Final report for ENE17-146
Pesticides and nutrients are a major expense on New England farms. Accurate calibration of application equipment prevents over-application, which may result in financial loss, adverse environmental effects, and potential crop damage. Under-application or irregular application of materials can result in reduced yield, increased pest problems, or poor crop performance.
A group of agriculture service providers from New England and the Northeast region have completed a multi-year training on calibrating nutrient and pesticide application equipment. This project was funded by the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program and was delivered by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. The cornerstone of the project was two, two-day, in-person, hands-on trainings conducted in 2018 and 2019. Nine service providers completed training about calibrating nutrient application equipment, including spin spreaders, drop spreaders, box manure spreaders, liquid manure spreaders, fertigation, and planter-based fertilizer delivery. Twenty-one service providers completed training about calibrating boom sprayers, backpack sprayers, and airblast sprayers. A total of five webinars were conducted prior to the hands-on training to provide theoretical background and examples. Educational resources to support participants’ activities included a compilation of print, electronic, and video resources, calibration kits, and personal protective equipment. The calibration kits were distributed one per state and included measuring, adjusting, and cleaning tools for participants to use when demonstrating calibration techniques for farmers.
This project expands the pool of agricultural service providers who can teach and demonstrate equipment calibration. The participants in this program can offer a variety of educational programs to farmers, from one-on-one or small group calibration to larger group discussion or lecture. They have already shared calibration information with over 1800 farmers who manage nearly 60,000 acres of farmland around New England. These farms ranged from mixed vegetable operations of less than 10 acres to operations managing many hundred acres of corn, potatoes, wild blueberries, or hay. In addition to presentations, demonstrations, and one-on-one assistance, program participants wrote newsletter articles and developed videos.
Going forward, the participants will be available to teach programs and demonstrate calibration techniques for farmers. This will be helpful for experienced farmers looking to tune up their equipment and for new farmers who are calibrating equipment in their first season. Savings can be significant with proper calibration. For example, one trainee reported that their one-on-one assistance resulted in an overall reduction in pesticide application of 10% per application. With many applications made during the growing season, the cost and material savings is substantial.
This project expands the pool of agricultural service providers who can teach and demonstrate equipment calibration. The participants in this program have already shared calibration information with over 1800 farmers who manage nearly 60,000 acres of farmland around New England. These farms ranged from mixed vegetable operations of less than 10 acres to operations managing many hundred acres of corn, potatoes, wild blueberries, or hay. In addition to presentations, demonstrations, and one-on-one assistance, program participants wrote newsletter articles and developed videos.
25 agricultural service providers will teach at least 600 New England farmers (growing on at least 10,000 acres) to accurately and safely apply manure, fertilizer, and/or pesticides through practical calibration education and appropriately-scaled precision agriculture. At least 450 of the farmers reached will improve their calibration and application
Pesticides and nutrients are a major expense on New England farms, and their application brings associated health and safety risks. Improved accuracy prevents over-application, which can result in financial loss, adverse environmental effects, and potential crop damage. Regulatory requirements, including new licensing requirements, new label instructions, worker protection standards (WPS) and manure spreading restrictions heighten the need for farmers to be well-skilled at calibrating their application equipment and understanding personal protection equipment (PPE). Since many new pesticides are manufactured to be used at ultra-low rates, accuracy of measurement and delivery is very critical.
The number of new and small farmers in New England continues to grow, and many of these farmers lack formal on-farm training. Equipment calibration expertise is also limited among agricultural service providers, and training opportunities in the region has been limited. This project expanded the pool of agricultural service providers with the knowledge and skills to calibrate pesticide and nutrient application equipment. They are now well prepared to teach and advise farmers in need of support.
The cornerstone of this project was giving agricultural service providers hands-on practice operating and calibrating the nutrient and pesticide application equipment. Two, 2-day trainings were given, one focusing on nutrient application equipment the other on pesticide application equipment. Webinars provided the theoretical background to support the hands-on activities. A total of five webinars were offered prior to the hands-on trainings. Educational resources to support participants’ activities included a compilation of print, electronic, and video resources, calibration kits, and personal protective equipment. The participants then offered a variety of educational programs to farmers, from one-on-one or small group calibration to larger group discussion or lecture. In the final years of this project, the project director tracked participants’ delivery of this material to farmers (the final beneficiaries) and provided suggestions and guidance for educational programs.
