The Farmer's Relevant Voice: A Farmer-Produced Educational Program for Watershed Coordinators

Final Report for ENE97-032

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1997: $50,016.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2001
Matching Federal Funds: $23,432.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $23,432.00
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Barbara Bellows
Cornell University
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Project Information

Summary:

Farmers can play critical roles in the development and implementation of programs designed to protect water quality. Their innovative efforts were highlighted in a video that was produced collaboratively with farmers in three watersheds in New York. The role of farmers in the Canandaigua Lake Watershed has evolved from program advisors to program directors. In the Cayuga Lake Watershed, farmers serve as water quality educators. Farmers in the Cortland Aquifer Watershed are developing “green market� programs. This video is being used in watershed programs across New York to enhance farmer involvement in watershed programs.

Methods/Approach

This project was initiated at the beginning stages of the New York State Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM) program in order to promote farmer involvement in the planning and implementation of water quality and watershed management programs. Working with county-based Cornell Cooperative Extension educators and Soil and Water Conservation District personnel, farmers involved in watershed programs and in the implementation of environmental management practices were identified, involved in roundtable discussions, and interviewed. Farmers used these interactions to identify concerns, issues, and recommendations regarding the implementation of water quality programs that affect farmers. They also highlighted current and potential roles that farmers could play in the management of these programs.

Based on these discussions and interviews, farmers were identified to participate in a video focusing on farmer involvement in the Canandaigua Lake Watershed, the Cayuga Lake Watershed, and in the Cortland Aquifer Watershed. Farmers in the video defined the issues to be discussed during the interviews and the focus of the video script. They also provided a critical review of an initial draft production of the video and will be involved in the distribution and promotion of the video and its message.

Results

A video highlighting farmer involvement in watershed and water quality programs is the primary product of this project.
Interactions established and information gained during the production of the video helped promote enhanced farmer involvement in watershed and water quality programs.
• Farmers promote their involvement on watershed program boards to CCE and SWCD personnel during at least four regional and two state-wide training programs.
• An article on farmer involvement in the Canandaigua Lake Watershed Program Committee was published in the American Agriculturist (attached).
• Farmers from watershed program committees were invited to serve as mentors for the establishment of new watershed programs.

Impacts and Potential Contributions

Delayed distribution of the video prevented assessment of impacts from the video. However, the interactive processes used in developing the video helped to promote or increase farmer involvement in several watershed programs across New York and within activities of the Agricultural Environmental Management Program.

Project Objectives:

1. Identify farmer involvement in watershed programs across New York and determine factors that motivate or deter their involvement in these programs.

2. Work with farmers to produce a video that allows them to present their perspective on the role of farmers in water quality protection and watershed program management.

3. Use the video to stimulate recognition by agricultural professionals of farmers’ existing and potential roles in the development, implementation, and critical analysis of agricultural environmental management programs.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Barbera Bellows
  • Edith Davey

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

This project was initiated at the beginning stages of the New York State Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM) program. The AEM program encourages voluntary implementation by farmers of environmental management practices to mitigate negative impacts on water quality by farm management practices. Especially when this program was first introduced, many farmers across the state were hesitant to become involved in programs that evaluated environmental impacts from their current barnyard and land management practices. Some farmers were concerned about confidentiality. Other farmers were concerned about the costs associated with implementing environmental practices. They were also concerned about how limited funds would be allocated to farmers who wished to implement environmental practices.

In the New York City Watershed and in the Skaneateles Lake Watershed, farmers have served from the onset of program implementation on advisory boards that determine program priorities and directions. The willingness of farmers on these farmer advisory boards to reach out to their neighbors and to set an example of environmental stewardship has encouraged other farmers to become involved in water quality programs. In other watersheds across the state, the formation of farmer advisory boards was the exemption rather than the rule.

