Final report for NCNE19-001
In 2019 and 2020, more and more farmers have become interested in the sustainable agricultural practice of using cover crops to improve soil health and the long-term productivity of their soil. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and SARE provided opportunities for Extension Ag Educators, NRCS staff, and farmer educators to learn about the use of cover crops by providing support to attend conferences, field days, and tours. UNL Extension has developed a team of Extension Educators and Extension Specialists that are focusing on research and education of the use of cover crops and soil health. The support of SARE in the area of cover crop education has also been beneficial in the Water & Soil Protection Extension Issue Team implementing an annual Nebraska Cover Crop Conference. The Diversified Ag Production Extension Issue Team has initiated a Cover Crop Soil Health/Grazing Program and held one conference in 2019 that focused on cover crops, soil health and grazing and another conference focused on cover crops in corn/soybean cropping systems. In 2019 two mini-grants awarded to Extension Educators has provided support to bring in experts to discuss the use of cover crops and soil health in cropping and grazing systems at 2 major conferences, with 213 and 116 participants respectively. It has also led to cooperation with Nebraska Extension’s On-Farm Research Program and NRCS establishing cover crop/soil health research/demonstration sites across the state to help further evaluate the use of cover crops and the importance for soil conservation and soil health. SARE funding has also provided support needed for the development of a Nebraska Cover Crop Selector Tool. This was an integral component of the SARE Regional Initiative on Soil Health and Water.
The past NCR SARE Regional Initiative that focused on “Scaling Up Local Food Production” continues to be a priority for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as it continues its leadership in the development of local food systems in Nebraska, working with other organizations such as Buy Fresh Buy Local, the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society and the Center for Rural Affairs. Nebraska Extension has increased its focus on Local Foods. The Issue Team, Food Access involves development of the local food system in Nebraska. We also have a number of Extension Educators whose focus area is Local Foods. SARE has sponsored a bus tour in 2019 which visited several local food producers and brought awareness to the local food system in Nebraska. Gary Lesoing initiated a blog in 2017 and continues with it in 2019. It focuses on sustainable ag topics in Nebraska.
During 2019, programs and projects were funded through the SARE Professional Development Fund. There were travel scholarships awarded to Extension Ag Educators and Farmer Educators to attend conferences focusing on sustainable agriculture, particularly in areas of cover crops and soil health, and small scale food production. Tours were conducted to observe and study the use of cover crops, local food systems, diversified ag enterprises and organic farming in Nebraska and regionally for Extension Educators. We also provided SARE Travel Scholarships to Extension Educators to attend the National Association of County Agricultural Agents Annual Meeting/ Professional Improvement Conference in 2019. The support for a regional conference that focuses on sustainable agriculture was critical, as it was the primary opportunity for educational dissemination of sustainable agricultural information and networking between stakeholders in Nebraska. The Nebraska SARE Website and Sustainable Agriculture Webinars continue to be successful in increasing the awareness of SARE and the opportunity for professional development and grant opportunities in sustainable agriculture in Nebraska, across the United States and around the world. We have conducted three webinars in 2019 on sustainable ag topics.
Gary Lesoing completed his thirteeth year as Nebraska SARE Coordinator on December 31, 2020. I believe we are definitely seeing benefits from the Nebraska SARE Program and the support it provides to Ag Educators throughout the state for sustainable agriculture education, especially in the areas of cover crops, soil health and local food systems. I am very excited with the increased interest in sustainable agriculture and more ag educators, especially vocational ag instructors, increasing their knowledge of sustainable agriculture through several Nebraska SARE Professional Development opportunities. In 2019, the Nebraska SARE Program has provided SARE travel scholarships for professional development to Extension Educators and many non-profit organizations as well. The Nebraska SARE Advisory Committee is a very active and diverse group that provides valuable input into the development of the Plan of Work. One of the highlights of 2019 was a visit to Nebraska by the SARE Administrative Team. It is always exciting to show them around Nebraska and visit the SARE grants that were funded in Nebraska.
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT INITIATIVES
1. Regional Initiative of Beginning Farmer Training
In order to participate in the NCR-SARE regional initiative for 2019-20, one of our initiative focus areas will be on “beginning farmers and ranchers.” We will plan to send several representatives of our state to a regional professional development event organized by NCR-SARE on beginning farmers and ranchers, to be offered during calendar year 2019. Educators who are given support from our state SARE funds to travel to this regional training will be asked to come back to our state and in some fashion, provide educational programming to other educators and/or beginning farmers and ranchers. This can include workshops, study tours, webinars, or other educational programs. During the two-year plan of work period, we will also offer additional SARE-funded travel scholarships, and where appropriate, mini-grant support to further educational programming that increases the sustainability and success of beginning farmers and ranchers.
a). Expected Outcomes:
1). Six Ag Educators will increase knowledge of beginning farmers and rancher training programs by attending the Regional Training Program in the North Central Region.