In 2018, project information was sent to UMaine Extension agriculture staff (52 contacts) and New England Extension Directors, Ag Program Leaders, NRCS State Conservationists, and NRCS field operations directors (32 contacts), with the request that the state leaders share the information with their staff. This was shared widely within Maine NRCS, but otherwise we do not know how many individual program staff received this information.
13 service providers submitted applications for the nutrient application portion of the training. (Extension—8, NRCS—3, Soil and Water Conservation District—1, non-profit—1. From ME (6), NH (2), VT (2), CT (1), MA (2)) Two applicants were only interested in the sprayer calibration portion of the training. Two others were unable to attend due to other obligations. The full project includes another phase of recruiting.
13 service providers were accepted into the project for nutrient application equipment calibration. Two were only interested in the pesticide portion of the training, and two were unable to participate for other reasons. Recruiting continued through mid-April.
The following webinars were offered, with attendance indicated:
Calibrating Fertigation Equipment, April 19, 2018, Chuck Schuster and Andrew Ristvey, University of Maryland Extension (8 students, 2 organizers)
Calibrating Manure and Fertilizer Spreaders, April 25, 2018, Rick Kersbergen and Caragh Fitzgerald, University of Maine Cooperative Extension (6 students, 2 organizers)
A 2-day training was held May 2 and 3 in Durham, NH at the UNH research farm. 9 participants from four states (ME--5, NH--2, VT--1, CT--1) attended. They were primarily from Extension (5), with other participants from NRCS (2), Soil and Water Conservation (1), and a non-profit (1). See the agenda below for the specific material that we covered. Our focus was on understanding and using ways to measure and change nutrient delivery. Students received hands-on training, tools for conducting calibrations (including tarps, catch pans, buckets, scales, and clipboards), worksheets for use with farmers, and evaluation questions. We talked as a group and individually about outreach plans, although written plans were not developed. Specific topics were
Review project expectations
Review project support
IN the FIELD
Box manure spreader (hands-on, using volume calculations and weight, collection on tarps)
Liquid manure spreader (hands-on, using collection on tarps)
Corn planter (hands-on)
Fertigation (extensive discussion, examination of equipment)
Drop spreader (if not already done) (discussion and example calculations)
Wagtail spreader (hands-on, using catch pans)
Spin spreader (discussion, examination of equipment, process similar to wagtail spreader)
Liquid fertilizer (discussion, examination of equipment, process similar to corn planter)
Chest (spin) spreader (discussion, process similar to human-powered drop spreader)
Calibration kits were distributed to participants, one per state, plus an extra for Maine. These included: catch pans, buckets, tarps, hanging scales, gloves, and clipboards. Students also received handouts to be used for programs (fact sheets, calculation sheets, verification questions).
This was not completed as planned.
Survey conducted in December 2018/early January 2019, with 7 of 9 participants responding. Results showed the following activities were conducted by participants:
15 On-farm demonstrations
1 Webinars / talks / presentations.
As a result of one-on-one or small-group consultations, 20 farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness.
One participant had a calibration program scheduled, but both the original site and backup site fell through.
One participant noted that additional followup through the season would be helpful. This is a gap we know we need to work on.
Since attendance in that first round was less than we had hoped, we did more direct recruitment in January/February 2019. As before, recruitment emails were sent to 32 New England Extension Directors, Ag Program Leaders, NRCS State Conservationists, and NRCS field operations directors for distribution. 52 UMaine Extension agriculture staff were also contacted directly. In addition, we reviewed staff lists for different organizations in order to compile a long list of individuals to target. Emails were sent directly to agriculture programming staff with crop responsibilities at all the New England land grants (118 contacts), departments of agriculture (44 contacts), non-profits (29 contacts), and certified crop advisors (175 contacts). From this, at least 450 contacts were made in 2019. Anecdotally, it appears that personal contacts were most effective at recruiting--either one of the team members recruiting someone directly or another colleague specifically suggesting the program to them.
