In this project, the Community Alliance with Family Farrners took the technical information used in its pesticide reduction program, Biologically Integrated Orchard Systems (BIOS), and developed curricula for use in two training workshops for agricultural professionals. Both the fall and spring workshops were offered in two locations in 1998. Each of the four workshops was attended by approximately 20 to 24 participants.
BIOS is a demonstration program for almond and walnut orchards that offers technical assistance to farmers who want to reduce their synthetic pesticide and fertilizer use. Its methods rely on natural predator/prey relationships for pest control and on natural fertilizers. We developed training in these methods for agency personnel, particularly for USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and University of California Cooperative Extension, because there is no other professional training available in biologically integrated methods. By filling this void, the project helped ensure that farmers who seek information on reduced chemical farming systems will be served by agricultural professionals who are informed about these methods and can offer them the support they need to adopt such practices.
This project has three objectives:
1. To develop the capacity of Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) personnel, and other agricultural professionals to understand and promote successful biologically integrated almond production principles and practices;
2. To develop training for agency personnel and agricultural professionals based on a participatory learning model and evaluate its suitability for use in other regions;
3. To stimulate hand- on educational events for farmers and other members of the agricultural community to be organized and led by those trained in the mini courses.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
Dissemination of findings was part of the project itself, not something accomplished separately as when a research study is published. Reaching the agricultural professional audience and persuading them to participate in the workshops was an integral piece of the project. Our outreach efforts for the recruitment of participants focused on NRCS, based on the advice of the workshop advisory team. CAFF staff members called and wrote letters to NRCS administrators at the state and area levels. Staff also gave presentations at area cluster meetings to District Conservationists who had little or no previous contact with the BIOS program. In addition, CAFF produced brochures for each set of workshops that were sent to about 500 people including all applicable NRCS field offices, University of California Extension offices, and pest control advisors in the BIOS database. Contacts were made in other institutions including the Almond Board of California and the California Environmental Protection Agency.
The curricula we developed for our workshops have been disseminated to approximately half a dozen agricultural professionals who were unable to participate but requested copies of the information binders we created for use at the workshops.
The Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) is a 20-year-old nonprofit organization committed to promoting sustainable agriculture. Our work involves both educational programs and advocacy on behalf of family farmers. For the last five years we have sponsored a technical assistance program called Biologically Integrated Orchard Systems (BIOS) for almond and walnut growers in seven counties within California’s Central Valley. BIOS offers enrolled growers customized assistance for adopting alternatives to toxic pesticides and fertilizers. Through year-end evaluations and a study by University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP), BIOS has been demonstrated to be an effective approach to promoting sustainable agricultural practices in conventional orchards. “BIOS growers actually eliminated their use of Diazinon in Merced and Stanislaus counties, by the 1993 94 and the 1994 95 winter seasons, respectively.”¹
The project sponsored by USDA SARE over the last eighteen months enabled CAFF to train agricultural professionals in the biologically integrated management approach promoted by BIOS. This project was prompted by the recognition that most agricultural and natural resource agency personnel have received no training in biologically integrated farm systems, those that rely primarily on natural predator prey relationships for pest control and on compost and nitrogen rich ‘cover crops’ for fertilizers. Without this training, these professionals are not able to advise farmers in non chemical alternatives to pesticides and fertilizers.
While BIOS provides high quality technical information that is not consistently available from any other source, it also offers this information in a unique forum, wherein farmers, researchers, pest control advisors, and agency personnel are each accepted as valuable contributors to discussions. This approach stands in contrast to the top down mode of instruction by experts presented by traditional agricultural institutions. We have found that by creating a “level learning field” farmers are much more likely to learn from each other, pick up usable information, and pass important field realities on to researchers and agency staff. Given that the success of the BIOS program has been at least in part, due to its participatory learning style, we modeled this style in our workshops and included it as part of what participants could learn at the workshop.
1. J.C. Broome, et al, 1997. “Biologically Integrated Farming Systems: Approaches to Voluntary Reduction of Agricultural Chemical Use.” Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, University of California.
In the course of this project, CAFF developed curricula for two professional development workshops. The curricula were presented in day long workshops held in Fresno and Modesto, California, in the spring of 1998, and Fresno and Woodland in the fall of 1998. Both spring workshops were attended by approximately 20 people each; and each fall workshop had 24 participants.
The spring workshops covered:
• soil quality tests in a BIOS orchard
Ron Alves of Modesto Junior College presented information gathered in local orchards that illustrate some of the principles of soil quality.
• information resources for sustainable soil management
Dave Chaney and Ann Mayse of UC SAREP field tested “Soil Quality: a Resource for Education and Extension,”‘ a collection of various media that will support agricultural professionals in their work to promote sustainable soil management.
• barn owls for rodent control
Steve Simmons of Merced High School presented a unique program he has with his students to build, sell and research nesting boxes for barn owls and other avian predators. Participants built their own nesting boxes.
• IPM monitoring in almonds
Farmer and pest control advisor Cindy Lashbrook introduced the concepts of Integrated Pest Management using almond pests as examples.
