Developing Technical Skills of Service Providers in the Northeast to Assist Farmers with Transition to No-Till

Final report for ENE18-149

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2018: $171,222.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2022
Grant Recipient: University of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Dr. Heather Darby
University of Vermont Extension
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Project Information

Summary:

Adoption of no-till on farms within our region has been slow due to concerns about increased pest issues and cool wet springs delaying growth and suppressing yields. However, recent assessments done by Kersbergen (2014) indicated that growers can save 5.7 gallons of fuel per acre and save 2.75 hours of labor per acre, for an overall savings of $55 per acre by adopting no-till. Benefits of no-till combined with cover cropping include reduced erosion losses and improved water conservation (Franzlubbers, 2005), improved cropping system function (Snapp et al. 2005) stable or improved crop yields (Bernstein et al. 2011), increased soil quality (Mirsky et al. 2012; Zinati 2013), reduced labor and energy costs (Kersbergen 2014), and improved nutrient efficiency (Adeli et al. 2011). Farmers are increasingly interest in converting to no-till but need technical support to be successful. The technical service providers (TSP) who support farmers in their decision making, need training that will enable them to help farmers address their concerns and reach feasible solutions for implementing and realizing the benefits of no-till. The goal of this project was to provide a no-till intensive to build the skills of TSPs that allow them to assist farmers with transitioning to no-till. 

The project team developed and delivered a professional development curriculum for TSPs that included an online course with in-field training.  There were 58 TSPs from the Northeast that completed the online course and in-field intensive trainings. The 8-module online course was hosted through the Extension Foundation Moodle platform.  The complete online course can be found at the following link: https://campus.extension.org/course/view.php?id=1606. Following the online course, intensive in-field trainings were held in MA, ME, and VT to provide further hands-on no-till education to TSPs. Intensives allowed participants to learn more about equipment, soil health, and integration of no-till into local farms. Technical Service Providers were also provided learning opportunities (conferences, webinars, field days) throughout the project period to continue their education. Virtual office hours were offered as a means to provide support to TSPs as they work with farmers to implement no-till.

The TSPs involved in the training program reported that they would use the knowledge they gained with the 283 farmers they advise on over 43,000 acres.  Following the training course, TSPs felt more confident in their abilities to help farmers troubleshoot no-till systems. On the Pre-Course Training Survey 65% of TSPs perceived their ability to troubleshoot as ‘good’, ‘very good’ and ‘excellent’, with 31% selecting ‘poor’. In the Post-Webinar Training Survey 97% perceived their ability as ‘good’, ‘very good’ and ‘excellent’, with 0% selecting ‘poor’. Attendees reported the most knowledge gained in the topic areas of agronomy, manure management,  fertility management, economics, and equipment. Finally, 35 TSPs reported implementing their new knowledge and skills with the farmers that they work with. Through this project TSPs worked with 153 farms to convert 21, 390 acres to no-till reduced inputs costs $1,069,500 for those farms. 

 

Performance Target:

Performance target for service providers

50 Technical Service Providers who increase knowledge and troubleshooting skills related to no-till practices in a livestock forage cropping system will provide targeted and efficient technical assistance to 200 farmers who manage 40,000 acres of forages.

Performance target for farmers

100 farmers implement 2500 acres of no-till forages and generate an estimated cost savings of $50 per acre.

Introduction:

Severe weather events are increasing in frequency and intensity. Tilled fields exposed to such events are eroded at unsustainable rates. Nutrients carried off tilled fields reach streams and rivers, damage water quality, and promote algae blooms and eutrophication of water bodies. Increased fertilizer and fuel costs leave little profit margin for farmers in today’s economic climate. Farmers need resources to implement practices that comply with increasing water quality regulations. No-till practices are proven effective at addressing these issues and keeping farms profitable. Farmers facing these challenges are seeking alternatives; now is the time to bridge the gap between the science of no-till practices and translating that into advantages for farmers’ bottom lines. Benefits of no-till combined with cover cropping include reduced erosion losses and improved water conservation (Franzlubbers, 2005), improved cropping system function (Snapp et al. 2005) stable or improved crop yields (Bernstein et al. 2011), increased soil quality (Mirsky et al. 2012; Zinati 2013), reduced labor and energy costs (Kersbergen 2014), and improved nutrient efficiency (Adeli et al. 2011). Additional benefits include storing carbon in soil (Powlson et al. 2011) and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (Omonode et al. 2011; Jin et al. 2014). Drawbacks include cooler soils and slower early crop growth (Schonbeck, 2015).

