Final report for ES18-139

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2018: $42,773.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2019
Grant Recipient: Texas A&M University
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Vanessa Corriher-Olson
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension
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Project Information

Abstract:

Over the last few years the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Prairie View Cooperative Extension and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service have had an influx of new field personnel and agents. Many of these new employees have very little background in the sustainable production of forage, beef cattle, and other agriculture products. Additionally, a large number of new producers are entering the beef and forage industry, many of which have retired from other careers. This is an additional challenge for Extension and NRCS staff trying to provide information for producers with little or no agricultural background. The proposed training will provide Extension agents and NRCS professionals with the tools to better serve new agricultural producers.

Achieving sustainability in agricultural operations requires in-service training programs and encouraging multi-functional Extension and NRCS staff to collaborate for planning and implementing these programs. Encouragement of active participation by agents through hands-on field activities, open discussion of issues that impact agricultural and rural life, and field trips to view concepts presented in a real-world context ensure that educational goals are fulfilled and that active learning takes place.

Among the target population of Extension agents, over 95 percent have beef or forage as their primary plans of work. Additionally, soil and water conservation through the management of forage and livestock resources is a primary focus of NRCS professionals. Therefore, a train-the-trainer program that focuses on beef and forage production is critical.

To address this need, a 14-person committee, led by Extension has planned a 3-day training consisting of on-farm demonstrations, hands-on activities, and classroom time. The training will reach 15 recently hired NRCS and Extension employees. It will be conducted at 6 mentor farms in East Texas currently conducting innovative sustainable practices.

Project Objectives:
  1. Increase the knowledge of NRCS field personnel, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agents, and Prairie View Cooperative Extension Agents about successful sustainable farming practices.
  2. Increase the knowledge of NRCS field personnel, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agents, and Prairie View Cooperative Extension Agents about state and federal agricultural programs available to farmers and ranchers.
  3. Provide the skills necessary for NRCS field personnel, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agents, and Prairie View Cooperative Extension Agents to confidently educate and advise landowners interested in beginning or improving sustainable agricultural practices.
  4. Provide publications and other resource materials that have been developed through previous SARE funded projects as well as previous and current Extension and NRCS efforts.
  5. Provide the opportunity for networking among mentor farmers, NRCS field personnel, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agents, and Prairie View Cooperative Extension Agents.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Galan and Patti White (Educator)
  • Bob Miars (Educator)
  • Richard Saunders (Educator)
  • Mark Hannan (Educator)
  • Ross Kinney (Educator)
  • Dr. Gerald Evers (Educator)

Education

Educational approach:

The 3-day training program will begin with participates meeting at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research & Extension Center in Overton, TX. Participants will load into vans and we will proceed to the first tour stop. Each day will consist of two stops selected to highlight specific successful and sustainable agricultural practices. Below is a list of stops for each day.

 

Day 1:

  • Ross and Beverly Kinney Farm
  • Lunch
  • Gerald Evers Farm
  • Dinner and travel to hotel

Day 2:

  • Patti and Galen White Farm
  • Lunch
  • Bob Miars Farm
  • Dinner and travel to hotel

Day 3:

  • Richard Saunders Farm
  • Lunch
  • Mark Hannan Farm

 

Only two tour stops were selected each day to allow for plenty of discussion and hands on activities. Additionally, stops have been strategically grouped to minimize driving time between stops.

On day 1, lunch will be hosted at the Texas A&M Research and Extension Center during which time research faculty will visit with attendees about current research projects.

The tour will be concluded with a summary and question and answer session. Attendees will also be provided with a multitude of factsheets and other resources they can share with producers. Additionally, attendees will be required to complete the Qualtrics survey after returning home, to improve the effectiveness of future professional development and train the trainer programs.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Sustainable Farming Practices
Objective:

Increase the knowledge of NRCS field personnel, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agents and Prairie View Cooperative Extension Agents about successful sustainable farming practices. Below is a partial list of some of the topics and practices that will be covered:

Description:
  1. Forage and Hay
  • Soil testing as a tool for making fertilizer decisions
  • Establishment of warm season perennial forages from seeds and sprigs and their value in increasing soil organic matter and long term soil health
  • Establishment and use of legumes to provide supplemental grazing for livestock and reduce needs on traditional nitrogen fertilizers
  • Overseeding of cool-season annual forages to provide supplemental grazing for livestock, reduce cool-season weeds, and potential benefits on soil health
  • Stocking rates and grazing methods to increase forage production, reduce weed competition, and reduce the need for herbicides
  • Using pesticides safely to control weed and insect pests when needed
  • Producing quality hay to meet nutritional needs of livestock and its impact on the long term economic success of operations
  • Hay storage to minimize dry matter and quality loss
  • Hay feeding considerations from an economic and environmental standpoint
  • Benefits of feeding hay in pasture bare spots to add organic matter from hay that was not consumed and the positive benefits on future forage growth in problem areas

 

2. Beef cattle

  • Bull selection with regards to production goals, sustainability, and operational profitability
  • Selection of replacement females best suited to the production environment
  • Retained ownership of stockers as a drought and forage management tool
  • Grassfed, local, and other alternative cattle marketing opportunities
  • Retained ownership of cattle through the feedlot as a way to improve profits
  • Best management practices for cow-calf operations
  • Internal and external parasite control and the effects various products have on beneficial insects like dung beetles and parasitic wasps

3. Dairy

  • Grazing dairy cattle in East Texas
  • Manure management considerations

4. Horses for breeding and performance purposes

  • Pasture management for horses
  • Appropriate stocking rates to maintain perennial pastures and reduce weed competition
  • Grazing behavior differences between horses and cattle

5. Timber, woodland management

  • Establishing pine plantations for profit
  • Silvopasture: incorporating grazing into woodlands
  • Best management practices for woodlands

6. Honeybees

  • How to effectively use pesticides to minimize impact on pollinators
Outcomes and impacts:

Participants increased their knowledge by 30% or greater on the following practices: establishment of warm season perennial grasses, establishment of cool season annual forages, factors affecting forage quality, hay storage, hay feeding considerations, dairy production, resources and agency goals of NRCS, and programs available through NRCS.

