Developing and Publishing Sustainable Farming Resources for Agricultural Extension Professionals and Field Crop Producers

Final Report for ENE97-028

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1997: $42,314.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $9,742.00
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Philip L. Sutton
NY State IPM Program
Co-Leaders:
James R. VanKirk
Cornell University, NYSAES
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Project Information

Summary:

Objectives:

A. Create a multistate advisory group of Cooperative Extension personnel and growers to facilitate the development of educational modules and the revision of a crop management pocket guide.
B. Develop and produce educational modules in an effort to empower individuals to adopt sustainable farming practices at the local level.
C. Teach Extension professionals to use these new educational modules; record and evaluate clientele use of them.
D. Develop an improved, regional version of Your Pocket Guide to Alfalfa and Field Corn Management.

Methods / Approach

Objective A: An advisory committee including people with extension and research responsibilities, from field crops and IPM-related disciplines, and from five different states provided project direction, reviewed drafts, identified potential project participants, and gave final approval to all documents.

Objective B: A series of educational modules, each focusing on an important integrated pest management or integrated crop management issue, was developed and is now available for use by anyone via the web page .

Objective C: Thirty-three Extension educators and specialists from five states participated in a workshop at Harrisburg to “beta test,” critique, and revise 15 modules. Other more targeted training sessions have been held or are imminent.

Objective D.: The pocket guide IPM Field Corn Pocket Guide was published in January 1999. This guide contains 280 pages of useful information for field corn crop and pest management in the Northeast.

Results

The IPM Field Corn Pocket Guide was published in January 1999. This guide contains 280 pages of useful information regarding field corn crop and pest management in the Northeast. Fourteen modules are now available online and the fifteenth will be available by December 15, 2000. Some of these modules have already been used many times by adult educators in the field. For at least the next two years, we will be monitoring the number of times these modules are accessed by web-users.

Impacts and Potential Contributions

In early 1999, 4,000 copies of IPM Field Corn Pocket Guide were printed. Since then 3,118 copies have been sold and another 250 complimentary copies have been distributed; only 432 are left.

Approximately half of the teaching modules were online prior to or during a significant portion of the 2000 growing season. Internet statistics show that these have been downloaded 435 times. Having easy access to well-designed, farm-friendly, discussion- and team-oriented lesson plans helps Extension educators create a teaching series that suits their clientele and fosters collaboration, while saving valuable preparation time.

Project Objectives:

A. Create a multistate advisory group of Cooperative Extension personnel and growers to facilitate the development of educational modules and the revision of a crop management pocket guide.

B. Develop and produce educational modules in an effort to empower individuals to adopt sustainable farming practices at the local level.

C. Teach Extension professionals to use these new educational modules; record and evaluate clientele use of them.

D. Develop an improved, regional version of Your Pocket Guide to Alfalfa and Field Corn Management.

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

Objective A: Create a multistate advisory group of Cooperative Extension personnel and growers to facilitate the development of educational modules and the revision of a crop management pocket guide.

An advisory committee was formed and has provided direction throughout the course of the project. The panel includes people with extension and research responsibilities, from field crops and IPM-related disciplines, and from five different states in the Northeast (Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York). Committee membership included people with extension and research responsibilities, people from various IPM-related and ICM-related disciplines. In addition to providing project leadership, the committee reviewed drafts, identified potential project participants, gave final approval to all documents, and performed other vital functions.
Objective B. Develop and produce educational modules in an effort to empower individuals to adopt sustainable farming practices at the local level.

Our original plan to produce educational modules and follow that with training of Extension educators in their use was slightly modified in an effort to both improve the quality of the modules and to increase the likelihood of their use in the field. With this goal in mind, we held a workshop in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for Extension educators and specialists. On November 2–3, 1999, a group of more than 30 Extension educators and specialists from West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York met to “beta test,” critique, and revise existing module drafts, to determine what additional modules were required, and to advise on distribution of the module set. The sessions proved valuable to module developers, providing excellent feedback on content and format as well as advice on key issues (including distribution strategies).

Participants were especially enthusiastic about having been included in the development process. Their participation resulted in more effective and appropriately targeted content and in wider knowledge of and commitment to the modules. They did, after all, represent the intended user group. Indeed, our approach simply borrowed from well-established tenets of Extension. Judging from the comments made about the workshop, being asked for input on developing this kind of material may occur all too rarely in our system.

The consensus of participants in the Harrisburg workshop was that we should distribute the modules via the internet to make them more readily available to all Extension educators in the region, to facilitate low-cost and timely revision, and in general, to promote their use. Accordingly, our efforts since have focused on

  • incorporating into each module the content and format suggestions made at the workshop and in subsequent written critiques of workshop participants;

    formatting modules for presentation on the Northeast IPM website

Objective C. Teach Extension professionals to use these new educational modules; record and evaluate clientele use of them.

