Final Report for LNC94-075
The Monitoring Team completed a third year of research and education designed to test a process of on-farm observation and interaction that brings together farmers and other professionals. The Team of 24 people combines agricultural disciplines, ecology, rural sociology, hydrogeology and the perspectives of farmers, agency officials, researchers, consultants and non-profit staff. The project has focused on farms in transition to Management Intensive Grazing (MIG).
In 1996, the Team: collected analytical data on the six team farms and paired farms (nearby farms with similar soils or stream reaches); documented farmer observations; and tested selected on-farm indicators. For example, the Team collected soils data from 54 permanent plots sited on the six team farms and five paired farms. In addition, in-field comparisons led to identification of five soil monitoring tools to be included a monitoring tool box. Breeding bird and breeding frog and toad counts were conducted by volunteers and farm families. Information was collected from streams on four team farms and three paired sites on the same or adjacent streams.
Several preliminary findings suggest that MIG has broad ecosystem and socio-economic benefits. Rested paddocks show promise as nesting sites and cover for endangered grassland bird species. MIG stations on two streams improved chemical, physical and biological parameters when compared to continuously grazed stations. A set of four economic indicators of sustainability show that the advantages of grazing go beyond profitability.
We are developing a “tool box” of monitoring indicators that can be used by farmers to see if they are making progress toward their goals. The tool box will contain narrative and visual aids from all the research areas and will encourage farmers to use a holistic management process. The Team will produce a prototype tool box by February 1997 that will be evaluated next year on at least 10 farms not associated with the existing Team.
The Team held five field days from June to September, involving a total of 240 people. Two articles were written in reference to the project in major popular publications. One article was accepted for scientific publication and at least 29 presentations were given by Team members since January 1996. Dick Levin’s publication, Monitoring Sustainable Agriculture With Conventional Financial Data, has been distributed to more than 440 people.
The following report includes objectives, specific project results, outreach, potential contributions and practical applications, economic analysis, farmer adoption and direct impact, producer involvement and areas needing further study. This project was funded through both ACE (LWF 62-016-03022) and SARE (LWF 62-016-03144). Several objectives were funded from both sources and selected work elements received funding from only one source. This section of the report is being submitted for both ACE and SARE. Funding sources are identified within the section on specific project results.
The objectives stated in the original proposal were to:
1.Develop indicators of ecosystem health that can be easily used by farmers.
2.Assess social and economic well-being of farms implementing MIG.
3.Implement and evaluate a new model for designing agricultural research.
4.Promote the use of participatory, inclusive, whole-systems approaches in other research.
5.Engage the alumni of LSP’s “Introduction to Holistic Resource Management” (HRM) seminars in an on-going discussion.
6.Disseminate information to farmers and policy makers about the use of biological monitoring and MIG.
The Monitoring Team has been monitoring ecological, financial and family quality-of-life parameters on six farms that are undergoing a transition from conventional feeding to management intensive grazing (MIG). These farmers are part of the research Team (Team farm). Five of six Team farms were paired with an adjacent or nearby conventionally managed farm (paired farm) to provide a reference point for monitoring the impact of management changes.
During the 1994 season, Team members established plots and collected data that provided a baseline for long-term longitudinal studies. Data collection on those sites continued during the next two years. During 1996 we developed on-farm indicators to help farmers evaluate progress towards their goals. We have also placed a high priority on documentation of farmer observations.
The Team is completing the first phase of its work, including a final report, by June 1997. By that time, data analysis and interpretation will be completed, we will have produced a prototype tool box for testing on several farms next summer and we will have produced additional written reports. The Team also is embarking on a second phase of activity focused on dissemination of what we have learned and continued research on selected questions.
In a project as comprehensive as the Monitoring Project, there is too much to report within the guidelines provided. We have summarized key points from annual reports which are included in the Appendix.
Each of the six Monitoring Team farms was sampled by bird monitoring teams (including members of the farm families) three times during the nesting season between May and early July. Supplemental point counts, nest searches, and observations were used to monitor the impacts of rest paddocks, i.e. paddocks that were purposefully not grazed for an extended period, on grassland bird species populations.
