Broadening the Audience: Providing Sustainable Agriculture Education for Pest Control Advisers and Agricultural Consultants in California and Oregon

Final Report for EW98-001

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1998: $80,100.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $70,083.00
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
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Project Information

Abstract:

There are currently more than 4,000 licensed pest control advisors (PCAs) in California and 960 licensed pesticide consultants in Oregon. These professionals are responsible, along with the farmers and ranchers who employ their services, for making critical crop management decisions. In that capacity they have the opportunity to supply key information to producers about the efficient use of farm resources and enhancing natural biological cycles and controls. Although PCAs and consultants have many continuing education opportunities available to them, the focus is largely on conventional farming practices dependent on outside inputs of pesticides and fertilizers. The overall goal of this project was to reach this key audience (PCAs, agricultural consultants and other agricultural professionals) with practical information on ecological pest management through several non-traditional methods (audio cassettes, subscription fax and email, and computer-based course), and evaluate which educational approaches are most effective. These educational approaches have been identified as fitting into consultants’ busy work schedules. Each approach provides flexibility in terms of time, location, and intensity. Integrating them into a unified program has the potential of reaching a large number of people across a wide area, including more remote rural locations not served through traditional conferences and workshops.

During this final reporting period we have accomplished the following:
 Distributed 12 bulletins on sustainable agriculture practices to crop consultants in Oregon via subscription fax and email, and
 Completed and delivered a computer-based course for certified PCAs in ecological pest management in grapes.

Project Objectives:

Project Objectives
The overall goal of this project was to provide PCAs, agricultural consultants and other agricultural professionals with current information on ecological pest management. To accomplish this goal we tested and used several non-traditional approaches, and evaluated which information delivery methods were most effective. Discussions with project participants during the initial phase of the project established the following specific project objectives (slightly revised from initial proposal):

1. Develop and distribute a computer-based/internet course in ecological pest management for PCAs and other agricultural professionals.

2. Provide practical training in ecological pest management and sustainable agriculture to PCAs through a series of audio cassettes.

3. Provide practical information on sustainable agriculture and ecological pest management to PCAs in Western Oregon through a subscription FAX service and electronic mail listserve. (Sub-contract with OSU Integrated Plant Protection Center)

4. Evaluate the effectiveness of the various educational approaches for this group of agriculture professionals.

Introduction:

There are currently more than 4,000 licensed pest control advisors (PCAs) in California. Oregon has 960 licensed pesticide consultants. Individuals in these categories include field representatives for agrochemical dealers and food processors, and specialists with expertise in a variety of disciplines and cropping systems. These professionals are responsible, along with the farmers/ranchers who employ their services, for making critical crop management decisions. For many farmers this joint decision-making process is essential to maintain quality production while remaining economically viable. In recent years, the use of professional consultants has increased rapidly as regulations have become more complicated and costs of purchased materials have increased. At the same time, declining resources have changed the way that Cooperative Extension advisors conduct their work. The days of regular one-on-one contact between extension agents and farmers and ranchers are much a thing of the past. Who is stepping in to fill that niche? In many areas it is the private consultant.

These agricultural professionals are in a unique position not only of making crop management decisions, but also of educating their clientele about efficient use of farm resources and enhancing natural biological cycles and controls. The many workshops and courses provided through existing continuing education programs are an important resource for agricultural consultants. However, they do not always cover the biologically integrated practices in which growers are showing increasing interest. Resources developed in this project have focused on sustainable, biologically intensive practices and addressed a unique variety of topics including: Integrated Pest Management (IPM), issues in pesticide resistance, and the relationship between soil and plant health and pest management. In addition, the information delivery systems explored in this proposal fill a niche in technology and methods currently not used extensively by the traditional providers. The four systems selected (Internet courses, audio tapes, FAX and electronic mail LISTSERV) were identified through discussions with members of the target group, and with the project team, as fitting into consultants’ busy work schedules. Each approach provides flexibility in terms of time, location, and intensity. Through the use of distance learning technologies, we have the potential to reach a large number of people across a wide area, including more remote rural locations not served through traditional courses and workshops. This goal is consistent with current efforts to transfer information between institutions and organizations throughout the western region.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Jenny Broome
  • Kent Daane
  • Mary Louise Flint
  • Chris Geiger
  • Beth Grafton-Cardwell
  • Phyllis Kuehn
  • George Leavitt
  • Cliff Ohmart
  • Myron Shenk
  • Rhonda Smith
  • Larry Whitted

