Organic Soil Health Education Resources for Agricultural Professionals in the Western Region

Final report for EW18-024

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2018: $74,138.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2019
Grant Recipient: Organic Farming Research Foundation
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Brise Tencer
Organic Farming Research Foundation
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Project Information

Abstract:

Through a series of educational webinars and other outreach materials, this project proposed by
the Organic Research Foundation (OFRF) enhances the knowledge of agricultural advisors,
Cooperative Extension, NRCS, agency, crop consultants, and other agricultural professionals
who work with farmers and ranchers on the benefits of organic agriculture and sustainable soil
management practices. These benefits include healthier soils, cleaner water, fewer pests, fewer
pollutants for farmworkers and consumers, and an increased biodiversity in our agricultural
landscape.
In 2015, OFRF surveyed organic farmers and found a need for knowledgeable extension and
education services related to organic soil health, biology, and nutrient cycling. In 2017, OFRF
published a series of guides on soil health and organic farming for organic and transitional
farmers. In this proposed project, the information from the soil health guides will be presented to
agricultural professionals via eOrganic webinars, to use as educational tools for increasing
sustainable soil health practices.
This dissemination project helped increase the adoption and application of best practices for soil
health in practical and accessible formats online, so that agricultural professionals will be able to
learn about, implement, share or teach these practices, and/or use these resources in the
subsequent educational activities in sustainable agriculture. Success was based on the number
of participants, participant evaluations, and the percentage of participants who say they will
incorporate the practices into their work and recommend to farmers. Activities
improved the ability of agricultural professionals to conduct educational programs and activities in
sustainable agriculture principles, and provide access to resources that help producers make
informed decisions about sustainable approaches with greater certainty and less risk.

Project Objectives:

The objectives of this project were to 1) provide this soil health information in practical and accessible formats
online, so that agricultural professionals will be able to learn about, implement, share or teach
these practices, and/ or use these new knowledge and skills in the subsequent educational
activities in sustainable agriculture, 2) increase understanding of the impacts of organic practices on soil biology and biodiversity, soil-crop nutrient dynamics, soil organic matter, carbon
sequestration, soil water dynamics, 3) increase the understanding of the research needs of
organic farmers across the U.S. 4) increase use of the scientific research resources available via
ofrf.org.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand

Education

Educational approach:

The purpose of this project was to educate 2,000 agricultural service providers, crop advisors, and mentor farmers in the Western region about soil health and organic farming practices through an 8-part webinar series, based on OFRF’s soil health guidebook series. Over 896 trainers attended the live webinars and webinars have been viewed over 2,000 more times. Webinars were posted on eOrganics website and additional notes, resources, and slides were available for download. OFRF also mailed out soil health guidebooks to over 30 extension providers in the Western region.

 

 

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Ecological Nutrient Management for Organic Production in the Western Region
Objective:

To educate mentor farmers and service providers principles of nutrient management through soil health education specific to the Western Region.

Description:

This webinar, conducted on Oct 24th, 2018, explored the role of the soil food web in nutrient cycling and provisioning, and practical strategies for optimizing the availability of limiting nutrients, such as nitrogen, for soil health, organic crop production, and water quality. It summarizes recent research on nitrogen management for organic vegetable and strawberry production in maritime, Mediterranean, and semiarid climates.

http://eorganic.info/sites/eorganic.info/files/u461/WSARE_NutrientMgmt_PresentationNotes.pdf

Outcomes and impacts:

123 attended the webinar

695 views of archived webinar on Youtube.

When asked if the webinar improved knowledge on the topic 22% said significantly improved, 48% said moderately improved, 25% said a little improved.

71% of attendees said they planned to apply the knowledge gained in the webinar in their work.

“I really got a lot out of it and can’t wait for it to be posted so I can recommend my students make a point of watching it. Refreshingly non-nerdy without being dumbed-down. Nice to hear of all the farms trying different things and their results, that is very helpful and provided a lot of good ideas for me to pass along.
Kate Ryan, Agriculture Program Coordinator, WSU Snohomish County Extension

Ecological Weed Management for the Western Region
Objective:

To educate agriculture service providers and mentor farmers about how integrated organic weed management strategies help desired vegetation outcompete weeds, build soil health, and reduce the need for soil disturbance in the western region.