Water quality samples were again collected from the water wells at each farm. A one page summary of the surficial geology has been prepared for each farm. These short descriptions provide useful information for team members and have been used as hand-outs during field tours at some of the farms.
We are conducting additional testing at a spring-fed pond on the Lentz farm that is a popular over wintering site for several hundred water fowl. The overflow from the pond, as it discharges to a nearby creek, will be monitored to evaluate potential downstream water quality impacts. One sample was collected in November to document conditions before the birds arrive. Another sample will be taken in January when the ducks and geese are using this ice free pond as a winter refuge.
Frogs and Toads (ACE)
The tracking of frogs and toads as an indicator of environmental health may be gaining more exposure in Minnesota as reports surfaced of deformed frogs in watersheds in several parts of the state. This new exposure highlights the importance of on-farm observations for: tracking frog and toad populations over the long-term; involving local residents in ecological monitoring activities; and evaluating the impacts of land-use patterns.
As part of larger frog and toad surveys of southeastern Minnesota watersheds, evening surveys were conducted in spring, early summer, and late summer 1996 on the survey routes established on the six team farms.
Stream Quality (ACE)
The “Stream Team” continued monitoring at the same sites using the same methods outlined in the 1995 summary report. Two changes in monitoring protocol are worth noting. Because of equipment breakdown, fish counts on Milliken Creek were done with only one backpack this year. In previous years two backpacks were used. The number of fish caught this year decreased significantly due to this change. Therefore, the numbers of fish caught this year should not be compared to the number caught last year. Due to an upstream fishkill that occurred on Milliken creek in August, no fish were collected at the paired sites and the data from the French farm may also have been biased.
In addition to changes in protocol, water levels were extremely low at all sites during 1996. Low water conditions may have influenced all of the data collected.
From an initial list of 11 soil physical and biological traits, we decided to make “side-by-side” comparisons between standard methodology and more user-friendly techniques for the following five properties: penetration resistance (“compaction”), infiltration, aggregate stability, earthworms, and decomposition rate (biological activity).
Vegetation (ACE and SARE)
In 1995, we were using standard procedures (clipping a number of randomly selected samples from an area of known size) for determination of forage yield and quality. These procedures were developed for sampling hay fields. However, a couple of project farmers suggested that their cattle select the highest quality forages available in the field and that a clipped sample was not representative. The relative feed values (RFVs, a standard measure of forage quality) we found in 1995 were lower than would be expected, even in a poor forage year like last year. Therefore, we conducted an additional test this year that compared clipped forage samples vs. “grab” samples that are collected based on observations of livestock grazing behavior and examination of recently-grazed paddocks. Our early results suggest that the farmers are right (grab sample analyses are running 20-30% higher for relative feed value than clipped samples).
In addition to the comparison of clipped and grab samples, we also are now sampling entire paddocks instead of the 5 m x 5 m plot areas. We have changed the sampling grid to a 18″ x 18″ sampling quadrat and are comparing biomass estimates to a plexiglass/yardstick pasture plate. When possible, we are including farmers= estimates of forage biomass and other observations. The field technician is taking notes on pre-grazing and post-grazing forage height (by species) and animal consumption patterns. To accomplish a more detailed study of grazing sites, we reduced the number of sites tracked to a total of nine on five farms.
Quality of Life (SARE)
From the start, the Team decided that all members should reflect on how they are changing in response to the sustainable agriculture movement and, in particular, participation in the Monitoring Team. Early this year, selected non-farmer team members participated in “facilitated social monitoring” exercises to elicit their perceptions of their quality of life. The volunteer participants proved to be representative of the different non-farmer institutions. The techniques to elicit their values and perceptions were semi-structured interviews with a core set of questions/topics and a values/well-being diagraming exercise. (A more detailed summary of these activities is included as an appendix).
Information gathered as part of the quantitative assessment of quality of life of Monitoring Team members has been incorporated into a more comprehensive survey of farm couples involved in sustainable agriculture organizations in the North Central Region. (See Appendix). Questionnaires included open-ended questions about spirituality because previous survey techniques were inadequate in capturing the complexity of this topic.
