Training a network of educators for outreach on reduced-tillage organic feed and forage systems

Final report for ENE16-145

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2016: $66,570.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2019
Grant Recipient: Pennsylvania Certified Organic
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Leslie Zuck
Pennsylvania Certified Organic
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Project Information

Summary:

This project was terminated early, in 2018, due to the unforeseen loss of key staff responsible for implementing the project. The activities conducted while the project was active are reported below, and these indicate that there remains an interest among agricultural service providers and farmers in Pennsylvania to learn more about organic grain production.

Performance Target:

Twenty [20] agricultural service providers deliver university research-based information and technical support on transition to organic and certified organic production, including reduced tillage, diverse cover crop selection, inter-cropping, rotations and organic certification to 250 grain and/or dairy producers who manage 20,000 acres of grain crops.

Introduction:

There is a high demand for locally produced organic grain in the Northeast. Many conventional farmers are willing to step in to meet that demand, but do not possess the knowledge about organic standards, or support of the research community needed to successfully transition to an organic model. Lack of knowledge and support is a strong barrier to initiating and successfully completing the transition to organic production.

Our professional development project will educate 20 agricultural service providers who will in turn deliver university research-based information and technical support on transitioning to organic and certified organic production, including reduced tillage, diverse cover crop selection, inter-cropping, rotations and organic certification to 250 grain and/or dairy producers who manage 20,000 acres of grain crops.

The Penn State reduced-tillage in organic systems research is the keystone of this project. This professional development project takes the proven on-farm results from the Penn State reduced-tillage in organic systems research and disseminates it to a larger group of educators who in turn provide guidance and instruction to the farmers in their networks who can then transition to organic grain production.

 

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Mary Barbercheck
  • Dave Hartman
  • Ron Hoover

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

Building on the observations from the Penn State reduced tillage in organic systems research, this project seeks to increase the number of farmers able to access the necessary support and research needed to successfully transition to organic crop production methods. The educational approach for this grant relies on training agricultural service providers on organic production and certification standards and methods, then facilitating the service providers as they work within their network to train farmers. The outcome of this project will be increased success of farmers transitioning to organic feed and forage production that will contribute to the diversification and profitability of Northeast agriculture by helping to meet the growing demand for locally grown organic feed crops and securing organic premiums for their efforts.

Synopsis of Year 1 Educational Activities

In our first year we hosted both a field day and an Annual Meeting for Trainers. With these two events we educated 42 agricultural service providers and extension agents on how to help farmers adapt no-till organic production methods on their farms.

The first field day was held on July 21, 2017 at the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, PA. At that Field Day an instructor trained in no-till organic crop production methods spoke with 8 service providers and 15 farmers who visited our station, explaining the model and methods for participating in a no-till organic crop production method and how farmers could adapt these practices on their farms. Additionally, the 8 service providers who visited our station at this Field Day learned how they could help farmers in their networks adopt a no-till organic production method.

On July 28, 2017 we hosted our first Annual Meeting for Training at the Grange Fairgrounds in Centre Hall, PA. Our Annual Meeting for Trainers brought together 19 service providers, extension agents, NRCS, USDA, and nonprofit trainers to teach them organic crop production standards, and organic certification and transition requirements. Later, a key researcher from Penn State Extension spoke on results and lessons learned on reducing tillage in organic feed and forage cropping systems based on Penn State on-going research-station and on-farm research. Supports provided at this event included copies of the Organic Crop Agronomy Guide to all participants, and powerpoint presentations containing notes and guidance on the topics presented at the meeting.

In the first year of our project we have confirmed the need for locally produced organic certified grain, and the desire of conventional farmers to meet this need. This has been evidenced by the response we have received to our grant events and workshops; our participants have included Extension Agents, Service Providers, and other with direct access and exposure to farmers who are willing to adopt organic production methods but lack the support necessary to successfully do so.

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

75 agricultural service providers are selected for recruitment by the project team based on their knowledge and history of educational outreach and interest in organic grain production and will receive invitations to participate in the project. Outreach will begin in 2016 via email and direct contact with the assistance of extension educators and will consist of project goals and performance target, a timeline of participation, and how the project relates to the benefits received by farmers.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
75
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2016
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
July 31, 2017
Accomplishments:

The Project Advisory Team, consisting of 23 people, is in place and has been meeting regularly since 8-30-16 (8/30/16, 10,12,16, 12/2/16, 12/14/16).  Through conference calls  and email the team has discussed the performance target, timeline and benefits to farmers.  The team has set up  a shared Google drive folder with relevant documents.

42 agricultural service provider beneficiaries connected with the Project Advisory team and were invited to a Grant Workshop on March 15, 2017. The Grant Workshop, which was postponed due to inclement weather, would have provided the agricultural service beneficiaries with project goals and performance targets, a timeline of participation, and how the project relates to the benefits received by farmers. A half-day grant workshop was scheduled in July, to make up for the workshop that was postponed due to inclement weather. This workshop kicked off the grant events for Year 1, and addressed the first part of the March workshop agenda (organic reduced-tillage system experiments being conducted in the Northeast US, organic certification requirements, organic transition program requirements). The new date for a full grant workshop, which will cover all areas described above, is early 2018.

Milestone #2 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

40 agricultural service providers agree to participate in the program by the end of January 2017. Educators are presented with an information packet including an event schedule, resources, and detailed outcomes projections. Educators have the knowledge they need to commit to the project and incorporate it into their work plan.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
40
Proposed Completion Date:
January 31, 2017
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
July 31, 2017
Accomplishments:

The Project Team developed an application/registration form and website and has begun extensive outreach towards the goal of recruiting 40 agricultural service providers to participate in the program.  The Project Team created an outreach plan, which includes a list of listservs, mailing lists, websites and contacts where we will market the program.  PCO staff are compiling the packet of information as described above in Milestone 2 to send to registrants in January.  