2). Thirty Ag Educators will increase knowledge of strategies they can utilize to better equip beginning farmers and ranchers to become successful in their operations.
3). Five Ag Educators will initiate training programs for beginning farmers and ranchers.
4). Fifty beginning farmers and ranchers will participate in an activity i.e. course, workshop, tour or webinar that will increase their sustainability and success.
In 2019 we plan to initiate a survey to ag educators to determine their engagement with beginning farmers and ranchers and their knowledge of programs and opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers. We plan to conduct in-service training for Ag Educators and a workshop for Ag Educators to evaluate a beginning farmer/rancher operation for its sustainability. There will be a tour of successful sustainable farming operations to educate Ag Educators about the keys to sustainability.
c). Evaluation: An evaluation will be developed for this program to measure impact from the different programs that will be offered.
2. Soil Health and Water
a). Expected Outcomes:
1). 50 Ag Educators will increase knowledge of how Soil Health can best be used to maximize water use efficiency and improve quality of ground water in diversified cropping & crop/livestock systems in Nebraska.
2). One-hundred Ag Educators will increase knowledge on the use of cover crops in crop and livestock production systems and how they improve soil health.
3). 15 Ag Educators will initiate training programs and conduct on-farm research activities with cover crops.
4). 10 Ag Educators will initiate training programs and conduct on-farm research activities with manure applied as a resource in cropping systems and to improve soil health.
In 2019-20 UNL Extension and SARE are sponsoring training for UNL Extension Educators and Specialists to learn about the use of cover crops and manure to improve soil health at programs in Nebraska with some NRCS, representatives from the cover crop seed industry and experienced farmer cover crop practitioners. Nebraska SARE will also cooperate with NRCS, farmer educators and the cover crop seed industry to provide learning opportunities on the use of cover crops and impact on soil health through field days and tours throughout Nebraska. On-farm research will be conducted throughout the state to evaluate and demonstrate how cover crops impact soil health. Travel scholarships will be provided to ag educators that are interested in attending regional soil health/cover crop meetings; i.e. 2019 Iowa Soil Health Conference, Ames, IA; 2019 Midwest Cover Crop Council Annual Meeting, Springfield, IL, No-till on the Plains, Wichita, KS and Practical Farmers of Iowa, Ames, IA. and return to provide training to ag educators in Nebraska.
c.) Evaluation – Evaluations have been developed for these programs to measure impact immediately following the program and others are being developed to measure impact 6-12 months following the program.
3. Regional Conferences Focusing on Sustainable Agriculture issues
a.) Expected Outcomes – A short-term expected outcome is that 20 ag educators that participate in these conferences will develop a specific program area that focuses on a sustainable agriculture issue or practice what they learned at these conferences. A more intermediate-term outcome is that the 10 ag educators that participated in these conferences will become leaders in a specific focus area of sustainable agriculture education. The long-term outcome is that the ag educator will develop a change in practices implemented by producers as a result of programming conducted in sustainable agriculture.
b.) Activity – This initiative is a continuation of an initiative that began in 2008 and has been our most successful vehicle in professional development in sustainable agriculture for ag educators and farmer educators in Nebraska. This initiative includes two conferences in Nebraska that address sustainable agriculture issues. These are the NSAS Healthy Farms Conference which is held in February and the Western Nebraska Sustainable Crop and Livestock Conference that is held in December. These conferences are made available to ag educators that focus on sustainable agriculture issues. Travel scholarships are made available to ag educators that want to attend these conferences as well. From information learned at these conferences, ag educators will have the opportunity to apply their knowledge in working with clientele.
c.) Evaluation – Ag educators that participate in these conferences will complete a post-conference survey and also a survey 6-9 months to determine how progress is being made toward the expected outcomes. In the post-conference survey, participating ag educators will be asked questions, i.e. How many client questions on sustainable ag issues were answered and how many newspaper and newsletter articles were written? How many meetings were conducted? How many people reached?
4. Scaling Up Local Food Systems
a.) Expected Outcomes
1) By conducting annual Small Farm Workshops across Nebraska that focus on diversified and sustainable agriculture, including local food production; 10 educators will gain knowledge to answer questions and provide educational programs for clientele.
2) Thirty educators will participate in five webinars in 2019-20 to increase their knowledge of small scale local food production to be able to assist farmers interested in producing local food.
