Final report for LS18-288
High quality and adequate supplies of water are essential to sustainable agriculture producers for enterprise profitability, and for the health of their families, workers and supporting ecosystems. From arid areas of the Southern region where impaired water quality and reduced water availability have been long recognized as significant challenges and obstacles to successful sustainable agriculture to the more humid Southeastern areas, farmers and rancher (n=153) responding to a regional survey (Mahler et al. 2013) indicated that they need to know more about a wide variety of water management topics.
Topics of strongest interest to farmers were irrigation management, private well protection, protecting drinking water supplies, nutrient and pest management, septic system management, fish and wildlife water needs and restoring fish and aquatic habitat, watershed management, and forest management related to water issues.
A regional water conference with the goal to improve producer adoption of sustainable water management practices was developed and delivered. Training and instruction addressing topics identified by surveyed producers were provided by 1) Extension and research faculty supported through this proposal request, as well as by additional faculty and agency representatives registering for the conference and participating through support independent of this request, and 2) at least one producer from each of all states cooperating on this proposal providing a presentation, overview, or serving on a discussion panel to describe their experience with sustainable water management practices or impediments to their implementation of more sustainable agricultural practices. The organizing committee for the conference was comprised of producers representing participating states as described in this proposal and other project co-investigators listed in this proposal.
Program impacts and outcomes included 1) increased knowledge regarding practices supporting more sustainable water management, 2) increased knowledge, with special focus on limited-resource farmers and ranchers, regarding state and Federal sustainable agricultural programs designed to overcome barriers to implementation of sustainable water management practices, 3) improved attitudes and intentions to adopt sustainable water management practices, and 4) increased adoption of sustainable water management practices by producers attending the conference.
Survey responses received from farmers across nine SSARE states indicated strong interest in learning more sustainable practices for a wide variety of water management topics and practices affecting water/environmental quality. Objectives of the conference included:
- Increasing the knowledge regarding practices supporting more sustainable water management,
- Increasing the knowledge, with special focus on limited-resource farmers and ranchers, regarding state and Federal sustainable agricultural programs designed to overcome barriers to implementation of sustainable water management practices,
- Improving the attitudes and intentions to adopt sustainable water management practices, and
- Increasing the adoption of sustainable water management practices by producers attending the conference.
The Southern Region Water Resource Conference was delivered and provided a unique opportunity for principal focus on water issues relevant to sustainable agriculture, unlike regional conferences such as offered by the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group which aim to and successfully address a large number and broad range of sustainable agricultural topics. Also unlike other conferences which focus on cutting-edge research and technology often in early stages of development and experimentation, the regional water conference featured speakers describing research and techniques with direct and current application to sustainable agricultural enterprises and presentations with easily understandable communication styles and minimal use of complicated charts and statistical tests unfamiliar to most producers.
The conference was held July 23-25 in College Station, TX at the Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center. The conference website is https://agrilife.org/southern-region-water-conference/. A call for abstracts was issued and closed May 5, 2019. Early bird registration closed May 22, 2019. The conference program, press releases developed by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, other media outlet examples, and two conference flyers are attached.
Educational & Outreach Activities
The goal of the Southern Region Water Conference (SRWC) was to provide relevant information on water use efficiency and protecting water quality to farmers and ranchers, agricultural professionals, researchers, agency representatives and students. The conference featured tours, workshops, keynote speakers, oral presentations and poster presentations, as well as frequent networking opportunities to facilitate information sharing and building collaborative partnerships. In particular, the conference featured farmers and specialists describing practices and research with direct application to agricultural enterprises. Both agricultural producers and water resource professionals addressed barriers to water use efficiency and the adoption of new and sustainable practices. As shown in the attached program, conference topics included irrigation water management; nutrient and pest control to protect water quality; soil health, including cover crops, conservation tillage and no-till; watershed management, including fish and wildlife water needs; programs and incentives for growers; and water considerations around the home, including private water well management, protecting drinking water supplies, septic system management, turf management and irrigation, and rainwater harvesting.
All project Co-PIs and cooperators served on the conference organizing committee which developed the conference schedule; recruited speakers and participants; developed and distributed marketing and event promotion materials; evaluated abstracts; delivered tours, workshops and presentations; and developed and administered the conference evaluation instrument. During and after the conference, many of the project Co-PIs and other conference attendees also participated in discussions and shared information to support establishment of successful projects that had been learned about at the conference in new areas. Additionally, plans to submit pre-proposals and to develop proposals for additional regional collaborative efforts to promote improved adoption of producer best practices leading to improved availability of high quality and sufficient quantities of water for sustainable agricultural practices and for producer families.
Learning outcomes will be reported pending the conference July 23-25, 2019.
As a result of attending the 2019 Southern Region Water Conference...
- 93% of respondents Agreed or Strongly Agreed that their knowledge of water resource management issues and best practices has increased.
- 95% of respondents Agreed or Strongly Agreed that they will be able to use information from the conference in their own activities and programs.
- 77% of respondents Agreed or Strongly Agreed that they had an opportunity to participate in the sharing of educational strategies and programs.
- 75% of respondents Agreed or Strongly Agreed that they plan to adopt a practice they learned about during the conference.
- 63% of respondents Agreed or Strongly Agreed that they plan to change at least one of their current practices based on what they learned.
- 89% of respondents Agreed or Strongly Agreed that they established a new working collaboration as a result of the conference.
When asked how attending the 2019 Southern Region Water Conference affected their attitude toward sustainable water management practices…
- 95% of respondents Agreed or Strongly Agreed that they believe adopting sustainable water management practices should be incorporated into all aspects of agriculture.
- 94% of respondents Agreed or Strongly Agreed that they believe adopting sustainable water management practices should be a high priority in their work.
- 93% of respondents Agreed or Strongly Agreed that they believe they have adequate knowledge/skills to incorporate sustainable water management practices into their work.
The conference was very well received and there is a great demand to repeat the conference in Texas or elsewhere in the Southern Region. Topics that participants said they would like to see at future conferences are:
- Water Quality Considerations for Irrigation Management
- funding sources, funding models
- Rainwater Harvesting
- Water quality modeling
- Application of GIS and remote sensing in watershed management
- More on the economics of making changes to water use.
- Flow forecasting
- Water-catchment techniques, food-safety water regulations, organic-production water regulations
- groundwater issues
- Career counseling for students.
- more on incorporating regenerative agriculture into large-scale irrigated operations
- LID, wetland restoration, septic tank management education
- Drip irrigation technology/innovation, green infrastructure to mitigate storm water challenges in urban areas
- Public Interactions
- Grazing cover crops including quality of the cover crops.
- Collaborative efforts between extension and state agencies. Engaging county extension agents.
- More livestock focus
- Info on how small scale ag producers can better utilize water resources
- Harmful algal blooms, use of alternative water sources
- More of the same.
- Ideas on how to get more municipalities to support water conservation techniques. Presentations on urban BMP effectiveness with lessons learned.
- More crop specific irrigation management and timing
- Different potential sources for funding projects
- Water quantity use of plants
- Benefits of Groundwater districts and groundwater
- Economics of cover crops