Nutrient Management Education: Development and Implementation of Training Modules on Basic Principles, Current State of Knowledge and Advances in Research

Final Report for ENE98-043

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1998: $6,500.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1999
Region: Northeast
State: Delaware
Project Leader:
Karen L. Gartley
University of Delaware
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Project Information


Discussions over the past several years between representatives of the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, federal, state and local agencies and industry groups had often included concern about the level of understanding of nutrient management, both basic principles and planning considerations, among field staff of the various groups. With the growing emphasis on improved nutrient management and increased demand for plan development on the horizon in Delaware, it was decided that the University of Delaware would develop an educational training program for "front line" field staff. The program was to be objective, science based and reflect the latest research from Delaware and nearby states.

In the Fall of 1998, the program was organized by faculty and staff of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Delaware. Input from representatives of Cooperative Extension, state and federal agencies, and local agricultural organizations produced a series of eight topics to be covered in this initial training program (see Table 1, below). A technical assistant was hired with funds obtained from the SARE Professional Development Program to help prepare the educational materials used in the program: a series of eight training module slide sets, a training handbook containing copies of the slides in note format, interactive exercises and other relevant handouts, and an informative registration brochure used to publicize the program to potential participants.

In January, 1999, the training program was offered over a period of four days (one day per week for four weeks) to 64 participants ftom 10 organizations. The format included not only educational lectures but also practical discussions and interactive exercises designed to ensure that program participants not only understood the concepts being presented but also how to apply them in the field. Two of the eight topics were covered each day. Panel discussions relevant to the topics discussed were used to conclude each session.

Participants were charged a registration fee of $50.00 to attend the program. Lunch and breaks were provided and included in the fee to encourage participants to stay on site and to facilitate ongoing discussions within the group. Each participant received a copy of the training handbook and additional materials relevant to topics that were discussed. Participants were eligible for continuing education credit through the University of Delaware Division of Continuing Education and the Certified Crop Advisor program. A wrap up survey was mailed to all participants at the conclusion of the program to evaluate the success of the training and to collect suggestions for topics and/or improvements for future programs.

Table 1. Modules included in the initial UD CANR Nutrient Management Training Program.

Module No.______Module Topic
1_______Basic Principles of Nutrient Management
2_______Aquatic Hydrology and Ecology
3_______Basic Principles of Nutrient Management: The Nitrogen Cycle
4_______Basic Principles of Nutrient Management: Nitrogen Management
5_______Basic Principles of Nutrient Management: The Phosphorus Cycle
6_______Basic Principles of Nutrient Management: Phosphorus Management
7_______Soil Testing and Plant Analysis: Principles and Practices
8_______Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans for Delaware

Project Objectives:

1) To prepare training module slide sets on key aspects of nutrient management for use in educational programs for individuals involved in developing nutrient management plans.

2) To develop support materials including educational handouts and interactive activities/exercises for use in the training program.

3) To provide the initial training program using the eight modules to Cooperative Extension personnel and others from state and local agencies.

Educational Approach

Educational approach:


Prior to the training program in January, brochures describing the upcoming program (see Attachment 4) were distributed to agencies and organizations throughout the state through direct mailings and personal contacts. Follow up contact was made by e mail and/or phone calls from the program organizers and/or the University of Delaware Director of Extension.

Following completion of the program, a poster describing the training program was presented at the National American Society of Agronomy (ASA) annual meeting in Division A 4 Extension Education on November 1, 1999, in Salt Lake City, Utah. A copy of the abstract is attached (see Attachment 5). Numerous positive comments were received from others involved in the development of educational and/or nutrient management programs who viewed the poster, slide sets and training manuals. Twenty four requests for program outlines and additional information were obtained.

The slide sets and the training manual were also submitted to the ASA Division A 4 Extension Educational Materials Awards Program in the "Audio Visual" and "Publications Greater than 16 pages". Each entry was evaluated by a separate team of judges and both were awarded Certificates of Excellence in their respective categories. Copies of the Certificates are included (see Attachments 6 and 7). Follow up articles regarding the awards and the training program itself are being prepared by the Communications Department of our college for release in local news publications.

The training program is currently being submitted as an entry in the National Extension Directors Awards Program. The deadline for submission is December 13, 1999 with the decision to be announced in January, 2000.

No milestones

Performance Target Outcomes

Activities for farmers conducted by service providers:


Objective 1: Development of the Slide Modules

Eight module consisting of 30 to 54 slides each were completed for the eight topics listed in Table 1. The slide sets were created using the software package Microsoft Powerpoint97. The modules were used in the training program described under Objective No. 3. Additional sets of the training modules were provided to each of the Delaware Cooperative Extension county offices and to the two Nutrient Management Specialists hired by UD-CES since that time for use in educational programs developed by CES staff. Several modules have been used in educational presentations made by UD personnel to the Delaware Nutrient Management Commission, the group appointed under 1999 Delaware legislation and charged with writing and implementing nutrient management regulation for the State of Delaware.

Copies of specific modules have also been provided to the Delaware Department of Agriculture. Copies of the complete set have also been requested by several others involved in the development of nutrient management educational programs for other states including Virginia, Colorado and Ohio.

