Strengthening Knowledge, Skills and Networks for Soil Security in Maine

Final report for NEME17-001

Project Type: PDP State Program
Funds awarded in 2017: $45,054.00
Funds awarded in 2018: $46,662.00
Funds awarded in 2019: $46,663.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2020
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 soil health strategies. The Maine State SARE PD program began the second 3-year Maine Soil Health (MESH) professional development project in 2017 to increase participants’ knowledge, skills, and confidence to provide recommendations to farmers about soil health strategies. Thirty-eight agricultural service providers from Extension (15), NRCS (3), Soil and Water Conservation Districts (4), non-profits (4), and industry (12) participated in at least one year of the project and 32 participated in the full project. They joined one of three teams: potato-grain, dairy cropping, and mixed vegetable. Training was provided through four winter workshops, one on-farm workshop, and team projects such as on-farm demonstrations, field days, case studies, and videos. As well, trainees were expected to use their new knowledge by working with at least two farmers each year to help them implement a soil health practice on their farms, and reach an additional 5 farmers each year through educational programs or one-on-one assistance.

In surveys administered in December 2019 and November 2020, all respondents (n=12) said they had increased their knowledge and their confidence in providing recommendations to farmers about soil health practices as a result of participating in the MESH program. One participant noted, “I have a lot of ideas and wheels spinning as a result of this project. I’m working towards new videos on soil health topics, a fact sheet that aids growers in evaluating their current soil health practices and areas for improvement, and ideas for utilizing that fact sheet for several one-on-one consultations to create action plans with growers.”

Over the three years of the project, 27 trainees reported working with a total of 123 farmers to help them implement soil health practice on their farms. These trainees, plus two more, reached an additional 1,099 farmer contacts through 8 on-farm demonstrations, 25 workshops and field days, 26 presentations, and 144 other types of individual consultations. They also reported having produced 13 fact sheets, case studies, videos, and other educational resources. In turn, as a result of what farmers learned from the trainees, 141 farmers made a management change or adopted a new practice, including testing soil for soil health (affecting 1,389 acres), adopting a new cover crop species or practice (affecting 30,541 acres), and adopting or modifying a reduced tillage practice (affecting 27,925 acres). Trainees also reported 14 new collaborations and 2 successful grant submissions as a result of this project.

Performance Target:

Performance Target for Service Providers

18 agricultural 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 two growers each year to implement a soil health strategy on their farm (108 farmers total over 3 years) and will reach an additional 5 farmers each through educational programs or one-on-one assistance (270 farmers total).  In addition, annually, 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).

Performance Target for Farmers

108 farmers will adopt one or more soil health practices or modify a current soil health (SH) practice, including:

  • Testing for soil health
  • Cover cropping
  • Reduced tillage – frequency or intensity
  • Delay tillage to spring
  • Soil-improving rotations
Introduction:

Protecting and improving soil health is recognized as a key goal for sustainable agriculture yet many ag service providers feel ill-equipped to help farmers make informed decisions about adopting specific soil health strategies.  They cite a lack of region-specific information and concrete local examples of successful cover cropping, reduced tillage, and rotational practices. 

The Maine SARE Soil Health Program was initiated in 2014 to increase participants’ knowledge, skills and confidence to provide education and recommendations to farmers about soil health strategies.  31 ag service providers from Extension, NRCS, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, non-profits, and industry joined one of three cropping systems-based teams – potato-grain, dairy cropping, and mixed vegetable – either as a “core” or “associate” member.  They receive training by working as teams to identify soil health needs and opportunities, participating in workshops, and, for “core” members, conducting on-farm demonstrations, writing case studies, and producing videos.

In a fall 2017 survey, 18 participants reported using the knowledge, skills, and confidence gained through this project in their work with farmers, reaching 1034 farmers.  13 ag service providers reported that farmers had made a management change as a result of what they learned from the ag service provider or project activities, affecting 99 farmers and 14,550 acres.  Participants value project networking (95%), technical assistance (95%) and funds (67%) for on-farm demonstrations, and soil health information (95%).  Participants also report needing additional training and region-specific information.

Solution and Approach

71% of respondents to a March 2017 survey said they want to continue the Maine SARE Soil Health Project as the next 3-year SARE PD project for Maine (62 ag service providers surveyed; 31 (50%) responded).  Learning outcomes will focus on topics rated highly in the survey: economics of soil health strategies, crop rotation strategies, cover crop species traits and uses, reduced tillage strategies, equipment, and soil health for high tunnels and urban agriculture.  “Core” members will continue to receive technical assistance and funding to conduct on-farm demonstrations, help organize and host a team summer field day, and participate in team meetings and winter workshops.  They also will participate in at least one on-farm soil health S.W.O.T. analysis and help develop educational resources such as fact sheets, slide sets, and hands-on learning activities.  “Associate” members will continue to participate in educational activities and help at least two farmers per year make informed soil health management decisions.

