Advancing Nutrient Stewardship in Pennsylvania through Training Modules for Farmers' Trusted Advisors

Progress report for ENE21-172

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2021: $148,666.00
Projected End Date: 02/29/2024
Grant Recipients: Mid-Atlantic 4R Association; The Nature Conservancy
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Lindsay Thompson
Thompson Ag Consulting
Co-Leaders:
Brian Campbell
The Nature Conservancy
Katie Turner
Mid-Atlantic 4R Association
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Project Information

Performance Target:

150 service providers will have targeted conversations with 1500 of their farmer clients about implementing 4R nutrient management practices on their farms totaling 150,000 acres. 30 of these service providers will receive specialized training through a one-year learning cohort and will each work with 10 farmers to develop 4R practice implementation plans, leading to 30,000 acres with additional 4R practices.

Introduction:

Pennsylvania agriculture remains in the spotlight as the key contributor to nutrient contributions in the Chesapeake Bay, which has led to increased recognition and interest in basic and advanced nutrient management practices as a means of achieving goals outlined as part of Pennsylvania’s Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for nutrient reductions. A Penn State survey indicated that 55-75% of farmers are currently implementing basic nutrient management, and only 10-20% are implementing advanced nutrient management (Royer et al., 2019). As these practices are necessary for the improvement of water quality and to achieve goals set forth by the state’s TMDL, these low percentages highlight the need for farmers to implement these practices.

Farmer advisers in Pennsylvania, with diverse education backgrounds, vary greatly in their level of understanding about the science behind making in-field nutrient management decisions with a concept called 4R nutrient stewardship (applying the Right nutrient source for a crop at the Right rate, Right time, and Right place to maximize crop uptake and minimize losses to the environment). As an unfortunate result of differing levels of 4R knowledge, farmers may receive conflicting advice from their nutrient management planners, crop consultants, and conservation practitioners. In order to achieve the environmental and economic outcomes provided by following 4R nutrient stewardship, the team of advisers working with farmers need to align in the practices and products that make sense for a farmer’s particular situation, which allows farmers to maintain trusted relationships with their advisers.

The 4R Nutrient Stewardship concept is embraced by the agribusiness industry, regulatory agencies, farm organizations, environmental non-profits, and academia because the concept demonstrates to farmers how economic and environmental priorities can work together, rather than conflicting. The Mid-Atlantic 4R Association is aligning farm advisers around the benefits and implementation of 4R Nutrient Stewardship practices through education. This education will include the presentation of six virtual training modules which will provide holistic education on Nutrient Stewardship implementation topics to a minimum of 150 farm advisers over the course of the program. Additionally, we are forming a learning cohort of 30 farm advisers who will receive specialized in-person workshops, coaching, and virtual learning opportunities to apply 4Rs with their clients. Each cohort participant has committed to working with ten of their farmer-clients to advocate for the adoption of 4R Nutrient Stewardship practices. To make the largest impact on the state’s water quality improvement goals, in-person trainings will be held within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. However, in addition to in-person training, online learning modules for each topic will be developed and shared with continuing education partners throughout the state to ensure the largest reach possible for the training materials.

Cooperators

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Educational Approach

Educational approach:

PA4R proposes developing a comprehensive training program to develop farmers’ trusted advisers into 4R nutrient stewardship advocates that will utilize the knowledge and skills developed through the training program to work with farmers in implementing 4R practices. Participants will walk away from this training program with the confidence to share the 4R concept with their clients and the knowledge of where to access additional resources for technical and financial assistance.

In order to access a broad audience from across Pennsylvania, we will develop a series of 4R training modules hosted through webinar format. The webinars will be presented as Fall Nutrient Management Webinar Series in Fall 2021 and Fall 2022. Topics (which will be updated based on future needs) include advanced nutrient management, precision agriculture technologies, 4R communications strategies, and tools to overcome barriers to adoption. PA4R developed six previous training modules focused on topics such as manure nitrogen loss pathways, supplemental fertilizer considerations, and low-disturbance manure injection. Six additional training modules are proposed for funding through Northeast SARE. Outreach materials will be developed to accompany modules to assist advisers in facilitating conversations with farmers. We will coordinate with the SCC and other programs to ensure participants receive continuing education credits for participation. We will record all webinars for the PA Department of Environmental Protection’s virtual Clean Water Academy and sharing on YouTube to reach future audiences.