There are over 120,000 acres of corn silage produced by 1,645 farms in the states of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont (NASS, 2012).  Combined with acres of corn grain, soybeans and other annual field crops along with the farms in the eastern counties of New York; this provides many potential acres that could be impacted by hundreds of TSPs that serve those farms and acres. Adoption of no-till on farms within our region has been slow due to concerns about increased pest issues and cool wet springs delaying growth and suppressing yields. However, recent assessments done by Kersbergen (2014) indicated that growers can save 5.7 gallons of fuel per acre and save 2.75 hours of labor per acre, for an overall savings of $55 per acre by adopting no-till. Farmers also indicated that soil moisture management and soil quality were improved by no-till with cover crops (Kersbergen 2014).

The technical service providers (TSP) who support farmers in their decision making, need training that will enable them to help farmers address their concerns and reach feasible solutions for implementing and realizing the benefits of no-till. The goal of this project is to provide a no-till intensive to build the skills of TSPs that allow them to assist farmers with transitioning to no-till. Having the best tools and knowledge will help the TSP provide confidence to themselves and their clients as they embark on a new and perceived high risk system. Ultimately, providing comprehensive training designed for TSPs to learn technical aspects and current research on no-till, as well as strategies for communicating effectively with farmers will result in more acres converted to no-till.

References

Adeli, A., H. Tewolde, J. N. Jenkins, and D. E. Rowe. 2011. Cover crop use for managing broiler litter applied in the fall. Agron. J. 103:200–210.

Franzluebbers, A. J. 2005. Soil organic carbon sequestration and agricultural greenhouse gas emissions in the southeastern USA. Soil Tillage Res. 83:120– 147.

Kersbergen, R. 2014. Reducing fuel and fertilizer costs for corn silage in the Northeast US with cover crops and no-till. http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/From-the-Field/Northeast-SARE-From-the-Field/No-Till-and-Cover-Crop-Innovations-Increase-Dairy-Profits.

Mirsky, S. B., M. R. Ryan, W. S. Curran, J. R. Teasdale, J. Maul, J. T. Spargo, J. Moyer, A. M. Grantham, D. Weber, T. R. Way, and G. G. Camargo. 2012. Conservation tillage issues: cover crop-based organic rotational no-till grain production in the mid-Atlantic region, USA. Renew. Agric. Food Syst 27:31– 40.

Omonode, R.A., D.R. Smith, A. Gál, and T.J. Vyn. 2011. Soil nitrous oxide emissions in corn following three decades of tillage and rotation treatments. Soil Science Society of America Journal 75(1): 152-163.

Powlson, D.S., A.P. Whitmore and K.W.T. Goulding. 2011. Soil carbon sequestration to mitigate climate change: a critical re-examination to identify the true and the false. European Journal of Soil Science. 62, 42-55.

Schonbeck, M. 2015. What is organic no-till and is it practical. http://www.extension.org/pages/18526/what-is-organic-no-till-and-is-it-practical#.VenrqbTA2gS

Snapp, S.S., Swinton, S.M., Labarta, R., Mutch, D.R., Black, J.R., Leep, R., Nyiraneza, J., O’Neil, K., 2005. Evaluating benefits and costs of cover crops for cropping system niches. Agron. J. 97, 322–332.

Zinati, G. 2013. Nutrient management in organic no-till systems. www.RodaleInstitute.org/nutrient-management-in-organic-no-till-systems.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Richard Kersbergen (Educator)
  • Jeffrey Sanders (Educator)
  • Kirsten Workman (Educator)
  • Kate Parsons (Educator)

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

The educational approach includes an online training course followed by in-field trainings to gain hands-on experience with no-till production.

The project team created an eight-part webinar series that met twice a month for six months. The series began November 2018. Each webinar hosted different expert practitioner/researcher presenting on a topic related to no-till. Topics included: introduction to no-till, no-till equipment and application tools, soil & water management, herbicide & pest management, fertility & manure management, economics of no-till, precision agriculture technology for no-till, and a farmer panel. The project team developed an accompanying online course that includes the archived webinars  so participants can re-watch them at their convenience, educational videos, quizzes, and other reference materials to provide TSPs with additional research-based and practical information.  The online course is hosted through the Extension Foundation's Moodle Platform and can be accessed at : https://campus.extension.org/course/view.php?id=1606. Through watching the webinars and completing the quizzes, participants can earn 8 Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) credits and 1 Pesticide Applicator credit. TSPs were provided with an online tracking tool starting in January 2019 to determine how many farmers and acres have been impacted positively by this no-till training program. 

Following the online course, participants were required to participate in at least one of 4 in-field no-till training intensives. This portion of the program was designed to focus on hands-on learning activities which allow TSPs to learn practical tools to utilize with farmers. In 2019, the program team hosted in-field intensives in Maine, Massachusetts, and two Vermont. Participating TSPs could earn 6 CCA credits per in-field intensive training they attend.

Participating TSPs also had access to the No-Till and Cover Crop Symposiums hosted by UVM Extension throughout each year of the project. 