Working with county-based Cornell Cooperative Extension educators and Soil and Water Conservation District personnel, farmers involved in watershed programs and in the implementation of environmental management practices were identified, involved in roundtable discussions, and interviewed. These participatory interactions provided farmers with the opportunity to identify and document their issues, concerns, and recommendations for the implementation of water quality programs.

Throughout these discussions and interviews, farmers reiterated the following themes:

• Many farmers are good stewards of the land and they would like to have their non-farm neighbors recognize and acknowledge their efforts.
• Many farmers would like to better stewards of the land, but economic volatility of their markets makes it difficult for them to expend substantial funds on making these improvements.
• Many farmers felt that consumers and downstream water users should help pay for some of the costs required for farmers to implement agricultural environmental management practices.
• Farmers should be involved in helping to develop environmental practices and environmental regulations that impact on farmers. Most farmers did not feel that this was not analogous to having “the fox guarding the hen house.� Instead they felt that farmers were knowledgeable about local soil conditions and land management practices. This knowledge would allow them to work with local technical and educational personnel to develop or prioritize management practices that were appropriate for local conditions.
• Farmers are best able to encourage other farmers to become involved in watershed and water quality projects. They are able to set examples for other farmers by implementing agricultural environmental management practices on their farms.
• Small-scale or “part-time� farmers should have as much access to project funds for implementing best management practices as do larger-scale farm operators. Funds should not be preferentially provided to larger farms.
• Farmers, technical personnel, and regulators can implement water quality projects more effectively if they work together, understand each others’ perspective, and develop programs that are adapted to local needs and conditions.

Throughout the interviews, one critical factor emerged that determined whether farmers’ concerns remained personnel or resulted in changes in policies or practices. This critical factor was farmer involvement on watershed or water quality planning and management committees. Based on this information, the project refocused its efforts to work with farmers in three New York watersheds: the Canandaigua Lake Watershed, the Cayuga Lake Watershed, and the Cortland Aquifer Watershed. In the Canandaigua Lake Watershed, personnel from the Ontario County Soil and Water Conservation District and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ontario County worked with farmers and town board members to identify and recruit farmers to serve on a “farmers’ advisory board.� This board was established to provide oversight on the implementation of best management practices on farms using state and federal grant monies. As the program evolved, the farmers took a greater leadership role in this project and are now acting as a “board of directors.� In the Cayuga Lake Watershed, farmers were instrumental in the establishment and implementation of an educational program designed to enhance local awareness and actions to protect to water quality in the watershed. In the Cortland Aquifer, farmers have been working to try to establish green market programs that could provide farmers with financial incentives to implement good environmental stewardship practices.

Meetings and interviews were held with farmers and technical resource people to obtain more information about these watershed programs and the role of farmers within the programs. These meetings included discussions with the farmers about farmer-lead activities in other watershed programs. Based on these discussions and interviews, farmers selected participants for involvement in a video. In the Canandaigua Lake Watershed and in the Cortland Aquifer Watershed, farmers were selected based on their ability to provide an important perspective of watershed program development or to represent an important sector of farmers involved in the program.

As the video was being developed, participating farmers were provided copies of draft video scripts and draft copies of the video production for their review and recommendations. Farmers in the Canandaigua Lake Watershed provided a critical review of an initial draft production of the video. During this review they insisted on revising the video to focus more on farmers’ potential roles in watershed projects and the importance of farmer- agency interaction in order to develop successful watershed programs.

Publications/Outreach

Interactions with program members, watershed programs, farmers’ organizations, and personnel associated with Cornell Cooperative Extension, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and the NY State Agricultural Environmental Management program during program implementation and video development helped promote and legitimize farmer involvement in watershed programs. While agricultural agencies are now viewing farmer involvement as acceptable and even important, they are often unfamiliar with processes required to ensure effective farmer involvement or may not place high priority on establishing and maintaining farmer-based committees. This video and accompanying written material will help these agencies to become more involved in the establishment or promotion of these committees. Established linkages with agencies currently working with agricultural and watershed programs will ensure that video is used to promote farmer involvement in watershed management programs.

