Promotion and Adoption of Sustainable Agriculture Practices in Texas: Training the Trainers

Progress report for ES18-142

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2018: $80,000.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2021
Grant Recipient: Texas A&M University
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Jake Mowrer
Texas A&M Agrilife Extension
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Project Information

Abstract:

As the second largest agricultural production state in the U.S., Texas has one of the lowest percentages of acres under adoption of sustainable and/or conservation agricultural practices as compared to other states. There is currently no comprehensive and organized program to address the need for increasing adoption of such practices, which include optimizing nutrient management, reducing tillage, and incorporating cover crops into food and fiber production systems.

The ultimate goal of this project is to markedly increase the percentage of acres under sustainable and/or conservation practices by easing the pathway to success for farmers considering transition by providing better training to field operatives.

This proposal suggests that the input of farmers from each of the major eco-regions in the state of Texas is crucial for designing and for delivering the content of the training program. Furthermore, representatives engaged in extension style work for Texas A&M Extension service, Prairie View A&M Cooperative Extension Program, and USDA-NRCS at the local levels must be trained to assess local producers’ motivations and risk attitudes. These local agents must be able to react to those assessments according to their training, and then to tailor messages to their local producers that result in the gradual increase of adoption of locally relevant conservation and/or sustainable agricultural practices.

There is currently no comprehensive training program, nor any source of relevant statewide information that can serve to even begin to achieve such an ambitious goal for Texas’ soil conservation and agricultural sustainability needs. By aligning the training programs of the land grant Extension and NRCS services, and orienting that program towards locally relevant information to drive adoption of conservation/sustainable practices, the expectations for favorable outcomes is much higher than that of a more monolithic national or homogenous statewide approaches. By including regionally derived research, training program recipients will be better prepared to react to local concerns with scientifically based recommendations with higher success rates. Attention to and respect for local attitudes and realities, both social and environmental, is key to driving adoption of conservation agricultural practices for the protection of our soil, water and other natural resources. Armed with the confidence to provide such relevant assistance, local field agents will be teh drivers for increasing successful adoption rates.

Project Objectives:

This project proposes to address the identified need through the following objectives:

  1. Updating and compiling all applicable research in the state regarding conservation and sustainable agricultural practices;
  2. Publication of research from (1) into a technical monograph in hardcopy and as online available format; and
  3. Development and implementation of a training program for CEAs, NRCS, and mentor farmers.

Cooperators

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Education

Educational approach:

A research monograph summarizing conservation and sustainable soil and crop management research statewide in Texas is being developed through a conventional literature search of publications (both peer reviewed and Extension) and through direct solicitation of cooperating researchers across the state at government institutions and universities.  Additionally, non-research driven information on successful practices are gathered directly from farmers.  The monograph will be translated into a training manual for agents and NRCS and private consulting personnel in the state that will have as its organizational focus conservation and sustainable practices relevant by eco-region and by production system.  There are 10 eco-regions in Texas that differ by climate and soil type, which in turn govern the types of production and management systems that can be successful there.

Trainings will be held in eco-region specific locations and trainings will be targeted (as 1-2 workshops) towards personnel working with farmers in those ecoregions.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Sustainable Agriculture Committee
Objective:

discuss, plan, and implement educational programs, workshops, and trainings related to cover crop production and best management practices to improve profitability

Description:

Derrick Banks Fort Bend County Agriculture and Natural Resource Extension Agent is the Committee advisor and there are 9 active committee members. This years focus for the Committee will be cover crop production, and Community Gardens. The Sustainable Agriculture Committee will also join with other committees such as the Livestock coalition as we start to incorporate cover crop curriculum into our livestock management programs to discuss grazing species and varieties within cover crop production on grazing pastures. Both small ruminant and large ruminant animals will be included in this study by looking at livestock health and maintenance while grazing cover crop pastures.  

Outcomes and impacts:

No outcomes to date.  Organization and planning phase has been initiated

RPL meetings
Objective:

Regional Program Leaders to be informed of training opportunities for agents

Description:

Regional Program Leaders are supervisors for county agents in multiple districts.  Their administrative help will be necessary in coordinating attendance at trainings

Outcomes and impacts:

No outcomes to date.  Organization and planning phase has been initiated

Educational & Outreach Activities

15 Consultations
2 On-farm demonstrations
2 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary

3 Extension
2 NRCS
6 Researchers
2 Nonprofit
80 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

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

Project Outcomes

4 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Two field days were held in 2020 to transfer new technology and approaches. 

The first was held on March 3rd, 2020 at the Texas A&M Farm Services facility, hosting 39 participants from AgriLife Extension NRCS agronomists and soil scientists, Prairie View A&M (PVAM) Extension and Research scientists.  Five field sites were included on the tour ( field tour booklet attached here ->Book March 3).  Results from eight ongoing research projects in tillage, cover cropping, greenhouse gas emission, and herbicide application in sustainable conservation systems were communicated to participants.  After the tour (and lunch), an indoor session for presenting additional research topics, conservation resource access, and discussions was held.  Out of the discussions, feedback was received indicating that the field day was very instructive for transferring campus research to scientists focused on training farmers.  Additional feedback included a desire for more field days in the future, useful information on legume species selection, and surprise at the effect of conservation management on greenhouse gas emissions. 

The second field day was held virtually on November 19.  It included primarily PVAM system county agents and a small number of innovator farmers.  This event presented research and observations on nutrient management, composting, and cover cropping from PVAM and AgriLife faculty and agents.  Participants engaged in detailed discussions afterwards. 

Based on agency (Texas A&M Agrilife Extension) and external stakeholder input, the plan to focus on printed manual and in person training has been altered to an approach wherein online / distance training resources are being developed.  A printed monograph/training manual remains a part of the training.  It will provide a tangible post event reference for those receiving the training.  The online module is being finalized as the centerpiece for a much broader professional training for agents, NRCS scientists, and professional consultants to provide continuing education in soil science and eventually other disciplines.  As part of this project, a basic soils course ~ 2 hours will provide basic level training necessary to complete the sustainable soil conservation management ~4hrs course.  Additional courses will complete a “best management practices university” training curriculum arranged as a college curriculum would be.  For example, four 100 level courses would provide introductory training, while four 200 and four 300 level courses will provide incrementally more detailed training built upon the earlier courses.  In this way, AgriLife Extension will build competency and confidence in soil sciences within the group of scientists that work directly with farming communities.

 

52 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.