Objective 2: Development of Educational Materials

Educational materials including copies of the slides in handout format, interactive exercises, related fact sheets, journal articles, reference materials and a bibliography of nutrient management publications were prepared and organized in 3 ring binder format into the training handbook Cooperative Bulletin No. 77. Nutrient Management for Water Quality Protection -- A Training Program on Nutrient Management in Delaware. Copies of the training book were provided to all program participants. Additional copies were placed in county Cooperative Extension Offices and provided to selected Nutrient Management Commission members.

Objective 3: Providing the Initial Training Program

The initial training program was held during January, 1999. Sessions were held one day a week for four weeks at the Kent County Cooperative Extension Office in Dover, DE. The program format included slide supported lectures, large and small group discussion, interactive exercises and panel discussions. The program content was selected with the dual goals of providing trainees with an objective, science based background in the basic principles of nutrient management and bringing them up to date on the latest research and technological advances available to assist them in developing plans for growers.

Sixty four individuals from ten organizations participated in the program. Participants included representatives from Cooperative Extension, the University of Delaware, and federal, state and local agencies with job responsibilities ranging from grower assistance to regulatory enforcement. Participants were charged a registration fee of $50.00 and were provided with training handbooks and additional materials. All meals and breaks were included in the registration fee and provided on site for the convenience of the participants and to encourage and facilitate continued interaction among the trainees and program leaders. Continuing educational credits were also offered through the University of Delaware Division of Continuing Education and the Certified Crop Advisor program. A wrap up survey was mailed to all participants to evaluate the success of the program and to obtain information for use in future planning of programs.

Project Outcomes


The format chosen for this program seemed to work very well, especially with a group so diverse in education, experience and responsibilities. The ability to bring together such a group for organized and informal discussion provided the educational opportunities beyond those specific topics included in the schedule. All groups heard the same information presented in an objective, even handed manner. It enabled the various groups represented to raise specific concerns they held and hear how others were dealing with those issues.

The wrap-up survey results indicated that in general the group was satisfied with the material presented for an initial training, both in scope and level of difficulty. Based upon the discussions during the program and comments received in the survey, additional training opportunities focusing on more narrow topics would be useful in the future. Suggested topics included:

  • nutrient management regulations
  • nutrient management for intensive management systems
  • nutrient management and irrigation use
  • management of high P soils (e.g., the Phosphorus Site Index)
  • manure management and disposal alternatives.
  • educational activities designed to promote nutrient management plan development to growers
  • nutrient management plan development step-by-step how-to program.

I would recommend two changes for future training programs: The first is to offer them on a multi-state basis, if possible. In regions such as Delmarva, where our program was held, many growers operate on both sides of the state line. Having instructors and participants from both areas and including topics which are of interest regionally would not only be likely to increase attendance but would also help to educate the audience on perspectives/issues within each state that may impact growers and field staff working in those areas.

The second change would be to allow more time for the interactive exercises -- time which would include not only the problem solving but also discussion of the answer or process. In several instances, this discussion was cut short in the interest of time. While several people with additional questions did contact me after the program to discuss their questions, I believe bringing their questions up for general discussion would have been beneficial, as I'm sure there were others with the same or similar questions.

Potential Contributions

Trainee Adoption and Direct Impact:

The purpose of this program was to develop training materials and to provide initial training to front line field staff. Comments from participants and results of the wrap up survey (see Attachments 2 and 3) indicated that trainees found the program helpful and the material presented educational. Conversations with several participants have indicated that they now have a better understanding of several nutrient management issues such as soil phosphorus and phosphorus management, a volatile topic in our state at the present time, and feel better able to deal with questions from growers and other individuals. Another individual, a conservationist with the conservation district said that he appreciated that the all groups, both grower support and regulatory, were hearing the same information and were able to find some common ground on which to agree. Another individual from Cooperative Extension said that he had a better understanding of some of the recent research developments and would be better able to explain them to the growers he dealt with who could benefit from the information.

Potential Benefits or Impacts:

By strengthening the basic knowledge of trainees about nutrient management principles and giving them some initial exposure to recent developments in research and technology, we believe that they will be better able to respond to their clients needs and questions. Many expressed comments that several issues, especially those related to phosphorus, had changed substantially since they were in school and the that the information provided in this program gave them a better understanding of the problems and issues that must be dealt with today. The benefits arise not only from the material covered but also in the contacts and references developed so that when questions arise, individuals especially those serving in front line field staff positions will have direct knowledge of who to contact for assistance, in other organizations as well as their own. They also may be better able to incorporate new technologies being developed because they have a better understanding of processes involved and the implications those processes have in a particular management situation.

Feedback from Farmers:

Only a few farmers attended the training as the program was directed at front line field staff who would be writing plans for growers. Those who did attend either also held positions with one of the organizations represented or served on the county committee for the local USDA Farm Service Agency. Comments received from farmers in attendance indicated that they found the information educational and objective, especially with respect to the phosphorus issues in light of the current interest in P in the State of Delaware. Several stated that the information on the P cycle in soil and P management was quite different from what they may have learned in school a decade or more ago.

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.