Advisors/Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • John Jemison
  • Jason Lilley
  • Richard Kersbergen
  • Alice Begin

Educational Approach

Educational approach:
  • Winter workshops in northern and southern Maine that include presentations by participants, farmers, and group work (1 each per year).
  • On-farm demonstrations conducted by core team members and supported with modest funding support from the project; demo summaries with photos and data posted on Extension soil health website. (6 per year)
  • On-farm soil health S.W.O.T. (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analyses. Team reviews farm information beforehand, meets for half a day at the farm to observe farm and interview farmer(s), discusses S.W.O. and T.s as a team and with farmer(s). (1 per year)
  • Development of educational resources (fact sheets, case studies, slide sets, and hands-on learning activities) by core team members and sharing via the Extension soil health website. (6 per year)
  • Team meetings for each cropping system to identify needs, plan/coordinate activities, and review outcomes. (2-3 per year per team)
  • Project advisory board meetings with SARE Coordinators to review project outcomes, participants’ learning outcomes, and additional learning needs, and to plan the year’s workshops. (1 per year)

Milestones

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

The Soil Health PDP advisory board and SARE Coordinator meet to discuss the 3-year project and plan for the Year 1 Workshops. (October 2017)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
5
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
1
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
9
Proposed Completion Date:
December 5, 2017
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
September 12, 2017
Accomplishments:

The State Coordinator held a conference call with the advisory board to introduce the new 3-year project, confirm team leaders for the new project, and to start planning for the Year 1 workshops.  Leadership of the Mixed Vegetable team was passed from Caragh Fitzgerald to Jason Lilley.  The leadership team decided to hold one centrally located workshop (instead of two) in Waterville and to focus on dairy cropping systems.  Ideas for topics and speakers were generated.

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

60 ag service providers (the 30 current Soil Health Team members and an additional 30 ag service providers) receive an invitation to participate in the 3-year soil health training project. The invitation outlines the opportunities of joining one of Maine’s three Soil Health Teams (Potato-Grain, Dairy, or Mixed Vegetable) and the participant expectations. (October 2017)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
60
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
63
Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2017
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
March 15, 2018
Accomplishments:

All 54 ASPs who attended the Soil Health Workshop on December 5, 2017 (see milestone 4 below for more information) were invited to continue or join as a member of one of the Soil Health Teams.  Additionally, during team meetings, members brainstormed individuals to invite to join and those invitations were sent out individually over the winter. This milestone, while completed in one sense, will continue as new ASPs are hired in the state.

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

36 ag service providers (all of the 30 current Soil Health Team members and 6 additional ag service providers) indicate their interest to participate. 18 agree to the expectations of “core team members.” The other 18 sign up as “associates.” (October 2017)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
36
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
35
Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2017
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
March 30, 2018
Accomplishments:

Thirty-five ASPs are members of at least one of the Soil Health Teams, of which 18 are “core” members and 17 are “associate” members.  Team members come from Extension (15), NRCS and other agencies (4), non-profits (4), and industry (12).  Teams have the following member numbers, with one trainee associated with two teams: Potato-grain (13), Mixed Vegetable (12), and Dairy Cropping (11).

Milestone #4 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

All 36 Soil Health PDP participants (core team members and associates):
a. Receive (via email and the Extension soil health website?) and read/view educational materials relevant to the topics that will be covered in the Year 1 workshops. (November 2017)

b. Attend at least one of two day-long workshops that will be held in northern and southern Maine. Topics in Year 1 will include those prioritized by ag service providers in the survey conducted to prepare this plan (e.g., economics of soil health strategies, crop rotation strategies, and reduced tillage strategies). At the workshops, Soil Health Teams will meet by team to further plan Year 1 demonstration projects. (December 2017)

c. Meet by team with the SARE Coordinator to discuss the goals of the program and the resources available to the groups, and reviews the program expectations. The groups discuss the key areas of soil health/cover cropping need and opportunity for their particular team, identify their and their farmers’ educational and informational needs related to these, and begin formulating ideas for Year 1 on-farm demonstration projects and educational resources to develop. This occurs either in conjunction with the December workshops, see above, or as an earlier separate meeting. (December 2017)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
36
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
20
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2017
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
December 5, 2017
Accomplishments:

a. All 35 team members received an email in September notifying them of updates to the project website including a new case study and video highlighting no-till and cover cropping for corn silage, a key topic for the Soil Health Workshop. Members also received links to videos of relevant presentations from the 2017 National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health, as well as notification the NT intensive Training webinar series for ag service providers in the Northeast, which held three webinars before our workshop.

b and c. Twenty team members attended the 2017 Maine Soil Health Workshop on December 5, 2017. The workshop was open to the public and in addition to the 20 Soil Health team members, 34 other ASPs, 14 farmers and 7 students attended. The workshop agenda was:

  • Our New Understanding of Soil Organic Matter (Ellen Mallory, UMaine) – discussed our new understanding of organic matter composition (dead microbial bodies rather than recalcitrant plant matter) and stability (protection in aggregates rather than biochemical recalcitrance) and what it implies for soil management.
  • No-Till and Cover Cropping in Corn (Rick Kersbergen, UMaine, and a farmer panel of Bob Fogler, Stoneyvale Farm, Jeff and Penny Stevens, Wind Gate Farm, and Roger Whitney, Corinna) – Covered benefits, barriers and challenges to adoption, and best practices, followed by an open discussion. This panel discussion was so successful that the Dairy Soil Health team decided to repeat it and video record it) at the Maine Dairy Seminar on March 20, 2018.
  • Reducing Tillage in Vegetable Production (Natalie Lounsbury, UNH, and Mark Hutton, UMaine) – Topics covered included tarping to kill cover crops for no-till seeding, permanent beds, and zone tillage.
  • Water Infiltration and Runoff Demonstration (Tom Molloy, UMaine) – Tom introduced and demonstrated the demo kit we purchased for use by team members and others doing soil health educational events.
  • Cover Crop Mixes and Report from Northeast Cover Crops Council (Carl Johanson, Goranson Farm and Jason Lilley, UMaine) – Carl and Jason reported about the newly formed Northeast Cover Crop Council.  Jason is our Maine representative to the Council and both attended the first NCCC meeting with support from this project.  Jason discussed the theory behind cover crop mixes and how to choose species, and Carl reported on his experiences using mixes on his farm.
  • General Discussion: Barrier to Adoption of Soil Health Practices and Ways to Address Them – Jason Lilley facilitated this session of small group discussion, followed by reporting out to the group and further discussion. We ended by having participants fill out the survey reported on under “Learning Outcomes”.

Immediately following the workshop, the 20 Soil Health Team members who attended met with the State and Outreach Coordinators for an hour. The new 3-year project plan was introduced and discussed including explanations of project goals and activities, team member expectations, and financial and technical support available.  Members then grouped as teams to identify potential new members to invite to join, to begin discussing the specific topics and projects the teams want to address this year, and to set dates for follow up team meetings.

Milestone #5 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

The 18 Soil Health Team Core members, including the SARE Coordinator or Outreach Coordinator, meet by team at least once in the spring to finalize Year 1 demonstration projects and educational resource preparation. The 18 Associate members are invited to participate as well. The SARE Coordinator and Outreach Coordinator provide assistance with demonstration design, data collection planning, and other technical or logistical details. (January to April 2018)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
18
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
14
Proposed Completion Date:
April 30, 2018
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
March 22, 2018
Accomplishments:

Each team met one time over the winter to finalize their plans for developing educational materials and conducting on-farm demonstrations.  The SARE Outreach Coordinator participated in all of these meetings. The meetings occurred on January 16 (potato-grain), February 12 (dairy), and March 22 (mixed vegetable).

The SARE Outreach Coordinator and State Coordinator met with the team leader of the mixed vegetable team on March 30 to begin planning for the first Soil Health S.W.O.T. event to be held this summer.

Milestone #6 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

18 Core team members will each:
a) work with at least two farmers to implement a SH strategy on their farms, AND
b) implement an on-farm demonstration OR take the lead in developing one educational resource. (March to October 2018)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
18
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
22
Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2018
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
September 30, 2018
Accomplishments:

a. Twenty-one team members worked with at least two farmers to implement soil health strategies such as integrating cover crops into their rotation, implementing no-till systems, and postponing tillage from fall to spring.

b. Four members conducted an total of 4 on-farm demonstrations, 9 took the lead organizing and holding educational events (8 total), and 5 took the lead on a fact sheet (2), case study (2), or video (2).

Seven team members did both a. and b., whereas 22 did either a. or b.

When the target audience for an activity included project trainees as well as the public, it is reported under Project Educational Activities and under Performance Target Outcomes, as was the case for 4 educational events, 2 on-farm demos, and 1 factsheet.  When the target audience for the activity did not include project trainees but only farmers and other ASPS, it was reported only under Performance Target Outcomes.

Examples of educational events:

  • Soil health demonstration at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show, January 10-12, 2018.  Included the runoff/infiltration demonstration kit.  Organized by members of the Dairy and Mixed Vegetable Teams.
  • Soil health session at the Maine Dairy Seminar, March 20, 2018. Organized by Dairy Team members.
  • On-farm demonstration, twilight meeting, and case study on reducing field traffic by using a center pivot to spread milk room waste. March 23, 2018. Organized by Dairy Team members.
  • Soil Health Reading the Farm training (see Milestone 8).
  • Opportunities to Reduce Tillage in Potato Systems, part of the Rogers Farm Sustainable Ag Field Day, June 27, 2018. Organized by Potato-Grain Team.
  • Cover Cropping and Water Infiltration Demonstration at Maine Farm Days, August 22-23, 2018. Included the runoff/infiltration demonstration kit.  Organized by members of the Dairy and Mixed Vegetable Teams.

