A Distance Learning Approach to Whole Farm Planning

Final Report for EW13-021

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2013: $60,400.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Western
State: New Mexico
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Ann Adams
Holistic Management International
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Project Information

Abstract:

Rhoby uses portable electro-mesh fencing to manage grazing on her permanent pasture. The flock are Romeldale/CVM, a California heritage breed.Our original project goal was to have 30 agricultural educators training 2-3 agricultural producers each on a course or module for a total of 90 agricultural producers reached. However, we pursued additional funding for 5 more educators who were trained in Whole Farm/Ranch Planning so we trained 40 agricultural educators in the whole farm planning process in year 1 of that program. From that 40 we had 34 who continued to learn from each other and teach producers in years 2 and 3. Of that 34 we had 14 agricultural educators who trained/co-trained 188 agricultural producers in various aspects of Whole Farm/Ranch Planning during which those producers actually developed plans or tested whole farm/ranch decisions, and they were given feedback by the agricultural producers on those plans/decisions. This was an increase of 36 plans from 2015.

Project Objectives:

outside-shotsm-280x210Our original project goal was to have 30 agricultural educators training 2-3 agricultural producers each on a course or module for a total of 90 agricultural producers reached. However, we pursued additional funding for 5 more educators who were trained in Whole Farm/Ranch Planning so we trained 40 agricultural educators in the whole farm planning process in year 1 of the program.They were trained in Introduction to Whole Farm/Ranch Planning, Financial Planning, Land Planning, Grazing Planning, and Biological Monitoring. The 105 scholarship tuitions paid for by WSARE for these courses were matched by private monies so that a total of 148 scholarship tuitions were offered.

From that 40 agricultural educators we had 34 who continued to learn from each other and teach producers in years 2 and 3. Of that 34 we had 14 agricultural educators who trained/co-trained 188 agricultural producers in various aspects of Whole Farm/Ranch Planning during which those producers actually developed plans or tested whole farm/ranch decisions, and they were given feedback by the agricultural producers on those plans/decisions. This was an increase of 36 plans from 2015.

Introduction:

Linda-MacElweeOur program began with over 60 agricultural educators submitting applications for this program from 10 states including CO, NM, WY, OR, WA, CA, HI, MT, ID, and WY. WSARE funding covered 35 participants and we raised funding for another 5. At the end of the first year, there were 38 professionals from the original group who had been trained. 20 of these are from Agricultural Education NGO’s including many from RC&D. 10 are from Extension and 8 are from NRCS or SWCD. We were able to find 2 more replacements in year 2 who also completed the online training as well. 

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Joshua Dukart
  • Jeff Goebel
  • Richard King
  • Phil Metzger
  • Seth Wilner

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

https://holisticmanagement.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Julie-Photo.jpgWe used a combination of methods for this program:

Year 1 we offered 5 different modules in whole farm/ranch planning through the Learning Management System (LMS) called Canvas. This allowed us to have live webinars that could be recorded, as well as opportunity for discussion groups and for participants to upload completed assignments so they could get feedback on them. We also had 2 dedicated mentors that responded to 1/2 the group each so that we would encourage geographic connections where possible and people felt their answers about facilitation of this material could be answered.

Year 2 we continued with the online mentoring meetings as we supported educators in developing the plans with the agricultural producers they work with. We provided a lot of follow up as well as offering assistant teaching opportunities in place-based courses where we were offering those so some of the educators in our program could learn by observing and participating in HMI training. We had 4 participants able to make use of this support.

Year 3 we continued the individual support of the 14 participants who were completing plans with producers and allowed the other 26 to have access to materials in Canvas as they worked with their producers but were not able to complete plans with them. So while only 14 actually completed 2 or more plans with producers, all the participants said they were using what they had learned in supporting producers in their areas.

Outreach and Publications

Patty MadiganThere were no publications developed for this program, but we did blog about the results of the program on our website at:

https://holisticmanagement.org/uncategorized/wsare-distance-learning-for-agricultural-educators-2015-annual-report/

https://holisticmanagement.org/uncategorized/wsare-biological-monitoring-course-accomplishment/

https://holisticmanagement.org/blog/wsare-grazing-planning-course-success/

https://holisticmanagement.org/blog/whole-farm-planning-training-for-ag-educators-report/

https://holisticmanagement.org/blog/whole-farmranch-land-planning-course-results/

https://holisticmanagement.org/blog/wsare-agricultural-educator-course-results/

 

Outcomes and impacts:

Maggie MatobaWe surveyed all the agricultural educators in our program in early 2015 and early 2016. All 40 said they had learned knowledge that would help them better help producers with managing their businesses. Key outcomes from our surveys were that 100% felt they had improved their decision-making. 100% also thought they could better help producers develop a land plan as a result of the training. 95% thought they were better able to help producers develop a whole farm/ranch goal as a result of the training. 90% thought they were better able to help producers develop a grazing plan. 85% thought they were better able to help producers develop a financial plan. 90% thought they were better able to serve producers in general and 80% thought they had expanded their network of other professionals.

Here are the combined results of the survey:

Outcome

% of Agricultural Educators

Completed, partially completed, or modified a whole farm/ranch goal (holistic goal) as a result of this program?

90%

As a result of this program, do you think you have improved your ability to help a producer develop a whole farm/ranch goal (holistic goal)?

95%

Clearer sense of what your farm/ranch is managing towards

90%

Better ability to determine resources available to you

90%

Improved decision-making

100%

Completed, partially completed, or modified a financial plan as a result of this program?

80%

As a result of this program, do you think you have improved your ability to help a producer develop a financial plan?

85%

Have you completed, partially completed, or modified a land plan as a result of this program?

