Building Knowledge, Skills and Networks for Soil Security in Maine

Final report for NEME14-001

Project Type: PDP State Program
Funds awarded in 2014: $44,442.00
Funds awarded in 2015: $44,442.00
Funds awarded in 2016: $44,438.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2017
Grant Recipient: University of Maine
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
State Coordinator:
Ellen Mallory
UMaine Coop Extension
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Project Information

Summary:

Protecting and improving soil health (SH) is recognized as a key goal for sustainable agriculture yet many agricultural service providers feel ill-equipped to help farmers make informed decisions about adopting specific SH strategies.  They cite a lack of region-specific information and concrete local examples of successful cover cropping, reduced tillage, and rotational practices.  Farmer focus group meetings held throughout Maine by NRCS in conjunction with national Cover Crops Conference in February 2014 found that farmers want more information on: costs and benefits of SH strategies; cover crop species characteristics and uses; cover cropping “recipes” for specific crops and areas; detailed instructions on seeding and termination methods; and tillage options and equipment.  Individual interviews with Extension educators and NRCS staff echoed these and other educational needs for agricultural service providers to feel confident making recommendations to farmers.

The Maine SARE Soil Health professional development project was initiated with the goal of increasing participants’ knowledge, skills, and confidence to provide education and recommendations to farmers about SH strategies for Maine’s three main cropping systems:

  • Potato-grain systems in northern Maine
  • Dairy cropping systems in central Maine
  • Mixed vegetable cropping systems in south-central Maine

Three Maine Soil Health Teams were formed, each focused on one of the cropping systems/regions above and had 10 to 12 members.  The 30 participants were agriculture service providers from Extension (13), NRCS (2), Soil and Water Conservation Districts (2), non-profits such as the Maine Organic Farmer and Gardener Association (3), and Industry or private Crop Advisors (10).  Each team was led by one or two individuals who also served on the project advisory board to help guide project development and implementation.  Members chose whether to be “core members”, who received technical and financial support and committed to working with at least one farmer per year to implement an on-farm demonstration trial or case study, or “associate members”, who helped identify needs and opportunities with the team and participated in the team’s educational events.  Each team had 5 to 6 core members, for a total of 18 core members.

A variety of educational approaches were used for all team members including presentation/demonstration, independent, and interactive learning.  Trainees participated in annual Maine Soil Health workshop (3) and summer field days and farm tours (16), and viewed selected web-based resources, such as the archived presentations from the National Cover Crop Conference, and the educational tools developed by project members.  Trainees also participated in team meetings to identify soil health needs, potential strategies to address those needs, and on-farm demonstrations, case studies, and educational events to develop and disseminate information about those strategies (18).  8 core members participated in the Northeast SARE Regional Soil Health/Cover Crop Conference in spring 2016.  For core team members, hands-on, experiential learning was used to expand and deepen their knowledge and skills.  They each collaborated with at least one farmer to develop and conduct an on-farm demonstration or detailed case study, and held educational events and developed educational resources for farmers and other ag service providers (fact sheets, case studies, and videos).

As a result of this 3-year professional development program, 20 ag service providers reported having increased their knowledge, skills, and confidence in making recommendations to farmers as regards SH concepts and strategies.  Trainees reported the greatest increases in the following topics: SH tests measures and interpretation; reduced tillage strategies including no-till; and local examples of cover cropping, reduced tillage, and rotations to improve/maintain SH.  Participants said they also valued other aspects of the project including networking (90%), learning about additional resources for SH (89%), technical assistance from the SARE Coordinators (89%), and funds to conduct on-farm demonstrations (61%).

19 ag service providers reported having used the knowledge and skills gained through this project in their educational activities and services for farmers. 18 reported having worked with at least one farmer to help them implement a SH practice on their farm; in total, these trainees worked with 173 farmers.  16 reported other types of individual SH consultations, reaching another 740 farmers.  Trainees reported reaching over 900 farmer contacts with the following educational activities:  21 on-farm demonstrations (12 trainees involved), 10 demonstration trials on research farms (9 trainees), 35 workshop or field days (19 trainees), 93 presentations, talks, and webinars (15 trainees).  In addition, 3 trainees wrote fact sheets, 2 collaborated on a video, and 2 others collaborated on a soil health farmer profile; all of which were posted to the new UMaine Soil Health website. In sum, trainees reported reaching 1,800 farmers with their efforts, although there is likely some overlap of individual farmers.

15 ag service providers reported that the farmers they work with had made a management change or adopted a new practice as a result of what they learned from the ag service provider and project activities.  8 reported that a total of 61 farmers had tested their soil for soil health, affecting in sum approximately 6,765 acres.  14 reported that a total of 71 farmers had adopted a new cover crop practice or species, or modified their current practice or species, affecting in sum approximately 5,438 acres.  10 reported that 53 farmers adopted a new reduced tillage practice or modified their current practice, affecting approximately 8,325 acres.  In sum, trainees reported that 185 farmers made a management change or adopted a new practice, affecting over 20,000 acres, as a result of what they learned from the trainees and project activities.