Educational resources developed are posted on the UMaine Extension Soil Health website, https://extension.umaine.edu/agriculture/soil-health/, (maintained by the Maine SARE Coordinator) and include :

  • “Planning for Your Cover Crop”, video
  • “No-till Corn and Cover Crops: Farmer Panel Discussion”, video
  • “Piper Farms Saves Big with a Center Pivot”, case study
  • “Cover Crop and No Till Management on Hewett Farm”, case study (will be posted once photo releases are received)
  • “Winter Rye Variety Trial 2017 Results”, research report on variety performance for cover cropping or grain.
Milestone #7 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Each Soil Health Team organizes and hosts one public field day/farm tour to highlight soil health strategies and on-farm demonstrations for their focus cropping system. All participants are encouraged to attend. (June to September 2018)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
36
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
15
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2018
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
August 23, 2018
Accomplishments:

Team members from Extension collaborated to include a soil health demonstration in the Extension booth at the 2018 Maine Agricultural Trades Show (January 10-12). This included runoff/infiltration and slaking demonstrations.

The Dairy Team hosted a farmer panel on no-till and soil health at the Maine Dairy Seminar (March 20) that was recorded and posted on the Soil Health website. They also hosted an on-farm demonstration/tour (April 23) on using a center pivot to spread milk room grey water instead of trucking to reduce field traffic and compaction, and produced a case study of the technique, also posted on the website.

The Mixed Vegetable Team, in collaboration with the Dairy Team, planned and implemented a soil health station at Maine Farm Days (August 22-23) featuring demonstrations on the effects of soil health on soil runoff/infiltration, slaking, and settling as well as information on cover cropping.

The Potato-Grain Team collaborated with a Central Maine farmer to host a twilight meeting (August 8) on strategies to improve soil health in potato systems that featured demonstration plots looking at the effects of delaying tillage from fall to spring on potato growth and yield.

(Note the number of ASPs above is the number who were active in hosting the events.)

Milestone #8 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

One of the three Soil Health Teams organizes and hosts an on-farm Soil Health S.W.O.T. analyses, with assistance from the SARE Coordinator and Outreach Coordinator. All participants are encouraged to attend. (June to September 2018)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
12
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
9
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2018
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
September 20, 2018
Accomplishments:

The Mixed Vegetable Team hosted our first Soil Health S.W.O.T. at Belanger Farms near Lewiston, Maine on August 7, 2018. Two weeks prior to the event, the 9 team members who participated received an overview of the farm, a summary of their practices related to soil management, crop rotation, cover cropping, and a list of their soil health goals and concerns, as well as soil test results from a set of representative fields. On the morning of the event, the farm owner gave us a tour of most of his fields and equipment, answered our questions, and asked many of his own.  The group then reconvened at the Extension office to go through a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats analysis focused on soil health but in the context of the farm’s other objectives. We highlighted several successful practices they are already implementing and generated a list of possible changes to address his soil health concerns. The report has been sent to the farmer. This winter the Mixed Veg Team leader will meet with the farmer to get his feedback, and a case study will be developed to post on the Soil Health website.

The participants decided to change the name of this learning activity from Soil Health S.W.O.T. to Soil Health Reading the Farm.

Milestone #9 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

The 36 Soil Health Teams members receive support from the SARE Coordinator and Outreach Coordinator for:
a) team meetings (reminders to schedule, help with setting goals and agendas for the meeting, filling out and submitting mileage reimbursement forms, and participation as needed),
b) design and implementation of demonstration projects (identifying demo objective and “treatments”, designing an unbiased and objective demo, deciding on measurements to make, funding for and assistance with ordering supplies and submitting samples for analysis, student worker help putting in the demo and taking measurements, statistical analysis of results if needed),
c) field days (signage, promotion, site preparation),
d) S.W.O.T. analysis (coordinating with host farm, communicating with program participants, developing and distributing training materials, submitting mileage reimbursement forms),
e) educational resource development (review and editing of preliminary outlines and drafts of fact sheet, slide sets, and hands-on learning activities), and
f) inter-team communication (emailing team members and setting up conference calls as needed). (Ongoing)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
36
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
35
Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2018
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
October 31, 2018
Accomplishments:

Soil Health Team members received the following support from Tom Molloy and Ellen Mallory in Year 1:

  • Assistance scheduling and participating in team meetings
  • Coordinating and making purchasing of cover crop seed and other supplies for on-farm demos
  • Submitting travel reimbursement forms
  • Advertising educational events
  • Coordinating lending of and providing training for use of infiltration / runoff demonstration kit
  • Assistance organizing and holding SH Reading the Farm training and follow-up
  • Assistance organizing SH session at the Maine Dairy Seminar
  • Assistance planting, sampling, and harvesting of on-farm demonstration of interseeding cover crops into NT silage corn
  • Planning and editing for case studies, on-farm demonstration reports, and videos
Milestone #10 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

36 program participants complete Year 1 follow-up survey to report on their educational activities with farmers, gauge their level of knowledge and confidence to make recommendations to farmers about soil health topics and suggest training topics for year 2 workshops. (October 2018)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
36
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
5
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
20
Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2018
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
December 5, 2018
Accomplishments:

As reported in the Learning Outcomes, we did not verify learning outcomes in this initial year. Instead we focused on getting a better understanding of farmers (or for ASPs, what they see as their clients’) main motivations for improving soil health, which practices they are most interested in, what are the major barriers, and what types of resources would be most helpful. We distributed a survey to the 75 people who attended the Maine Soil Health Workshop in December 2018. Twenty-five people responded. For motivations, almost all fell within four general categories: save money and time (28%), soil health and resiliency (24%), environmental concerns and sustainability (24%), and improve crop productivity (20%). Respondents were interested in a variety of practices including interseeding cover crops, no-till, terminating cover crops with rolling or tarping, and changing rotations. Money, time, equipment, and fear of the unknown were the major barriers mentioned. Resources the respondents thought would be most helpful were: more educational events and resources, access to equipment, financial incentives, side-by-side field comparisons, peer groups and on-farm demonstrations.