            Due to inclement weather conditions during the three days of training many of the activities had to be moved indoors for more classroom time. Learning outcomes would have been greater in value with hands-on activities in the field. Despite weather conditions classroom time did provide an opportunity for more open discussion among participants. When asked what did they take away from the training, majority of the participants had only positive comments. One participant specifically enjoyed the opportunity to be able to network with NRCS as well as Texas A&M AgriLife colleagues. Networking provided an opportunity to discuss local and regional issues as well as ways to manage them.

 

State and Federal agricultural programs
Objective:

Increase the knowledge NRCS field personnel, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agents, and Prairie View Cooperative Extension Agents about State and Federal agricultural programs available to farmers and ranchers. The mentor farmers will also share their experiences on specific programs that they utilized.

Description:
  • Programs available through NRCS: Agricultural Management Assistance, Conservation Stewardship Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and many other conservation programs
Outcomes and impacts:

Jason Hohlt, USDA-NRCS Rangeland Management Specialist, provided participants with an in depth description of the programs that are available through NRCS. NRCS participants were able to add additional comments based on their personal experience with farmers/ranchers in Central and East Texas. They provided insight for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension participants so they can help guide farmers/ranchers that they work with in their respective counties.

 

Educate and Advise Landowners on beginning or improving sustainable agricultural practices
Objective:

Provide the skills necessary for NRCS field personnel, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agents, and Prairie View Cooperative Extension Agents to confidently educate and advise landowners interested in beginning or improving sustainable agricultural practices.

Description:

Provide the skills necessary for NRCS field personnel, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agents, and Prairie View Cooperative Extension Agents to confidently educate and advise landowners interested in beginning or improving sustainable agricultural practices.

Outcomes and impacts:

Participants took advantage of the opportunity to speak directly with the producers involved with this training to learn more from the producers perspective on the type of guidance they commonly seek. As well as the topics that were covered in the field as well as the classroom setting, this producer interaction will provide confidence for participants as they move forward with their careers.

 

Publications and Resource Materials
Objective:

Provide publications and other resource materials that have been developed through previous SARE funded projects as well as previous and current Extension and NRCS efforts.

Description:

Provide publications and other resource materials that have been developed through previous SARE funded projects as well as previous and current Extension and NRCS efforts.

Outcomes and impacts:

Participants were provided with two publications, including: Range Plants of North Central Texas and the SARE publication, Building Soils for Better Crop, 3rd edition. They were introduced to additional resources such as websites (including, http://foragefax.tamu.edu; http://beeffax.tamu.edu and the Web Soil Survey). 

Networking
Objective:

Provide the opportunity for networking among mentor farmers, NRCS field personnel, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agents, and Prairie View Cooperative Extension Agents. Resources come in many forms and one resource can often times be other agricultural educational professionals.

Description:

Provide the opportunity for networking among mentor farmers, NRCS field personnel, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agents, and Prairie View Cooperative Extension Agents. Resources come in many forms and one resource can often times be other agricultural educational professionals.

Outcomes and impacts:

One participant specifically enjoyed the opportunity to be able to network with NRCS as well as Texas A&M AgriLife colleagues. Networking provided an opportunity to discuss local and regional issues as well as ways to manage them. Participants continued their networking and interaction outside of coordinated activities. They spent time visiting and discussing issues when they had free time or meals on their own. Many have continued to stay in contact post training event.

 

Educational & Outreach Activities

10 Consultations

Participation Summary

8 Extension
2 NRCS
2 Researchers
8 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

9 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
12 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

12 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Participants increased their knowledge by 30% or greater on the following practices: establishment of warm season perennial grasses, establishment of cool season annual forages, factors affecting forage quality, hay storage, hay feeding considerations, dairy production, resources and agency goals of NRCS, and programs available through NRCS.

            Due to inclement weather conditions during the three days of training many of the activities had to be moved indoors for more classroom time. Learning outcomes would have been greater in value with hands-on activities in the field. Despite weather conditions classroom time did provide an opportunity for more open discussion among participants. When asked what did they take away from the training, majority of the participants had only positive comments. One participant specifically enjoyed the opportunity to be able to network with NRCS as well as Texas A&M AgriLife colleagues. Networking provided an opportunity to discuss local and regional issues as well as ways to manage them.

            The value of networking among NRCS and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension employees has resulted in potential long lasting relationships that will result in joint programming across agencies. They are better equipped to serve and train farmers in their county or region. Local farmers have benefited from subsequent workshops conducted by these employees on successful, sustainable agricultural practices as well as state and federal agricultural programs that can provide financial and other assistance to farmers.

The selected topics provided extension agents and NRCS professionals with the knowledge and tools needed to make their programs successful. More importantly this training provided long-term available resources that can provide support in the future. Resources included SARE publications, websites, as well as contacts for specialist and researchers.

 

12 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
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.