Utilizing Insect and Irrigation Monitoring to Enhance Sustainable Vegetable Production: Extension Educator Training for Arkansas

Progress report for ES20-155

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2020: $69,328.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2023
Grant Recipient: University of Arkansas
Region: Southern
State: Arkansas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Aaron Cato
University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture
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Project Information

Abstract:

To increase the adoption of sustainable pest management and production practices in fresh-market vegetable production, Extension personnel must be properly educated and have access to training materials. The goal of this project is to develop sustainable pest-management and irrigation curricula for University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service (UACES) county agents to utilize. Principle investigators (PIs) will use a “train the trainer” model to educate UACES agents and mentor growers on sustainable practices, like insect pest monitoring systems and efficient irrigation management. Hands-on training along with developed curricula will support UACES agents to assist both conventional and organic growers to implement successful integrated pest management (IPM) and irrigation programs in fresh-market vegetable production in Arkansas. Developed training materials will consist of PowerPoint presentations, demonstration videos, factsheets, and a vegetable production and IPM webpage. These materials will be tested in four trainings for UACES agents in the three major regions of Arkansas. These curricula and trainings will allow agents to educate fresh-market growers and increase confidence in recommending a systems approach to vegetable pest management. Evaluation of this project will focus on the ability of agents to answer questions related to curricula at trainings, agent’s ability to recommend sustainable pest and irrigation management practices at farm visits, and input from both agents and fresh-market growers with a final survey. This project expects to increase UACES agent’s ability to make recommendations related to sustainable vegetable pest and irrigation management, and subsequently increase adoption of these techniques across Arkansas and the Southeast.

Project Objectives:
  1. Develop materials to train UACES agents and 3-4 Arkansas mentor growers to use and recommend pheromone-based insect and irrigation monitoring methodologies to improve the sustainability of production and pest management programs in small-scale organic and conventional vegetable operations across the state and the Southeast.
  2. At the end of the two year project a minimum of 45 UACES agents trained in workshops will be able to answer basic questions on sustainable vegetable production, with 80% proficiency, including: trap selection and placement in vegetable production, which pests in tomatoes and cucurbits need to be monitored to reduce pesticide use, how to install and manage basic irrigation management tools and how efficient water management affects crop production and IPM.
  3. Agent knowledge of sustainable vegetable production will be improved 50% and result in agent participants planning to increase the number of times insect monitoring for pest management and irrigation monitoring sensors are recommended to fresh-market vegetable growers.
  4. The 3-4 mentor growers who are trained to successfully implement pheromone-based insect and irrigation monitoring programs will be highlighted for their successes through 3 recorded video interviews in order to reach a minimum of 1,000 extension agents and growers across the South.
  5. Information about insect and irrigation monitoring practices will be made more available to Southeast extension agents and growers via online sources. A webpage will be created that will act as a centralized source of training materials, five demonstration videos, and monitoring maps and data, which will facilitate agent access to sustainable vegetable recommendations. These training materials will also be shared with other regional extension services and SSARE to facilitate adoption across the Southeast and reach a minimum of 1,000 people in the region by the end of the second year.

Cooperators

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  • Ekko Barnhill - Producer
  • Steel Hamilton - Producer
  • Bill Landreth - Producer
  • Dennis McGarrah - Producer

Education

Educational approach:

The goal of this project is to develop sustainable pest and irrigation management curricula for University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service (UACES) county agents to utilize. PIs plan to use a “train the trainer” model to educate UACES agents and mentor growers in insect pest monitoring systems to target pesticide applications and a sustainable cultural production practice, efficient irrigation management, which along with the developed curricula, will support both conventional and organic growers to implement successful IPM programs.

Currently demonstration plots are being established at three grower collaborator sites across Arkansas. These on-farm demonstrations will be the basis of 3 in-person county agent trainings later in the summer of 2022. These trainings will help to further mold training materials designed for county agents across the MidSouth, and will help to facilitate a broadly focused webinar in the Fall of 2022. Education materials and these demonstrations have been developed based on an informal focus group with agents in the fall of 2020, a Qualtrics survey in early 2021, and a agent-training at our 2021 preliminary demonstration held at the Southwest Research Station in Hope, AR.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

County Agent Focus Group
Objective:

Determine the needs of county agents and their education level regarding sustainable production and pest management techniques.