3) Forty Educators will participate in Local Food Systems Tours in Nebraska in 2019 and 2020 and become knowledgeable in the development and scaling up of local food systems.
4) Five educators will become knowledgeable about fruit and vegetable production systems and evaluate different production methods through on-farm research.
b.) Activity – This is a continuation of our Regional Initiative of Scaling Up Local Food from 2010. This is still a very important issue in Nebraska and there is increased interest in local food production and the scaling up of local food production with the sale of food to schools, other institutions and local and regional grocers. More ag educators are also realizing the potential and opportunities that exist with local food production in Nebraska. We plan on continuing conducting on-farm research to evaluate fruit and vegetable production systems. Extension Ag Educators will gain knowledge by conducting these trials and explaining the results of the trials at workshops. Ag Educators, including farmer educators will participate in the Small Farming Workshops and in Local Food Systems Tours in the summers of 2019 and 2020 at different locations across Nebraska.
Evaluation – A survey of ag educators will determine the knowledge gained and impact Educators have on Scaling Up Local Foods in Nebraska in 2019 and 2020.
5. Web-based Education of Sustainable Agriculture
a.) Expected Outcomes
1) 1000 people will become knowledgeable about sustainable agriculture principles through these webinars and other sustainable agricultural resources on our website., such as: Power Points, videos of Farm Tours, blogs, articles and images on sustainable ag issues.
2) Ten Ag Educators will develop and initiate sustainable ag programs for clientele in their county and region.
3) With the use of social media tools we create opportunities for education and professional development for more people in sustainable agriculture.
1) Five to ten webinars on sustainable agriculture issues will be presented in 2019 and 2020.
2) I have initiated a blog on local food producers and other sustainable agricultural topics.
c.) Evaluation – An evaluation of webinars & blogs will be conducted following each presentation. A follow-up 6 -12 month evaluation will be conducted to determine impact of these resources.
The Nebraska SARE Programs utilizes several different approaches to education. The most common approach is train-the-trainer or else train educators so they can past the knowledge they learned to others. Our first initiative is aimed at training ag educators about beginning farmer programs so they can others in this very important area. We also utilize hands on programs that provide outreach to Ag Extension Educators, NRCS technicians, NRD staff, NGOs, Ag Advisors and Farmers. This is a major way of providing education through conferences, field days, trainings and tours. With provide support for conference in Nebraska and regionally that address sustainable agricultural issues and also provide travel scholarships to Ag Extension Educators, Farmer Educators and others from NGOs to attend these conferences. Each year we support a Sustainable Agriculture Tour where educators, i.e. Master Gardeners, Ag Extension Educators and others are able to learn about local food systems in Nebraska and the surrounding states. Tour participants are made aware of the challenges and skill involved in local food production systems. A final method of providing education to others is through social media. We have used webinars on various sustainable ag topics, a blog, Twitter, a webpage, articles on our webpage and traditional print media.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
Educators who are given support from our state SARE funds to travel to this regional training will be asked to come back to our state and in some fashion, provide educational programming to other educators and/or beginning farmers and ranchers.
Five representatives of our state participated in the regional professional development event in Indianapolis, IN, organized by NCR-SARE on beginning farmers and ranchers, offered in October, 2019. At Beginning Farmer Training we visited a successful small farm of a Woman Veteran near Indianapolis. At Beginning Farmer Training we visited a successful small farm of a Woman Veteran near Indianapolis.
In 2020 the COVID-19 Pandemic provided significant challenges. One strategy that was used during this past year was to visit individual farmers and make videos of the farm visits and interview farmers. Three members of the team that participated in the beginning farmer training in Indianapolis were involved in this project. SARE funds were used to provide an honorarium to farmers that participated in these individualized tours. Five videos were made from farms in southeast Nebraska that produce local foods. These were used for training for beginning farmers and are available to view on You Tube at: https://www.youtube.com/user/thekatherineelizabet/featured. A virtual beginning farmer class was held in the fall of 2020, with 5 members of the team participating in this educational program. The class was called “Aspiring Farmer”, a 6-week long course for beginning farmers that helped participants create a farm business start-up plan that is aligned with their resources, goals and values. We had 24 participants in the class from 5 states with a diverse group of men and women participating.
Of the surveyed participants (n=10), 88% stated that they learned new skills as a result of the course, and were prepared to take the next steps in their farm dreams.
