Farmers Educating Farmers: Developing a Soil Quality Indicator Guide

Final Report for FW01-056

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2001: $10,500.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Region: Western
State: Idaho
Principal Investigator:
Kyle Wilson
Natural Resource Conservation Agency
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Project Information

Abstract:

The project funds created a Palouse and Nezperce Prairies Soil Quality Card Guide, an educational tool for the region. The prairies cover more than 8,900 square miles, an area with a large farmer population base that can be reached through development of the tool.

Grower workshops, conducted by a technical support team, guided farmers through the development and distribution process of the soil quality guide. Workshop topics included: selection of soil quality elements (such as soil compaction, infiltration, the presence of living organisms, the presence of organic matter, etc.) to include in a regional soil quality guide. From information gathered at the workshops, a draft guide was developed and distributed to the Nez Perce Tribe, USDA offices, conservation district offices, the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association and growers in Oregon, Washington and Idaho for field testing. Field evaluation comments were then incorporated and a final guide prepared.

Introduction

Improving soil quality is an important part of sustaining the economic viability of farming operations and improving the quality of life for farmers. There is a significant need for education on the subject of soil quality in the geographic area that is part of this Western SARE grant, and the development of a soil quality guide is deemed a significant step in the process.

The Paoluse and Nez Perce Prairies, part of the Northwestern Wheat and Range Region, cover more than 8,900 square miles, an area with a substantial population that can be reached through the development of a soil quality card guide. More importantly, the product development itself could empower a significant number of participating farmers.

Project Objectives:

This proposal is to develop a Soil Quality Indicator Guide for the Palouse and Nez Perce Prairies to meet educational and management needs. Project objectives are:

1. Increase producer knowledge about soil quality and health.

2. Increase communications and rapport between farmers, extension professionals and agricultural researchers through the distribution and use of the cards.

3. Incraese farmer buy-in to the concepts of soil quality and soil health, resulting in field management decisions leading to greater agricultural sustainabilty and greater farm financial stability.

4. Assist farmers in detecting both short- and long-term soil quality changes.

5. Improve farm management record keeping systems and improve analytical and observational skills in the field.

6. Provide a tool for growers to self-evaluate their direct seeding operations. The ability to evaluate soil quality change over time will assist in grower adoption of direct seeding systems.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Lynn Rasmussen

Research

Materials and methods:

The Palouse and Nezperce Prairie Soil Quality Card Guide (CARD) design followed the procedures and strategies outlined in the UDSA Soil quality Card Design Guide (GUIDE). This GUIDE was folowed to develop the farmer meetings, create the guide prototype, field test it and created the produce the final card. The GUIDE includes overheads, sample letters and tips on obtaining group participation.

Farmer workshops were held in Culdesac, Genesee and Moscow, ID and Pendleton, OR. More than 150 people participated in some phase of the card development. Participation and interest were seen as being high. A PowerPoint presentation on basic soil quality concepts was developed and shown to growers, along with soils samples to increase the educational value.

After the first round of grower workshops, a prototype card was developed and field tested by USDA Service Centers, local conservation districts and 100 farmers. Most of the comments were related to the timing of the measurements, which were adjusted before the final draft card was produced. A technical team, which worked over several months to write the guide portion, included representatives from the University of Idaho, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Latah Soil and Water Conservation District, Nez Perce Tribe and the Nez Perce Soil and Water Conservation District.

The final draft was reviewed by by the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association technical committee, which consts of growers in Idaho, Oregon and Washington Their comments were incorporated and the guide was completed in both written and electronic forms.

Research results and discussion:

A survey was conducted to determine producer reaction and adoption. Most survey respondents indicated that they would use the guide and field card on their fields. Respondents also indicated that the card scoring system was easy to use, the guide was easy to follow and understand and the product was easy to use and practical.

Actual impacts of this project are difficult to measure. However, a paper completed in 2002 estimates that up to a 30% reduction in surface water runoff can be achieved through the change in soil quality in an agricultural field. In addition, estimates in the Palouse indicate a reduction of up to 25% in soil erosion by the adoption of a direct seed system.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

The card development process was advertised in the Forever Soil and Water newsletter and the Direct Seed Association newsletter. Three grower workshop were held, including more than 150 participants, and two public demonstrations workshops were held with more than 900 participants.

The Soil Quality Card itself was communicated to others — estimated at nearly 1,200 individuals –through newsletter articles, workshops demonstrating card use and public presentations.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The soil card was distributed electronically on the Soil Quality Institute website and the Nez Perce Soil and Water Conservation District website. It was also distributed during the January 2004 Direct Seeding conference in Pendleton, OR, the 2004 Nez Perce County Fair in Lewiston, ID, and the 2002 regional direct seeding tour in Genesee, ID. Copies were also mailed to 50 producers in Nez Perce County, ID, as well as to USDA Service Centers and local conservation district offices in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

The Palouse and Nez Perce Prairies Soil Quality Card Guide has appliations both site specifically and regionally. Individual farmers can improve their observational, analytical and record keeping skills as they use the guide. Regionally, the availability and use of the guide will encourage farmer-farmer and farmer-scientist interactions, with the increased information exchange and idea adoption liekly to have a big influence on field management decisions.

The guide and field sheet currently are being used in the Lapwai Creek and Tammany Creek watershed project as an educational tool to increase awareness of soil quality in agricultural fields. Thirty-four growers in the area have received the guide and are in some phase of adopting a direct seed system. In addition, more than 300 copies of the guide were distributed to growers in Idaho, Oregon and Washington at the January 2004 Direct Seed conference.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

As field management changes and soil quality improves over time, the following results are expected:

Improved agricultural productivity
Increased financial stability
Reduced erosion
Improved water quality
Overall enhancement of natural resource conditions

Future Recommendations

When completing a soil quality indicator guide, soil quality parameters applicable to the project area are needed. Split recommendations were received from growers on the size and format of the card. Those wanting to establish long-term trends requested the 8.5 x 11 inch version. Others felt that a pocket version would work better for them as a reference tool. A recommendation for other groups considering such guides is to produce the guide and two versions of the field sheets for reproduction.

The team developing the guide, which took several months, underestimated the time it would take to write it. Future projects should plan on at least 12 months to write the guide.

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.