90%

As a result of this program, do you think you have improved your ability to help a producer develop a land plan?

100%

Improved ability to incorporate social, environmental, and financial considers in the plan

90%

Have you completed, partially completed, or modified a grazing plan as a result of this program?

80%

As a result of this program, do you think you have improved your ability to help a producer develop a grazing plan?

90%

Improved ability to manage animals

100%

As a result of this program, do you think you have improved your ability to help a producer assess land health with biological monitoring?

80%

Improved understanding of your farm/ranch’s ecosystem

85%

As a result of this training have you forged any relationships that have positively impacted you or your farm/ranch or job as an agricultural professional?

85%

As a result of this program are you better able to serve the producers you work with?

90%

As a result of this program have you increased your network of professionals assisting producers in sustainable agriculture?

80%

 

Here’s what the agricultural educators had to say about the program:

“The program has me seeing all applications of agriculture and in some cases life in general in a different way. I am constantly analyzing pastures as I drive by for their brittleness, how much rest have they seen, what would I do as a treatment for a problem, etc. The financial aspect of what do you really need, and being able to apply the testing questions and be comfortable with the result is great. Biological monitoring far surpasses any other monitoring that can be done over time on a given landscape in my opinion. As far as land planning I hope to bring that more into play on my own as I transition into the family ranch and have the opportunity to help neighbors with [their] future land goals as well.”

“I understand the holistic process more fully now. It has opened doors to tools and strategies I didn’t have before”

“It has made me look at farm management in a whole new way. Really looking at entire farm and all the components the make it work. Extremely powerful and helpful.”

“It has given me tools I can use to improve my business and help others to think and work more holistically in their businesses.”

“I enjoyed the different teaching methods used (videos, fact sheets, conversations, webinar) and I have used many of the resources with farmers and ranchers.”

“The information covered in the program is so useful to use personally as well as to be as an agriculture and natural resource educator and consultant. I believe this information will be very valuable to share with other producers to help them reach their goals and be more profitable while better managing the resources they have.”

“I find I am observing, thinking, and communicating differently-.this course has changed the way I listen to my producers and I find I was liberated somehow and ask more questions. I feel more confident in planning.”

“I see [things] in a whole new way. It has changed the way decisions are made, there is a process involved now.”

“I see HMI as a resource that can help put me in touch with professionals that can help me as well as producers that could demonstrate the concepts to producers with whom I am working. I also met many professionals through the course and will continue to get to know them better while we complete our farm plans.”

“I have been able to work with more producers by understanding better how to communicate with them about their business.”

“I have a whole list of natural resource professionals I didn’t know before AND I learned more about those people that I did know but not as well.”

“I did enjoy the class immensely and got a lot out of it.  Thank you for all of the support.”

“I feel like I’m just getting my feet under me coaching people through the process and would like to keep working, especially with some of the other practices such as ecological monitoring, or management inventory for a whole farm.”

“I absolute love the material you’ve provided us, it’s great. Thank you.”

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

dave mThe breakdown of courses and/or modules the agricultural educators taught/assisted/coached is as follows:

 

Course/Module

Number of Agricultural Producers

Whole Farm/Ranch Business Planning Series

104

Whole Farm/Ranch Land Management Series

24

Land Planning

12

Grazing Planning

12

Biological Monitoring

5

Financial Planning

7

Introduction to Holistic Management

24

Total

188

Throughout the year we allowed participants access to archived materials on Instructure Canvas and had webinars participants could attend on Adobe Connect to discuss facilitation techniques. We made sure that all webinars and mentor meetings were interactive, and anyone who handed in completed work from their agricultural producers received feedback. Recorded webinars and mentor meetings from 2015 could be utilized throughout 2016.

 

Overall response to surveys from programming by agricultural professionals in 2015 shows that there was high satisfaction rate among agricultural producers for the courses and modules they were instructed in, with ratings ranging from 90-100% satisfaction. Actual behavior change in terms of created plans/drafts varied depending on subject.

 

Agricultural producers showed increased knowledge or confidence in developing plans, which remained high throughout 2015-2016 as noted below:

 

Course/Module

Satisfaction Rating by Participants

Whole Farm/Ranch Business Planning Series

98%

Land Planning

100%

Grazing Planning

100%

Biological Monitoring

100%

Financial Planning

98%

Introduction to Whole Farm/Ranch Planning

98%

In 2015 and 2016, our agricultural educators had the opportunity to train several agricultural producers and in the process they were able to further their own learning. Once tasked with creating plans with agricultural producers, our agricultural educators began to see the different challenges in creating whole farm/ranch plans. We facilitated peer and mentor support through our webinars, on our LMS Instructure Canvas though the discussion forum and through email correspondence. This allowed the agricultural educators to ask questions, share knowledge and learn how they were going to complete their tasks with agricultural producers.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

Our hope is that contributions of this program include:

  • Producers feel better supported by agricultural professionals in the Western U.S.
  • Agricultural professionals feel better equipped to help agricultural producers through a whole farm/ranch planning process that addresses producer concerns about quality life, land productivity, and profitability.
  • That agricultural professionals now know of resources available to them and the network of other professionals interested in these training practices
  • That agricultural professionals feel like they have more facilitation tools in their educator toolboxes.

Future Recommendations

As with any behavior change, learning new management and facilitation skills takes time. The newer the intended behavior change, the more the sense of risk and/or desire to remain with the status quo. We recommend that more funding be considered to support a smaller group of educators to build off what they have learned and get more onsite support. While these skills can be learned online, it is more difficult to remain committed to them if you are the only one in your area using them. Onsite support is definitely a helpful boost.

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.