Nebraska Extension also has a team of 3-4 Extension Beef Educators that are working to provide training resources for beginning ranchers in Nebraska. They received a mini-grant from Nebraska SARE that will provide some resources (travel & equipment) to help visit several ranches in Nebraska, make videos, interview ranchers and provide best management practices for beginning ranchers.
SARE sponsored training for UNL Extension Educators, Specialists, Natural Resources District staff, Ag advisors and farmers will be held to learn about, the use of cover crops and manure to improve soil health at programs in Nebraska and regionally in Missouri and teach others about soil health. A Team of 10 from Nebraska participated in Missouri training and will train others in Nebraska in with some NRCS, representatives from the cover crop seed industry and experienced farmer cover crop practitioners.
Two soil health/cover crop conferences in Nebraska provided knowledge for Extension Educators, NRCS staff and farmers for 325 participants. Three hundred people visited Cover Crop booth at Husker Harvest Days and engaged in discussion about benefits of cover crops including Weed Suppression, Erosion Control, Grazing and Soil Health. Also at Husker Harvest Days, 100 youth learned about soil erosion and runoff of soils in ling-term cover crops and continuously tilled fields. At two Soil Health trainings, 50 participants learned about cover crops, their uses and impact on soil resilience.
I was able to give a presentation on Cover Crops to about 25 participants in a concurrent session of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Conference which was held January 31- February 1st.
I also was able to give the Nebraska Report for the Midwest Cover Crop Council Annual Meeting to about 75 participants in February.
In 2020 we were fortunate enough to be able to have two face-to-face soil health/cover crop conferences in Nebraska provided knowledge for Extension Educators, NRCS staff and farmers for 375 participants.
These conferences were recorded and presentations were made available through out the year at several different on-line links; including the Nebraska SARE website; http://nesare.unl.edu. These conferences had 602 views of the different presentations during 2020.
At both of these face-to-face conferences, Nebraska SARE provided a display with print resources on cover crops available to the participants.
Nebraska SARE was a major sponsor of one of these conferences.
We were able to hold a face-to face 2-day soil health workshop with 30 participants in southeast Nebraska in early September. Day one was generally for beginners and day 2 was for advanced training. Nebraska SARE provided resources to assist with expenses for this conference.
Although Husker Harvest Days was held virtually this year, 145 people specifically visited the cover crop and soil health link that provided several resources, videos about research being conducted & benefits of cover crops including Weed Suppression, Erosion Control, Grazing and Soil Health.
I was able to provide Soil Health Training for an NRD (Little Blue Natural Resources District) in south central Nebraska for 28 farmers and ag and environmental educators in December.
Nebraska SARE will provide opportunities for Extension Educators, other Ag Educators and Farmer Educators to participate in Conferences in the state, region and areas across the US to learn and develop a specific program area that focuses on a sustainable agriculture issue or practice what they learned at these conferences.
Several organizations took advantage of SARE Travel Scholarships and attended a number of conferences throughout the region and Nebraska SARE also provided funding to help support the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Health Farms Conference and funding to assist the National Junior Horticulture Association to hold their meeting for your and educators in Lincoln, NE. Conferences educators participated in included Women in Sustainable Ag, National Association of County Agricultural Agents, Midwest Cover Crop Council Annual Meeting, Everything Food Conference, Upper Midwest Seed Summit, Food Incubation Summit and Community Food Systems Training.
Results of these participants attending these conferences will help in the continued development of sustainable ag in Nebraska, help develop the regional food systems and provide programs for participants to improve their knowledge and leadership of food systems.
With the pandemic in 2020, travel to face-to-face conferences and workshops was extremely limited, although we had the opportunity to get in a few of these conferences prior to shutdown in March of 2020. We did have one individual receive a travel scholarship to the MOSES Organic Conference in February that worked in the area of local foods and a community garden in southeast Nebraska. They were appreciative of the support we provided for them to attend this conference.
We did provide support in the form of sponsorships for regional conferences in early 2020. Nebraska was one of four states including (Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa) that helped sponsor the Great Plains Growers Conference in St. Joseph. MO. in January. I believe the second day of the conference was cancelled due to weather, but they did have good participation for the first day of the conference.
Another regional conference we helped sponsor and also plan was the Midwest Cover Crops Council Conference. We had good participation with about 150 registrations for this conference which was held in Kansas City. Nebraska SARE also contributed to printed resources we made available as part of the NCR SARE display at the conference.
A new workshop that we sponsored and made available free to participants, was a “Transitioning to Organic Farming” Workshop held at ENREC in eastern Nebraska on January 30th. I helped plan and moderated this workshop as well. We had 110 farmers, ag advisors, and ag educators participate in this conference and we provided each of them with the SARE “Organic Transition” business guide. A survey following the conference indicated:
Behavior Changed as a result of this educational experience
– 77% plan to expand or modify current practices or start in the near future new farming systems for success in organics and weed management in organic row crops N=55.