Our original plan was to first develop the modules and then hold training sessions on their use. We revised this plan by combining development, marketing, and training. We benefited by developing not only more effective content for each module and a range of module topics most appropriate to the target audience (Extension educators), but a sense of ownership by those educators with a likely effect of increased use.

With that in mind, our primary training session thus far has been the module development workshop held in Harrisburg, PA, in November of 1999. Participants were supplied with a packet containing drafts of all modules in progress. A “group leader” for each module was assigned to lead small-group discussions on the module. Group leaders had been identified and prepared via email prior to the workshop, and also met during the first evening to discuss strategy.

After introductory activities in the main session, we split into four working groups. Each group considered one module under the direction of the group leader. A recorder—usually a member of the advisory committee—took notes on all discussion. Mary Woodsen, leader of the module development part of this project, “floated” among all groups, taking notes, managing the schedule, and offering advice as needed. Working groups were encouraged to role-play farmers and educators actually using the module, although in a few cases this method was not used. Each working group was charged with suggesting improvements in both format and content of the module.

Three of these “working group” sessions were held, with participants choosing sessions in advance. Thus each participant worked on three distinct modules and most participants served as group leader on one module.

After the working group sessions, the entire group heard presentations from each group leader and recorder about each module. This allowed all to hear about and comment on every module. Deliberations for any one module by the whole group were not as extensive as the working group deliberations, but many useful comments were made during this final session. The workshop concluded with an evaluation session of the workshop by the whole group (including the opportunity to submit anonymous written comments) and with commitments by many to continue work on individual modules.

In addition to the Harrisburg workshop, other training sessions have been held or are contemplated.

Three educator / outreach training programs on filth fly IPM for agents and others were held in Ithaca, NY, on June 3 1999, June 17 1999, and September 11 2000. Module 14, IPM for Managing Barn Flies, oriented educators get oriented to the subject, helped them understand it, and provided a framework for their presentation. These meetings had 16 participants, including 12 Extension educators and 4 adult educators from private industry.

A poster displaying and marketing the modules was presented at the Agriculture in the Classroom Summit at Cornell October 10 2000.

Modules will be discussed with the New York field crops extension educators at Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Ag and Food Systems In-Service November 29 2000. The annual Extension in-service typically includes most Extension educators in the Cornell system.

Objective D. Develop an improved, regional version of the publication Your Pocket Guide to Alfalfa and Field Corn Management.

Project team members worked collaboratively on IPM Field Corn Pocket Guide. This is an expansion and revision of a 1997 book, Your Pocket Guide to Alfalfa and Field Corn Management, produced for New York State by P. Sutton, C. Koplinka-Loehr, M. Haining Cowles, J. VanKirk, and J. K. Waldron. The IPM Field Corn Pocket Guide offers regional coverage as well as additional material on field corn, pull-out color guides and keys, color disease plates, a practical thumb-index, coverage of vertebrate pest management, a guide to corn development, and expanded sections on corn yield loss and management of dried stored grain.

Publications/Outreach

Outreach and Dissemination

The IPM Field Corn Pocket Guide has been marketed and distributed in a cooperative arrangement with NRAES, the Natural Resource, Agriculture and Engineering Service. NRAES does an excellent job of marketing publications such as this, as shown by the sales figures cited above. In addition, the NYS IPM Program created and loaned out a display for the pocket guide (with an actual shirt, front pocket, and guide in the pocket) accompanied by this text: “Give someone the shirt off your back… But keep your pocket guide!” The Program advertised the guide via its catalog, newsletters, workshops, and website.

The teaching modules are distributed in PDF format via the world wide web . All who have contributed to their development, including advisory committee members and invitees to the Harrisburg workshop, have received routine progress updates via email. Once all modules are online we will notify all potential users through appropriate communication channels, including the SARE Northeast network, state Extension directors, state IPM coordinators, and the Northeast IPM website.

We have displayed and promoted the modules at the NYS Summit for Agricultural Educators and the NYS Agriculture and Food Systems In-Service Training, as well as at NYS Statewide Program Committee meetings and through What’s Cropping Up, a publication of Cornell University’s Department of Crop and Soil Science. Now that the entire series is available, we have planned a news release, designed for easy listserve amplification, which we will modify according to the market and which will reach every Cooperative Extension headquarters in the Northeast, as well as many trade publications and newsletters.

Performance Target Outcomes

Outcomes

Results

Fifteen educational modules have been produced through a collaborative effort that crosses state and disciplinary lines. The modules are now available for use by any adult educator with access to the internet. The modules facilitate consistent, effective, and timely presentation of important knowledge in such a way that producers are more likely to implement sustainable practices on the farm.