Description:

In this webinar was conducted on Nov 21, 2018. It focuses on integrated organic weed management strategies that help desired vegetation outcompete weeds, build soil health, and reduce the need for soil disturbance. In addition, it summarizes outcomes of recent research into organic management of field bindweed and other major weeds of Western Region cropland and rangeland.

http://eorganic.info/sites/eorganic.info/files/u461/Presentation-Notes-Weed-Management-WSARE-Nov21-2018.pdf

Outcomes and impacts:

95 attendees on webinar

335 Views of archived webinar on youtube

When asked if the webinar improved knowledge on the topic 20% said significantly improved, 60% said moderately improved, 20% said a little improved.

75% of attendees said they planned to apply the knowledge gained in the webinar in their work.

 

Practical Conservation Tillage for Western Region Organic Cropping Systems
Objective:

To educate agricultural service providers, crop advisors, and mentor farmers on Practical Conservation Tillage practices for Western Region Organic Cropping Systems.

Description:

Co-presenter: Dawn Thilmany, Colorado State University. 
This webinar, originally hosted January 23, 2019, discusses practical approaches to reducing the adverse impacts of tillage and cultivation on soil life and soil health. It also covers recent research into newer tillage tools and minimum-till strategies for Western Region organic vegetable, fruit, and field crop production. 

Dawn Thilmany is a Professor of Ag Economics with Colorado State University and specializes in economic development related to local, organic and other value-added food market segments. She is co-Director for CSU’s Regional Economic Development Institute, is on the leadership team for the CSU Food Systems program and has chaired the Colorado Food Systems Advisory Council and served on several assignments with the USDA.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9lppV2UxhE

http://eorganic.info/sites/eorganic.info/files/u461/Presentation%20Notes-Tillage-WSARE.pdf

 

 

 

Outcomes and impacts:

427 people registered for webinar and 107 attended

200 Views of archived webinar on youtube

When asked if the webinar improved knowledge on the topic 42% said significantly improved, 35% said moderately improved, 23% said a little improved.

73% of attendees said they planned to apply the knowledge gained in the webinar in their work.

93% of attendees said they would recommend this webinar to others.

I work at a desk all day with phone and email interaction with my farmers. I really enjoyed this webinar for understanding how to improve soil health…I
really have a little knowledge in this, even with a biology degree ads it is such a specific topic…and this webinar was very useful to the farmer…not just
the science of it, but also the practical application of what tools to use. Absolutely LOVED it! –webinar participant

Selecting and Managing Cover Crops for Organic Crop Rotations in the Western Region
Objective:

To educate professional agriculture service providers, crop advisors, and mentor farmers on best practices for selecting and managing cover crops for organic crop rotations.

Description:

This webinar was ran on February 27, 2019 and was co-presented by Eric Brennan, USDA ARS, Salinas, CA.This webinar discusses best cover crops, mixes, and management methods for optimum soil health and organic cash crop production in the Western Region. It explores in greater depth the special challenges that farmers face in adding cover crops to dryland cereal grain rotations and other moisture-limited cropping systems.

Eric is a research horticulturist and lead scientist in organic production at the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Salinas, CA where he has worked since 2001. Eric’s research focuses on vegetable and strawberry production with emphasis on cover crops, weed and soil fertility management, and biological control of insect pests. Eric is passionate about long-term research and effective communication of practical research results to farmers and others.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfaBAqUMuo8

PresentationNotes_WSARE_CoverCrops

Outcomes and impacts:

538 people registered for the webinar and 114 attended.

187 Views of archived webinar on youtube.

When asked if the webinar improved knowledge on the topic 36% said significantly improved, 44% said moderately improved, 20% said a little improved.

92% of attendees said they planned to apply the knowledge gained in the webinar in their work.

96% of attendees said they would recommend this webinar to others.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Following every webinar closely. Learning much. –webinar participant

Breeding New Cultivars for Soil-enhancing Organic Cropping Systems in the Western Region
Objective:

To educate agricultural service providers, crop advisors, and mentor farmers on the best plant cultivars for organic producers in the western region.

Description:

This webinar, which occurred on March 27, 2019, summarizes plant breeding endeavors toward improved vegetable, specialty grain, and other crop cultivars for organic producers in the Western Region, and practical resources to help organic producers obtain the best available seed varieties for their needs. It also explores emerging opportunities to develop new cultivars for nutrient and moisture use efficiency, competitiveness toward weeds, and enhanced interactions with beneficial soil biota. 