Milestones

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

RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT
1. No-till training curriculum plan will be completed and reviewed by an advisory board comprised of 7 expert no- till farmers, researchers, and other practitioners headed by Dr. Heather Darby. The board will determine common obstacles to implementing a successful no-till program, address these issues through field proven technical knowledge, and develop a training plan that will best enable the TSP to support the farmer in the no-till practice transition.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
3
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
4
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
3
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
4
Proposed Completion Date:
July 31, 2018
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
October 1, 2018
Accomplishments:

The no-till training curriculum plan was completed by the project team and reviewed by the advisory board. The board determined common obstacles to implementing a successful no-till program, addressed how these issues can be managed using field-based knowledge, and developed a training plan that best enables the TSP to support the farmer in the no-till practice transition. The advisory board also suggested speakers and educational resources that would be useful to the target audience. An online platform for the course was developed in Extension Foundation moodle platform to allow students access to more resources.

The complete online course can be found at the following link: https://campus.extension.org/course/view.php?id=1606

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

RECRUITMENT
2. 1800 TSPs receive recruitment invitations to participate in the no-till training program. Recruitment will begin at the 2018 No-Till & Cover Crop Conference held in Burlington, VT (200 attendees from region). Recruitment will continue through direct email contact with northeast Certified Crop Advisors (338 CCAs) and TSPs engaged with our current outreach mechanisms including social media, listserves, and newsletters (distribution 1350). Recruitment resources will be detailed and enable the participants to learn about the project, its goals and performance objective.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
1800
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
2611
Proposed Completion Date:
July 31, 2018
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
October 12, 2018
Accomplishments:

Recruitment began at the 2018 No-Till & Cover Crop Symposium held in Burlington, VT on March 1st, 2018. There were 225 attendees from around the region (NY, VT, MA, NH, and Quebec).  Recruitment continued through direct email contact with the northeast Certified Crop Advisors. The email lists were obtained from John Jemison in ME and Jeanette Marvin in NY. The program announcement was emailed to a distribution list of 586. Project collaborator Kate Parsons distributed the announcement to the Northeast NRCS listserve which was estimated to reach over 500 stakeholders. Through UVM Extension social media, list serves, and newsletters we were able to distribute the announcement (No-Till PDP Advertisement) to 1300 additional stakeholders. A press release was developed and sent to 10 local media outlets for distribution (Press-Release-PDP-No-Till-Intensive-Trainings). 

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

3. 75 interested TSPs will apply for the PDP program through a designated website designed to collect basic information about the student as well as ability/interest in attending complete PDP training.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
75
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
4
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
72
Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2018
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
October 12, 2018
Accomplishments:

A registration site was developed through the UVM Eventbrite account. Any interested stakeholder could apply through the website. Due to heightened interest, we left the registration open longer than originally planned allowing for 76 people to sign up.

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

4. 50 successful TSPs will be notified of acceptance into the program. Students will be asked to complete a baseline survey to identify their current knowledge and experience in no-till as well as areas that they would like additional education/training.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
3
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
58
Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2018
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
November 16, 2018
Accomplishments:

We allowed for 58 TSPs to participate in the online no-till course, expecting that if a few dropped out over the course of the winter, we will still reach our performance target of 50. Also, 3 farmers registered for the course and 5 farmers are watching certain webinars live with their TSP. The baseline survey was developed and posted on the Moodle Course Site.

All attendees were sent a welcome letter that provided the with all the relevant information required to attend the class. It also outlined expectations including completion of the baseline survey, required quizzes, and impact tracking (Welcome-Letter-No-Till-Intensive-Training).

The survey tool used to conduct baseline data collection was reviewed by the advisory committee and completed by all class registrants. The No-Till Training Program’s Pre-training Survey was set up on the class’s online training site, campus.eXtension.org (Pre-course-Survey-for-No-Till-ASPs). Participating TSPs were instructed to complete this survey before watching the first webinar so that the advisory team could gauge the level of knowledge participants had prior to the Training Program. It also collected basic information about the participant’s professional and geographic background as a whole, allowing the advisory team to tailor resources and speaker presentations to the audience at hand.

We found that 34% of participants are from USDA NRCS, 21% are Independent Consultants, and 16% are University/Extension. We are happy to see the majority come from those groups as this training program is geared towards those working directly with farmers interested in implementing no-till.

We offered Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) credits and 1 Pesticide Applicator credit through this Training Program. The survey showed 34% of participants are CCAs, and 16% Pesticide Applicators, so offering this credit opportunity seemed to be a draw for a good portion of participating TSPs.