Economic activities fell into four general categories: (1) clarification within the team of the terms profit and profitability; (2) development of an economic analysis approach that more accurately captures the broad concerns of sustainable agriculture; (3) exploration of the relationship among management, production, and herd health; and (4) development of a strategy to document energy flows on and off team farms.
A focus group discussion among all of the Team farmers about profitability led to AA Farmer’s Eye View of Profits” (copy attached). The simple step of broadening the understanding of profit beyond the bottom line has far-reaching implications.
Secondly, we developed and tested several ways that conventional financial analysis could be used to measure progress towards the broader goals of sustainable agriculture. The best of these systems was published in “Monitoring Sustainable Agriculture with Conventional Financial Data” (copy attached). In the new system, we analyze performance in four areas: (1) income from government programs, (2) use of equipment, chemicals, and off-farm energy, (3) creation of jobs in the local economy, and (4) balance between feed production and use. Each farmer on the project used the system. The system was also tested with farm records from University of Minnesota databases.
In another area, we have investigated the extent to which veterinary and herd health expenses differ among sustainable and conventional livestock farms. The project farmers were especially concerned about these expenses, partly because they are significant, and partly because of the charge that herd health might be sacrificed in some misguided cost-cutting effort. Our results, yet to be published, indicate that the sustainable farmers are doing a remarkable job of controlling these expenses without sacrificing yield or herd health.
We will continue in two major directions. The first is to continue testing and refining the financial system we have developed. A joint project we have initiated with Kansas State should be especially useful here. Second, we will continue to think about what we mean by “profitability” in sustainable agriculture. We are coming toward the concept of “enough” and would like to more formally integrate it into the context of Holistic Management.
Selected findings and farmer observations are described below by objective.
Objective 1. Ecological Monitoring
Supplemental point counts, nest searches, and observations confirmed that rest paddocks (i.e., paddocks that are not grazed for an extended period, allowing vegetation to mature) provided desirable habitat for grassland bird species. In fact, observations suggested that birds were attracted to these areas for re-nesting as surrounding areas were grazed or clipped. Nest searches confirmed that bobolinks and savannah sparrows successfully hatched and fledged young in rest paddocks in 1996. These are two of a number of grassland species that are of concern because of their rarity and/or population declines across the Upper Mississippi Region.
Water quality at all but one farm continues to be acceptable with low or non detectable levels of nitrate nitrogen and total coliform bacteria. The one exception is located in an area of the state that is known to have elevated nitrate concentrations in the shallow aquifer. The concentrations at this well are still within the acceptable standard, but merit continued testing.
Frogs and Toads (ACE)
As mentioned in earlier reports, trends in the frog/toad data can only be assessed after consistent yearly data collection over an extended period (five to ten years).
Stream data collected from all sites reflect the extremely low water levels present during this sampling season. The continuity in year-to-year data for Sugarloaf Creek, which is a spring fed stream, suggests that it was not as impacted by drought as the other streams.
As in 1995, % fines and % embeddedness were highest at continuously grazed stations on Milliken Creek and decreased downstream along rotationally grazed stations. Fecal coliforms followed 1995 trends at Milliken Creek and Sugarloaf Creek. Fecal coliform levels were consistently higher at continuously grazed stations than at rotationally grazed stations. For the second year in a row on Sugarloaf Creek, density and absolute numbers of fish were higher in the stream stretch with a grassed buffer than in the wooded and non-buffered stretches.
Based on testing and comparison of soil monitoring techniques and discussion with project and other farmers, we feel that the soil (compaction tester) probe and the shovel method for earthworm counts will be useful methods for tracking soil health. Both the aggregate stability test and cotton strip decompositon comparison produced promising results. The aggregate stability test requires refinement to focus on the predominant size class of smaller stable aggregates. The cotton strip test simply requires more experience. Both of these methods can be pursued to a numerical conclusion, or simply and quickly used as qualitative visual assessments of the soil condition. As expected, the coffee-can infiltrometer overstated the water intake rate when compared to the sprinkler method. This method should not be used to predict actual infiltration rates, but rather as a tool to qualitatively explore soil physical characteristics and field variability. More details about the preliminary findings, including methods, are outlined in the appendix.