Milestone #11 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

The Soil Health PDP advisory board meets to discuss Year 1 outcomes and coordinate Year 2 workshops. (September to November 2018)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
5
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
4
Proposed Completion Date:
November 30, 2018
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
November 30, 2018
Accomplishments:

The State Coordinator and Outreach Coordinator spoke individually with each of the team leaders to discuss the outcomes of their Year 1 projects and plans for Year 2 projects. Team leaders also provided input into topics and speakers for the Year 2 Workshop.

Milestone #12 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

All 36 Soil Health PDP participants (core team members and associates) receive (via email) and read/view educational materials relevant to the topics that will be covered in the Year 2 workshop. (November 2018)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
36
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
35
Proposed Completion Date:
November 30, 2018
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
November 30, 2018
Accomplishments:

The State Coordinator forgot to send materials specific to the December workshop. However, participants did receive, via email, several soil health resources and opportunities ahead of the workshop including release of the Living Soil film and other resources at the Soil Health Institute website, and notification of a No-Till Intensive Training opportunity for ASPs (part of NE-SARE LNE18-361).

Milestone #13 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

All 36 Soil Health PDP participants attend at least one of two day-long workshops that will be held in northern and southern Maine. In Year 2, the workshops focus on sharing results from each Soil Health Team. Also covered are topics identified by team members in the end of Year 1 surveys. At the workshops, Soil Health Teams meet by team to further plan Year 2 demonstration projects. (December 2018)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
36
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
18
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2018
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
April 25, 2019
Accomplishments:

16 team members attended a day-long workshop on December 5, 2018 in Presque Isle (northern Maine) co-organized by the Potato-Grain team and the State Coordinator. The workshop was open to the public.  The agenda included topics identified in the survey (no-till, rotation crops, and interseeding cover crops; see Milestone #1) as well as others:

  • Soil health benefits and strategies (Ellen Mallory, UMaine Extension and Maine SARE Coordinator)
  • Experiences with no-till in Northern Maine and New Brunswick: Drill set up, crops, fertility, and opportunities for potato rotation crops (Perry Lilley, Lilley Farms, Smyrna, Maine, and Cedric MacLeod, MacLeod Agronomics and Local Valley Beef, Florenceville, New Brunswick, Canada)
  • Potential alternative crops for rotating with potatoes (Jake Dyer, Maine Potato Board and Potato-Grain team member)
  • On the ground changes as a result of interseeding cover crops in Southern Aroostook (Helena Swiatek, NRCS District Conservationist)
  • Results from on-farm and research station experiments using fly ash as a soil amendment. (Sukhwinder Bali, UMaine Extension and Potato-Grain team member)

In southern Maine, the Mixed Vegetable team decided to host two evening sessions specifically targeting farmers instead of hosting one day-long workshop for ag service providers and farmers. The two sessions were “Intro to Soils for Farmers and Gardeners” and “Building Healthy Soil for Your Farm” and were offered in Falmouth on April 2 and 9. Two team members attended.

Milestone #14 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

18 Core team members send on-farm demonstration summary reports and educational resources to State Coordinator who posts them on the Extension website. (December 2018 to February 2019)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
18
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
6
Proposed Completion Date:
February 28, 2019
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
September 30, 2019
Accomplishments:

In addition to the 5 educational resources listed in Milestone #6 of Year 1, the following new resources were sent to the State Coordinator and posted to the UMaine Extension Soil Health website (https://extension.umaine.edu/agriculture/soil-health/):

  • “Farmer Experiences with No-Till and Cover Cropping”, newsletter article
  • “Cover Cropping for Success”, fact sheet
Milestone #15 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

The 18 Soil Health Team Core members, including the SARE Coordinator or Outreach Coordinator, meet by team at least once in the spring to finalize Year 2 demonstration projects and educational resource preparation. The 18 Associate members are invited to participate as well. The SARE Coordinator and Outreach Coordinator provide assistance with demonstration design, data collection planning, and other technical or logistical details. (January to April 2019)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
18
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
16
Proposed Completion Date:
April 30, 2019
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
April 30, 2019
Accomplishments:

The Mixed Vegetable team met by conference call on March 18 and received assistance from the SARE Outreach Coordinator with planning a coordinated multi-site evaluation trial of cover crop species and mixes.  The Potato-Grain and Dairy teams did not meet as groups, but the Outreach Coordinator talked individually with the core team members of each group to help them plan activities for the field season.