The following webinars were conducted:
3/15 Backpack sprayer calibration
4/4 . Boom sprayer calibration
4/25. Airblast sprayer calibration
The hands-on training was offered May 8-9, 2019, in Durham, NH. 17 participants from 4 states (ME--12, NH--3, VT--1, DE--1) attended. One additional participant had to cancel at the last minute due to travel complications. They were primarily from Extension (14), with other participants from NRCS (1), industry (1), and a non-profit (1). See the agenda below for the schedule of the two days. Students received hands-on training, tools for conducting calibrations (including measuring cups, stopwatches, tools to make adjustments, tools for cleaning nozzles, safety equipment (gloves, chemical-resistant aprons), digital flow meters) worksheets for use with farmers, and evaluation questions. We talked as a group and individually about outreach plans, although written plans were not developed. The agenda for the two days was:
Wednesday, May 8
- 12-1. Lunch, discuss materials, tools, introduce planning and reporting templates.
- 1-4:30 Calibrate airblast sprayers
- Check in at hotel. Clean up/dry off.
- 5:45, meet in hotel lobby and walk to dinner (6PM reservation).
Thursday, May 9
- Continental breakfast at hotel.
- Check out.
- 8-10 Boom sprayers
- 10-12 Backpack sprayers
- 12-1:30 lunch and next steps
Calibration kits were distributed one per participating state, with extras distributed in Maine.
All three webinars were conducted prior to the in-person training. Training ideas and questions were discussed at the in-person training.
Surveys conducted October, 2019, January, 2020, and November, 2021. See section below "Performance Target Outcomes" for the results of these surveys.
Planning was done informally, through discussions at the trainings and emails connected with reporting activities.
This worked best in Maine, where most participants and 2 of the project leaders are from and informal support was available. More concerted followup did not occur, in part due to the pandemic in the latter part of the project.
Milestone Activities and Participation Summary
Educational activities and events conducted by the project team:
Participants in the project’s educational activities:
The 23 participating service providers increased their ability to calibrate
manure spreaders (liquid and box spreaders)
ground-driven fertilizer delivery systems (such as corn and potato planters, drop spreaders)
planter delivering liquid fertilizer
wag-tail and spin spreaders
fertilizer injectors for high tunnels (management tips, not standard calibration, due to the way these tools are used in tunnels)
This was confirmed by observation of the participants as they conducted the hands-on training.
The farmers listed received one-on-one or small group training and learning was confirmed with individual conversations.
Performance Target Outcomes
Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers
25 agricultural service providers will teach at least 600 New England farmers (growing on at least 10,000 acres) to accurately and safely apply manure, fertilizer, and/or pesticides through practical calibration education and appropriately-scaled precision agriculture.
57,848 acres. Commodities: potatoes, wild blueberries, vegetables, tree fruit, small fruit, hay/pasture, corn.
- 50 Consultations
- 4 Published press articles/newsletters
- 34 Webinars/talks/presentations
- 18 Workshops/field days
- 2 Exhibit at Maine Farm Days; video
From 2019-2021, three surveys were sent to the 23 participants in the two calibration trainings. These surveys requested information about their activities, farmer participation, and verified changes made on the farms. 15 of the participants responded to at least one survey. 12 of these reported conducting at least one educational activity. Three participants changed jobs during the project timeframe, and this affected their ability to participate in the project. The COVID-19 pandemic also severely affected the service providers' ability to program in this area. Early in the pandemic, staff were focusing on more immediate needs in the farm community as well as disruptions to their own work and family lives. In-person meetings were prohibited or difficult. By the second year of the pandemic, activities were still limited and most in-person events were still not happening. It is at these in-person events that it is easiest to get details from farmers about changes or potential changes.
Performance Target Outcomes - Farmers
The changes made by farmers were verified by survey, direct communication, or observation. Changes included performing calibration after the program, and, for sprayers, changing tips and using water-sensitive paper. With limitations on in-person programs and large demands and changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was not possible to have the type of programming and follow-up that would have allowed us to verify more activity changes. Most changes were the result of one-on-one consultations with farmers.
Additional Project Outcomes
One participant in this program replicated parts of the program for training in another state.