Participants were asked a series of ranking questions in regards to their perceptions of no-till with the options ‘poor’, ‘good’, ‘very good’, ‘excellent’, and ‘unsure’. As for environmental conditions such as soil type, 50% of participants perceive ‘good’ conditions, 24% perceive ‘very good’ conditions, and 8% perceive ‘excellent’ conditions for implementing no-till. As for farmer enthusiasm to implement no-till, 63% responded ‘good’, 8% with ‘very good’, and 5% with ‘excellent’. This is about where we expect to see these perceptions to be, and are pleased that the majority of TSPs work with enthusiastic farmers with potentially workable no-till soils.

We asked TSPs to rank their prior knowledge on a 1 (low) to 5 (high) scale for a variety of topics as related to no-till, including environmental benefits, economics, tools & equipment, manure management, fertility management, pests & herbicides, basic agronomy of common field crops, soil properties, and creating constructive client relationships. Average answers for each topic ranged from 2.9 to 4.0, averaging at 3.5 across all topics. The TSPs were asked these questions once more at the End-of-Training Survey to evaluate if their knowledge on no-till has improved. 

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

LEARNING THROUGH EDUCATION PROGRAM
5. 50 participating TSPs will attend the online no-till training course. The TSPs will attend 12 webinars held over a 6-month period. There will be quick-poll surveys after each webinar to document knowledge gained by the TSP. At the end of the online training TSP knowledge will be re-assessed and additional learning needs recorded. This information will help further shape the field intensives.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
3
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
58
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2019
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
February 28, 2019
Accomplishments:

The No-Till Training Program’s Pre-Webinar Training Survey was distributed on the class’s online training site hosted on Extension’s online campus, campus.eXtension.org, entitled No-Till Training Program. The site acts as a resource hub housing the webinars, related resources, surveys, forums, and training program expectations – which can be accessed long after the No-Till Training Program ends. Participating technical service providers (TSPs) were instructed to complete a preliminary survey before watching the first webinar so that the advisory team could gauge the level of knowledge and confidence participants had in regards to no-till prior to the Training Program. It also collected basic information about the participant’s professional and geographic background as a whole, allowing the advisory team to tailor resources and speaker presentations to the audience at hand.

Between November 5, 2018 and February 18, 2019, the UVM advisory team hosted an eight-part webinar series for TSPs. The series met every other Monday from 11am to 12:30pm. Each webinar hosted a farmer, researcher, or other expert practitioner. The webinars discussed common obstacles to implementing a no-till program, addressed issues through field-proven technical knowledge, and followed a training plan that best-enabled TSPs to support farmers in their no-till transition. The webinar series offered a total of eight Certified Crop Advisor credits and one Pesticide Applicator credit.

Webinar topics included:

  • Introduction to No-Till with Heather Darby, UVM Extension
  • Equipment & No-Till Application Tools with Jeffrey Sanders, UVM Extension
  • Herbicide & Pest Management with Bill Curran of Penn State and John Tooker of Penn State Extension
  • Soil & Water Management with Odette Menard, MAPAQ
  • Precision Agriculture Technology in No-Till with Scott Magnan, Scott Magnan’s Custom Service
  • Economics & Record Keeping with Kirsten Workman, UVM Extension
  • It’s a Management Style, Not a Technique with a panel of farmers and members of the advisory team

Of the 58 TSPs who attended the online training course’s webinar series, 55 attended the majority of the webinars and completed their accompanying post-webinar quick-poll surveys, while 3 TSPs ended up missing 2 or more webinars. Each live webinar was recorded and has since been uploaded to the training program’s website so that if a TSP was unable to watch it live, they can access/reference it after the fact. Once the webinar series ended, we requested that TSPs complete a Post Course Survey with similar point scale questions to the Pre-Webinar Training Survey to compare how TSPs knowledge and confidence levels developed. The advisory team used input and results TSPs provided during and after the webinar training to help plan the four In-Field Intensive Trainings the following spring.

We saw some promising results when comparing the Pre-Webinar Survey responses to the Post-Webinar Survey responses. We asked TSPs to rank their ability to troubleshoot with farmers having issues adopting conservation practices, such as no-till. On the Pre-Webinar Training Survey 65% of TSPs perceived their ability to troubleshoot as ‘good’, ‘very good’ and ‘excellent’, with 31% selecting ‘poor’. In the Post-Webinar Training Survey 97% perceived their ability as ‘good’, ‘very good’ and ‘excellent’, with 0% selecting ‘poor’.

We asked TSPs to assess and rank their knowledge on a 1 (low) to 5 (high) scale for a variety of topics as related to no-till, including environmental benefits, economics, tools & equipment, manure management, fertility management, pests & herbicides, basic agronomy of common field crops, soil properties (physical, chemical, and biological), and creating constructive client relationships. Average answers for each topic ranged from 2.9 to 4.0 on the Pre-Webinar Training Survey, and from 3.3 to 4.3 on the Post-Webinar Training Survey. We were pleased to see that when we asked TSPs these questions on the Post-Webinar Training Survey, their confidence in their own knowledge improved, and this point scale reflects the gain in knowledge the Training Program has provided.

