Comprehensive Nutrient Management on Small Farms: Determining Obstacles - Implications for Extension Education Activities

Final Report for LNE99-126

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1999: $18,243.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $5,234.00
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Dr. Quirine Ketterings
Cornell University
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Project Information

Summary:

A survey was conducted to uncover and assess educational needs that, when met, will enable owners of small farms to develop and implement comprehensive nutrient management plans (CNMP’s). Project cooperators conducted a survey of owners and operators of livestock farms in the counties served by the Northwest New York (NWNY) Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops Program: Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Niagara, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne and Yates.

The project’s 12-member Small Farms Task Force, made up of 8 producers and 4 agriservice personnel, assisted investigators in developing the survey instrument. Initially, the survey was mailed to approximately 1,700 dairy and livestock farms in the summer of 2000. Project staff distributed an additional 600 surveys during the summer and fall of 2000 through farm visits, farm shows, and meetings. Project cooperators encouraged participation via phone calls, personal visits, mail and press releases through the summer of 2001.

Completed surveys returned total 374 including farms of all sizes and types of operation and those with and without livestock. Surveys completed by owners of small farm businesses with livestock total 271. Some of the least frequently implemented practices noted by respondents were: sampling and analyzing manure at 7 percent; use of pre side-dress nitrogen tests at 11 percent; manure and field equipment calibration at 18 percent; and presence of a neighbor relations plan at 20 percent. These results suggest that currently some key CNMP component areas are not widely practiced by owners of small farms. The NWNY Team, with a newly hired Small Farms Specialist, will develop regional meetings to meet the needs of owners of small farms with regards to developing CNMP’s.

Introduction:

The United States Department of Agriculture and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, in a unified strategy, have established the following objective. Owners and operators of animal feeding operations will take voluntary actions to minimize potential water pollutants from confinement facilities and land application of manure and organic byproducts.
The overall purpose of the strategy is to minimize water quality and public health impacts from Animal Feeding Operations (AFO’s) and land application of animal waste. To achieve this objective, a national expectation is that all animal-feeding operations, regardless of size, should develop and implement technically sound, economically feasible, and site-specific CNMP’s by 2009. Components of a CNMP include feed management, manure handling and storage, land application of manure, land management, and record keeping.

The USDA-EPA draft strategy for AFO’s and local watershed protection efforts emphasize the development and implementation of CNMP’s on farms regardless of size. Educational activities on CNMP will help owners of small farms. However, obstacles confronting owners of small farms needed to be determined. Through the combination of mail and on-farm visitation, project cooperators conducted a survey of owners of farm businesses in the area served by the Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops Program: Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Niagara, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne and Yates counties. The aim of the survey was to uncover obstacles and assess educational needs of these owners as they work to develop and implement CNMP’s. A task force consisting of owners of small farms and supporting agriservice representatives provided input to the survey effort and made recommendations regarding education programs in the North West New York area. Future implementation of recommendations will increase the number of small farm owners participating in CNMP’s.

Project Objectives:
  1. Uncover obstacles and assess educational needs that will enable owners of small farms to develop and implement comprehensive nutrient management plans.

    Develop recommendations for future Extension programs that address needs and utilize educational media best suited to owners of small farms.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • John Hanchar
  • Martha Wright

Research

Materials and methods:

A 12-member task force of small farm owners provided input on the creation of the small farms survey. Task force membership included producers and agriservice representatives from the nine counties served by the NWNY Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops Team. Meetings were convened via conference call to accommodate busy work schedules and driving distance. The resulting survey consisted of 36 questions broken down under 4 parts. Questions were relative to Part I- Nutrient Management Planning; Part II- Sources of Education; Part III; Educational Media Preference; and Part IV- Demographics. A summer assistant was hired to visit small farm owners and prepare a survey mail campaign. Over 1700 surveys were mailed or handed out to owners of small dairy and livestock farms. Additional surveys were distributed at winter meetings and summer field days.

In addition to the survey, six people participated in the Second National Small Farm Conference in October 1999. The conference provided attendees with opportunities to share ideas and examine innovative approaches to small farm programming. Information gleaned from the Second National Small Farm Conference will be used in combination with results from the survey to develop recommendations for future extension programs addressing CNMP needs of small farms. A follow-up questionnaire was mailed to all producers who responded to the original survey and included their address. This second questionnaire sought to assess if any additional information on CNMP’s was gathered by producers and if any changes were made to farming operations since the survey. Thirty initial responses were received.

Research results and discussion:

The 12-member task force of small farm owners served as a guide for distributing and gathering surveys, gave recommendations from the survey summary, and identified target extension programs related to comprehensive nutrient management planning. The task force was active throughout the survey development, distribution and evaluation. The survey was developed and distributed widely over the nine-county region of North West New York.

Completed surveys returned total 374. This total includes farms of all sizes and types of operation, including those with and without livestock. Surveys completed by owners of small farm businesses with livestock total 271 and provide the basis for a future Extension bulletin. The survey cooperators analyzed the data and shared that information with the small farms task force and area agricultural program leaders. Findings were also summarized in the Cornell Cooperative Extension Ag Focus newsletter and the NWNY Team will develop an Extension bulletin based on the data analysis.

Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:
  • John J. Hanchar. 2001. “Comprehensive Nutrient Management on Small Farms: Determining Obstacles and Implications for Extension Education Activities.” Oral Presentation. New York Extension In-service, Ithaca, NY. November 20, 2001.