• cover crop selection and management
Fred Thomas of Cerus Consulting worked with Farmers Glenn Anderson and Ray Eck to explain various cover crop seed mixes and how they can be managed to meet the goals of farmers.
• soil quality testing in the field
Matthew Werner of the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems demonstrated and explained the Soil Quality Test Kit.
The fall sessions presented information on:
• fall pest control decisions in almonds
Lonnie Hendricks, University of California Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor described the pest monitoring almond farmers use to make decisions in the fall, and alternatives to conventional pest control practices.
• cover crop seeding in orchards
Fred Thomas and Cindy Lashbrook, with assistance from Greg Wittenborn, Germain’s Seed Company, described the various methods of cover crop seeding and legume inoculation for orchards.
• biological pest management in grapes
Cliff Ohmart, Lodi Woodbridge Winegrape Commission, told participants how he works with farmers to develop IPM programs in their vineyards.
• soil biology for perennial crops
Graduate Students from the lab of Kate Scow, UC Davis, used microscopes, video cameras and other lab equipment to introduce the members of the soil food web to participants.
• compost production and utilization
Mark Van Horn, UC Davis Student Experimental Farm, told participants about factors affecting compost quality and how farmers can get the best value from a compost product.
• new trends in winter almond orchard pest control practices
Walt Bentley, UC Area IPM Advisor presented information on changing dormant season pest control practices, and his experience with BIOS program farmers who have reduced or eliminated their use of organophosphate pesticides.
This project was guided by an advisory team which includes farmers, agricultural consultants, and representatives of NRCS, UC, and the EPA. They helped determine the subject matter and assisted with event outreach. The advisory team was enthusiastic about the workshops and their reception by participants. The team has recommended to CAFF that we expand the curricular materials and create workshops suitable for a broader audience by addressing different crops, and more climatic /geographic zones. Based on the response to this project we would recommend USDA SARE funding for other experienced sustainable agriculture organizations who propose such a project.
We have identified three main benefits of this project: 1) the information itself and its ability to expand participants’ capacity to assist farmers interested in adopting sustainable practices, 2) the access to experienced practitioners of sustainable farming methods that the trainings afforded participants, and 3) the opportunity for networking among agency and institutional staff.
First, we are pleased with our ability to present the fundamentals of biologically integrated orchard management in written form and through hands on demonstrations. As was discussed above, this information is not available through the usual channels of continuing education for agricultural professionals. We believe that this information was successfully transferred to participants and they will now be better equipped to promote sustainable alternatives to toxic pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers. The workshops gave those participants who do not interact directly with farmers (i.e. EPA personnel) an introduction to the viability of sustainable farming methods. As a result of this training they will be better prepared to serve as cooperators or funders of sustainable agricultural programs and projects.
Second, the workshops offered participants a rare opportunity to interact with farmers, farm advisors, and independent farm consultants who are experienced with biologically integrated practices. At the workshops participants were encouraged to ask questions of these presenters, who supplied not only technical information, but gave anecdotes of their personal experience with the methods. This was helpful in bringing the technical information to life and grounding it in the reality of farm production. The project created a pathway for sharing information learned in the field with agriculture related agencies.
Finally, the workshops gave participants a chance to network with each other. The small group sessions within the workshops allowed people from different organizations to interact and strengthen their relationships.
Impacts on Agricultural Professionals
At the conclusion of each workshop, participants were asked to complete an evaluation of the event. Their comments revealed that the workshops helped participants acquire new knowledge and skills, and in some cases changed their attitudes toward sustainable agricultural production practices.
For example, after the fall workshops a participant commented that the “quality of the speakers’ presentations was outstanding.” Another praised the diversity and practicality of the topics presented. In terms of using the information gained at the workshop, participants said they would be “better able to communicate with growers and agribusiness,” would “inform growers about alternatives and direct them accordingly,” and that the workshop had “helped me understand the issue of dormant spray use and the alternatives available to growers.” One participant said that he was interested in starting a program similar to BIOS with peach and apricot growers in his county.
As an anecdote about the workshops’ impact on participants, one of the BIOS staff dropped in at the office of a participant two weeks after the fall workshop to find the participant reviewing a cost-share application and using the workshop information binder to get information about cover crop selection for an orchard.
Reactions from Farmers and Ranchers
Cindy Lashbrook, a farmer and a pest control advisor, taught workshop sessions on Integrated Pest Management in almonds and cover crop selection and seeding for orchards. Cindy felt that the workshops gave valuable information on sustainable agriculture in nut crops. Lashbrook says that “Presenting field level information in the orchard made it come alive as opposed to text book lessons.” She thought there were a good balance of topics. Some participants were already knowledgeable about one topic, they may have been complete newcomers to the other topics and so all participants came away with new ideas. Cindy also mentioned that presenting farmers’ experience brought a more legitimate reality to the information passed on in the workshops. For her presentations, Cindy said that “It has been my goal to bring things down to the soil level, and work up from there.”