NESARE State Coordinator; Lauchlin Titus, Ag Matters LLC, Certified Professional Agronomist and Certified Crop Advisor, NESARE Administrative Council member; Ray Weil, University of Maryland, Professor, Researcher in multi-purpose cover crops; W. Dean Hively, Agriculture Research Service, Research Soil Scientist, Researcher in Remote sensing and field sampling of cover crop and commodity cover crop performance; Thomas Morris, University of Connecticut, Professor, Regional Coordinator for NESARE Professional Development Program; and Janet McAllister,University of Connecticut, NESARE Professional Development Associate.

Months prior to the event, team leaders were identified in each state (Rhode Island and Connecticut were a joint team). These team leaders included SARE state coordinators, NRCS professionals, and researchers and extension educators. The team leaders then organized their teams, which were required to have at least one NRCS, farmer, and extension representative. The teams could have additional participants as desired such as from industry, non-profit, research, and other organizations. The teams were originally asked to have 3-6 participants, however this maximum number was later increased because of lower than expected expenses. The teams were formed with an understanding that they were expected to meet prior to the event, attend the training together and perform follow-up activities with the help of dedicated NESARE funding.

The Northeast SARE Regional Cover Crops for Soil Health Training was held March 29-31, 2016 in Baltimore, MD. 94 participants and 23 speakers attended the event. More details are provided in the accomplishment section. Participants were provided a flash drive that contained all of SARE’s publications, plus a collection of scientific articles and guides provided from researchers and educators from the region. Participants also received copies of SARE’s books Managing Cover Crops Profitably and Building Soils for Better Crops. Following the event, a survey was developed by Janet McAllister, Northeast SARE Professional Development Associate, and distributed in August of 2016 to all participants. 45 of the 94 participants responded to the survey.

Milestones

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

Publications

The training started on March 29, 2016 at noon with a half–day of classroom style presentations. The next day included a morning of presentations followed by a half-day field tour of ARS projects at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC) in Beltsville, MD. Participants were split into three groups and rotated through three stations. The training concluded with a half day of presentations, which included a farmer panel and a session that allowed teams to meet, plan, and discuss ideas with SARE staff and other teams. The training included broader plenary sessions from experts around the region and nation and breakout concurrent session split by grain and fruit & vegetable topics.

The event was filmed by professional videographers, edited, and posted as individual sessions alongside the speakers’ PowerPoint presentations on SARE’s national website at www.sare.org/cover-crops-training.

Following the event, a survey was developed by Janet McAllister, Northeast SARE Professional Development Associate, and distributed in August of 2016 to all participants. 45 of the 94 participants responded to the survey.

 

The 94 participants at the training were identified from the following sectors:

24 Extension

20 NRCS

20 Farmers

12 Researchers

8 Industry

6 Other

4 Non-profit

Assessment of Project Approach and Implementation

There were many aspects of this project that were critical to its success. The first was the long planning period. The NESARE AC started discussions of the training more than two years prior in February 2014. This allowed ideas and objectives to really be fleshed out and aim for long-term benefits. Another key aspect was the large planning committee of people with various backgrounds and locations. In addition to the planning committee, it was important to have a few people committed to doing a lot of the work while taking input from the committee as a whole. This included Janet McAllister, NESARE Professional Development Associate, and Jason Challandes the Coordinator accomplishing much of the required logistics. Additionally, Steven Mirsky from ARS was a crucial advisor, helping to lock in speakers, coordinating the BARC tour of research plots, and advising on last minute details as needed.

Another key element for long-term success was identifying committed team leaders early in the process. They did need regular encouragement to form and communicate with team members, but this communication created teams that were be more likely to work well together during and after the workshop. The team structure also streamlined communications for the event coordinator, who communicated with team members through the team leader.

An additional feature that was not part of the original plan was having the workshop professionally videotaped and edited to become a lasting educational resource. The videos have been posted on SARE’s national website alongside the PowerPoint presentations of the speakers. This will allow beneficiaries to continue gaining knowledge into the future.

Participants also indicated that the unique format of participants attending as teams as well as the diverse agenda was important to them. The follow-up survey showed that nearly 100% of respondents found all of these aspects of the workshop beneficial: sessions with presentations by cover crop specialists, the field tour, farmer panel, attending the workshop as part of a team, the team planning session, and informal networking.

One more strength of the project was the ability to offer teams the opportunity to apply for post-event funding to conduct educational activities in their states. 36 of 41 (88%) respondents indicated their interest and motivation were enhanced by the opportunity to obtain post-workshop funding in their state.

The biggest difficulty came from administrative problems with participant travel reimbursements and farmer stipends. This process should be planned out thoroughly with University or organizational administrators very early in the planning process for an event like this. This should also be a strong consideration when appraising an organization’s ability to successfully implement this type of project.