 

Milestone #3 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Thirty [30] service providers complete initial training workshop in the first quarter of 2017 and learn about the organic reduced tillage system experiments being conducted in the Northeast US, organic certification requirements, organic transition program requirements, and organic technical assistance procedures.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
30
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
15
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
27
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2017
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
July 31, 2017
Accomplishments:

A training workshop was scheduled for March 15, 2017, in Spring Mills, Centre County, Pennsylvania.  42 agricultural service beneficiaries registered for this initial grant workshop. Due to inclement weather, the workshop was rescheduled for July 28, 2017.

A series of smaller workshops is scheduled, the first of which took place on July 28, 2017 at the Grange Fairgrounds. This workshop, our first Annual Meeting for Trainers, covered the topics of: organic reduced-tillage system experiments being conducted in the Northeast US, organic certification requirements, organic transition program requirements.

19 service providers took part in Annual Meeting for Trainers, held on July 28, 2017 at the Grange Fairgrounds in Centre Hall, Pa.

23 attendees (8 service providers and 15 farmers) took part in the grant’s first field, held on July 21, 2017 at The Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pa.

 

Milestone #4 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

The educators and service providers who enroll as participants, other Extension educators or specialists, PCO personnel and agency/industry partners identify 250 grain farmers with expressed interest in transitioning to organic to participate in cohorts of farmer-learners to receive education and technical support from project participants. Project leaders will facilitate the connection of interested farmers with appropriate service provider participants based on geographic area and/or farmers’ learning needs.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
30
Proposed Completion Date:
August 31, 2018
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

The project team has compiled a list of names of potential farmer participants that was shared with our list of agricultural service providers.  Farmers from this list were invited to 2017’s events, including a March 15 Grant Workshop (cancelled due to inclement weather), a July Field Day, and a July Grant Workshop.

The list will continue to be added to and revised throughout the tenure of the grant, as new farmers express interest in transitioning to organic production methods, and currently listed farmers transition to organic certification.

Milestone #5 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

The 30 trained service providers will create individual Action Plans for teaching/advising farmers including those in the farmer-learner cohorts. Actions may include any or all of the following examples, or other methods; Workshops, Field days/On-farm demonstrations, Meetings or webinars, Individual consultations. Action Plans will include target goals of how many farmers they hope to reach.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
30
Proposed Completion Date:
August 31, 2018
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

A session on creating Action Plans will be included in 2018’s first workshop agenda.

Milestone #6 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

20 service providers will receive update training by attending one of two field days per year at organic grain producing farms and/or research sites, as well as one annual 2-3 hour workshop/webinar that will be recorded, on relevant topics including the most current information about: organic cover crop based reduced tillage systems, and organic certification requirements. Winter 2017 – Summer 2019.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
20
Proposed Completion Date:
August 31, 2019
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Service providers will be expected to attend one of two field days per year. An updated training workshop/webinar will be planned for the winter months and will be recorded and made available along with the initial training workshop.

Milestone #7 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Throughout the project, the 20 service providers will receive individualized technical support as needed from the project team via phone conferences, and update training on latest research or topics of particular interest via periodic webinars or other methods.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
20
Proposed Completion Date:
August 31, 2019
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

The Project Team will provide and track this support as needed.

Milestone #8 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

20 agricultural service providers report annually to the project team about their activities teaching and advising farmers for verification of the performance target. The project team provides recording tools and assistance with verification. End 2017, end 2018, Aug 2019

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
20
Proposed Completion Date:
August 31, 2019
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Meetings have been scheduled to create recording tools that will be used to track agricultural service providers' activities and progress toward the performance targets.

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities and events conducted by the project team:

3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 On-farm demonstrations
7 Published press articles, newsletters
1 Workshop field days

Participants in the project’s educational activities:

10 Extension
2 NRCS
6 Researchers
19 Nonprofit
10 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
15 Farmers/ranchers
1 Others
27 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities

Learning Outcomes

48 Agricultural service providers reported changes in knowledge, skills and/or attitudes as a result of their participation.
15 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
48 Ag service providers intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned through this project in their educational activities and services for farmers
Key areas in which the service providers (and farmers if indicated above) reported a change in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness::

All grant workshop attendees were solicited via email and later phone to report on their perceived change in knowledge, attitude, skills and awareness of organic transition, post-grant workshop attendance. Additionally, grant workshop attendees are instructed upon attending grant events that they will be required to report on how many farmers they provide technical support to, how many total acres those farmers represent, and key areas where the service providers noticed a change in the knowledge, skills, attitude, and awareness of organic transition after the farmers were provided technical support. Agricultural service providers have been contacted and are required to submit their reports at the end of Quarter 1, 2018; all grant reporting tallies will be updated to reflect their report totals upon receiving their reports from agricultural service providers.

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers

Target #1

Target: number of service providers who will take action to educate/advise farmers:
20
Target: actions the service providers will take:

Twenty [20] agricultural service providers deliver university research-based information and technical support on transition to organic and certified organic production, including reduced tillage, diverse cover crop selection, inter-cropping, rotations and organic certification to 250 grain and/or dairy producers who manage 20,000 acres of grain crops.

Target: number of farmers the service providers will educate/advise:
250
Target: amount of production these farmers manage:

20,000 acres

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.