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

Online Course. We developed an internet-based continuing education course in grape integrated pest management (IPM). This component of the project was coordinated by a professional entomologist with experience in grape IPM, in consultation with an advisory committee of University of California grape researchers, extensionists, and PCAs. This course reviews general IPM principles and philosophies, AND emphasizes information and skills that are of practical use to an average PCA. Topics include: biologies of specific organisms in the grape ecosystem, field diagnosis and monitoring techniques, and up-to-date summaries of the best available decision-making tools and management options. The course consists of a web site and companion CD, with subject matter progressively arranged in a series of units. The use of the CD for large photo files will allow access to high-quality images without long download times. Maintaining the text portions of the course on the internet will allow easy centralized course administration, easy updating of technical information, and instant access to reference materials at other internet sites. Students can progress through the units at their own pace at any time of day. Web-based self tests and graded exams are included in the package, and an individual’s score determines the number of continuing education credits they receive. The use of extensive text and graphic resources, cutting-edge educational theory, and a review team of working PCAs has resulted in a course that is of high quality, effective and relevant to the target audience. The course was field-tested on a group of PCAs who provided direct feedback through on-site interviews or by submitting written comments. We will be continuing to evaluate the course over the long-term through follow-up surveys with those who have completed the course.

Audio Tapes. Agricultural professionals have limited time to read and study new materials and information related to their area of expertise. Audio tapes are one possible solution to this problem. They can be listened to at times that are convenient to the individual, for example while on the road between clients or on the way home at the end of the day. They present a familiar and inexpensive form of conveying information and ideas, are relatively inexpensive to produce, have the potential to reach a large number of individuals over time, and can be used effectively to present information that is timely and relevant. By recording both specific crop care information and more general relevant topics on audio tape, consultants can use this travel time for professional development. Subject matter specialists were identified who developed the scripts and recorded the material for distribution. A test group of ten PCAs evaluated the first series.

Facsimile Information Sheets. The use of FAX information sheets for information distribution builds on a successful model currently being used at OSU. Under a small grants program administered by IPPC, an information specialist works with two separate groups (small fruits/berries and ornamentals) with approximately 100 recipients, each who receive weekly fact sheets and bulletins on various pest control topics via FAX. For this project, IPPC developed a sustainable agriculture newsletter Sustainable Agriculture News Briefs (SANB), which was sent to subscribers at various times throughout the year and that included timely information related to agricultural operations that should be considered at that time of year. IPPC tapped a variety of resources for information to include in the newsletter, including faculty and staff of IPPC, and the IPPC award winning database Directory of IPM Resources (DIR), a highly interactive retrieval and referral system of IPM information and information resources on the Internet (UC IPM, UC SAREP links).

Electronic Mail. IPPC also created an email LISTSERV for pest control and crop advisors in Oregon. Crop advisors who subscribed received SANB and also had a forum for discussion of topics and practices focused on agricultural sustainability. IPPC already maintains a server for the Directory of IPM Resources (DIR) program and was able to incorporate a new subscription list for sustainable agriculture information exchange. Much of the value of such a list is the interaction among professionals who are in the field and have opportunity to interact with growers moving towards a more sustainable agriculture focus.

Outreach and Publications

As noted above, the following materials have been produced through this project:
 Online course— Ecological Pest Management in Grapes. Course url: http://www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/courses/grapes/ Contact David Chaney to register and receive the companion CD.
 Twenty-two issues of Sustainable Agriculture News Briefs. Copies available on request.
 Three audio cassettes: [Tape 1: Pesticide Resistance in Insects and Mites. Beth Grafton-Cardwell. Pest Management Update for Trees and Vines. June, 1999 Larry Whitted. Tape 2: Pest Management Update for Trees and Vines – July and August, 1999 – Larry Whitted. Tape 3: Pest Management Update for Trees and Vines – September and October, 1999 – Larry Whitted.] Copies available on request.

Outcomes and impacts:

Internet course. Throughout its development, the course was evaluated and reviewed by an advisory committee composed of experts in the field of grape pest management. The Committee members include Jenny Broome, SAREP associate director; Kent Daane, UC Berkeley extension specialist; Mary Louise Flint, UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UCIPM) education/publications director; George Leavitt, UC Cooperative Extension viticulture farm advisor, Madera County; Clifford Ohmart, PCA, research/IPM director, Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission; and Larry Whitted, PCA, Larry Whitted & Associates.