When asked on the Post-Training Survey the top three outcomes/benefits TSPs experienced through the webinar series, responses varied but all touched upon lessons covered over the eight webinars. Some highlights are listed below:

  • Ability to troubleshoot problems associated with transitioning to no-till
  • Soil properties, temperature, and moisture
  • Confidence to recommend no-till cropping systems
    • “I have increased knowledge in all aspects of no-till systems, giving me a well-rounded understanding of the topic and allowing improved ability to provide introductory technical assistance to producers.”
  • Better knowledge of manure, economics, and equipment
    • “…diving into the equipment. Understanding if a corn planter is properly set up for no till or not was a huge benefit - now I can confidently go through a corn planter with a producer and make recommendations like down pressure springs, closing wheels, etc.”
    • Saves a farmer time and money in the long run
  • Understanding that this is a long-term plan for farmers
    • “Challenging my own thinking in transitioning from a short term results framework to a long term systems framework.”
  • Many misconceptions were proven false, such as no-till limiting yields
    • “I have a host of resources available to me for reference, further learning, and to share with producers.”
  • “CCA credits you don’t have to travel for was a huge bonus!”

After the last class, project team announced additional webinars and the start of virtual office hours. A survey was sent to participants asking they list topics they would like discussed further. Topics included organic no-till systems, managing fields in wet seasons, grain drill calibrations, best agronomic practices, cover crop selection, cover crop termination, farm viability, etc.

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

6. The 50 project participants and 200 attendees at the 2019 No-Till and Cover Crop Conference learn how to use precision agriculture technology to improve success with no-till adoption.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
63
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
59
Proposed Completion Date:
February 28, 2019
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
February 28, 2019
Accomplishments:

Of all the No-Till Training Program participants, 26 attended the No-Till and Cover Crop Symposium free of charge on February 28, 2019 in Burlington, Vermont. There were 122 total attendees at the event. The first topic related to this training program was entitled, Views from the Field – A Progressive Perspective. This was a progressive farmer panel discussing meeting the challenges that come with no-till cover cropped systems in the Northeast. Next, Kirsten Workman gave a similar presentation to the one she gave during this No-Till Training Program’s webinar series. This presentation was entitled, The Business Case for Conservation Agronomy, discussing how conservation practices, the farm’s economic bottom line, and the farms resiliency all need to be a part of the equation when making management decisions. The third related topic was entitled, Manure, and was hosted by experts Jeffrey Sanders, David Bessette, and Ashley Farr. This session discussed making manure work in a no-till cover cropped system, and gave the audience an opportunity to ask the experts their toughest manure-related questions. Precision agriculture was built into each presentation highlighting a role for GPS technology to track seed placement, depth, and fertilizer additions. A portable no-till row unit with demo GPS platform was on display at the conference. Project advisor Scott Magnan explained the technology to farmers during breaks and tradeshow visits. Attendees could earn five Certified Crop Advisor credits for attending.

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

7. 50 TSP participants attend at least 1 of the 4 no-till field intensives that are hosted by collaborating farms. These hands-on workshops will foster a stronger working knowledge of no-till equipment, soil health, fertility, and technology used to make no-till systems successful. These workshops will provide the hands on training necessary for the TSPs to properly instruct clients on how to implement successful no-till programs on their farms.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
10
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
87
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2018
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
June 4, 2019
Accomplishments:

During May and June of 2019, the No-Till Training Program offered four In-Field Intensive Trainings. The in-field intensives were held in Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont. They were hosted by local collaborating farms that have incorporated no-till into their crop management systems. These hands-on workshops fostered a stronger working knowledge of no-till equipment, soil health, fertility, and technology used to make no-till systems successful. The events gave participants time to network in-person, meet the advisory team, and ask experienced farmers direct questions. The in-field workshops were part of the No-Till Training Program but were opened and advertised to a wider swath of stakeholders, which brought 97 total attendees to the four events. Attendees could earn six Certified Crop Advisor credits per training. Details on each event listed below:

