Sustainable ACEs (Agriculture,Curricula,Energy) for Tennessee

Final report for ES14-121

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2014: $77,757.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2018
Region: Southern
State: Tennessee
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Jason deKoff
Tennessee State University
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Project Information


This project successfully developed and implemented a curriculum in Tennessee related to biomass energy.  A stakeholder advisory group was created and had a face-to-face meeting in August 2015 at the beginning of the development phase.  A curriculum with presentations was completed, submitted to the stakeholder advisory group for final comments, and implemented in three regional trainings for Extension personnel and local officials in June - August 2016.  94% of trainee respondents indicated an increase in their knowledge of no-till production of winter canola, on-farm biodiesel production and the Rural Energy for America Program.  89% of these trainees indicated an increase in their knowledge of no-till sunflower production and the economics of growing biomass energy crops. All participants agreed that they would recommend the program to others, it increased their capacity to provide programs related to sustainability, and increased the potential for interactions between their organizations and others.  Two trainees used the soil health portion of the curriculum to provide information to their respective stakeholders in 2017.  90% (36 of 40) and 92% (33 of 36) of these participants indicated an increase in their knowledge of how to measure soil health and how to improve soil health, respectively.  The overall increase in knowledge (participants identifying an increase in knowledge for at least one of the above parameters) was 93% (37 of 40).  76% (28 of 37) of participants indicated an increase in their potential to measure different field indicators of soil health, 69% (29 of 42) of participants indicated an increase in their potential to perform specific testing for soil health, 83% (33 of 40) of participants indicated an increase in their potential to incorporate sustainable agricultural methods for soil health.  The overall increase in behavior (participants identifying an increase in knowledge for at least one of the above parameters) was 83% (35 of 42).  In addition, 68% (28 of 41) of participants identified an increase in their potential to seek information from UT/TSU Extension and 98% (45 of 46) agreed they would recommend this program to others.

Overall, the successful development and implementation of the biomass energy curriculum led to increased knowledge and potential changes in behavior.  The low use of the curriculum (12%, 2 of 17 trained) may be due to the decrease in oil prices which occurred in 2015 and therefore reduced interest in biomass energy by stakeholders in Tennessee.  It is expected that interest will increase with these oil prices, therefore, the curriculum is available online on the Farm Energy Community of Practice website at eXtension (


Project Objectives:

The proposed objectives related to milestones are as follows:

1. Establish stakeholder advisory group consisting of Extension agents and farmers/ranchers to provide assistance in planning the overall outline and structure of the curriculum on biomass

2. Generate a research-based curriculum, training manual and workshop plan for Extension agents and state and federal officials to use as they train producers.

3. Field test the curriculum and training manual through train-the trainer workshops (Phase 1) and initial training of producers (Phase 2).

4. Revise curriculum and training manual based on results from field testing data collection to produce final versions.

5. Upload revised final version of curriculum and training manual to TSU/UT Energy Education and SARE websites.



Educational approach:

This program involved the development and implementation of a curriculum for a Train-the-Trainer program.  Agricultural Extension agents and other local officials were invited to take part in trainings which were held in each of the three regions of Tennessee.  The curriculum was made up of multiple units on different topics related to biomass energy and each unit usually included presentation slides, presentation notes, video, fact sheets and an evaluation.  Trained agents provided feedback through evaluations on the Train-the-Trainer program and through evaluations from stakeholders they trained. 

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
3 Tours
5 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

17 Extension
47 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

55 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:


This project created a stakeholder advisory group made up of one Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension agent from each of the three regions in Tennessee and 1-2 farmers from each region for a total of 8 members.  This group had a face-to-face meeting with the project team in August 2015 where biomass energy information was provided by the team to the stakeholder advisory group and the stakeholder advisory group provided input on potential curriculum priorities.  Meeting minutes were taken.  One suggestion that was brought up by the stakeholder advisory group was to include information on how to start a cooperative as this would be important for farmers.  This was incorporated into our training curricula.  The curriculum was developed by the project team and provided to the stakeholder advisory group for comment.  Train-the-trainer workshops related to the curriculum were held in June, July and August 2016 in each of the three Tennessee regions.  Participants were provided with a copy of the curriculum along with a biomass energy-related tour (sweet sorghum research and processing facility, industry utilizing biomass energy technology for electricity production, or switchgrass production field) and demonstration using our mobile biodiesel unit.  Following each training, evaluations were used to identify impacts.  To date, two of the trainers have hosted meetings in their respective counties related to some of the materials from our curriculum.  They evaluated their participants following these meetings to identify impacts. 

The curriculum is uploaded to the Farm Energy Community of Practice at eXtension(  It includes 13 modules relating to biomass energy which each generally include presentation notes and slides, fact sheets, videos, and evaluations. 

Specific learning outcomes can be found above in the "Education and Outreach Initiatives" section.

2 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
47 Farmers reached through participant's programs

We believe that few individuals used materials from our curriculum to train their stakeholders due to the significant decrease in oil prices that occurred in early 2015.  This was documented in a separate published project let by the PI ( where low oil prices may have led to greater skepticism of the potential of on-farm biodiesel production.  Therefore, our trained participants may not have identified a need for this training within their respective counties.  We believe that this curriculum still holds great value long-term due to its focus on sustainable energy production and agriculture.

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.