Module titles: How To Teach These Modules; Introduction to IPM; What is a Threshold ?; Principles of Scientific Sampling; Economic Implications of IPM; IPM for Alfalfa Weevil; IPM for Corn Rootworm; IPM for Potato Leafhopper on Alfalfa; Weed Identification in Corn and Other Row Crops; Weed Management in Row Crops: Application to Corn Production; Manure as a Resource; Optimum Corn Seeding Rates and Maturity Selection; Equipment Calibration; IPM for Managing Barn Flies; How to Design In-field Demonstrations.

Furthermore, a forum for future sharing of educational materials and approaches has been established through use of the website Northeast Regional Teaching Modules .

The IPM Field Corn Pocket Guide has been published and is now nearly sold out. Perhaps the best description of this guide is found on the NRAES (Natural Resource, Agriculture and Engineering Service) website (NRAES markets the guide): .

The IPM Field Corn Pocket Guide concisely presents information for scouting and managing insect pests, beneficial insects, corn plant diseases, and vertebrate pests, grass weeds, and broadleaf weeds. Also covered are plant and soil health and fertility and postharvest storage. Appendixes include useful formulas, conversions, and comparisons. Offering guidance on identifying and managing insect, weed, and vertebrate pests as well as nutritional deficiencies, the 280-page publication includes over 80 line drawings, 18 color plates, and more than 40 tables – all in a handy 3 1/4-inch by 6-inch format. Five foldout reference charts provide insect pest action thresholds, management alternatives, and sampling strategies; pictorial keys to grasses and broadleaf weeds; and “Be Your Own Corn Doctor” full-color diagnostic illustrations.

Impacts

Module development is an objective whose impact on grower practice is nearly impossible to gauge, particularly in the short timeframe of this reporting process. Only nine of the modules have been available for at least six months. Even when a module is used by an adult educator, the impact cannot be measured without waiting to see if the farmer/manager ultimately institutes a new beneficial practice or improves implementation of such a practice. Internet use statistics do, however, show that modules that are available have been downloaded 435 times. The following table shows data for the nine modules available during the year 2000 growing season (these modules were posted in mid-April):

Table 1: Module downloads, May 1 through Sept. 2, 2000
Module Title________________________Download Requests
Module 1: How to Teach These Modules___59
Module 2: Introduction to IPM__________110
Module 3: Principles of Scientific Sampling__48
Module 4: What is a Threshold?__________48
Module 5: Economic Implications of IPM___37
Module 6: IPM for Alfalfa Weevil________49
Module 7: IPM for Corn Rootworm_______45
Module 8: IPM for Potato Leafhopper in Alfalfa__39

Similarly, the ultimate impact of IPM Field Corn Pocket Guide is difficult if not impossible to judge definitively. It does seem reasonable, however, to posit that if the pocket guide contains key information for implementing sustainable practices (as it does), and if the pocket guide is in high demand, even at a significant cost (as it is), then most likely those who have reason to purchase the pocket guide are implementing those sustainable practices. The IPM Field Corn Pocket Guide is nearly sold out, with only 482 of an original 4,000 remaining as of September 30, 2000. At a cost of $7.00 per copy, these sales represent a significant commitment by corn producers in the region to at least having on hand, and probably using, critical crop management information.

Perhaps the most important impact of this project is the one that is least tangible: the development of a renewed spirit of collaboration among field crops Extension educators in the region. This project catalyzed the cooperative efforts of approximately 40 individuals from land grant systems throughout the Northeast. In the current climate of limited resources and expanding responsibilities, such cooperation is key to the remaining effectiveness and credibility of the Cooperative Extension system.

Project Outcomes

Future Recommendations

The materials we produced represent only the beginning of the educational materials that might be developed to increase and improve the implementation of sustainable practices on Northeastern farms.

The IPM Field Corn Pocket Guide is a resource in portable format that farmers and managers can carry with them literally in the field, thus facilitating sound decisions on the spot. The information in the guide is, however, only complete in any sense for field corn production. Similar resources focused on other crops would prove just as useful.

The educational modules we have developed are a boon to Extension educators. These individuals are typically experts in various content areas, but often must spend great portions of their time in a reactive mode, addressing concerns of agricultural clients’ individual problems. Our modules provide lesson plans that enable Extension educators to present effective educational programs while optimizing time spent on curriculum development. Further, the modules ensure that a correct and consistent message of sustainability is delivered across the region—all while promoting a philosophy of interactive teaching and learning that nourishes educator and student alike. Indeed, Cooperative Extension is somewhat like a food service: we have many able cooks, but they are often too ensnared in the toil of providing three meals daily to be able to plan a varied and nutritious menu. The modules are like a carefully designed recipe book, replete with activities and concepts that enable our cooks to enrich the diet while they spice up the fare. Yet we only offer 15 menu items, and while five of them apply to any crop, anywhere, the remaining 10 suit the tastes of only some of our clientele. Ideally almost any topic taught by any Extension educator could be distilled into a module. If those hundreds of modules could be developed and made available, the needs of all the “diners” could be met.

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.