The advisory committee reviewed the course’s learning expectations in February 2000. Whenever possible, learning expectations from UCIPM’s study guide for PCAs, IPM in Practice: Principles and Methods of Integrated Pest Management were incorporated into the learning expectations for the course. (The latter publication is intended as a training resource for California PCAs, in preparation for stricter PCA licensing requirements due to be implemented by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation in 2003). Meetings were also arranged with state licensing authorities at an early stage to discuss procedures for obtaining Continuing Education credits. Course design documents and content were reviewed by the Committee via email throughout the summer of 2000. A special meeting of the Committee was convened in October, 2000 to review the draft online course. Reviews of additional drafts of the course, and separate reviews of the exam questions, were conducted in the ensuing six months. In addition to advisory committee reviews, “over-the-shoulder” course reviews were conducted in Spring, 2001 with several PCAs who volunteered to give the course a test run. Chris Geiger observed while the PCA used the course for the first time, and took notes on technical or content issues. This process proved especially fruitful in identifying problems. In addition to the above, 15 other individuals (including PCAs and other educators) were given advance copies of the course during this period, and asked to complete evaluation forms. All of these comments were incorporated into the final course. The 30 or so individuals who formed this core development and evaluation team gave the course very high marks and indicated that they expected it to be a valuable learning tool for PCAs in California. They are in key positions to help promote and advertise the course which will enhance the overall impact from the course over time.

Since the course was released in late November, 2001, there has been insufficient time for user evaluation. Currently there are 26 registered students, 9 of those are California PCAs seeking continuing education credits for the course. In November this year, we plan to distribute a written course evaluation to all students who have taken the course to seek additional feedback and evaluate the impact the course has had on their pest management strategies and recommendations.

Audio cassette series. Each tape was sent to a review group of 12 PCAs representing various clientele in the Southern San Joaquin Valley of California. Participants who reviewed the tape series returned a survey for each tape. The survey included both specific rating questions and open-ended questions about the tape content, utility, and quality. The survey and results of the participants’ responses are summarized below with full results provided in Attachment 2. Overall evaluation results are summarized below:
• Overall, the tape reviews were very positive. The mean Knowledge Gain score for all three tapes was 3.09, or slightly above the midpoint (some knowledge increase) of the five-point rating scale.
• Respondents felt overwhelmingly that they had retained the information as well as or better than they would have in a workshop presentation format.
• Respondents felt overwhelmingly that the content was relevant for all the tapes.
• Respondents felt unanimously that the language level used by the instructor was appropriate.
• Over half the respondents felt that the information they gained would affect their practice either immediately or within the next year. Those who did not feel that it would affect their practice either were already using the information presented or were not working in the field in which it could be applied. This latter group was nevertheless very positive about the tape format and content.
• The respondents almost unanimously listened to the tape while driving.
• Six respondents stated that they had listened to a tape more than once. Several commented on the advantage tapes have over workshops for replaying the information. A few others remarked that listening in the car prevented them from taking notes.
• Additional statements made were very positive. However, two respondents remarked that the tapes arrived after the time the information would have been useful for this year. For the future use of these tapes, the timing of the tape distribution should be revised.

From this feedback, our conclusion is that this method of distributing educational materials to practitioners is useful and practical, and fits their information needs and learning styles. The major challenge with this component of the project was finding the technical experts who would agree to develop the content, and commit time to making the recordings. Because of this difficulty, we discontinued work on the audio cassette series and instead focused on the subscription fax/email service and the computer based course in grape pest management.

Subscription Fax/email service. Twenty-two issues of Sustainable Agriculture News Briefs (SANB) were produced and distributed to the 120 or so PCAs who subscribed to the service: 44 consultants registered to receive SANB via Fax, and some 72 persons via email or the Internet. Interaction with SANB readership has been limited. Despite receiving verbal compliments for the newsletter from several persons who received it, we only had four responses to the listserv. In nearly every newsletter we begged people to share their experiences, comments, and ideas. This lack of response was a great disappointment.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Work on this project began March 1, 1999. Personnel changes here at UC SAREP, and on this project specifically, influenced our progress during the first reporting period (March to December 1999). Several participants that we had identified for the internet and audio cassettes were unable to participate. In addition, Ann Mayse, the project coordinator resigned from her position in October ’99 to start a new career as an elementary school teacher in Fresno. Despite these challenges, I feel we made significant progress over the course of this project. No cost extensions were applied for (and received) in order to complete the internet course and continue the fax/email service to Oregon consultants. All aspects of the project are now complete. A summary of results for the final reporting period are included below.

Internet Course
Course title: Ecological Pest Management in Grapes.
Course url: http://www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/courses/grapes/
A preview of the course is available at this address. If you are interested in seeing the entire course, please contact me so I can give you a logon name and password and send you the companion CD.

Chris Geiger has coordinated this aspect of the project, with input from an advisory group of UC experts and grape PCAs. During this final phase of the project, Chris completed writing the course content, activities, quizzes and tests; and oversaw the creation of the Web interface for delivering the course. He organized the testing of the course with a focus group of 4 grape PCAs. Chris currently works for the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, the agency responsible for overseeing PCA accreditation in California. With his assistance, I applied for and received continuing education credits for the course.