In conjunction with the virtual training modules, PA4R will provide continuing support to advisers by establishing a training program for a smaller cohort of interested participants, called the “4waRd Thinking” learning cohort, that will be recruited from participants in our webinar series. Applicants to the program will complete an application form where they can express their interest in the program and ability to work with their farmer clients on 4R planning. This cohort will provide us the opportunity to provide individual guidance and coaching to participants. We will host an in-person kick-off workshop in Winter 2022 to spend one day focused on identification of barriers to 4R practices and communications strategies to overcome those barriers. We will invite speakers with expertise in these topics that we are currently collaborating with through other projects. Following the in-person kick-off, we will host three virtual round-table discussions where a 4R partner will cover a topic in depth and the cohort will break into small discussion groups to share questions and experiences. We anticipate hosting three of these virtual discussions throughout the duration of the program. In Summer 2022, we will host two field trip events in varying geographies to provide a stronger foundation for these service providers in their work with farmers. These field trips will give cohort members the opportunity to network amongst themselves and the partners of the PA4R Alliance and to learn about how 4R practices can be customized for specific operations. Each cohort member will be responsible for working with at least 10 farmer clients to plan and implement 4R practices while they are in the program. Rosetree Consulting LLC, through their engagement with PA4R, will offer phone consultations and in-person visits to program participants as they work with their clients to develop customized 4R programs. The program will close with a final in-person workshop in a central location in Spring 2023, where participants will share the lessons learned from their interactions with farmers and learn about how to access technical and financial assistance in the future.

Through our training module series, we anticipate reaching 150 advisers to farmers on how to influence 4R practice implementation and share the benefits of 4Rs, reaching a total of 1500 farmers. Our 30 intensive learning cohort members will provide us more detailed reports on conversations with at least 300 farmers and the resulting implementation of practices. Project success will be demonstrated by follow-up surveys and interviews.  

Milestones

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

150 service providers will be recruited to participate in the 4R webinar series starting in Fall 2021. They will learn about the 4R webinars and training program through media articles, newsletters, social media, and word of mouth.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
150
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
126
Proposed Completion Date:
August 31, 2021
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
November 9, 2021
Accomplishments:

Advertised via Pennsylvania 4R Alliance's mailing list, the networks of its members, and its participation in the 2021 Keystone Crops & Soil Conference (10/29-30/2021 in Grantville, PA), the three virtual training modules were attended by 126 unique individuals; many of whom attended more than one event in the series.

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

150 participants will attend three virtual training modules in Fall 2021 to learn about how to start conversations with their farmer clients on advance nutrient management practices. These webinars will focus on the use of adaptive in-season
management of nutrients, introducing participants to tools and technologies that they can work with their clients to improve nutrient use efficiency. Surveys will be provided following the sessions and again six weeks later to assess lessons learned.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
150
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
126
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2021
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
November 9, 2021
Accomplishments:

Advertised via Pennsylvania 4R Alliance's mailing list, the networks of its members, and its participation in the 2021 Keystone Crops & Soil Conference (10/29-30/2021 in Grantville, PA), the three virtual training modules were attended by 126 unique individuals; many of whom attended more than one event in the series.

  • Training #1. "Crop Planning +" by Frank Schneider, Mark Goodson, and Eric Rosenbaum (10/26/2021) focused on achieving and exceeding nutrient management regulation.
  • Training #2. "The Evolution of Nitrogen Management" by Dr. Charlie White (11/2/2021) focused on changes to conventional nitrogen recommendations over time as well as a new tool to refine those recommendations.
  • Training #3. "Advanced Nitrogen Management" by Eric Rosenbaum (11/9/2021) focused on tools - including a demonstration of nitrogen modeling software - for making informed decisions about nitrogen fertilization.

Recordings of all trainings are available on the YouTube channel of the MidAtlantic 4R Alliance (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCO-hqhqyXPLsa1AzuvRFE_g).  Eligible attendees received continuing education credits as Certified Nutrient Management Specialists and/or Certified Crop Advisors.

Participation in post-webinar surveys was low, with only 12 survey responses completed in total.  However, all surveys indicated high satisfaction with the webinars, and 7 of 12 indicated increased knowledge of 4R Nutrient Stewardship as a result of the trainings.  Surveys of virtual attendees will be revised so they require less open-ended answers, which decrease ease-of-participation.

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

30 participants will be recruited in Fall 2021 to become members of the 4waRd Thinking Learning Cohort to become trained in how to work with their farmer clients to provide technical and financial assistance in implementing 4R practices. We will select thirty participants to participate in the program based on ranking to assess interest in the program and willingness to utilize lessons learned to increase 4R implementation.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
30
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
12
Proposed Completion Date:
January 31, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

An overview and application form developed to recruit participants for the learning cohort can be found at this link: Cohort Overview & Application.

