Development and Integration of Sustainable Agriculture Core Curriculum Training into the Southern Region Extension Education System

Final Report for LS04-213

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2004: $241,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Southern
State: South Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Geoff Zehnder
Clemson University
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Project Information


The overall goal of this project was to achieve widespread incorporation of the principles and practices of sustainable agriculture in the training provided to agricultural professionals in the Southern Region. The project objectives were to:
1) Create 8 to 12 high quality, contemporary educational products that deliver state of the art knowledge about sustainable agriculture in the Southern Region, and
2) Integrate these products into the overall Extension education system in the southern region through the Cooperative Extension Curriculum Project (CECP) and Southern SARE.

A Curriculum Design Team (CDT), consisting of subject matter experts and information technology and curriculum development specialists was organized to identify and prioritize topics and competencies for curriculum development and to serve the project in an advisory capacity.

A group of subject matter experts were subsequently recruited to develop the curriculum modules in cooperation with information technology and curriculum development specialists.

A pilot curriculum entitled “Pest Management in Organic Crops” was developed consisting of 11 modules on various topics related to disease, insect and weed management for organic farming systems.

As of this writing the modules are currently available temporarily for review and feedback on a server located at Mississippi State University:

The modules ultimately will be incorporated into an on-line system called the Cooperative Extension Curriculum Project (CECP) (

Project Objectives:

A full proposal was submitted to SR SARE in January 2004. Funding was approved for three years with a project start date of summer 2004 with Clemson University as the lead institution.

A meeting of the Curriculum Design Team (CDT) was held in May 2004 in Raleigh, NC to identify subtopics for curriculum development. The CDT recommended that a pilot curriculum be developed for the “Pest Management in Organic Crops” Competency Area. A list of five sub-competency topics was identified for development as part of the Pest Management Competency Area:
o Concepts of biologically based pest management
o Pest, disease and weed monitoring and identification
o Preventative pest management strategies: Cultural controls
o Biological disease, insect and weed control strategies
o Pesticides approved for organic production

A group of subject matter experts were recruited by the CDT and retained to begin development of curriculum modules within each sub-competency area. This group was referred to as the Product Development Team, or PDT. The following individuals contributed expertise and services as members of the PDT over the three + years of the project:

Product Development Team Members
Name / Expertise Affiliation
Boudreau, Mark / Plant Pathology, Biological Control Herbert Green Agroecology
Mcann, Brian* Mississippi State University
McDonald, Richard / Entomology, Biological Control Symbiont Biological Pest Management
Roos, Debbie / Insect Pest Management North Carolina State University
Schonbeck, Mark / Weed Management, Organic Systems Virginia Association for Biological Farming
Sexton, Julie** Mississippi State University
Swisher, Mickie, Program Evaluation University of Florida
Zehnder, Geoff / Insect Pest Management Clemson University
*Information technology, curriculum design and instructional technology
**Curriculum development and design

A PDT Leader/Coordinator was assigned to each of the curriculum sub-competency areas. The Mississippi State personnel were resources for information technology and curriculum development. Leaders communicated regularly by conference call to provide updates on progress and to facilitate a consistent format and flow between topic areas and to avoid subject matter overlap. Other responsibilities included:
• Contacts with pest management specialists throughout the region for input on subject matter to be included within each topic area
• Contact state specialists (southern states and other regions) for recommendations on high quality educational materials that may include existing printed materials, videos, interactive materials, and other available resources that pertain to the subject matter area.
• Compile educational materials, identify specific critical portions and key concepts to be used in the curriculum
• Identification of learning outcomes
• Compile, summarize and prepare text and interactive component material
• Consult with IT and curriculum development team members to facilitate conversion of information to online format.

A great deal of time and effort was devoted to the process of conversion of subject matter material into online module format and interactive elements; i.e. concise and comprehensive text, interactive games, real-world examples, etc. For each module this required detailed and frequent communications between subject matter and information technology experts. Because of the time and expense involved it was essential that programming revisions be kept to a minimum.