Vegetation (ACE and SARE)
We confirmed farmer observations that random clipped samples would not be representative of the feed value obtained by rotationally-grazed cattle. Grab samples collected based on observation of livestock grazing behavior had 20 to 30 percent higher feed quality as measured by relative feed value (RFV) than clipped samples.
Selected Farmer Observations
Art and Jean saw their first bluebirds on March 31.
Dave noted three to four times more growth on the previous year’s rest paddocks in early spring than on adjacent pads.
Art reported that quack and white clover fared well during the dry spring.
Last fall, Mike had the cows graze hard on the paddocks where he intended to frost seed. Opening up the vegetation appears to give the seed a better chance to establish in the spring. The clover and birdsfoot trefoil were coming on strong in these areas.
The paddock which was used for last winter’s feeding had the best growth through the dry summer and into fall at Art’s.
Joe noted how the standing grass and residue on the surface acted as little “check dams” during spring runoff.
Mike noticed lots of field sparrows in the spring. He says they can be identified because “they sound like a ping pong ball dropping.”
Dan turned his cows out on April 8th to get them off of muddy lots and noted that they were eating orchardgrass and other dried grasses.
Art noticed earthworms under cowpies on April 11.
Several project farmers noted that cows will eat almost all “weeds” (ragweed, buttonweed, burdock, foxtail, lambsquarters, etc.) as long as they are young and tender. The palatability appears to be very seasonal. Dairy cows will eat young burdock leaves and dandelions before anything else in the spring (one farmer speculated that these plants are selected for their “cleansing effect”). Later in the season, burdock and other weeds go untouched.
Art noted how sparse the ground cover (mostly brome) was in his neighbor’s CRP ground that he grazed this year. He also noted that the bird life seemed to be limited to blackbirds. Art feels that “nine years is too long to rest land” which needs to have some kind of animal impact.
Animals select white clover and grasses over red clover and alfalfa, especially later in the season. Alfalfa and red clover tend to become stemmy as the season progresses while white clover remains leafy and lush.
Joe reported that yields for 2nd crop hay were about half of normal due to the drought.
Art observed that the only forages growing during the extended dry conditions were alfalfa with its deep taproot and reed canarygrass.
Dan had a difficult time in August and September finding cement for his new parlor because of all of the new construction (including a 1200 cow dairy) in his neighborhood.
In September, Mike reported that alfalfa, red clover, and orchardgrass were faring best under the dry conditions. Bluegrass never came back.
Contrary to other folks, Dave (who received 5.7″ of rain in August) says his pastures look better, and production has been more consistent, than last year.
On October 13, Mike and Joe observed two groups of bluebirds and a group of yellow-rumped warblers passing through their farm.
Ralph says that during the winter his cows often prefer mature grassy hay to good cut alfalfa hay. He speculates that they may be seeking minerals accumulated in the mature grass.
Objective 2. Social and economic monitoring (SARE)
Quality of Life
Quantitative analysis of farm families involved in sustainable agriculture revealed that two key quality of life factors for these individuals were: the use of alternative resources and learning techniques; and respect and understanding from family, resource professionals, and contemporaries. Surprisingly, money and health issues were not among the most important quality of life factors cited in this survey.
Qualitative information collected in association with the quantitative quality of life assessment suggests that traditional survey techniques are inadequate for addressing respondents’ beliefs about spirituality.
Some common threads from quality of life monitoring of non-farmer team members include: non-farmer participants in the Monitoring Team perceive their land stewardship role as supportive and indirect; the people-centered inquiry of the Monitoring Project is more meaningful, and more enjoyable than their traditional research approaches; and the concept of community was embedded in long-term quality of life objectives.
Team farmers were legitimately concerned about “the bottom line”, but not in the traditional maximization context developed by most economists. Instead, they strove to have “enough” money to support other goals, but were unwilling to compromise non-monetary goals in search of higher profits.
Using new indicators of economic health, it was shown that the advantages of grazing go beyond profitability. Managed grazing is shown to have low reliance on government programs, relatively low use of equipment and chemicals, relatively high job creation, and a near perfect feed balance when compared to conventional farming techniques. These important dimensions of grazing would all be missed if only conventional economic analysis was pursued.