Performance Target:

18 ag service providers (“core team members”) who gain in-depth practical knowledge and skills in soil health strategies and their implementation will work with at least one grower each year to implement a soil health strategy on their farm (54 farmers total) and will reach an additional 5 farmers each through educational programs or one-on-one assistance (270 farmers total).

18 additional ag service providers (“associates”) who gain familiarity with soil health strategies help at least two growers each year make an informed decision about implementing soil health strategies on their farm (108 farmers total).

Introduction:

Protecting and improving soil health (SH) is recognized as a key goal for sustainable agriculture yet many agricultural service providers feel ill-equipped to help farmers make informed decisions about adopting specific SH strategies.  They cite a lack of region-specific information and concrete local examples of successful cover cropping, reduced tillage, and rotational practices.  Farmer focus group meetings held throughout the state by NRCS in conjunction with national Cover Crops Conference in February 2014 found that farmers want more information on: costs and benefits of SH strategies; cover crop species characteristics and uses; cover cropping “recipes” for specific crops and areas; detailed instructions on seeding and termination methods; and tillage options and equipment.  Individual interviews with Extension educators and NRCS staff echoed these and other educational needs for agricultural service providers to feel confident making recommendations to farmers.

The Maine SARE Soil Health professional development project was initiated with the goal of increasing participants’ knowledge, skills, and confidence to provide education and recommendations to farmers about SH strategies for Maine’s three main cropping systems:

  • Potato-grain systems in northern Maine
  • Dairy cropping systems in central Maine
  • Mixed vegetable cropping systems in south-central Maine

Three Maine Soil Health Teams were formed, each focused on one of the cropping systems/regions above and had 10 to 12 members.  The 30 participants were agriculture service providers from Extension (13), NRCS (2), Soil and Water Conservation Districts (2), non-profits such as the Maine Organic Farmer and Gardener Association (3), and Industry or private Crop Advisors (10).  Each team was led by one or two individuals who also served on the project advisory board to help guide project development and implementation.  Members chose whether to be “core members”, who received technical and financial support and committed to working with at least one farmer per year to implement an on-farm demonstration trial or case study, or “associate members”, who helped identify needs and opportunities with the team and participated in the team’s educational events.  Each team had 5 to 6 core members, for a total of 18 core members.

This project was designed to complement and expand NRCS’s soil health initiative in our state by providing practical training and developing a collection of detailed profiles of local cover crop/soil health farmer practices and demonstration trials.

Advisors/Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Alice Begin
  • Rick Kersbergen
  • John Jemison
  • Caragh Fitzgerald

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

A variety of educational approaches were used for all team members including presentation/demonstration, independent, and interactive learning.  Trainees participated in annual Maine Soil Health workshop (3) and summer field days and farm tours (16), and viewed selected web-based resources, such as the archived presentations from the National Cover Crop Conference, and the educational tools developed by project members.  Trainees also participated in team meetings to identify soil health needs, potential strategies to address those needs, and on-farm demonstrations, case studies, and educational events to develop and disseminate information about those strategies (18).  8 core members participated in the Northeast SARE Regional Soil Health/Cover Crop Conference in spring 2016.  For core team members, hands-on, experiential learning was used to expand and deepen their knowledge and skills.  They each collaborated with at least one farmer to develop and conduct an on-farm demonstration or detailed case study, and held educational events and developed educational resources for farmers and other ag service providers (fact sheets, case studies, and videos).

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Year 1 Milestone Accomplishments

Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2015
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
October 31, 2017
Accomplishments:
  1. The Soil Health PDP advisory board and SARE Coordinator meet to discuss the 3-year project plan, outline Year 1 activities for each focus area team, and plan for the Year 1 Workshop. A team leader for each focus group is designated.  (October 2014)

Completed April 2015.

  1. 60 ag service providers receive an invitation to participate in the soil health training project that outlines participant expectations. At least six ag service providers for each focus area (18 total) indicate their interest and agree to the expectations.  These will be identified as “core team members.”  An additional six ag service providers for each focus area sign up as “associates.”  (October 2014)

Completed July 2015. Invitations were sent out to agricultural service providers in Maine and soil health teams were established.  Each soil health team has 6 core team members (including the leader of each group) and 4 to 5 associate members.  Team member affiliations are: 12 Extension, 3 NRCS, 3 other agency, 5 non-profit, and 8 industry or consultants.

  1. Each focus area team meets with the SARE Coordinator to discuss the goals of the program and the resources available to the groups, including assistance from the Coordinator, and reviews the program expectations. The groups discusses the key areas of soil health/cover cropping need and opportunity for their particular focus area (i.e., potato-grain, dairy, or mixed vegetable), identifies their and their farmers’ educational and informational needs related to these, and begins formulating ideas for Year 1 demonstration projects.  Demonstration projects will provide concrete examples that service providers can use in their work with farmers.  These will include on-farm demonstrations and detailed profiles (written or video) of model farmer cover cropping practices currently being used. (November 2014)

Completed December 2015. Full soil health teams held their first meetings during the summer of 2015 and then met again after the SARE Maine Soil Health Workshop on December 7, 2015.  At the latter meeting, teams filled out project planning forms, and set dates for another meeting to occur before April to plan 2016 (Year 2) activities.  Year 1 activities were planned by members of the advisory board.