Curriculum module format
The curriculum format is similar to a book, with chapters or modules. Each module has several sections, each comprised of several pages. Users can scroll through the pages of each section using navigation buttons. Another feature of the course is that users can explore topics in greater detail through the use of real world examples, interactive exercises, and links to supporting information available on the internet or other published works. All of these features are available in each section through active links labeled “Get Real”, “Get Interactive” and “Get More”.

Curriculum module topics
The following modules are included in the curriculum:

1) Introduction to the Course
2) Cultural Practices for Managing Crop Diseases
3) Cultural Practices for Managing Insect Pests
4) Cultural Practices for Managing Weeds
5) Overview of Biologically-Based Pest Management
6) Biological Control of Diseases
7) Biological Control of Insect Pests
8) Biological Control of Weeds
9) Overview of Monitoring and Identification Techniques for Insect Pests, Diseases and Weeds
10) Use of Approved Pesticides in Organic Production
11) How to Conduct On-Farm Organic Pest Management Research
Timeline for completion of modules
As of this writing modules 1 through 6 and 8 are complete. Module 7 is 90% complete and modules 9, 10 and 11 are over 75% complete and scheduled for completion in early September 2007. A listing of key concepts and at least 10 test questions are also being developed for each module. We anticipate that all modules including test questions will be available for release by the end of September 2007.

Availability of curriculum modules
As of this writing the modules are currently available temporarily for review and feedback on a server located at Mississippi State University:
The curriculum modules will ultimately be incorporated into an on-line system called the Cooperative Extension Curriculum Project (CECP) ( that has been established by the Southern Region Program Leadership Network. The CECP has established a regional content management system (CMS) for developing, cataloging and sharing multimedia courses, modules and learning assets. The CECP system is capable of tracking learner achievement and providing reports as needed. Additionally, the system is designed for the maximum sharing of learning resources across states and is aligned to become part of the larger e-Extension effort nationwide.


The Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program has funded research and professional development programs that provide important information for farmers and other agricultural professionals, based on the principles and practices of sustainable agriculture. Many successful training programs have been conducted and some excellent training materials have been developed. However, these programs and materials have not, in many cases, achieved widespread dissemination to agricultural professionals. County Extension faculty and other service providers who have participated in training programs and used the training materials developed by Southern SARE are limited in number. Further, the differences in educational and delivery approaches as well as the quality of materials often hamper collaboration across states in the region.

The overall goal of this project was to comprehensively incorporate the principles and practices of sustainable agriculture into the training programs and materials for agricultural professionals in the southern region. The project was collaborative in its design, development and implementation. It leverages relationships among the partnering institutions and eliminates duplication of effort, while developing materials to be available in an on-line content management system that is accessible to all 1862 and 1890 land grant institutions in the Southern Region.

A project proposal was submitted in response to a call from the Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Professional Development Program (PDP) in collaboration with the Cooperative Extension Service Agriculture and Natural Resources Program Leaders to develop a core training curriculum based on the competency parameters of sustainable agriculture.

As a first step, a Southern Region Curriculum Project planning meeting was held on September 23-24, 2003 in conjunction with the National SARE Curriculum Project meeting in Nashville, TN. The National SARE Curriculum Project meeting culminated in a proposal for development of a pilot Web-based course on the principles of sustainable agriculture to provide a foundation that the regions and states could build on through more in-depth training. The purpose of the Southern Region Curriculum Project will be to provide competencies for agriculture professionals in specific areas of sustainable agriculture with regional applicability that build on the basic curricula provided by the National Project.