Changes resulting from this educational effort
-75% are likely or very likely to use cover crops in an organic rotation N=48
This conference was also recorded and we had 237 views during 2020
We continued to sponsor the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Conference which was held face-to-face in January; by providing financial resources to assist with expenses for travel and honorariums for speakers for the conference. Approximately 100 people participated in this conference.
By providing awareness of regional food systems in Nebraska and knowledge to provide methods to scale up local foods, Extension Educators will address this issue.
Two area diversified ag tours provided information about the local food system in Nebraska. Seventy-two people participated in these two tours held around urban Omaha and southeast Nebraska. We also provided travel scholarships to educators interested in participating in conferences that focused on food systems and small scale food production and sponsorship for the Great Plains Growers Conference in St. Joseph, MO.
Normally we would host tours of farms that produce local food in Nebraska, but with the pandemic this was not possible. As previously described in the Beginning Farmer Initiative, there were 5 videos made in the summer of 2020 of local food producers in southeast Nebraska. These are available on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/user/thekatherineelizabet/featured and indicate the potential and opportunities for local food production in our region.
This is a continuation of our Regional Initiative of Scaling Up Local Food from 2010. This is still a very important issue in Nebraska and there is increased interest in local food production and the scaling up of local food production with the sale of food to schools, other institutions and local and regional grocers. More ag educators are also realizing the potential and opportunities that exist with local food production in Nebraska. This is also an opportunity for people to supplement their income by initiating a type of food production enterprise.
There is a strong effort of Extension people now involved in improving and scaling up local food production in Nebraska, especially in the effort of a Farm-to-School Program. One of the participants that attended the SARE Beginning Farmer Training is heavily involved in this effort.
People will become knowledgeable about sustainable agriculture principles through webinars and other sustainable agricultural resources on our website., such as: Power Points, videos of Farm Tours, blogs, articles and images on sustainable ag issues.
Finally the Nebraska SARE Website is used to promote SARE Programs. In 2019 there have been 353 visitors to these sites respectively. From the 42 webinars I have produced from 2010 – 2019, there have been 1,136 views reported in 2019. These webinars can be accessed on the SARE website at:
I have used social media as a tool to promote programs and provide information about programs, field days, tours or research projects. I have continued to utilize a blog, “Saremansagnews” to post information regarding coming events or providing updates. There are 797 followers to this blog, an increase of 60 from 2018, or an 8% increase in followers in 2019.
I use twitter to promote programs and report on field days and tours. My twitter handle is “Sareman” My number of twitter followers has increased to 558 from 500, an increase of 16% or 58.
By increasing exposure to SARE Programs and activities through Social Media channels, people will gain knowledge about SARE and opportunities available for them to learn more about sustainable agriculture.
I continue to use our webpage to provide information about sustainable agriculture initiatives, SARE resources and other resources we have made available via video recordings. I have already mentioned how we have used the Nebraska SARE webpage as a vehicle and resource for information about sustainable agricultural practices. We also added a number of other videos and resources to our website in 2020 due to the inability to hold face-to face meetings and field days. Two videos with farmers using cover crops that were actually made in 2019, but were not completed were added to our SARE website. These two videos had 317 views in 2020. Videos of the two Soil Health conferences held previously in 2019 were added to our website and they received 296 views during 2020 as well.
I continued to use Twitter to promote programs and report on activities in 2020. My twitter handle continues to be “Sareman” with my number of followers increasing from 558 at the end of 2019 to 641 at the end of 2020, an increase of 15% or 83.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Face of SARE
Each year I participate through sponsorship with a number of sustainable agriculture programs and attended workshops and conferences with the Nebraska SARE display, showing and providing several of the SARE bulletins to participants and displaying a number of books available through SARE. I also answer questions about the grant programs through NCR-SARE and also the mini-grant and travel scholarship program Nebraska SARE provides to the people of Nebraska. In 2019 I helped sponsor the Great Plains Growers Conference in St. Joseph, along with Iowa, Missouri and Kansas. I participated in the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Health Farms Conference in Grand Island, NE and was a major sponsor. Nebraska SARE participated and sponsored the Southeast Nebraska Soil Health Conference and the Nebraska Cover Crop Conference. We provided funding for the Nebraska Soil Health Workshop in the summer, providing funds for publishing the proceedings for the program. SARE continues to be a major force in assisting with sustainable agriculture education in Nebraska