  1. The Soil Health PDP advisory board and SARE Coordinator meet to further plan the Year 1 workshop taking into account reports from the focus area group meetings. (November 2014)

Completed. Members of the advisory board met on April 2, April 28, May 12, and July 15 to coordinate activities for the 2015 field season.  These meetings occurred before the full soil health teams were formed.

  1. The SARE Coordinator will create a UMaine Extension Soil Health website, organized by focus areas (potato-grain, dairy, and mixed vegetable), where the participants’ demonstration project summaries and farmer practice profiles will be posted; as well as links to other existing resources of use to ag service providers. As such, this website will address the need for region-specific information and concrete local examples of successful cover cropping, reduced tillage, and rotational practices.  A focus will be put on including detailed how-to information on seeding and termination methods, tillage options, and equipment.  (November 2014)

Ongoing.  UMaine Extension created a website in December 2015 but it is not live yet.  The SARE Coordinator was developing draft content and planned to distribute to the Soil Health Team Leaders for review and input but this project was put on hold during the Coordinator’s sabbatical leave (January-July 2016).

Update - Completed. The website went live on July 20, 2017. It has received 474 page views and 359 unique views since then.

  1. All 36 Soil Health PDP participants (core team members and associates) receive and read or view educational materials prior to the first workshop. The educational materials will help ensure that all participants have a similar base level of knowledge. (November 2014 to January 2015)

Completed December 2015. Educational materials distributed included NRCS videos and fact sheets, and videos from the National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health.

  1. All 36 Soil Health PDP participants attend a day-long workshop. In Year 1, the workshop will focus on providing the underlying principles and specific practical information regarding soil health, cover cropping, reducing tillage, and crop rotations; and serve to build connections among participants.  Participants will work in groups to develop recommendations for case study scenarios and will meet by focus area team to further plan Year 1 demonstration projects.  (February 2015)

Completed December 2015.  The first Maine Soil Health Workshop was held on December 7.  The morning session was open to the public and 107 people participated (42 farmers, 23 industry, 12 Extension, 11 non-profit, 10 USDA-NRCS, 9 other agencies) including 16 core team and 11 associate members.  In the afternoon, the Soil Health Teams worked together to identify key soil health concerns, opportunities for improvement, barriers to adoption and information needs, and to plan for 2016 projects with farmers and outreach events.

  1. Each focus area team meets as a group, including the SARE Coordinator, at least once in the spring to finalize Year 1 demonstration projects or detailed farmer practice profiles. The SARE Coordinator provides assistance with demonstration design, data collection planning, and other technical details.  (February to April 2015)

Completed. Members of the advisory board met on April 2, April 28, May 12, and July 15 to coordinate activities for the 2015 field season.  These meetings occurred before the full soil health teams were formed.

  1. One of the three focus area teams works with a UMaine Extension videographer and the SARE Coordinator to plan the production of a video to highlight one or more soil health practices of particular importance and promise for their cropping system of interest. (February to April 2015)

Postponed.  The dairy team is planning to produce a video in Year 2, and the mixed vegetable and potato-grain teams will produce videos in Year 3.

  1. Core team members work with at least one farmer each to implement an on-farm demonstration or write an in-depth profile of a farmer soil health practice. An example of an on-farm demonstration already proposed for potatoes is to compare spring soil temperatures, soil moisture, and planting date following 4 winter soil cover strategies – fall tilled and bare, fall tilled with hay mulch, fall-planted cover crop that winter kills, fall-planted cover crop that continues growth in the spring.  (March to October 2015)

Completed.

  • Members of the Dairy Team and the Mixed Vegetable Team collaborated on a cover crop demonstration at Misty Meadows Farm in Clinton, the site of Maine Farm Days 2015. Thirty different cover crop species and mixes were planted as sole crops, and different clover species and rye were interseeded into silage corn. 
  • Tony Jenkins (NRCS, Potato-Grain and Dairy Teams) monitored soil temperatures in paired sites with and without cover crops from mid-April to mid-May to address farmer concerns that cover crops may delay spring warmup. He and the teams now have initial data to talk with farmers about how to manage cover crops to avoid delayed warming (i.e. lighter cover or killing the cover with a herbicide in the fall).
  • Rick Kersbergen (UMaine Extension, Dairy Team Leader) organized a Waldo County Extension Association event that highlighted no-till and cover cropping at the Windgate Farm. Farmer hosts Penny and Jeff Stevens discussed soil health along with Rick and fellow Maine Soil Health Team member Will Brinton of Woods End Laboratory.
  • Sam Delano (McCain Foods agronomist, Potato-Grain Team) demonstrated an early season cover cropping strategy for potatoes on one farm in 2015.
  • Tom Molloy and Andrew Plant (UMaine Extension, Potato-Grain Team) established cover crop frost seeding demonstrations with eight clover species in winter rye at one on-farm and one research station. Unfortunately the rye at both sites suffered severe winterkill and the demonstrations were discontinued.
  1. The leader of the focus area team producing the video in Year 1 works with the UMaine Extension videographer and the SARE Coordinator to shoot, edit, and post the video to the soil health website. (March to October 2015)

Postponed until 2016.