    Kristen A. Stewart, Elizabeth A. Claypoole, Martha A. Wright and John J. Hanchar. 2001. “Comprehensive Nutrient Management on Small Farms: Determining Obstacles and Implications for Extension Education Activities,” Paper Presentation. Ohio Amish/Anabaptist Conference, Walnut Creek, Ohio, March 28 through 30, 2001.

    Other Educational Efforts: As a direct result of the responses from the survey, the NWNY Team conducted workshops, pasture and barn walks and grazing meetings. More than 350 producers attended at least one workshop.

    CNMP on Small Farms – CNMP’s were developed for three dairy farm businesses in the Seneca Lake Watershed.

    Nutrient Management Tactical (TAg) Teams – Orleans and Yates Counties, 2000. A group of 6 producers in each area met 6 times, on farm, to discuss nutrient management planning topics.

    Pasture, Grassland and Intensive Grazing Management Meetings – Middleport and Stanley, 2002; Himrod, Romulus and Lakeville, 2001.

    Pasture Walks – Dundee and Romulus, 2002

    Small Farm Nutrient Management Walk-Through– Ontario and Yates Counties TAg Teams, July through September 2002.

    Pasture Walks, July through September 2002. Eight people attended a pasture walk held at a Yates County farm, while twelve people attended a pasture walk held at a Seneca County farm. Topics discussed included pasture management relative to nutrients.

    Baleage Workshops for Owners of Small Farms, two locations — Orleans and Ontario Counties, April through June, 2002. With support from a Cornell University, Small Farm Programs Grant to help defray costs, a baleage workshop was held. A total of 80 participants learned the nuances of wrapping high-moisture hay, increasing forage quality and decreasing outside nutrient inputs.

    Conesus Lake Watershed Project – Developing comprehensive nutrient management plans on three farms as part of a study designed to examine water quality effects associated with CNM planning efforts and practices.

Project Outcomes

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

The biggest impact of this survey campaign was to create awareness in the small farm community about nutrient management planning, the components of such a plan, and the actions being taken by the USDA and EPA to regulate what each farm will be required to do in the future.

Completed surveys returned total 374. This total includes farms of all sizes and types of operation, including those with and without livestock. Surveys completed by owners of small farm businesses with livestock total 271 and provide the basis for a future Extension bulletin. The efforts by the NWNY Team in obtaining responses to the survey served to build awareness among the small farm owners about nutrient management planning and the components to such a plan. Individuals who included name and address were mailed educational material about CNMP’s and referred to local resources for further assistance.

A permanent, full-time Small Farms Specialist position with the NWNY Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops Team has been established. The position was filled, and the new specialist started Jan 4, 2002.

Survey Results: Our first objective was to uncover obstacles and assess educational needs that, when met, will enable owners of small farms to develop and implement effective CNMP’s. Survey results suggest that, in terms of initial educational programming, small farm owners would prefer a series of 1.5-hour discussions, held locally. Results also suggest that home study courses and videotapes are methods that owners might effectively use to enhance skills.

Next, we wanted to find out what owners of small farms are already doing in terms of nutrient management. A little more than 70 percent of respondents indicated that they sampled soils at least every three years. Regarding feed management, 58 percent and 53 percent of respondents indicated that they balanced rations and tested forages, respectively. Some of the least frequently implemented practices noted by respondents were: sampling and analyzing manure at 7 percent; use of pre side-dress nitrogen tests at 11 percent; manure and field equipment calibration at 18 percent; and presence of a neighbor relations plan at 20 percent. About 40 percent of respondents indicated keeping a field-by-field record system, or prioritizing fields for manure application based upon runoff potential. These results suggest that currently, some key CNMP component areas are not widely practiced by owners of small farms.

Survey results show that 70 percent of the owners of small farms indicated that they needed information, while roughly 50 percent indicated that they needed better skills or technical expertise. Owners of small farm businesses indicated needing skills in the following areas most frequently: manure sampling; record keeping; manure storage and handling design and installation; soil sampling; equipment calibration; and determining proper timing and location of manure applications. These results suggest skill areas on which educational activities should focus.

Nearly 70 percent of respondents agreed that time available to spend away from the farm is the most limiting factor for attending meetings. About 22 percent indicated that they had less than 2 hours available to spend away from the farm, while about 37 percent indicated that they had between 2 to 4 hours available.

Efforts are underway to report results from the survey with implications for Extension programming, including an informational bulletin. Information should be useful to owners of small farms, agriservice personnel, Extension personnel and other cooperating agencies as they work to enhance producers’ capacities to develop and implement CNMPs.

Farmer Adoption

  • A post-survey questionnaire was sent to producers who responded to the survey and included their names and addresses for future information. The results showed that since attending the educational programs detailed above, producers made one or more of the following changes to their farm enterprises:

    sought information from collaborating agencies such as the Soil & Water Conservation Service

    increased soil sampling frequency

    improved manure management and spreading practices and use of PSNT (pre side-dress nitrogen testing) tests for reduced nitrogen application on corn crops.

    improved communication with neighbors about farming activities.

    improved forage production practices.

    Based on the information gathered by the follow up survey, the NWNY Team will target efforts towards producers in a manner that is timely and convenient for farmer schedules. Over 270 producers have received further information regarding nutrient management planning.

Areas needing additional study

  • The financial and economic effects on the small farm business associated with the adoption of comprehensive nutrient management practices.
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.