Attendees at the Southern Region (SR) planning meeting:
Roger Crickenberger, Extension ANR Program Leader, NC State University
Jim Horne, SARE PDP Program, Kerr Center
Kim Kroll, National SARE Office
Rosanne Minarovic, SARE PDP Program, NC State University
Debbie Roos, Small Farm Agent, NC Cooperative Extension Service
Julie Sexton, Curriculum Specialist, Mississippi State University
Mickie Swisher, State Coordinator, University of Florida
Geoff Zehnder, State Coordinator, Clemson University

Background materials reviewed as part of the planning process:
Minutes from the National Core Curriculum Meeting and list of national priority curriculum topics (themes) identified at the meeting
Minutes from the Northeast SARE Core Curriculum Focus Group meeting, July 23, 2003
Structural framework for the curriculum developed by the SARE PDP Leadership Committee
List of Southern Region SARE PDP and Research and Education Projects from the SARE database

Key issues considered in the planning process:
Roles, objectives and outcomes for National and Southern Region curriculum
Defining target audiences and stakeholders
Integration of SR curriculum with the Cooperative Extension Curriculum Project (CECP)
Process for identification of specific competency areas for curriculum development
Personnel and expertise needed for curriculum design and implementation
Process to address training gaps in the region and to add value to or strengthen existing SARE projects
Process to continue project after funding period ends

The Southern Region planning committee recommended that the individual committee members develop a full proposal for funding, with Clemson University as the lead institution for the project. Further, that a Curriculum Design Team (CDT) comprised of subject matter experts and information technology and curriculum development specialists be appointed to serve in an advisory capacity.
The appointees were:
Nancy Creamer, NCSU
Roger Crickenberger, NCSU
Nelson Daniels, Prairie View A&M University
Robin Kohanowich, Central Carolina Community College
Marty Mesh, Florida Organic Growers
Rosanne Minarovic, NCSU
David Redhage, Kerr Center
Debbie Roos, NC Cooperative Extension, Chatham County
Phil Rzewnicki, NCSU
Julie Sexton, Mississippi State University
Mickie Swisher, University of Florida
Geoff Zehnder, Clemson University
Lead Institution

The planning committee further recommended that given the proposal timeframe, it was not be feasible to obtain stakeholder feedback and validation for specific topics. The committee unanimously agreed that the proposal should focus on competency areas rather than on specific topics, and that the CDT will choose specific topic areas for curriculum development. Given the rapid growth of the organic agriculture sector there was general consensus that the project focus should be on the Organic Systems competency area, and that the planning committee would provide suggestions on subtopics to the CDT. It was agreed that the CDT would prioritize and identify 8 to 12 individual subtopic areas for curriculum development. Once subtopic areas are identified for development, the CDT will recruit subject matter experts who, working with CDT members, will be involved in the design and development of the different curriculum products or modules.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Mark Boudreau
  • Richard McDonald,
  • Brian Mcann,
  • Debbie Roos,
  • Mark Schonbeck,
  • Julie Sexton,
  • Mickie Swisher,


Research results and discussion:

Completed modules have been demonstrated and feedback has been solicited from agriculture professionals at several venues during 2006 and 2007 including the National Small Farm Conference, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Conference, and the American Society of Agronomy meetings. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and we have incorporated comments for improvement into module revisions.

We have also received positive feedback from individual extension agents in North and South Carolina who have reviewed the modules online.

Evaluation will focus on four project outcomes:
1. The materials will be incorporated into sustainable agriculture professional development training programs throughout the Southern region
2. Trainees will demonstrate improved awareness and knowledge of the principles and practices of sustainable/organic pest management
3. Trainees will exhibit positive changes in attitude about the relevance and importance of sustainable agriculture in their programs; and
4. Trainees will use the knowledge and skills gained from the materials in their own professional activities.

Procedures to evaluate the short, intermediate and long-term impacts of project outcomes have been developed and are detailed in the project proposal available upon request.

Upon public launch of the modules we will work with state Extension specialists and other upper level trainers to make sure that the curriculum modules are incorporated into sustainable agriculture professional development programs throughout the region. These will include “training of trainer” programs such as the in-service training programs routinely offered to county Extension faculty, NRCS personnel, and other agricultural professionals. Agriculture professionals and the public will be able to access the curriculum modules directly from the CECP website, or through a link from the National and Southern Region SARE websites.

Participation Summary
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.