Preliminary results indicate that the Monitoring Team farmers are doing a remarkable job of controlling veterinary and herd health expenses without sacrificing yield or herd health. Measured as a percent of gross income, veterinary and herd health expenses are two to three times higher for conventional farms than for these farms.
Objectives 3 and 4. Develop and promote the use of whole farm research process (ACE and SARE)
From time to time, it is critical for the Monitoring Team, or any other group that wants to be cohesive, to make sure that people feel they belong and are being respected for their views and ways of knowing. For some this can seem like a burdensome waste of time, but we have learned that it is essential that everyone feel a part of the group. If the trust is there, the tasks and how we do them can then be negotiated among the group. Otherwise, doing tasks can actually further erode trust, even when people agree that a task should be done. Then it will take more time and energy to sort out the conflicts that arise. In other words, a group needs to “go slow to go fast.”
As we approached the annual Team meeting to be held on January 23, 1996, it was clear that we needed to reflect on where the Team had been, where it was going and what needed to be improved. We had to solve contentious issues such as what should be in the “kit of indicators” that we had promised to develop since the project began. In addition, it had been several months since the Team gathered and people felt disconnected from each other.
In reflecting on our objectives, Team members felt that we had moved beyond the old concept of producing a “kit” to that of learning through a process of observation and interaction (see discussion of this evolution in the following section). The Team agreed that indicators or a “tool box” of monitoring techniques should be “an excuse for a conversation.” Accordingly, we modified each of the objectives that had guided the Team since the fall of 1993 as follows:
1.Develop indicators of ecosystem health that can be easily used by farmers.
2.Assess social and economic well-being of farms implementing MIG.
To: Develop and test a process of on-farm observation and interaction that brings together farmers and other professionals to monitor:
* Ecosystem Health and
* Economic and Social well-being of the farm family.
B. From: 3. Implement and evaluate a new model for designing agricultural research.
4. Promote the use of participatory, inclusive, whole-systems approaches in other research.
To: Implement a new dynamic process for designing agricultural research that:
* is participatory and farmer driven,
* uses a whole-systems approach that depends on a dialog among all team members,
* values and develops on-farm knowledge and experience, and
* fosters changes in research approaches by all project Team members and their institutions.
C. From: 5. Engage the alumni of LSP’s “Introduction to Holistic Resource Management” (HRM) seminars in an on-going discussion.
6. Disseminate information to farmers and policy makers about the use of biological monitoring and MIG.
To: Engage farmers, researchers, the public, agency officials, private business and others in feedback and application of on-farm monitoring and whole-systems participatory research.
From a Kit of Indicators to a Tool Box
One of our original project objectives was to develop a kit of indicators that farmers could use to monitor biological and other parameters on their farms. The concept of a Akit@ of indicators connoted for many a static set of universal indicators available as a glossy product for interested individual farmers. Several Team members expressed strong concerns that without people-to-people interaction or relevance to personal goals even the best designed materials would attract more dust than human users. A special meeting was held with Team farmers and other concerned Team members in early January. The group reviewed a proposal for Phase II of the Monitoring Project, which focused on disseminating the process and products of the Team, including the tool kit of indicators. One Team farmer said: “I’m trying to get an easier life, I don’t need to adopt a new tool kit. I wouldn’t use this.” Another suggested that we shouldn’t sell a kit “unless a person comes with it.” An agency staff person echoed those sentiments when he said “The power in what we are doing is through face-to-face meetings.”
The idea of a tool box was suggested instead. “When you have a particular task you need to do, you go to a tool box and get the tool that will help you. You only need to pick the one you need when you need it.” (See attached draft Tool Box Intro.) Embedded within the tool box, and prefacing the material on monitoring approaches, is the context for on-farm monitoring. Farmers will be encouraged to use a holistic-management-style process to identify comprehensive farm goals. The monitoring tools will then be used to see if they are making progress toward their goals (not those of the tool box designers). Through a series of narratives and examples from our project, the tool box users will be encouraged to solicit information and wisdom from those with different perspectives or specialized knowledge; in essence, to develop their own support team. As these concepts were developed at the annual Team meeting, the idea of a Tool Box came to be a more meaningful expression for the Team as a whole than the “kit of indicators.”