  1. Each focus area team organizes and hosts one field day/farm tour to highlight soil health strategies and on-farm demonstrations for their focus cropping system. All participants (core and associates) attend.  (June to September 2015)

Complete. The Dairy and Mixed Vegetable Teams presented their cover crop demonstration plots during Maine Farm Days (August 26 and 27, 2015).  All core members and many of the associate members of these teams attended as well as the farmer and general public audience who attended Farm Days (I do not have specific numbers for visitors). 

  1. Focus area teams receive support from the SARE Coordinators for team meetings, design and implementation of demonstration projects, written and video profiles, field days, and inter-team communication. (Ongoing)

Ongoing. Support has included input on demonstration ideas and design, on-the-ground assistance establishing demonstration plots and collecting data, coordination of cover crop seed orders, distribution of announcements for field days and farm tours, and inter-team communication.

Milestone #2 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Year 2 Milestone Accomplishments

Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2016
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
October 31, 2017
Accomplishments:
  1. Program participants complete Year 1 follow-up survey (October 2015)

Complete. Thirty program participants (both core and associate) received a verification survey in December 2016. Responses from the 20 respondents are summarized in the Performance Target Outcomes section below.

  1. All Soil Health PDP participants receive an invitation to the NE-SARE Soil Health and Cover Crop Conference. (October 2015)

Completed November 2015.

 The Soil Health PDP advisory board meets to discuss Year 1 outcomes and coordinate Year 2 activities for each focus area team. (October or November 2015)

Complete. The team leaders met in conjunction with the trip to Baltimore for the NESARE Cover Crops for Soil Health regional training.

  1. Each focus area team meets to share results from on-farm demonstrations and farmer soil health practice profiles; and to identify further educational and informational needs for themselves and the farmers with whom they work. This latter information is used by the SARE Coordinator to make additional informational resources available (via website for instance) or to plan demonstrations or field day topics for the Year 2.  (November 2015)

Completed. Each focus area team met as a team at the Maine Soil Health Workshop on December 7, 2015 and then met again at least once before spring 2016.

Potato/Grain Team met on March 7th and April 4th

Dairy Team met on March 3, 2016

Vegetable Team met on January 13, 2016

  1. Soil Health PDP core team members attend the NE-SARE Soil Health and Cover Crop Conference. (December 2015 to February 2016)

Completed. Eight core team members and one Maine farmer attended the regional SARE Cover Crops for Soil Health training held March 29-31, 2016.

  1. Core team members send on-farm demonstration summary reports and case studies to State Coordinator who posts them on the Extension website. (December 2015)

Delayed. To occur in Year 3 due to Coordinator’s sabbatical leave.

  1. Each focus area team meets at least once after the regional conference to discuss what they learned at the conference and how they will incorporate it into Year 2 activities; and to plan Year 2 demonstration projects and field day. (February to April 2016)

Completed. 

  1. A second of the three focus area teams works with a UMaine Extension videographer and the SARE Coordinator to plan the production of a video to highlight one or more soil health practices of particular importance and promise for their cropping system of interest. (February to April 2016)

In Progress. The first video (dairy team) was postponed one year and is currently in the planning process. The second video (mixed vegetable team) is also in progress.  Both were initiated in August 2016, delayed due to the loss of the videographer position at UMaine Extension, resumed in October 2016 with a UMaine undergraduate videographer, and currently in progress with a target completion date of March 1, 2017. Initial footage for a third video (potato team) was filmed in October 2016.

  1. Core team members work with at least one farmer each to implement an on-farm demonstration or write an in-depth profile of a farmer soil health practice. (March to October 2016)

In Progress.

Twelve team members reported working with at least one farmer to implement an on-farm demonstration.  Examples are:

  • No-tilling grains the year after potatoes.
  • Planting a soil conserving nurse cover crop in newly planted potatoes.
  • Broadcast seeding a winter cover crop just prior to potato harvest
  • Cover crop species and mixes
  • Strip-tillage for winter squash
  • Winter-killed cover crop options for vegetable systems

 Two team members are collaborating with a UMaine graduate student to produce a no-till farmer profile that will serve as a model for additional farmer profiles to be written by other team members in 2017.

  1. The leader of the focus area team producing the video in Year 2 works with the UMaine Extension videographer and the SARE Coordinator to shoot, edit, and post the video to the soil health website. (March to October 2016)

In Progress.  See Milestone 8.