Description:

An informal zoom meeting (due to covid-19 restrictions) was held with influential UACES county agents (15) to determine the current education level and needs of county agents. We asked agents about their current understanding of sustainable production and pest management techniques, as well as their opinion on the educational level of the growers they work with. The goal of this meeting was to get agents involved in our project and to use initial results to develop a broader survey for growers and agents.

Outcomes and impacts:

First, we wanted agents to feel like this project was created for their benefit, so the first logical step was to get them directly involved with developing survey and educational materials. We then determined from this meeting their educational needs and their observations about the educational needs of growers within their counties. This insight was extremely useful for program planning.

From this meaning we were able to develop a survey for fresh market vegetable growers in Arkansas, and the agents that supported them. We used the information we learned from this meeting to directly shape that survey, and to start working on educational materials for future meetings, along with plans for demonstration plots.

University of Arkansas Fresh Market Vegetable Survey
Objective:

Determine the educational needs of Arkansas fresh market vegetable growers and the extension agents that support them.

Description:

We invited growers and agents to participate in a survey that was designed to help guide our educational and research initiatives. This survey determine the sustainability of current production and pest management programs by assessing what tactics were currently being used and by querying the current understanding of more sustainable tactics. Additionally, we were able to gauge interest into more sustainable tactics that had already been researched, but not yet implemented on a large scale.

Outcomes and impacts:

This survey offered support to growers (55 participated) and agents (44 participated) in multiple facets. First, agents were able to obtain a baseline understanding of the amount of fresh market vegetable growers in their counties, understand their current production and pest management tactics, and have their voice heard regarding future university of Arkansas trainings. Next, growers were able to be involved with the future of trainings in the state, and were introduced to the idea of a number of sustainable practices that they may not have considered before. Last, University of Arkansas researchers were able to receive a snapshot of current production and education, along with willingness to implement many sustainable tactics in the future. These data will be instrumental into designing both demonstrations and education materials, as the we now have a much better understanding of what the current practices and education levels are.

In-person County Agent Training and Preliminary Demonstration Plots
Objective:

Establish tomato and vegetable plots for County Agents to utilize that showcase our planned on-farm demonstrations.

Description:

Tomato and Squash plots were established at the Southwest Research and Extension Center in Hope, AR that utilized sustainable irrigation and insect management tactics. These plots were established to help train agents to recommend sustainable tactics to growers in their counties. An in-person training was held on 7/8/2021 in Hope, AR where agents were able to get hands-on experience and ask questions.

Outcomes and impacts:

Establishing preliminary demonstration plots on a University of Arkansas experiment station was a great opportunity to not only showcase sustainable tactics and help build data, but also to help sell agents on these tactics. We felt this was a logical step in ensuring that agents could fully understand these tactics and be comfortable with hosting their own demonstrations and utilizing the insect and irrigation monitoring we would have available for them.

A training was held on 7/7/2021 where 15 University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Agents (UACES) were in attendance. These agents were able to see first hand sustainable irrigation and insect management tactics in tomato and squash plantings. Agents were taught how to establish and check insect traps, as well as how to transition from trap-catch data to in-field scouting and insect identification as decision-making tool for potential insecticide applications. Additionally, sustainable irrigation monitoring techniques were showcased and agents were trained on how to use and place tensiometers and flow meters with drip irrigation. Agents were also able to see plots with varying degrees of irrigation and the impact it has on plants.

Educational & Outreach Activities

10 Consultations
6 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Online trainings
2 Published press articles, newsletters
4 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

30 Extension
15 Researchers
4 Farmers/ranchers

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Current outcomes are limited to survey results and meetings with agents. This project will produce the majority of its outputs in 2022 and demonstration plots are now being established with growers. An extension has been granted for this project and the time-table has been delayed slightly due to covid-19 (inability to get hartstack insect traps in 2021 which are vital to on-farm demonstrations) and due to our webpage manager quitting in 2021 in April as the season started. We have rehired this position for 2022 and are planning to go live with our website this month and also were able to begin to receive insect trap shipments for our on-farm demonstrations.

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.