At this writing, we have draft tool box materials from all of the research areas. For each area, we have a one-page “teaser” (what, why, who, when, how much, etc.) and a more in-depth monitoring guide (how to). Where appropriate, a field aid (such as a laminated card) has been, or is being, developed to outline key points of the monitoring process. All of the materials have been developed through our team process. By February 1997, we will create a prototype tool box that will be distributed to team farmers and new farmer cooperators in Phase II of the monitoring project for a test run. Throughout 1997 we will be engaged in a process of testing the prototype tool box with farmers using a variety of farming systems. Their feedback will help the Team improve the tool box by early 1998.
Objective 5. Engage HRM Alumni (ACE and SARE)
The Monitoring Project was discussed at follow-up sessions for Holistic Management classes in Minnesota and nationally. Course alumni and educators from throughout the United States toured Monitoring Project farms as part of the August annual gathering of the Center for Holistic Management held in Minnesota. The Monitoring Team also gave a presentation on the subject at the meeting.
A full accounting of the positive benefits from the Monitoring Project will be possible only after data analysis is complete. This information will be reported through activities associated with Phase II of the project (also funded by SARE), which will entail dissemination of information and the team process to a wider audience. However, several short- and long-term benefits from the Monitoring project work are clear. Positive impacts to-date fall into three broad categories: (1) documentation and observation of MIG benefits to the environment; (2) documentation and observation of MIG benefits to farm family quality-of-life; and (3) documentation and implementation of the project team process. More specifically, benefits identified for MIG, based on three seasons of data collection, are:
*Increased soil biological activity, as measured by earthworm populations and soil microbial biomass C, under MIG compared to row crop production
*Increased soil structural integrity (as measured by soil aggregate stability), improved infiltration, and greatly increased surface cover for MIG when compared to row crop production suggesting greatly reduced soil erosion under MIG
*Improved stream physical, biological, and water quality characteristics in stream reaches adjacent to MIG pastures when compared to stream reaches along conventionally-grazed pastures
*Improved grassland bird species habitat under MIG compared to conventional management
*Improved grassland bird habitat within grazing systems by using extended rest periods
*Development of simple, inexpensive monitoring methods that improve awareness and understanding of ecosystem function
*Decreased veterinary costs without negative impacts to production or herd health
Quality of Life Benefits
*Lower-stress lifestyle and personal empowerment for farmers
*Construction of an accepting and supportive network of sustainable agriculture/MIG practitioners that shares ideas and experiences
*Development of techniques that surface underlying feelings or attitudes about farm goals and quality of life
*Identification that some quality of life factors, such as spirituality, cannot be adequately described or measured through survey instruments
Team Process Benefits
*Bridging the gap between farmers, university researchers, and agency staff
*Empowerment of farmers by giving equal weight to their knowledge and observations
*Development of a powerful model for future dialogue about our land, water and human resources
*Demonstration of a practical, multidirectional, hands-on educational process that is highlighting the true potential of holistic, adaptive management
*Clarification of the terms profit and profitability which should benefit the discussion of farm economics at large.
Monitoring Project activities are corroborating basic research on soil quality and MIG impacts on soils, streams, wildlife and people. As an example, Monitoring Project farmers and researchers are testing a hypothesis developed by the University of Wisconsin that “rest pads” and delayed clipping can improve nesting success of grassland species in rotationally-grazed landscapes. This question, and a sampling of the many others that have been raised as we progress through the project, are included in Methods and Approach, and in Project Results.
Economic analysis was imbedded in our project. It is discussed in the Methods section, the Results section, and the Involvement of Others section.
This section must begin with a qualifier: the direct impacts (and adoption) by project members may be as significant as adoption of new practices by farmers. It is true that the sharing of knowledge and perspectives has expanded the farmers’ scope and understanding of farm and ecosystem processes. However, the experiences, pragmatism and “real-world” perspective of project farmers has lent credibility and context to academic and agency efforts.