  1. Each focus area team organizes and hosts one field day/farm tour to highlight soil health strategies and on-farm demonstrations for their focus cropping system. All participants (core and associates) attend.  (June to September 2016)

Completed. The focus area teams held a total of 12 field days and on-farm demonstration tours. Topics included cover crop species and mix selection, overseeding cover crops into corn silage, undersowing cover crops into small grains, no-till corn silage production, spring soil temperature monitoring with and without cover crops, nurse crops for potato production, and no-till seeding of small grains following potatoes.

 

  1. Focus area teams receive support from the SARE Coordinators for team meetings, design and implementation of demonstration projects, written and video profiles, field days, and inter-team communication. (Ongoing)

Ongoing. Support has included coordination and oversight of video production, input on demonstration ideas and design, on-the-ground assistance establishing demonstration plots and collecting data, coordination of cover crop seed orders, distribution of announcements for field days and farm tours, and inter-team communication

Milestone #3 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Year 3 Milestone Accomplishments

Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2017
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
October 31, 2017
Accomplishments:

YEAR 3 Milestones

  1. Program participants complete Year 2 follow-up survey (October 2016)

Completed. 34 program participants (both core and associate) received an online verification survey in January 2018. Responses from the 15 respondents are summarized in the Performance Target Outcomes section below.

  1. The Soil Health PDP advisory board meets to discuss Year 2 outcomes and coordinate Year 3 activities for each focus area team. (October or November 2016)

Completed. A conference call was held to plan the 2016 Maine Soil Health Workshop, December team meetings, and website contributions.

  1. Each focus area team meets to share results from on-farm demonstrations and farmer soil health practice profiles; and to identify further educational and informational needs for themselves and the farmers with whom they work. This latter information is used by the SARE Coordinator to plan for the Year 3 winter workshop, to make additional informational resources available (via website for instance), or to plan demonstrations or field day topics for the Year 3.  (November 2016)

Completed. Team members shared results from on-farm demonstrations at the 2016 Maine Soil Health Workshop and then met as teams in the afternoon to plan their 2017 activities. Suggestions and needs for 2017 programming were collected from team members via an online survey.

  1. Core team members send on-farm demonstration summary reports and case studies to State Coordinator who posts them on the Extension website. (December 2016)

In Progress. Team members did not complete summary reports and as many case studies as planned for this three-year project.  This will be a focus for the first year of our next 3-year program.  

  1. All Soil Health PDP participants (core and associates) attend a day-long workshop. In Year 3, the workshop will focus on sharing results from each of the focus area teams and identifying new opportunities.  (February 2017)

Completed. The workshop was held December 9 of 2016 to provide continuity in timing from the previous year.  The Maine Soil Health Workshop has become an annual event, held each year in early December.  Soil health team members shared results of their on-farm demonstrations on topics including reducing tillage in mixed vegetable system, strategies to incorporate cover crops in mixed vegetable systems, no-till establishment of grains following potatoes, and no-till and cover crops in silage corn. Another team member reported on the newly established Northeast Cover Crops Council, on which he serves as the Maine Soil Health Teams representative.

  1. Each focus area team meets at least once after the winter workshop to discuss what they learned and how they will incorporate it into Year 3 activities; and to plan Year 3 demonstration projects and field day. (February to April 2017)

Completed. Each focus area team met as a team at the Maine Soil Health Workshop on December 9, 2016 and then met again at least once before spring 2016. The Potato/Grain Team met on March 30, the Dairy Team met on March 15, and the Vegetable Team met on March 14. The focus of the second meetings was on planning on-farm demonstrations and field days for the 2017 season.

  1. The second and third of the three focus area teams works with a UMaine Extension videographer and the SARE Coordinator to plan the production of a video to highlight one or more soil health practices of particular importance and promise for their cropping system of interest. (February to April 2017)

In Progress. See Milestone #9 below.

  1. Core team members work with at least one farmer each to implement an on-farm demonstration or write an in-depth profile of a farmer soil health practice. (March to October 2017)

Completed. Nine core team members worked with a total of six farmers to implement on-farm demonstration projects (some team members worked in teams). Topics included cover crop seeding options, organic corn silage cover crop options, reduced tillage for vegetable production, cover crop mixes, potato nurse cropping, and winter rye varieties. Five core team members implemented replicated demonstration trials on undersown cover crop species, winter rye varieties for cover cropping and grain, nitrogen management for no-till corn, reduced tillage potato-grain systems, and potato nurse cropping. One core team member wrote an in-depth farm profile on no-till and cover cropping, which was posted on the UMaine Soil Health Website.