 

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Outcomes

a. Performance target outcome data and discussion 

All 11 teams who attended the workshop applied for and were awarded grants of up to $10,000 in direct expenses under a special cover crops initiative in the Partnership Grant program to conduct educational activities in all 12 northeast states. These projects include educational events such as field tours, demonstration plots, speaker presentations, workshops and ongoing collaborations between NRCS, extension, farmers, researchers, and industry.

In a follow-up survey to the 94 workshop participants, 45 respondents (7 farmers and 38 agricultural researchers, educators and other service providers) rated their knowledge gains in 7 topic areas for a total of 314 ratings (one person did not answer a question). More than 80% (253) of the rating responses indicated the workshop greatly or moderately increased participants’ knowledge in the topic areas of cover crop species and mixes, planting dates in different cropping systems, cover crop establishment methods, cover crop termination & cash crop planting methods, the role of cover crops in nutrient management, the role of cover crops for soil health improvement, and equipment innovations for cover cropping. Only 6 responses (less than 2% of the 314 ratings) indicated no knowledge gain in individual categories.

Survey participants responded to a question about actions taken since the workshop and intention to take actions regarding use of cover crops (for farmers) or recommendations for cover crop usage ( for service providers. Responses revealed that:

4 farmers planted and 20 service providers recommended a new cover crop species (3 farmers and 9 service providers intended to plant or recommend within 6 months)

3 famers planted and 20 service providers recommended a cover crop in a new field or crop (4 farmers and 9 service providers intend to)

3 farmers used and 19 service providers recommended a new establishment technique (4 farmers and 10 service providers intend to)

2 farmers used and 12 service providers recommended a new termination technique (5 farmers and 16 service providers intend to).

b. Beneficiary outcome stories

Comments provided via the survey were overwhelmingly positive and ranged from specifics about knowledge gained, to particular aspects of the training that were helpful, to how they are already using knowledge gained on their farms or in their programs.

A researcher commented: “Quotes from different speakers greatly improved my understanding of the role of cover crops in soil health improvement. I have a better understanding about the amount of dry matter needed to raise and maintain soil OM %. I have a renewed sense of devotion to cover cropping after the meeting - I learned how take a systems approach to agriculture and, more importantly, learned strategies for incorporating cover crops in a production system where they have previously not been utilized”.

An extension educator commented, “The event was one of a kind and well received by all participants”.

A consultant commented, “The conference, interaction and education experience was excellent”.

Other comments indicated how the training would affect future activities. An NRCS professional wrote, “Conference presentations and diversity of presenters was excellent. NY team walked away with a successful work plan and the deliverables are being implemented and developed for upcoming programs”.

A researcher commented, “I was inspired by the resulting field conditions following the tillage radish in one of the fields at the Beltsville Research Center. We are in the process of trying to adjust field conditions (namely pH) so that we can use the tillage radish in our cropping system.”

Some survey respondents indicated actions they have already been taking before the workshop. An extension educator added, “I learned about some innovative methodologies that I will use in educating farmers and students. In fact I, with the help from NRCS-MA, organized a no-till/cover crop corn system for dairy farmers on July 20. We had a panel of 4 dairy farmers who already transitioned to no-till/cover crop system to answer any concerns that some farmers may have to move away from conventional corn production.”

An extension educator and farmer wrote, “I did a summer cover crop trial in a high tunnel using sunn hemp. I also farm 5 acres of pumpkins and I rolled wheat and no till planted for the first time this year after presentations and discussions at the meeting. I used a roller crimper to roll down the crop at milk stage and sprayed with roundup.”

A researcher commented, “As a result of collaborations at the meeting, I was able to identify a wider range of potential cover crop species that might be successful despite our difficulties with low pH, low fertility, dry ground, and compaction. We have experimented with different types of seeding methods and equipment to get the best establishment out of various seed types. I speak weekly with the grower who also attended the conference and he intends to try a new cover crop in his rotation next year based on findings from my work this summer. We both returned with new excitement and he intends to take large amounts of acreage out of production this year so that he can incorporate cover crops.”

Another researcher wrote about how the true measurable outcomes will come in the future, “There have not been any measurable outcomes but I can assure you that my enthusiasm for cover cropping leads me to ask new and exciting questions each day. I thank the organizers for helping me to confirm that this aspect of agriculture and crop management is well worth spending the rest of my life studying.”

c. Additional outcomes discussion

Although it was intended that collaborations would be formed and strengthened, the response in this regard was overwhelmingly positive and, in fact, notes about new collaborations were the most frequent comments.