Performance Target Outcomes

Outcomes

Results

Throughout project development, project members identified and highlighted the contributions of farmers to watershed program implementation. Farmers were invited to serve as guest speakers to four regional Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM) training programs. During these programs, they talked about the farmers’ perspective on water quality management, constraints farmers face in implementing best management practices, and assistance that they would like agency people to provide to allow them to become better stewards of the land. They also talked about the management roles that farmers could serve on agricultural or watershed program committees and how this involvement could benefit both farmers and agency personnel.

In addition, farmer involvement on the Canandaigua Lake Watershed Program Committee was used as the focus for an article published in a regionally-published agricultural magazine, the American Agriculturist. This article was copied and provided to farmers and others during various outreach events including the New York State Farm Show.

The involvement of farmers in the AEM training meetings and information from the American Agriculturist article encouraged personnel associated with county-based Cornell Cooperative Extension and Soil and Water Conservation District offices to encourage farmer-to-farmer discussions when initiating new watershed programs. They invited farmers from already established watershed programs to serve as mentors for farmers in watershed programs that were being established.

The video captures the innovative efforts of farmers in the development and implementation of water quality programs in three watersheds in New York. Farmers in the Canandaigua Lake Watershed speak of their involvement in a program designed to assist farmers implement environmental projects on their farms. Within this project, the role of farmers has evolved from program advisors to program directors who decide on project priorities, allocate project funds, and make hiring decisions regarding project personnel. In the Cayuga Lake Watershed, farmers serve as educators and mentors to help both farm and non-farm community members understand that “we all live in a watershed� and “we all have to work together to protect the watershed.� Farmers in the Cortland Aquifer Watershed are developing “green market� programs that provide farmers with financial incentives to be good environmental stewards.

Due to delays in working with the videographers, the final version of the video was not completed until December 1, 2000. This delay will prevent active involvement of this project in the distribution and marketing of this video. However, farmers, educators, and technical personnel involved in this project are interested in using the to promote farmer involvement in watershed and water quality projects. Appendix 5 provides a list of the recipients of free copies of the video. The video will also be promoted within the AEM educational program.

Project Outcomes

Future Recommendations

Farmer interviews and round-table discussions indicated clearly that farmers representing a variety of farming operations were interested and willing to be involved in watershed management programs. Although farmers from larger farms were more likely to serve in leadership roles, all watershed programs contacted by this project included smaller-scale farmers on program committees. In the Canandaigua Lake Watershed, the farmer advisory board was initially identified based on recommendations from CCE educators, SWCD personnel, and town planning board members. As this board evolved into an agricultural program board, farmers insisted that the board include representation from specified “special interest groups” including part-time farmers, Mennonite farmers, and younger farmers. Further study may help discern the importance of membership of “special interest groups”? on watershed programs; how their involvement impacts on program development, water quality practice implementation, and allocation of limited funds.

Farmers in the Cortland Aquifer Watershed are exploring potential “green market”? financial incentives for farmers implementing environmental management practices. Unfortunately, their efforts to develop green markets have been stymied by lack of support from NY State agricultural and environmental agencies. Further study may help identify how farmers can either implement effective water quality or green market programs without agency support or how they obtain this support without compromising their program objectives.

Potential Contributions

Impacts

Delayed distribution of the video prevented assessment of impacts from the video. However, the interactive processes used in developing the video helped to promote or increase farmer involvement in several watershed programs across New York. Project personnel used information gained from farmer interviews to promote farmer involvement in project development within the Agricultural Environmental Management Program and to state-wide organizations of watershed programs. Due to the evolution of farmers as watershed managers and leaders simultaneous with the development of the video, quantification of the impact of the video project, per se, on enhanced farmer involvement in other watershed projects is not possible.

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.