Milestone #16 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

18 Core team members will each:
a) work with at least two farmers to implement a SH strategy on their farms, AND
b) implement an on-farm demonstration OR take the lead in developing one educational resource. (March to October 2019)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
18
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
19
Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2019
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
October 31, 2019
Accomplishments:

a. Fifteen team members reported working with at least two farmers this year to implement soil health strategies such as integrating cover crops into their rotation, implementing no-till systems, and postponing tillage from fall to spring.

b. Four members conducted a total of 3 on-farm demonstrations, 10 took the lead organizing and holding a total of 16 educational events, 6 gave a total 19 talks educational events organized by others, and was involved in writing a fact sheet.

Seven team members did both a. and b., whereas 19 did either a. or b.

When the target audience for an activity included project trainees as well as the public, it is reported under Project Educational Activities and under Performance Target Outcomes, as was the case for 4 educational events and 1 factsheet.  When the target audience for the activity did not include project trainees but only farmers and other ag service providers, it was reported only under Performance Target Outcomes.

Examples of educational events:

  • Rootbox demonstration at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show, January 15-17, 2019. Organized by members of the Dairy and Mixed Vegetable Teams from Extension.
  • A two part soil health workshop series for farmers held in Falmouth Maine: Intro to Soils for Farmers and Gardeners on April 2, 2019 and Building Healthy Soils for Your Farm on April 9, 2019. Organized by Mixed Vegetable Teams members.
  • Building Soil Health: No-Till Veg Field Tour on August 29, 2019 in Windham. Organized by Mixed Vegetable Teams members.
  • Soil Health and Cover Crop Demonstration Plots at Maine Farm Days on August 21-22 in Clinton. Organized by Dairy Team members.
  • Rainfall simulator demonstrations by NRCS at 4 events across the state from May to August. Organized by Dairy Team members.
  • Soil Health and Climate Change talk at Southern Aroostook Soil & Water Conservation District Winter Ag School on March 28 in Littleton. Organized by Potato-Grain Team members.

Educational resources developed are posted on the UMaine Extension Soil Health website, https://extension.umaine.edu/agriculture/soil-health/, (maintained by the Maine SARE Coordinator) and include the two new ones reported under Milestone 5.

Milestone #17 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Each Soil Health Team organizes and hosts one public field day/farm tour to highlight soil health strategies and on-farm demonstrations for their focus cropping system. All participants are encouraged to attend. (June to September 2019)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
12
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
9
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2019
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
September 5, 2019
Accomplishments:

Members from the Mixed Vegetable and Dairy teams planned and implemented a soil health station at Maine Farm Days (August 22-23) featuring plots with different cover crop species and a rootboxes with different crop and cover crops. The Mixed Vegetable team also hosted an on-farm demonstration and field day of cover crops and tarping.

Members of the Dairy Team co-hosted three workshops on September 3, 4, and 5 in Southern, Central and Western Maine at MOFGA certified organic dairy farms to demonstrate the principles of soil health, and how livestock management can influence soil quality and the environment. Co-hosts included Maine Grass Farmers Network, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), University of Maine Cooperative Extension and Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment. Members from this team also organized the rainfall simulator demonstrations at 4 events.

The Potato-Grain Team lost two members and had one member on sabbatical this year. They did not host any field days or farm tours but did organize the SWCD Winter Ag School session mentioned under Milestone 7 and a winter webinar on January 29 on using cover crops and organic no-till for soybean production.

 (Note the number of ASPs above is the number who were active in hosting the events.)

Milestone #18 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

The second of the three Soil Health Teams organizes and hosts an on-farm Soil Health S.W.O.T. analyses, with assistance from the SARE Coordinator and Outreach Coordinator. All participants are encouraged to attend. (June to September 2019)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
12
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
9
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2019
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
September 30, 2019
Accomplishments:

The project advisory team and state coordinators decided to forgo offering a Soil Health S.W.O.T. analysis in the second year of the project for a two reasons. The Dairy Team, who were to host this year’s event, were helping offer a regional series of No-Till Intensives for technical service providers as part of another SARE-funded project (LNE18-361). We encouraged our team members to attend and at least 9 members attended at least one of the events in the series. The Mixed Vegetable Team, who hosted last year’s S.W.O.T. event, felt they wanted to have more time to complete a follow-up with the farmer host, conduct soil analyses, and develop the report into a case study rather than participate in another event. These efforts are still under progress. The Potato-Grain will host a Soil Health S.W.O.T. in year 3.