  • Tuesday, May 14, 2019—Foster Brothers Farm, 1917 Case Street, Middlebury, VT 05753—This event had 17 attendees. We compared four fields (three with different cover crop applications and one hay field) assessing the field conditions, planting conditions, and soil health. The Fosters demonstrated their no-till corn planter, their roller-crimper, and a brand new no-till grain drill. We also looked at their GPS and precision agriculture tools utilized in planting and field work. There was a soil pit and lots of opportunity for discussion and hands-on interaction with equipment and soils.
  • Wednesday, May 22, 2019 —Devine Farm, 337 Meadow Street, Amherst, MA 01002—This event had 29 attendees. The field site was a 20.6-acre field with silt loam soil. We watched their no-till corn be planted into a cover crop and into tilled soil. We checked seed depth, trench closure, down pressure, and soil temperature. Attendees had an opportunity to get their hands dirty checking the corn planter for its readiness for planting no-till, i.e. worn bolts, bearings, opening disk size, levelness of planter, down pressure system. The Devine’s were able to prepare a soil pit so that attendees could investigate the current soil health - soil structure, compaction, and earthworms.
  • Thursday, May 30, 2019 —Stonyvale Farm, Exeter, ME & Roger Whitney Farm, Corinna, ME—This event had 27 attendees. The group visited the Fogler’s (Stonyvale Farm, Exeter) to observe their planter (GPS and auto-steer) and to set up and evaluate soil quality with small pits and the NRCS Soil Health Trailer. They also visited fields managed by Roger Whitney in Corinna to see his cover crop/no-till planting techniques.
  • Tuesday, June 4, 2019 —Manning Farm, Swanton, VT 05478—This event had 24 attendees. We compared no-till planting into low and high seeding rate of cover crop, also roller crimping to no roller crimping into cover crops. The Manning brothers showed the group their John Deere Planter and the precision agriculture technology they use on it. We discussed cover-cropping options for no-till systems and compared the John Deere no-till planter to the White no-till planter, discussing similarities and differences. We looked at the soils and compared between the different cover crop seeding rates and no cover crops.
Milestone #8 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

8. The 50 TSP project participants will attend the 2020 No-Till and Cover Crop Conference and at the end of the conference develop a plan and timeline on how they will implement the information they learned in the program with farmers that they work with in 2020.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
47
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
66
Proposed Completion Date:
February 29, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
February 27, 2020
Accomplishments:

The advisory team shared detailed information about the 2020 No-Till and Cover Crop Symposium with No-Till Training Program participants, highlighting the opportunity to attend free of charge and receive CCA credits. There were 113 total attendees at the 2020 Conference, 41% being farmers, 17% being TSPs, and 14% being Federal and State employees. There were a total of 66 individuals that could be classified as agricultural service providers that attended the meeting although only 18 No-Till Training Program participants were enrolled. Due to a snowstorm coming through that day, final attendance overall was lower than normal. Of those that attended, we were able to get training program-specific surveys . Between those TSPs, they indicated that in 2019, they worked with a total of 43 farmers who implemented no-till for the first time or added on new/increased no-till acreage, representing a total of 1,720 acres. All TSPs also answered ‘Yes’ when we asked if their knowledge gained through this training program specifically helped them to troubleshoot with the farmers they work with interested in/transitioning to/implementing no-till.

Milestone #9 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

ENGAGEMENT TO SUPPORT ACTION AND VERIFICATION
9. Following the training, 50 project participants will be provided with various communication tools to be able to ask questions, share information, and support their learning throughout the project period. First virtual office hours will be available that allow participants to ask experts questions that they may be having as they work with farmers to implement no-till. In addition, a project listserve will be created so all participants can communicate with each other, ask questions, and share ideas or experiences. Lastly a monthly survey will be sent to participants to record interactions with farmers, knowledge shared, and practices implemented or adopted. These tools will be used to support participants throughout the project period and assist with performance target verification.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
58
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
December 31, 2022
Accomplishments:

Participants have been provided multiple communication tools to ask questions, share information, and support their learning throughout the project period thus far. For example, there is a Forum under each online module of the No-Till Training Program website (https://campus.extension.org/course/view.php?id=1606) where participants can generate conversation with peers and ask questions.

When surveyed participants were excited for additional learning opportunities and a webinar series was held in winter/spring of 2020. Following each webinar, project team members and guest speakers stayed on the call to allow for "virtual office hours" for program participants.

Participants were provided the email  and phone of Training Program coordinators, advisors, and speakers, and were encouraged to reach for additional one-on-one support. At the in-field intensive trainings hosted summer 2019, many of the TSPs were able to meet in-person for the first time and socialize with one another through these educational, hands-on workshops.

Due to the pandemic many of our participants had limited interactions with producers in 2020. It was difficult to help farmers try new practices or improve their current no-till production. Although we were able to host some office hours the demand was low again because of the pandemic and how program participants were able to interact with their farmer clients. We were provided with an extension to have an additional year to work with Prorgam participants to put their new knowledge and skills into place. 

No-Till Training Program participants were further supported in 2021 as they were able to interact more easily with their clients. Our project team had interactions with program participants and provided assistance through virtual meetings, email, and phone. Several trips were made to verify the performance target. 

