In order to increase the use of cover crops as a management technique for vegetable production systems in the Mid-South region, growers and Extension personnel must be appropriately educated. This project seeks to provide such education in Arkansas by using UACES Horticulture Specialists and a NRCS Agronomist in a “train-the-trainer” model to educate UACES County Extension agents, NRCS agents and grower “leaders”. These trainees will then train other agents and growers on cover crop use. We expect to increase agents’ abilities to make recommendations on the use of cover crops and to subsequently increase grower’s adoption of cover crops.
- At the end of the two year project a minimum of 30 UACES and 20 NRCS agents trained in workshops will be able to answer basic questions with 80% proficiency on cover crop: selection, management and impacts on soil health and IPM. Improved agent knowledge regarding cover crop management will result in increases in cover crop recommendations to their clientele.
- In the year following the termination of the project 75% of workshop participants will conduct a training in their local area reaching a minimum of 300 new farmers statewide, who will increase their knowledge and capacity to manage cover crops resulting in increased adoption of cover crops into vegetable production systems in the years following training participation.
- A suite of educational materials will be produced and shared with agencies across the Mid-south reaching a minimum of 500 people in the region in the second year who will increase their knowledge of and capacity to implement cover crops into vegetable production systems.
- Collaboration with three Arkansas growers who effectively integrate cover crops into their vegetable production systems will highlight their successes to agents and growers in the region which will reinforce knowledge learned in workshops and contribute to increases in cover crop adoption by new growers in the years following the project.
Research has established the benefits of integrating cover crops into crop rotations on soil health, plant nutrition, and integrated pest management (IPM). Widespread adoption of cover crops into vegetable production systems in the Mid-South region however has not yet been observed. Lack of awareness of the benefits of cover crops and management techniques likely contributes to the lack of cover crop adoption in the region. In order to combat this lack of knowledge this project seeks to develop cover crop curricula to train select UACES Extension agents and NRCS agents who will then deliver effective trainings to growers and thereby increase cover crop adoption in the state.
To assess Extension agents, NRCS agents and grower’s current knowledge and use of cover crops in vegetable production systems in Arkansas, the principal investigators (PIs) will conduct an online survey in early 2017. The PIs will attend UACES’ three annual district meetings in the spring of 2017 to introduce the project and encourage agents and their clientele to participate in the survey. The survey will also be distributed through established grower list-serves and social media. Conventional and organic growers will be targeted, as both can increase their use of cover crops to manage soil health and improve the sustainability of their production systems.
In year one of the project, surveys of UACES agents, NRCS agents and growers will be conducted to determine the extent to which cover crops are used in vegetable production in Arkansas and where there are gaps in knowledge. The survey results will direct the production of training materials such as PowerPoint presentations, demonstration videos, and fact sheets. These materials ultimately will be posted online and shared with SARE and its constituents, thus increasing the reach of our project beyond Arkansas itself. The second year of the project will include training agents in workshops using the produced training materials and conducting on-farm cover crop demonstrations with grower “leaders” across Arkansas. At the end of the two year project, we will survey changes in knowledge, attitudes, and acreage of cover crop use in vegetable crop systems in Arkansas. Participating agents will replicate trainings in their home counties and also report participation data.
At the UACES district meetings, PIs will interact with agriculture agents from Arkansas’s 75 counties and identify 10-15 UACES agents from each district who are interested in being trained as agent “leaders”. This approach will empower individuals with the greatest need and interest in cover crop training, which will increase the sustainability and success of programming.
Results from the online survey will guide the development of training materials to grower and agent needs. Training materials will include the following information:
- Benefits of cover crops on soil health, plant nutrition, and IPM (disease, beneficial insects and weed suppression);
- Strategies for incorporating cover crops into rotations;
- Cover crop selection, seeding rates, and termination methods for the Mid-South region.
Types of training materials will include:
- Five demonstration videos highlighting important facets of cover crop management and interviews with three Arkansas growers who use cover crops in vegetable production systems;
- Educational fact sheets following University of Arkansas Extension standards;
- PowerPoint presentations;
- A ‘Cover Crop’ page on the UACES Horticulture website to serve as the portal for the project and to house educational training materials developed.
- Links to SARE cover crop resources.
Cover crop demonstration plots will be planted at the University of Arkansas Southwest Research and Extension Center (Hope, AR) during the late spring and early fall 2017 to provide accessible plots for use in video production. Genetically engineered varieties or organisms will not be used.
The PIs are currently conducting cover crop research for fall-planted vegetables and are planning trials on winter cover crops with summer vegetables. Results will available for the second year of this project and will be incorporated into training materials to provide specific, researched-based recommendations to Arkansas growers.
In year two training workshops will be held with agent “leaders” in each of the three UACES districts, NRCS agents and cover crops demonstrations will be established on grower “leaders’” farms within each district. One day workshops will include three hours of classroom, lunch and two hours of field training in “grower leader” demonstration plots to highlight planting techniques and management. Lunch will be provided to facilitate the short schedule and movement between sites. Binders will be provided to agent “leaders” that will contain all the materials needed to conduct their own training on cover crops. A follow-up survey will be administered after each workshop to assess changes in county agents’ and participating growers’ knowledge, attitudes, and anticipated impact on cover crop acreage in Arkansas. Results will be used to modify training materials if needed prior to final publication. All agent “leaders” will be encouraged to hold at least one training session in the following calendar year and to report attendance and impact data.
The project will conclude with the release of all educational materials on the SARE website for use by other Extension systems in an effort to expand the reach of the project on improving agricultural sustainability across the south.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
Determine learning, extension material needs and opportunities to improve extension's service to growers through the development of the curriculum
A survey was conducted with growers and extension agents in the state on current knowledge, knowledge gaps and needs for educational resources of both county extension agents and farmers.
Key areas of education needs, type of education outreach preferred by growers and methods were identified and will be implemented in the development of the training protocol