Milestone #19 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

The 36 Soil Health Teams members receive support from the SARE Coordinator and Outreach Coordinator for:
• team meetings (reminders to schedule, help with setting goals and agendas for the meeting, filling out and submitting mileage reimbursement forms, and participation as needed),
• design and implementation of demonstration projects (identifying demo objective and “treatments”, designing an unbiased and objective demo, deciding on measurements to make, funding for and assistance with ordering supplies and submitting samples for analysis, student worker help putting in the demo and taking measurements, statistical analysis of results if needed),
• field days (signage, promotion, site preparation),
• S.W.O.T. analysis (coordinating with host farm, communicating with program participants, developing and distributing training materials, submitting mileage reimbursement forms),
• educational resource development (review and editing of preliminary outlines and drafts of fact sheet, slide sets, and hands-on learning activities), and
• inter-team communication (emailing team members and setting up conference calls as needed). (Ongoing)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
36
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
32
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2019
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
September 30, 2019
Accomplishments:

Soil Health Team members received the following support from Tom Molloy and Ellen Mallory in Year 2:

  • Providing power point slide sets for team members to use in their soil health presentations to farmers
  • One-on-one consultations and guidance for team members’ demonstrations and educational events for farmers
  • Coordinating lending of and providing training for infiltration/runoff demonstration kit and rootbox demonstration kit
  • Assistance scheduling and participating in team meetings
  • Workshop registration and submission of travel reimbursement forms
  • Advertising educational events
  • Assistance planning and planting a coordinated multi-site cover crop demonstration trial
Milestone #20 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

36 Program participants complete Year 2 follow-up survey to report on their educational activities with farmers, gauge their level of knowledge and confidence to make recommendations to farmers about soil health topics and suggest training topics for year 3 workshops.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
36
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
10
Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2019
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
December 31, 2019
Accomplishments:

The survey was emailed to 35 team members in December 2019 and 10 team members completed it.

Milestone #21 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

The Soil Health PDP advisory board meets to discuss Year 2 outcomes and coordinate Year 3 workshops. (September to November 2019)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
5
Proposed Completion Date:
November 30, 2019
Status:
Incomplete
Accomplishments:

This meeting never occurred. It was delayed until spring and then, given the COVID situation, the State Coordinator decided to forgo any further project training.

Milestone #22 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

All 36 Soil Health PDP participants (core team members and associates) receive (via email) and read/view educational materials relevant to the topics that will be covered in the Year 3 workshop. (November 2019)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
36
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
35
Proposed Completion Date:
November 30, 2019
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
January 9, 2020
Accomplishments:

Two soil health winter educational events were held in 2020. The first featured Wayne Honeycutt of the Soil Health Institute. Team members received an email inviting them to the workshop and encouraging them to familiarize themselves with the various resources available on the SHI website and to read those of interest. For the second workshop, all team members received an email invitation with links to background information on the speakers.

Milestone #23 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

All 36 Soil Health PDP participants attend at least one of two day-long workshops that will be held in northern and southern Maine. In Year 3, the workshops focus on sharing results from each Soil Health Team. Also covered are topics identified by team members in the end of Year 1 surveys. Soil Health Teams meet by team to further plan Year 2 demonstration projects. (December 2019)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
36
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
13
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2019
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
February 19, 2020
Accomplishments:

The two soil health winter educational events held in year 3 were developed, organized and delivered in partnership with other Maine organizations. On January 14, in collaboration with the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society (MESAS), we held an afternoon soil health workshop at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show in Augusta, Maine. Dr. Wayne Honeycutt, President and CEO of the Soil Health Institute, discussed the institute’s key priorities and strategies, as well as the results to date of their efforts to develop standard soil health measurements. The SARE Coordinator followed with a talk on how to get started with soil health in Maine, highlighting the work of the Maine Soil Health Teams and the resources individual team members and their respective organizations, agencies, institutions, and businesses can offer farmers. Thirty people attended, including 10 farmers and 10 agricultural service providers. Five MESH team members participated.

The second soil health winter workshop, “Healthy Soils, Healthy Farms,” was a day-long workshop held on February 19th in Presque Isle, Maine. It was a collaborative effort among Maine Farmland Trust, the Southern and Central Aroostook Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and the SARE Soil Health PDP program. The organizers from the SWCDs are MESH team members. Talks were focused on potato production systems, and topics included reducing tillage, cover cropping, crop rotation, and the economics of soil health. Speakers included two potato farmers, Brendon Rockey from Colorado and Matt Ramsay from Prince Edward Island, Canada, a panel of field crop farmers from across Maine, and University of Maine researchers. 75 people attended including 45 farmers and 25 agricultural service providers. Twelve MESH team members participated, 4 of who also attended the prior workshop.

Milestone #24 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

18 Core team members send on-farm demonstration summary reports and educational resources to State Coordinator who posts them on the Extension website. (December 2019 to February 2020)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
18
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
1
Proposed Completion Date:
February 29, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
January 4, 2020
Accomplishments:

The SARE Coordinator posted the Hewett Farm case study completed by one of the dairy team members.

Milestone #25 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

The 18 Soil Health Team Core members, including the SARE Coordinator or Outreach Coordinator, meet by team at least once in the spring to finalize Year 3 demonstration projects and educational resource preparation. The 18 Associate members are invited to participate as well. The SARE Coordinator and Outreach Coordinator provide assistance with demonstration design, data collection planning, and other technical or logistical details. (January to April 2020)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
18
Proposed Completion Date:
April 30, 2020
Status:
Incomplete
Accomplishments:

These meetings never occurred, nor did any of the demonstrations and education events planned for the remainder of this project. The coronavirus crisis and ensuing COVID-19 restrictions made it impossible to hold in-person events. As well, there was little interest in participating in virtual events or other aspects of this project given the enormous needs in the agricultural community that arose from the coronavirus crisis.