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities and events conducted by the project team:

210 Consultations
1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
4 On-farm demonstrations
1 Online trainings
1 Published press articles, newsletters
11 Webinars / talks / presentations
5 Workshop field days

Participants in the project’s educational activities:

15 Extension
28 NRCS
2 Researchers
2 Nonprofit
3 Agency
16 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
123 Farmers/ranchers
4 Others
193 Farmers
108 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities

Learning Outcomes

58 Agricultural service providers reported changes in knowledge, skills and/or attitudes as a result of their participation.
58 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::

We saw some promising results when comparing the Pre-Webinar Survey responses to the Post-Webinar Survey responses. We asked TSPs to rank their ability to troubleshoot with farmers having issues adopting conservation practices, such as no-till. On the Pre-Webinar Training Survey 65% of TSPs perceived their ability to troubleshoot as ‘good’, ‘very good’ and ‘excellent’, with 31% selecting ‘poor’. In the Post-Webinar Training Survey 97% perceived their ability as ‘good’, ‘very good’ and ‘excellent’, with 0% selecting ‘poor’.
We asked TSPs to assess and rank their knowledge on a 1 (low) to 5 (high) scale for a variety of topics as related to no-till, including environmental benefits, economics, tools & equipment, manure management, fertility management, pests & herbicides, basic agronomy of common field crops, soil properties (physical, chemical, and biological), and creating constructive client relationships. Average answers for each topic ranged from 2.9 to 4.0 on the Pre-Webinar Training Survey, and from 3.3 to 4.3 on the Post-Webinar Training Survey. We were pleased to see that when we asked TSPs these questions on the Post-Webinar Training Survey, their confidence in their own knowledge improved, and this point scale reflects the gain in knowledge the Training Program has provided.
When asked on the Post-Training Survey the top three outcomes/benefits TSPs experienced through the webinar series, responses varied but all touched upon lessons covered over the eight webinars. Some highlights are listed below:
• Ability to troubleshoot problems associated with transitioning to no-till
• Soil properties, temperature, and moisture
• Confidence to recommend no-till cropping systems
o “I have increased knowledge in all aspects of no-till systems, giving me a well-rounded understanding of the topic and allowing improved ability to provide introductory technical assistance to producers.”
• Better knowledge of manure, economics, and equipment
o “…diving into the equipment. Understanding if a corn planter is properly set up for no till or not was a huge benefit - now I can confidently go through a corn planter with a producer and make recommendations like down pressure springs, closing wheels, etc.”
o Saves a farmer time and money in the long run
• Understanding that this is a long-term plan for farmers
o “Challenging my own thinking in transitioning from a short term results framework to a long term systems framework.”
• Many misconceptions were proven false, such as no-till limiting yields
o “I have a host of resources available to me for reference, further learning, and to share with producers.”
• “CCA credits you don’t have to travel for was a huge bonus!”

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers

Target #1

Target: number of service providers who will take action to educate/advise farmers:
50
Target: actions the service providers will take:

50 TSPs who increase knowledge and troubleshooting skills related to no-till practices in a livestock forage cropping system will provide targeted and efficient technical assistance to 200 farmers who manage 40,000 acres of forages.

Target: number of farmers the service providers will educate/advise:
200
Target: amount of production these farmers manage:

40,000 acres of forages

Verified: number of service providers who reported taking actions to educate/advice farmers:
58
Verified: number of farmers the service providers reported educating/advising through their actions:
282
Verified: amount of production these farmers manage:

TSPs completed the online and training course during the summer of 2019 and were surveyed at the end of 2019 on their work with farmers. The 58 TSPs engaged in this project reported working with 282 farmers in the 2019 field season. Of which, 77 farmers implemented no-till in the 2019 growing season on 43,795 acres in no-till.

Activities for farmers conducted by service providers:
  • 11 Curricula, factsheets and other educational tools
  • 418 Consultations
  • 3 On-farm demonstrations
  • 1 Online trainings
  • 2 Published press articles/newsletters
  • 1 Webinars/talks/presentations
  • 2 Workshops/field days
58 Total number of agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
282 Farmers reached through participant's programs
Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

To verify the performance target for the No-Till Training Program participants surveys were distributed before the program to gain baseline knowledge levels and a post course survey was administered following the training program. 

The No-Till Training Program’s Pre-CourseTraining Survey was set up on the class’s online training site, campus.eXtension.org. Participating TSPs were instructed to complete this survey before watching the first webinar so that the advisory team could gauge the level of knowledge and confidence in no-till participants had prior to the Training Program. It also collected basic information about the participant’s professional and geographic background as a whole, allowing the advisory team to tailor resources and speaker presentations to the audience at hand. Once the webinar series ended, we offered a Post-Course Training Survey with similar point scale questions to compare how TSPs knowledge and confidence levels developed.

