Training for the Pasture Land Management Research Extension - Education Program

Final Report for ES01-059

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2001: $49,981.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $36,733.00
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
John Galbraith
Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University
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Project Information

Abstract:

To assist farmers and their advisors in making profitable decisions on adopting and managing grazing systems, a core group of 60 trainers including VA, WV, and NC extension agents, specialists, and graduate students, SWCD, and NRCS staff were trained in 2001-03. These trainees served as local Pasture Land Management System (PLMS) trainers to reach end-users and provide a feedback loop to the development team. Feedback from each of these groups was used to modify and assist in improving the methods used and the user interface for inputting data and reporting on alternative grazing scenarios. Two articles were published on PLMS: 1) Journal of Extension, and 2) proceedings of the XX International Grassland Congress, Ireland. Additional funding was obtained to continue the development of PLMS and expand the functionality to a broader range of farmers and service providers in the Mid-Atlantic region.

The PLMS software and training materials can be downloaded at http://clic.cses.vt.edu/PLMS/index.html

PLMS Contact:
Gordon Groover
AAEC Department, Mail Code 0401
VA Tech
Blacksburg, VA 24061
Office: 540-231-5850
Fax: 540-231-7417
E-mail: xgrover@vt.edu

Project Objectives:

Objectives of the project were for 250 farmers and service providers in VA, NC, and WV to gain knowledge of the farm-level complexities of managing the plant-animal-soil environment and to assist in implementing a grazing plan. In the fall of 2002 survey of the 50 individuals trained to use PLMS in 2001 and 2002, trainees reported they had demonstrated or used PLMS with more than 100 farmers. We have not updated this information, yet it is reasonable to expect that these objectives were met. In addition, more than 40 copies of PLMS were disturbed to interested agronomists at the 2004 American Agronomy meetings.

For 12 farmers to independently use PLMS to implement MIG on their farm. We have provided access to PLMS software for a number of service providers via the web site and with copies of the software on a CD. In addition, undergraduate students have received information on PLMS, and 5 have requested copies to use on their home farms.

The behavior-based objectives will be supported with the following educational tools and support network brought about by PLMS training:

PLMS users’ guides, case studies, and instructional materials for beef and dairy farms representative of the geographic diversity of the region. These have been posted on the PLMS web site http://clic.cses.vt.edu/PLMS/training/index.html.

A PLMS Internet site and threaded discussion groups for ongoing PLMS support/updates. Information PLMS, support, and updates are posted at the following web site http://clic.cses.vt.edu/PLMS/download/download.html. Any additional information about PLMS is posted on the web site to update users.

Improved cooperation and understanding between service providers working with grassland agriculture and environmental and economic impacts of grassland production. NRCS, SWCD, extension and university personnel in VA, NC, and WV continue to cooperate on development of PLMS, other research projects, and educational programs focused on grassland agriculture.

Introduction:

This regional project uses a systems approach to encourage the adoption of controlled grazing systems on small and medium-sized dairies and beef farms. Our goals are to improve the profitability of these operations through improvements in production efficiency, while also reducing detrimental environmental risks from soil and stream bank erosion, greenhouse gasses, and pollution of waterways with detrimental sediment, nutrients, and bacteria. The proposed project uses a decision support system (Pasture Land Management System – PLMS) as the centerpiece of an extension, education, and research project to assist students and farmers and their advisors in understanding and making informed decisions about controlled grazing.

PLMS was developed as a practical and portable decision tool to support land use decisions encompassing the plant-animal-soil system and can be adapted to any beef or dairy farm regardless of size. It was initiated by a cooperative venture involving the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station, Virginia Cooperative Extension, farmers, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), with the last three all being key users of the system as service providers. PLMS was designed from the outset as a completely new tool, emphasizing practicality with active participation by end-users. Funding from this project brought in North Carolina and West Virginia to carry out an initial implementation plan involving validation, calibration, refinement, training, and education.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Jim Cropper
  • David Faulkner
  • James Green, Jr
  • Gordon Groover
  • Glenn Johnson
  • Ed Rayburn
  • Ray Smith, Jr.
  • Nick Stone

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

Sixty NRCS, SWCD, extension agents, graduate students, and university personnel participated in 3 intensive, hands-on, two-day workshops on using PLMS to help farmers improve their grazing management. All workshops were held on the VA Tech campus to train VA, NC, and WV personnel. All training materials, example farms, interactive climate and soils data, contact sensitive help files, and teaching examples were provided on the PLMS web site for use in teaching and using PLMS for illustrating improvements in grazing management. The training workshops assisted the development team in identifying necessary improvements to the model to meet the needs of our users. These improvements were made over the course of the project and included allowing users to input their own forage growth functions and copy and/or split fields to reduce input time. We discovered that with changes in the NRCS computer platform that we need to invest additional time and resources in seeking CCE certification at the USDA Interoperability Lab for PLMS.

Outreach and Publications

All materials are on the PLMS web site at http://clic.cses.vt.edu/PLMS/index.html.