  1. The leader of the focus area teams producing the videos in Year 3 works with the UMaine Extension videographer and the SARE Coordinator to shoot, edit, and post the video to the soil health website. (March to October 2017)

In Progress. Due to the loss of the Extension videographer and short time commitments of student videographers, only one video was completed during this project.  “Benefits of Cover Cropping” features Bob Fogler of Stoneyvale Farm and Rick Kersbergen of the Dairy Soil Health Team discussing how cover crops are an integral part of successful no-till corn silage production. It was posted to the UMaine Soil Health Website in July and has received 106 views to date.  Footage for a second video on “Getting Started with Cover Cropping” featuring Jason Lilley of the Mixed Vegetable Soil Health Team was collected but we were not been able to complete the editing by then end of this project and will make it a priority for our new project.

  1. Each focus area team organizes and hosts one field day/farm tour to highlight soil health strategies and on-farm demonstrations for their focus cropping system. All participants (core and associates) attend at least one field day.  (June to September 2017)

Completed. Each soil health team organized and hosted two field days or farm tours.  The Dairy SH team hosted a no-til corn and cover crops workshop at Misty Meadows Farm in Clinton on Sept 21 and an infiltration/runoff demonstration at Maine Farm Days on Aug 23-24.  The Potato Grain SH Team hosted an event at Don Fitzpatrick’s farm in Houlton on building soil health with companion cropping in potatoes and offered several talks and SH demonstrations at the UMaine Rogers Farm Soil Health Field Day on July 6 including nurse cropping and reducing tillage in potato-grain systems. This latter event was organized by the SARE Coordinators.  The Mixed Vegetable SH Team offered a Soil Health Field Day at Bumbleroot Farm in Windham on August 21 highlighting cover crop mixes, reduced tillage equipment, and SH testing, and a Reducing Tillage in Organic Vegetables Field Day at the UMaine Highmoor Farm in Monmouth on September 7.

  1. Core team members send on-farm demonstration summary reports and case studies to State Coordinator who posts them on the Extension website. (October 2017)

In Progress. Team members did not complete summary reports and case studies as planned for this three-year project.  This will be a focus for the first year of our next 3-year program.

  1. Focus area teams receive support from the SARE Coordinator for team meetings, design and implementation of demonstration projects, written and video profiles, field days, and inter-team communication. (Ongoing)

Completed. Support included coordination and oversight of video production, input on demonstration ideas and design, on-the-ground assistance establishing demonstration plots and collecting data, coordination of cover crop seed orders, distribution of announcements for field days and farm tours, and inter-team communication.

  1. Focus area teams and State Coordinator meet to review the results from three years of on-farm demonstrations and case studies and to develop a list of best practices and take-home lessons. (October 2017)

Partially completed. Team leaders and the state coordinators met on September 12 to review project accomplishments, develop a list of on-farm demonstration reports to develop, and plan for the 2017 Soil Health Workshop.

  1. Program participants (core teams and associates who have learned through project field days, videos and website) complete Final survey. (October 2017)

Completed. 34 program participants (both core and associate) received an online verification survey in January 2018. Responses from the 17 respondents are summarized in the Performance Target Outcomes section below.

  1. The State Coordinator works with each focus area leaders to develop an Extension factsheet on soil health and cover cropping for each focus area using the results from Milestones #13 and 14. These factsheets are posted to the Extension project website and made available as pdfs. (November 2017)

Partially completed. Two fact sheets were developed and posted to the Extension website.  One by the dairy team leader was a collaborative effort with colleagues from other states, “Making the Transition to No-till/Cover Crop System”. The other fact sheet was authored by a vegetable team member, “Cover Cropping for Success.” A third factsheet, by a dairy team member, “Resources to Navigate Drought Successfully,” highlights no-till and cover cropping as long-term strategies to mitigate drought.

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities conducted by the project team:

ActivityYear 1Year 2Year 3Total
Consultations 6 5 11
Curricula, factsheets or educational tools 1 3 4
On-farm demonstrations 4 8 7 19
Webinars, talks and presentations 3 5 10 18
Workshop / field days 3 8 8 19

Beneficiaries who particpated in the project’s educational activities and events:

AudienceYear 1Year 2Year 3Total Individuals
Extension 14 14 14 14
NRCS 9 13 13 13
Nonprofit 9 13 13 13
Agency 10 10 10 10
Service providers (other or unspecified) 23 26 26 26
Farmers / ranchers 42 42 56 70

Participation Summary:

76 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities

Learning Outcomes

25 Agricultural service providers reported changes in knowledge, skills and/or attitudes as a result of their participation.
32 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
21 Ag service providers intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned through this project in their educational activities and services for farmers
Key areas in which the service providers (and farmers if indicated above) reported a change in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness::

The following are the key areas of learning that we verified via two post-event surveys at the annual workshops and two online surveys of team members:

Year 1 key areas of learning verified
Importance of soil health on crop production and environmental protection
Soil health degrading and improving practices
Soil health test measures and interpretation
Specific cover cropping opportunities in Maine rotations

Year 2 Key areas of learning verified
Effects of soil health on crop productivity and environmental impacts
Biological, chemical, physical components of soil health
Soil health test measures and interpretation
Cover crop species characteristics
Opportunities to incorporate cover crops in Maine crop rotations
Cover crop implementation strategies
Reduced tillage strategies, including no-till
Local examples of cover cropping, reduced tillage, and rotations to improve/maintain soil health