As of 12/23/2021, 12 individuals have applied to become members of the "4waRd Thinking" Learning Cohort.  The cohort has been advertised in-person at the 2021 Keystone Crops & Soil Conference (10/29-30/2021) and PennAg's Agronomic Products Council winter meeting (11/10/2021); by email to conservation district staff, agribusinesses, and attendees of this project's Fall 2021 virtual training modules; via newsletters of the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts, Pennsylvania Certified Crop Advisors, and the Pennsylvania Soil Health Coalition; and announced during the Fall 2021 virtual training modules.

To increase enrollment, direct outreach via phone calls, conversations at in-person meetings, and advertising the opportunity at the 2022 Pennsylvania Agronomic Education Conference (1/20-21/2022) will be pursued.

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

30 learning cohort participants will attend a kick-off workshop will be held in Winter 2022 to introduce them to the program and provide a comprehensive overview of barriers to 4R adoption and communications tools that can be used to overcome those barriers. Participants will leave the workshop with a better understanding of the challenges that they will face as they seek to advance 4Rs and the tools that PA4R Alliance can provide to overcome those barriers.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
30
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Project stakeholders are currently planning this event's agenda and logistics.  It is scheduled to occur on 2/23/2022 at  MidAtlantic Farm Credit's Community Room in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania.  A draft agenda can be found at this link: Kickoff Workshop Agenda.

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

150 service providers will attend three webinars as part of a Fall 2022 Nutrient Management webinar series, open to the public, and required for Learning Cohort members. The webinars will focus on sharing the results of the PA4R Alliance’s work with assessing 4R barriers to adoption and increasing implementation of practices through funding vouchers. Participants will learn about the outcomes of these projects and how this work can be applied in regions across Pennsylvania.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
150
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Project stakeholders have had initial discussions in 2021 about topics and speakers for these events.

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

30 learning cohort participants will attend three virtual round-table discussions taking place quarterly throughout 2022 and early 2023 to provide small group discussion on specific seasonally relevant 4R topics and opportunities for participants to share experiences, case studies, and ask questions. Participants will leave each round-table discussion with a better understanding of how to approach nutrient management challenges they see with their clients.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
30
Proposed Completion Date:
February 28, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Project stakeholders have had initial discussions in 2021 about topics and speakers for these events.

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

30 Learning Cohort participants will participant in a closing workshop in Winter/Spring 2023 to provide next steps and coaching on advanced topics. Through the program, participants will engage with at least 10 farmers to develop 4R plans and will document implementation of 4R practices on 1000 acres each, for a total of 30,000 acres with new 4R practices. Participants will walk away from the program with confidence to influence adoption of 4R practices.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
30
Proposed Completion Date:
June 30, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Project stakeholders have had initial discussions in 2021 about topics and speakers for this event.

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

150 participants in our Fall Webinar Series will be surveyed immediately following each series and again six months and twelve months after participation to document level of knowledge, skill, and awareness changes that occurred after their participation in our training series. We will seek to document the acres influenced through their discussions with farmer clients.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
150
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
12
Proposed Completion Date:
June 30, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Participation in post-webinar surveys was low, with only 12 survey responses completed in total.  However, all surveys indicated high satisfaction with the webinars, and 7 of 12 indicated increased knowledge of 4R Nutrient Stewardship as a result of the trainings.  Surveys of virtual attendees will be revised so they require less open-ended answers, which decrease ease-of-participation.

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

30 learning cohort participants will receive 1:1 or 1:2 coaching throughout the 18-month duration of the program through both phone consultations and in-person visits with farmer clients by Eric Rosenbaum, PA4R Alliance Executive Director. These individual coaching opportunities will provide participants with greater confidence as they work with their farmer clients to develop plans for and implement 4R practices.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
30
Proposed Completion Date:
July 31, 2023
Status:
Incomplete
Accomplishments:

This component will begin on-schedule in 2022.

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities and events conducted by the project team:

3 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participants in the project’s educational activities:

3 Extension
16 NRCS
1 Researchers
11 Nonprofit
50 Agency
45 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)

Learning Outcomes

11 Agricultural service providers reported changes in knowledge, skills and/or attitudes as a result of their participation.
1 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::

Of the 12 Fall 2021 virtual training module participants who responded to surveys, seven ranked their knowledge of 4R Nutrient Stewardship as being higher after the trainings than before. Ten of 12 included comments about the lessons they learned from the modules, especially regarding the opportunities created by new technologies (i.e. nitrogen modeling and variable-rate application) and that investments in nutrient management can be profitable.

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers

Target #1

Target: number of service providers who will take action to educate/advise farmers:
150
Target: actions the service providers will take:

150 service providers will have targeted conversations with 1500 of their farmer clients about implementing 4R nutrient management practices on their farms totaling 150,000 acres.

Target: number of farmers the service providers will educate/advise:
1500
Target: amount of production these farmers manage:

150,000 acres

Performance Target Outcomes - Farmers

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.