An industry representative wrote, “Collaborations have expanded. Contacts made and networking from the conference were very beneficial”. An extension educator added, “Seedway is donating seed for the cover crop trials in our state and even more farmers have decided to plant our trial than we had anticipated! The industry, NRCS, Extension, farmer teams were a great idea! Thanks.” Another extension educator commented, “I believe as an outcome of the workshop I have a closer relationship with NOFA, generated a factsheet with collaboration from UMaine and NRCS, and I'm in the preliminary process of organizing a multi-state event to promote no-till/cover crop system.” And another added, “I met a local grain farmer and plan to work with him in the future. I spoke with the Beltsville farm manager about no till transplanters and have purchased one since and also spoke to him about the vetch/tomato system. We plan to replicate the vetch/tomato bed system used at Beltsville with a local farmer”. A researcher commented, “Very helpful to meet others throughout the northeast, to bring together farmers, researchers, NRCS, and Extension to create more of a community and network. The meeting overall was excellent and I think a lot of good will come of it.”

Additionally, this training acted as a springboard for the Northeast Cover Crops Council, which had its first meeting immediately following the training on the afternoon of March 31, 2016. The University of Maryland was later awarded a Professional Development Program grant of $144,859 (ENE16-144) to facilitate the formation of the council and an online cover crop decision support tool customized for each state. This council is building on and continuing collaborations begun at this training workshop and it will continue to exchange research results and recommendations between researchers, extension educators, farmers, industry representatives, and NRCS.

The document attached below summarizes all the responses to the post-workshop survey. 

Cover_Crop_Workshop_Survey_Responses_9-14-2016

 

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The training started on March 29, 2016 at noon with a half–day of classroom style presentations. The next day included a morning of presentations followed by a half-day field tour of ARS projects at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC) in Beltsville, MD. Participants were split into three groups and rotated through three stations. The training concluded with a half day of presentations, which included a farmer panel and a session that allowed teams to meet, plan, and discuss ideas with SARE staff and other teams. The training included broader plenary sessions from experts around the region and nation and breakout concurrent session split by grain and fruit & vegetable topics.

The event was filmed by professional videographers, edited, and posted as individual sessions alongside the speakers’ PowerPoint presentations on SARE’s national website at www.sare.org/cover-crops-training.

Following the event, a survey was developed by Janet McAllister, Northeast SARE Professional Development Associate, and distributed in August of 2016 to all participants. 45 of the 94 participants responded to the survey.

 

The 94 participants at the training were identified from the following sectors:

24 Extension

20 NRCS

20 Farmers

12 Researchers

8 Industry

6 Other

4 Non-profit

Assessment of Project Approach and Implementation

There were many aspects of this project that were critical to its success. The first was the long planning period. The NESARE AC started discussions of the training more than two years prior in February 2014. This allowed ideas and objectives to really be fleshed out and aim for long-term benefits. Another key aspect was the large planning committee of people with various backgrounds and locations. In addition to the planning committee, it was important to have a few people committed to doing a lot of the work while taking input from the committee as a whole. This included Janet McAllister, NESARE Professional Development Associate, and Jason Challandes the Coordinator accomplishing much of the required logistics. Additionally, Steven Mirsky from ARS was a crucial advisor, helping to lock in speakers, coordinating the BARC tour of research plots, and advising on last minute details as needed.

Another key element for long-term success was identifying committed team leaders early in the process. They did need regular encouragement to form and communicate with team members, but this communication created teams that were be more likely to work well together during and after the workshop. The team structure also streamlined communications for the event coordinator, who communicated with team members through the team leader.

An additional feature that was not part of the original plan was having the workshop professionally videotaped and edited to become a lasting educational resource. The videos have been posted on SARE’s national website alongside the PowerPoint presentations of the speakers. This will allow beneficiaries to continue gaining knowledge into the future.

Participants also indicated that the unique format of participants attending as teams as well as the diverse agenda was important to them. The follow-up survey showed that nearly 100% of respondents found all of these aspects of the workshop beneficial: sessions with presentations by cover crop specialists, the field tour, farmer panel, attending the workshop as part of a team, the team planning session, and informal networking.

One more strength of the project was the ability to offer teams the opportunity to apply for post-event funding to conduct educational activities in their states. 36 of 41 (88%) respondents indicated their interest and motivation were enhanced by the opportunity to obtain post-workshop funding in their state.

The biggest difficulty came from administrative problems with participant travel reimbursements and farmer stipends. This process should be planned out thoroughly with University or organizational administrators very early in the planning process for an event like this. This should also be a strong consideration when appraising an organization’s ability to successfully implement this type of project.

 

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Future Recommendations

The response to the training at the event, in post-event surveys, and through the follow-up activities, funded through NESARE’s special initiative and currently being implemented, show the benefits of train-the-trainer team projects such as this. The model used for this professional development workshop and follow-up action plans can be used in many topic areas to disseminate research, improve communications, and guide future research.

Requiring teams to have diverse participants with expectations of follow-up education activities improved collaborations and increased participant intention. According the survey, informing teams of post-event funding was also important for recruitment and motivation. The survey also showed that a diverse agenda is appreciated and showed that nearly 100% of respondents found all of these aspects of the workshop beneficial: Sessions with presentations by cover crop specialists, the field tour, farmer panel, attending the workshop as part of a team, the team planning session, and informal networking.

Information Products

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.