It was co-presented with Jared Zystro of Organic Seed Alliance and Dawn Thilmany of Colorado State University.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auTHGHRUbKk

Outcomes and impacts:

597 people registered for the webinar and 117 attended.

150 Views of archived webinar on youtube.

When asked if the webinar improved knowledge on the topic 43% said significantly improved, 43% said moderately improved, 14% said a little improved.

78% of attendees said they planned to apply the knowledge gained in the webinar in their work.

100% of attendees said they would recommend this webinar to others.

Thank you! It was very helpful, and I’m happy to see people committed to disseminating this info. –webinar participant

Preparing for Drought: The Role of Soil Health in Water Management in Organic Production
Objective:

To educate agricultural service providers, crop advisors, and mentor farmers on how soil health can mitigate the impacts of drought.

Description:

This webinar aired on April 17, 2019.  This webinar explores the role of best organic soil health management in water conservation and water quality, with emphasis on practical research outcomes for the Western Region. With climate change exacerbating water scarcity issues throughout the Western U.S., organic producers urgently need practical information on best irrigation and soil moisture management.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HucXx2E-99Q

Outcomes and impacts:

659 people registered for the webinar and 131 attended.

248 Views of archived webinar on youtube.

When asked if the webinar improved knowledge on the topic 31% said significantly improved, 48% said moderately improved, 17% said a little improved. 

80% of attendees said they planned to apply the knowledge gained in the webinar in their work.

88% of attendees said they would recommend this webinar to others.

The practical implementation ideas are so helpful as that is a big challenge for us. Love the example pictures and comments to see what works and what is challenging. -webinar participant

Meeting Weather Challenges in the Western U.S.: Organic Practices to Mitigate and Prepare for Climate Change
Objective:

To educate agricultural service providers, crop advisors, and mentor farmers on organic practices that mitigate and build resiliency for climate change.

Description:

Aired on May 29, 2019, this webinar will explore the capacity of sustainable organic systems to sequester soil carbon, minimize agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, and help organic cropping and livestock operations withstand the impacts of climate disruptions already underway. Our presentation includes a summary of recent research findings and practical implications for the Western Region.

Maegen Simmonds is a soil and ecosystem biogeochemist, modeler, and data  scientist who works to ensure the long-term sustainability of  ecosystems by informing best management practices, decision-making, and  policy. Her research focuses on terrestrial ecosystem processes,  including land-atmosphere exchange of greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4, N2O).  Predicting the interactive effects of climate, wildfire, soil and plant  properties, and land management have been central themes in her work.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxXeLJtWFzs

Outcomes and impacts:

695 people registered for the webinar and 118 attended.

116 Views of archived webinar on youtube.

When asked if the webinar improved knowledge on the topic 40% said significantly improved, 60% said moderately improved.

50% of attendees said they planned to apply the knowledge gained in the webinar in their work.

100% of attendees said they would recommend this webinar to others.

High quality comprehensive information, not all was new, but it was very well put together. Glad that I was able to attend. -webinar participant

Soil Biology for the Western Region: Organic Practices to Recruit and Nurture Beneficial Biota in the Soil
Objective:

To educate agricultural service providers, crop advisors, and mentor farmers about ways to add and organically nurture beneficial biota to create more fertile soil.

Description:

This webinar aired on June 12, 2019 and examines the roles of the soil food web and key components thereof in promoting soil health and fertility and sustainable organic crop production. Recent research conducted in organically managed soils in the Western Region provides the basis for practical guidelines for best soil food web management in organic farming and ranching systems.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leXo5C6BMGU

Outcomes and impacts:

742 people registered for the webinar and 91 attended.

156 Views of archived webinar on youtube.

When asked if the webinar improved knowledge on the topic 36% said significantly improved, 42% said moderately improved, and 21% said a little improved.

96% of attendees said they planned to apply the knowledge gained in the webinar in their work.

90% of attendees said they would recommend this webinar to others.

The information in this webinar was all very well organized. Very relevant learning tool.  -webinar participant

Educational & Outreach Activities

8 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
8 Online trainings
1 Published press articles, newsletters
8 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 We sent our soil health guidebook series to 30 cooperative extension offices in the western region.

Participation Summary

60 Extension
29 NRCS
64 Researchers
27 Nonprofit
56 Agency
82 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
139 Farmers/ranchers
165 Others

Learning Outcomes

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

Project Outcomes

1 Grant received that built upon this project
1 New working collaboration
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.