An article was submitted and accepted for publication in the Journal of Extension about the 2001 training and questionnaire feedback.
Galbraith, J.M., Stone, N.D., Groover, G.E., Bruce, F.A., Jr., and G.B. Benson. 2003. Training Professionals in Use of Pasture Land Management System (PLMS) Decision Support System. J. Extension (accepted August 28, 2003 for on-line journal).
A presentation and poster was accepted at the International Grassland Congress 2005, Satellite Session Title: The Utilization of Grazed Grass in Temperate Animal Systems in Association with the European Grassland Federation. Cork, Ireland. Groover, G. E., S.R. Smith, N. D. Stone, J.J Venuto, Jr., J.M. Galbraith. Pasture Land Management System (PLMS) Decision Support Software (DSS). Cork, Ireland. July, 2005.

Outcomes and impacts:

Beef and dairy producers in the Southern Region will benefit from this training activity because of the increased potential use of the decision support system software. The strategy to “train the trainers” has proven to be an efficient way to spread the word about PLMS and to encourage its use. The trainers were made to feel a part of the development team and process, and there was instant buy-in to the program. The enthusiasm shown by the trainers should carry over to the users, who will benefit from the opportunity to preview and compare alternative systems and operation alternatives without outlaying any capital. Hopefully, the advantages of rotational grazing will be evident enough that its use will increase in the region. In addition, grants from NRCS and EPA (approximately $80,000) have supported an improvement and an addition to PLMS. Funds were obtained to incorporate the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) equations for estimating changes in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into PLMS to estimate the net change in GHG as management intensive grazing is adopted. In 2004, funds were obtained to update the forage growth model to more realistically predict plant growth to alterative grazing scenarios. Modifications to the plant growth equations should be completed in early 2006. styles available below.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Ongoing – Recruit Trainers & Develop/Update Training Program
Complete – Develop Online Resources
Complete – Form Cooperator & Trainer Advisory Board
Complete – Post Software and Training Materials on Web
Complete – Prepare Evaluations and Survey
Complete – Training Sessions
Complete – Evaluation of Training and Program Feedback
Complete – Trainer Evaluation
Ongoing – Maintain Online Resources
Complete – Surveying of Trainees
Complete – Collect Case Study Data and Develop Scenarios
Complete – Coordinated Training with Extension and NRCS
Complete – Project Report Prepared w/Survey Data
Complete – Submit journal articles about the training
Complete – Make improvements following user feedback
Complete – Make final improvements to web site and user guide
Complete – Offer final training session after software improvement
Complete – Distribute copies of PLMS by CD-ROM
Complete – Make additional improvements to PLMS

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

The project and training provided badly need feedback on the forage and livestock systems and their relevance to the problems faced by service providers assisting farmers. The project supported the continued development of a model that will be more and more important as farmers in the east develop pasture systems for pasture-based dairy, grass finished beef, and adoption of management intensive grazing. In addition, the PLMS model has direct application to design of organic livestock systems for beef and dairy cattle helping meet the needs of one of the fastest growing sectors of the agricultural economy.

Future Recommendations

Development of software products is a continuous process that requires support for both training and continued updating of the software. Separating the training function from the programming and development cannot be accomplished with users requesting changes that will improve their ability to support the needs of their clients. All-in-all the response of PLMS users has been extremely positive with its use by extension agents and for classroom instruction.

Feedback and survey results indicate that software that can assist farmers east of the Mississippi River in understanding the complexities of plant-animal-soil interactions in designing grazing systems is badly needed. Feedback from the 60 individuals trained to use PLMS was invaluable in improving the user interface and how the results of the model farms should be displayed. As discussed in the 2003 Journal of Extension article, user follow-up is critical for developers operating on limited budgets or seeking grant funds to continue the development process. Obtaining user feedback with ranking of priorities to address the needs of the targeted users provides a cost effective means for direct programming. The authors have identified the following issues and tools that can help developers of public domain software on a limited budget direct their resources.

-Working reliable software must be developed before training activities start.
-Trainers must have a working knowledge of both the software and subject matter expertise in the practical applications of the software.
-Training must be targeted at the end user to improve or assist in their delivery of programs.
-Targeted users must have access to reliable computer hardware and internet access.
-Targeted users that have subject expertise, yet lack sufficient general computer operations knowledge, should be identified and trained outside of the software-training program.
-Onsite evaluations of the training programs are a must to identify success or failure of training program.
-Development of web-based tools for users to interact with developers (discussion forums, bug report and change request) will help identify new problems, but will not take the place of direct contact with users.
-Web access to all resource materials, data files, teaching examples, and user’s guides provide users with a central location for all materials for infrequent users.
-Follow-up surveys are strongly recommended to provide feedback on problems, frequency of use, and priorities for additions and/or modifications to software and resource materials.

Finally (in 2002), many said they were glad there was a PLMS system and complemented the researchers who were developing it. Comments included: “the system has an overall potential,” “could be used within other agencies,” and that “if the bugs were worked out it could provide needed assistance for producers.”

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.