Year 3 Key areas of learning verified
Effects of soil health on crop productivity and environmental impacts
Biological, chemical, physical components of soil health
Soil health test measures and interpretation
Cover crop species characteristics
Opportunities to incorporate cover crops in Maine crop rotations
Cover crop implementation strategies
Reduced tillage strategies, including no-till
Local examples of cover cropping, reduced tillage, and rotations to improve/maintain soil health

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers

Activities for farmers conducted by service providers:
ActivityYear 1Year 2Year 3Total
Curricula, factsheets and other educational tools 1 4 5
Consultations 721 182 903
On-farm demonstrations 4 8 9 21
Webinars, talks and presentations 47 46 93
Workshops and field days 4 12 19 35
Demonstration trials conducted on University research farms. 1 4 5 10
19 Total number of agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
1800 Farmers reached through participant's programs
Total amount of production these farmers manage:
Did not ask
Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

The following outcome narrative is based on information from two online surveys sent to the 30 team members in December 2016 and January 2018, with 20 and 17 team members responding (67 and 57% response rates), respectively.  Outcomes are grouped over both “core” and “associate” team members because survey responses were anonymous and respondents were not asked to identify their level of involvement.  However, it is likely that most of the respondents were “core” members, of which there are 18.

As a result of this 3-year professional development program, 20 ag service providers reported having increased their knowledge, skills, and confidence in making recommendations to farmers as regards SH concepts and strategies.  Trainees reported the greatest increases in the following topics: SH tests measures and interpretation; reduced tillage strategies including no-till; and local examples of cover cropping, reduced tillage, and rotations to improve/maintain SH.  Participants said they also valued other aspects of the project including networking (90%), learning about additional resources for SH (89%), technical assistance from the SARE Coordinators (89%), and funds to conduct on-farm demonstrations (61%).

19 ag service providers reported having used the knowledge and skills gained through this project in their educational activities and services for farmers. 18 reported having worked with at least one farmer to help them implement a SH practice on their farm; in total, these trainees worked with 173 farmers.  16 reported other types of individual SH consultations, reaching another 740 farmers.  Trainees reported reaching over 900 farmer contacts with the following educational activities:  21 on-farm demonstrations (12 trainees involved), 10 demonstration trials on research farms (9 trainees), 35 workshop or field days (19 trainees), 93 presentations, talks, and webinars (15 trainees).  In addition, 3 trainees wrote fact sheets, 2 collaborated on a video, and 2 others collaborated on a soil health farmer profile; all of which were posted to the new UMaine Soil Health website. In sum, trainees reported reaching 1,800 farmers with their efforts, although there is likely some overlap of individual farmers.

For some trainees, the Maine SARE Soil Health professional development project complemented and expanded the ongoing efforts, such as the work on no-till and cover cropping for corn silage that Rick Kersbergen and regional colleagues have been doing since 2009.  This PD project increased the number of educational resources they produced (one video and one case study). More importantly, it broadened their audience to ag service providers, adding a “train-the-trainer” component to their work, and thereby greatly expanded the potential reach of their work, as evidenced in this quote from a trainee:

“The farmer panel on reduced tillage at this year’s Soil Health workshop in Waterville really opened my eyes to the potential benefits of no-till in dairy systems for many reasons. Since then I have had two great conversations with dairy farmers about those benefits. Specifically they were asking about methods of improving forage quality and I related to them the information that I had gained from the farmer panel on how these farmers were getting much better forage yields and quality by rotating their corn with forages, a practice they would not have done if the ground had to be tilled due to rocks or soil type. I believe that these farmers came away our conversation seriously considering no-till as an option for improving their forage production program.”

For other trainees, the value of the project was how it inspired them to add soil health as a new component to their other types of work with farmers.  For instance, one trainee, who conducts risk management education programming, now includes soil health as a recommended risk management tool.  Another trainee said, “I have now made soil health a discussion that I have with all of my nutrient management plan clients.” And yet another noted, “Getting together to share information on new and ongoing soil health projects is very valuable for my programs.” 

Finally, for yet other trainees this project inspired and enabled them to significantly expand their educational efforts related to soil health, as demonstrated in these quotes:

“Funds from this project have allowed me to implement cover cropping demonstrations as a center piece for educational programming.”

“As a result of this project, I have joined the Northeast Cover Crop Council as a representative of the soil health work that is happening in Maine to the council.”

“The field days and workshops that I have hosted as a part of this program have been the key driver in making connections. (For instance,) I have been contacted by 3 farmers who would like to develop a cover cropping strategy in their vegetable production systems that go beyond the use of winter rye.  As a result, I am planning further programming and courses that will specifically result in farmers developing detailed crop rotation and multi-season cover cropping plans for their farms.”