Audio Cassettes. Three audio cassettes were produced during the first year of the project [Tape 1: Pesticide Resistance in Insects and Mites. Beth Grafton-Cardwell.
Pest Management Update for Trees and Vines. June, 1999 Larry Whitted. Tape 2: Pest Management Update for Trees and Vines – July and August, 1999 – Larry Whitted. Tape 3: Pest Management Update for Trees and Vines – September and October, 1999 – Larry Whitted.] Copies of these tapes are available on request. As indicated in last year’s progress report, although these tapes were regarded highly by our PCA test group, we had a very difficult time finding the technical experts who would agree to develop the content, and commit time to making the recordings. Based on this finding, we discontinued this component of the project and focused on the subscription fax/email service (OSU IPPC) and the computer based course in grape pest management.

FAX and email service. During the first reporting period Myron Shenk at OSU Integrated Plant Protection Center completed the computer infrastructure that supported the fax/email information delivery system. They also recruited PCAs who were interested in subscribing and issued five issues of their Sustainable Agriculture News Briefs (SANB). Over the entire project period, they produced 22 issues of SANB (beginning in October 1999) and distributed them to the 120 or so PCAs who subscribed to the service. Recipients of the Sustainable Agriculture News Briefs (SANB) include 44 persons registered to receive SANB via Fax, and some 72 persons via email or the Internet. Interaction with SANB readership has been limited.

In view of high rainfall patterns in the Willamette Valley, SANB topics have included soil conservation through cover crops and mulches, the benefits of cover crops for soil fertility and structure, cover crops and weed control, the use of entomopathogenic nematodes in IPM programs, the general benefits of sustainable agriculture, sustainable agriculture resources (both in printed and electronic form), using the Internet to obtain information, and ecological principles and pest management in sustainable agriculture.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

There are currently more than 4,000 licensed pest control advisors (PCAs) in California and 960 licensed pesticide consultants in Oregon. These professionals are responsible, along with the farmers and ranchers who employ their services, for making critical crop management decisions. In that capacity they have the opportunity to supply key information to producers about the efficient use of farm resources and enhancing natural biological cycles and controls. Although PCAs and consultants have many continuing education opportunities available to them, the focus is largely on conventional farming practices dependent on outside inputs of pesticides and fertilizers. By providing computer-based educational programs that offer more flexibility in terms of time, location and intensity, we have the potential of reaching a large number of people across a wide area, including more remote rural locations not served through traditional conferences and workshops.

Future Recommendations

Internet Course. One key recommendation offered by the advisory committee was the importance of offering online courses in modular format. We resisted this idea in the early stages because it would seem to detract from the “integrated” nature of integrated pest management. While each of the four course units can be taken independently, none are standalone units; that is, the entire course must be purchased in order to access any of them. However, preliminary comments from users suggest that a more modular program would much more realistic and attractive given PCAs’ time constraints.

Another recommendation garnered from SAREP’s experience with this pilot program is the need for a centralized computer facility to accommodate such online courses. Many students prefer to take these courses late at night; however, if there are technical problems at that hour they have little recourse. A centralized facility with 24/7 technical support would therefore be an advantage in maintaining users’ interest level.

Updating course content on the SAREP course is relatively simple, since all time-sensitive web pages reside on the SAREP server—not on the CD-ROM. However, there is an obvious need to negotiate long-term responsibilities for periodic updates of these courses. This means that permanent university staff must be involved. Since this course is only a pilot effort, the responsibility for updating in the future does not rest with any specified person. If more such courses are developed, however, a more formal updating system is needed.

Fax/Email service. One of the key lessons we learned with this is that access to such a service must be very easy. Because of mechanical/electronic problems, we had considerable difficulty with initial subscriptions to the listserv. Most persons had to subscribe three times. Several persons sent notes that they had lost interest because it was ‘too difficult to subscribe to, and they did not have time for such hassles.’ Even in the initial phase, after the second note about subscription errors, one person sent a note saying that this was enough to convince them that the service would be of limited value. Perhaps we are confirming the old adage that “initial impressions are lasting impressions.” We are convinced that great care must be taken to insure that the initial contact and inscription must be simple, straight forward, and fool proof.

Summary. Overall, this has been an extremely valuable project for our program. We have been able to explore three different educational strategies for reaching PCAs with information on sustainable agriculture. We have been able to get firsthand experience in developing and delivering content via each method, and have received direct feedback regarding each strategy’s strengths and weaknesses. The Web is clearly a very powerful tool for providing information to this target audience. With our online course in grape pest management, new technologies and software have enabled us to deliver content in a fresh and interactive way. Students taking the course have the opportunity to explore different areas in depth, and, through quizzes and tests, are required to demonstrate their grasp of the subject matter. With additional resources and time and infrastructure, important and essential additions to this course would be: 1) more interaction with a designated instructor and with other students; and 2) a field component where students can practice their monitoring and assessment skills in a real life situation. We will try to incorporate these additions into any future courses we develop.

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.