Due, in large part, to practicing the ideals of Holistic Management, the project farmers solicit information from specialists and other sources, test changes against their quality of life and landscape goals, and then adapt practices to their management system. Though the preliminary findings listed may provide useful information for land users and resource professionals, we hope that the holistic, goal-based approaches to management employed by project farmers will become an integral process for all team participants in personal, professional, and educational endeavors. This approach can serve as a model for other farmers as they assess the impact of their management decisions on their families, communities, and ecosystem. Additional suggestions for monitoring will be made available through the development of the tool box described on page nine through Phase II of the project.
Involvement of Other Audiences
Holistic Management professionals from around the country heard about our work and financial evaluation system when they came to Minnesota last August. Over 100 practitioners heard a presentations on holistic goals, quality of life, streams, birds, soil quality, how to interpret “profits” and how to use the new system. This influential group seemed very impressed with what they heard and, again, follow-up work is anticipated.
Dick Levins presented at the North Central sustainable agriculture Training Program to over 100 agricultural professionals. In Wisconsin in June and North Dakota in July. Formal evaluations were exceptionally high and several follow-up opportunities have been pursued.
Favorable evaluations are also leading Dick Levins to many other conference presentations in early 1997. Two sustainable farmer groups in Minnesota, one in Iowa, and one in Michigan will be hearing presentations during January and February at their annual meetings.
Other professionals are also adopting our financial analysis system. Mike Duffy, extension economist in Iowa and John Ikerd, extension economist in Missouri have drawn upon our results. A group of agricultural economists in Kansas State University is using our system to take a new look at records they have kept on over 2,000 farms. The indicators also have been written up in other publications such as the Center for Rural Affairs Newsletter and the Minnesota Extension Service Sustainable Agriculture Newsletter.
The Monitoring Team continues to share information with groups around the country working on soil quality measurements. Strategies and preliminary findings have been exchanged with groups from the Center for Holistic Management, University of Wisconsin, Soil Quality Institute, Soil Tilth Lab, North Dakota State University, and Illinois Soil Quality Initiative. In addition, the soils research team of Deborah Allan and Jay Dorsey is providing a supporting role in the MISA-funded development of a Soil Management Guide to be distributed through University of Minnesota Extension.
Educational & Outreach Activities
(and Project Results for Objective 6) (ACE and SARE)
The Monitoring Project has been very active in dissemination activities. See Appendix 1 for four pages of presentations field days and other events. We gave more than 29 presentations reaching in-state and national audiences. In addition we held five field days reaching local, state, regional and national audiences totaling 240 people. Dick Levin’s publication, Monitoring Sustainable Agriculture With Conventional Financial Data, has been distributed to over 440 people. Alison Meares prepared an article that will be published in the Winter 1997 issue of Rural Sociology. The Rupprecht farm and the Monitoring Project were covered in the October issue of Successful Farming. The project was also covered in January-February issue of The Minnesota Volunteer, in a story called “The Diversity of Life on the Farm.” Additionally, the Project was featured in other news stories.
Areas needing additional study
Further documentation is needed to describe the different ways in which researchers and farmers sense the environment, view and describe the world, and make decisions. This information is imperative to understanding how to bridge the gap between land users, researchers and resource professionals. Team members will continue to compare and correlate standard measures of soil and stream quality to on-farm measures. The results of this work will help make monitoring of the farm ecosystem a farmer-initiated activity.
A number of interesting, researchable questions have been prompted by team member observations and preliminary research results. These include:
*Can farmer-accepted field measures of aggregate stability and biological activity be developed?
*What are the connections between soil quality and stream quality in MIG systems?
*Will farmers wade into a stream and turn over a rock to look for aquatic insects to help assess water quality?
*Are the economic advantages to farmers great enough, or the economic liabilities small enough, for a “bird-friendly” pasture system to be adopted on a significant scale?
*Are additional enhancements possible that would attract and hold less common bird species like meadowlarks, dickcissels, and grasshopper or vesper sparrows?
*Do current measures of economic well-being reflect farmers’ values?
*How does the sustainable agriculture movement affect existing gender inequities or lack of parity on the family farm?
*How and why is empowerment of all family members important to sustainability?