Performance Target Outcomes - Farmers

Target #1

Verified: number of farmers who made a change/adopted a practice:
1
Verified: size/scale of farms these farmers manage:
1
185 Farmers made a change/adopted a practice as a result of this project
Size/scale of farms affected by this project:
20,500 acres affected
Performance target outcome for farmers narrative:

15 ag service providers reported that the farmers they work with had made a management change or adopted a new practice as a result of what they learned from the ag service provider or project activities.  8 reported that a total of 61 farmers had tested their soil for soil health, affecting in sum approximately 6,765 acres.  14 reported that a total of 71 farmers had adopted a new cover crop practice or species, or modified their current practice or species, affecting in sum approximately 5,438 acres.  10 reported that 53 farmers adopted a new reduced tillage practice or modified their current practice, affecting approximately 8,325 acres.  In sum, trainees reported that 185 farmers made a management change or adopted a new practice, affecting over 20,000 acres, as a result of what they learned from the trainees or project activities.

 

 

 

Additional Project Outcomes

Number of grants applied for that built upon this project:
Year 1Year 2Year 3Total
1 3 3 7
Number of grants received that built upon this project:
Year 1Year 2Year 3Total
2 1 3
Number of new working collaborations:
Year 1Year 2Year 3Total
1 64 22 87
1 New working collaboration
Additional Outcomes Narrative:

Trainees reported a total of 87 new collaborations as a result of this project, such as inviting other team members to speak at educational events, working with team members to conduct on-farm demonstrations, field trials, field days, and farm tours, and collaborating to develop new educational resources. Trainees also reported a total of 7 grants applied for that built on this project.  Three were received and are funding work to evaluate: the soil health implications of fall bed formation for potatoes and how to address possible concerns; the potential of nurse cropping to reduce erosion potential following potato planting; and strategies , and rotation and tillage strategies to increase soil cover in grain-potato rotations.

SARE Outreach

Outreach about SARE:

Information about SARE grant programs and information resources was shared at the programs and events listed below.

Year 1 (2014-2015) SARE Outreach Activities

Event/Activity

Location

Date

Number of Contacts with:

Farmers

Ag. Professionals

National Dairy Goat Conference

Portland

Oct. 18-25, 2014

10

0

Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society

Bangor

Oct. 27, 2014

3

5

Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association Farmer to Farmer Conference

Northport

Nov. 1-3, 2014

240

10

Maine Beginning Farmer Resource Network Meeting

Bangor

Nov. 7, 2014

0

12

Maine Association of Extension Agents

Bangor

Nov. 21, 2014

0

18

State of Maine Agricultural Trade Show

Augusta

Jan. 12-14, 2015

500

5

New England Agricultural Service Providers In-Service Training

Portsmouth, NH

Feb. 4-5, 2015

0

55

Maine Vegetable and Fruit School

Bangor

March 11, 2015

75

0

Maine Grain Conference

Bangor

March 13, 2015

60

15

Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society Board Meeting

Augusta

April 2, 2015

6

4

UMaine Aroostook Grain Twilight Meeting

Presque Isle

June 25, 2015

9

13

UMaine Sustainable Agriculture Field Day

Old Town

July 16, 2015

30

5

Year 2 (2015-2016) SARE Outreach Activities

Event/Activity

Location

Date

Number of Contacts with:

Farmers

Ag. Professionals

Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association Farmer-to-Farmer Conference

Northport

Nov. 7, 2015

300

1

State of Maine Agricultural Trade Show

Augusta

Jan. 12 to 14, 2016

600

25

Maine Vegetable and Fruit School

Portland Bangor

March 16, 2016

65

8

Maine Grain Conference

Bangor

March 23, 2016

69

6

Maine Sustainable Agriculture Field Day

Old Town

June 30, 2016

45

15

Malt Workshop and Field Day

Old Town

July 7, 2016

16

6

UMaine Extension Aggies Team Meeting

Bangor

November 18, 2016

0

27

Maine Soil Health Conference

Bangor

Dec. 9, 2016

65

30

Additional individual consultations

   

17

 

Year 3 (2016-2017) SARE Outreach Activities

Event/Activity

Location

Date

Number of Contacts with:

Farmers

Ag. Professionals

UMaine Extension Aggies Team Meeting

Bangor

Nov. 18, 2016

0

27

Soil Health Workshop

Bangor

Dec. 9, 2016

19

53

State of Maine Agriculture Trade Show

Augusta

Jan. 10 to 12 2017

400 (6)

2

Maine Potato Conference

Caribou

January 19, 2017

120

30

Aroostook Soils and Crops Workshop

Presque Isle

February 22, 2017

20

25

Maine Grain Conference

Houlton

March 13, 2017

65

5

Maine Vegetable School

Bangor

Mar. 31, 2017

85

 

Maine Sustainable Agriculture Field Day

Old Town

Jul. 6, 2017

40

 

 

 

 

 

 

Additional individual consultations

 

 

16

 

 

Recieved information about SARE grant programs and information resouces:

Audience Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Total
Service providers 142 118 140 400
Farmers 933 1177 765 2875
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.