Participants were asked a series of ranking questions with the options ‘poor’, ‘good’, ‘very good’, ‘excellent’, and ‘unsure’. As for environmental conditions such as soil type, the Pre-Course Survey showed that 85% of participants perceived ‘good’, ‘very good’ and ‘excellent’ conditions. The Post-Webinar Survey showed that 79% of ASPs perceived environmental conditions in those favorable categories. The TSPs that thought environmental conditions may be ‘poor’ or marked that they were ‘unsure’ explained that their farmer’s fields are either excessively stone-filled and wondered about the labor hours it would take to clear them, or are coastal and growing permanent blueberries (three TSPs from Maine). We then asked TSPs to rank their ability to troubleshoot with farmers having issues adopting conservation practices, such as no-till. On the Pre-Course Training Survey 65% of TSPs perceived their ability to troubleshoot as ‘good’, ‘very good’ and ‘excellent’, with 31% selecting ‘poor’. In the Post-Webinar Training Survey 97% perceived their ability as ‘good’, ‘very good’ and ‘excellent’, with 0% selecting ‘poor’!

When TSPs were asked to assess and rank their knowledge on a 1 (low) to 5 (high) scale for a variety of topics as related to no-till, including environmental benefits, economics, tools & equipment, manure management, fertility management, pests & herbicides, basic agronomy of common field crops, soil properties (physical, chemical, and biological), and creating constructive client relationships. Average answers for each topic ranged from 2.9 to 4.0 on the Pre-Course Training Survey, and from 3.3 to 4.3 on the Post-Course Training Survey. We were happy to see that when we asked TSPs these questions on the Post-Course Training Survey, their confidence in their own knowledge improved, and this point scale reflects the gain in knowledge the Training Program has provided. The TSPs primarily built knowledge in the areas of equipment, agronomy, manure management, fertility management, and economics (Figure 1.).

 

 

 

Performance Target Outcomes - Farmers

Target #1

Target: number of farmers who will make a change/adopt of practice:
100
Target: the change or adoption the farmers will make:
100 farmers implement 2500 acres of no-till forages and generate an estimated cost savings of $50 per acre.
Target: total size/scale of farmers these farmers manage:
2,500 acres of no-till forages
Verified: number of farmers who made a change/adopted a practice:

153
Verified: size/scale of farms these farmers manage:

21390 acres new or increased acreage of no-till with an estimated cost savings of $1,069,500 ($50/acre).
Performance target outcome for farmers narrative:

To verify the farmer performance target the No-Till Training Program participants were surveyed on a yearly basis as to the impact of their enhanced no-till education with the farmers they work. The survey (PDP_NoTill_Final_Verification_Tool) was provided to the No-Till Training Program participants in December of 2020 and 2021. Implementation of new knowledge and technical skills was difficult during the 2020 growing season and the onset of the pandemic. The project was awarded an extension to continue to monitor the work of the TSPS. As a result 35 PDP participants responded to the final surveys.  

Additional Project Outcomes

1 Grant applied for that built upon this project
1 Grant received that built upon this project
$78,500.00 Dollar amount of grant received that built upon this project
2 New working collaborations
Additional Outcomes Narrative:

Farmer interest in adopting no-till continues to grow throughout the Northeast. Building TSP knowledge and ability to help farmers with this transition is critical for success and broad scale adoption of no-till. Through this project we were able to bring TSPs to farms throughout the region that are extremely successful with no-till. This allowed participants to observe their techniques and learn about their challenges as they made the transition. Farmers were honest about the challenges that they experience each year and how they are still learning to adapt no-till to our climate. We heard many times from TSPs that their misconceptions were cleared as they heard from one farmer after the next about no-till in our climate. Also hosting an intensive at site with heavy clay soils helped so many TSPs realize that no-till can fit lots of soil types, even those perceived as being the most difficult to manage. We have continued to provide no-till education and training to TSPs and farmers to further adoption of this practice. Additional funding was obtained through a federal grant to continue hands-on education with TSPs and the farming community in the quest to adopt no-till planting.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

The educational approach involved both online and in-person learning activities followed by one-on-one technical assistance as needed with the project participants. Overall the approach was successful. The topic was of interest to TSPs so the enrollment was sufficient. Baseline data was the easiest to obtain as links to the online course was not provided until the participant completed the survey. 

The online format allowed for a broader audience to be engaged in the education but also a difficulty in the following in-person meetings. Since they were a requirement of the program this kept some TSPs interested in no-till from gaining access to the program. Priority was given to individuals that could commit to the entire No-Till Training Program

The attendees were required to complete a short quiz after each online class. This allowed us to take attendance each week and verify CCA credits. Clearly, there are scheduling conflicts and the online format allowed for participants to "make-up" a class if missed. 

Overall, the No-Till Training Program participants were committed within the first 2 years of the project. Keeping momentum and participation in the program became more difficult especially without a structured meeting time. This may likely be due to the pandemic impacting our final year of the project.

It would seem like the duration of this type of training would be best within a 2 years period.  

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.