Given this situation, and the fact that this project was unlikely to get closer to its performance target in terms of the number of agricultural service providers trained (and had well exceeded its performance target for farmers reached), the Maine State PDP and Outreach Coordinators decided to forgo any further programming related to this project aside from conducting a final end-of-project survey.

Milestone #26 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

18 Core team members will each:
a) work with at least two farmers to implement a SH strategy on their farms, AND
b) implement an on-farm demonstration OR take the lead in developing one educational resource. (March to October 2020)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
18
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
6
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
September 30, 2020
Accomplishments:

Seven team members responded to the end-of-project survey. Of these, five said they had worked with at least two farmers this year to help them implement a soil health practice, one said they had also done an on-farm demonstration, and one said they had led an educational event.

Milestone #27 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Each Soil Health Team organizes and hosts one public field day/farm tour to highlight soil health strategies and on-farm demonstrations for their focus cropping system. All participants are encouraged to attend. (June to September 2020)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
18
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2020
Status:
Incomplete
Accomplishments:

See explanation under Milestone 25.

Milestone #28 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

The third of the three Soil Health Teams organizes and hosts an on-farm Soil Health S.W.O.T. analyses, with assistance from the SARE Coordinator and Outreach Coordinator. All participants are encouraged to attend. (June to September 2020)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
18
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2020
Status:
Incomplete
Accomplishments:

See explanation under Milestone 25.

Milestone #29 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

The 36 Soil Health Teams members receive support from the SARE Coordinator and Outreach Coordinator for:
• team meetings (reminders to schedule, help with setting goals and agendas for the meeting, filling out and submitting mileage reimbursement forms, and participation as needed),
• design and implementation of demonstration projects (identifying demo objective and “treatments”, designing an unbiased and objective demo, deciding on measurements to make, funding for and assistance with ordering supplies and submitting samples for analysis, student worker help putting in the demo and taking measurements, statistical analysis of results if needed),
• field days (signage, promotion, site preparation),
• S.W.O.T. analysis (coordinating with host farm, communicating with program participants, developing and distributing training materials, submitting mileage reimbursement forms),
• educational resource development (review and editing of preliminary outlines and drafts of fact sheet, slide sets, and hands-on learning activities), and
• inter-team communication (emailing team members and setting up conference calls as needed). (Ongoing)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
36
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
14
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
September 30, 2020
Accomplishments:

Soil Health Team members received the following support from Tom Molloy and Ellen Mallory in Year 3:

  • One-on-one consultations and guidance for two team members’ planned demonstrations (only one was implemented due to COVID-19 restrictions)
  • Workshop registration and submission of travel reimbursement forms
  • Facilitating participation in development and review of the Northeast Cover Crops Council cover crop selector tool
Milestone #30 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

The State Coordinator and Outreach Coordinator work with the 3 Soil Health Team leaders to finalize all educational resources. The State Coordinator posts these to the Extension project website. (October 2020)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
3
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
3
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
November 12, 2020
Accomplishments:

The State PDP Coordinator asked the soil health team leaders, and all soil health team members, for any additional products and resources to be posted to the website.

Milestone #31 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

The 36 program participants complete Final survey. (October 2020)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
36
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
7
Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
November 12, 2020

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities and events conducted by the project team:

ActivityYear 1Year 2Year 3Total
Consultations 12 8 2 22
Curricula, factsheets or educational tools 1 0 0 1
On-farm demonstrations 2 0 0 2
Study circle / focus groups 3 1 0 4
Webinars, talks and presentations 0 1 0 1
Workshop / field days 5 1 2 8

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

AudienceYear 1Year 2Year 3Total Individuals
Extension 15 13 6 15
NRCS 2 1 3 3
Nonprofit 4 4 1 4
Agency 2 3 3 3
Service providers (other or unspecified) 30 46 25 60
Farmers / ranchers 40 91 55 166
Others 17 10 15 42

Participation Summary

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

Learning Outcomes

12 Agricultural service providers reported changes in knowledge, skills and/or attitudes as a result of their participation.
12 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::

We did not verify learning outcomes in the initial year of the project. Instead we focused our survey on getting a better understanding of farmers (or for ASPs, what they see as their clients') main motivations for improving soil health, which practices they are most interested in, what are the major barriers, and what types of resources would be most helpful. We distributed a survey to the 75 people who attended the Maine Soil Health Workshop in December 2018. Twenty-five people responded. For motivations, almost all fell within four general categories: save money and time (28%), soil health and resiliency (24%), environmental concerns and sustainability (24%), and improve crop productivity (20%). Respondents were interested in a variety of practices including interseeding cover crops, no-till, terminating cover crops with rolling or tarping, and changing rotations. Money, time, equipment, and fear of the unknown were the major barriers mentioned. Resources the respondents thought would be most helpful were: more educational events and resources, access to equipment, financial incentives, side-by-side field comparisons, peer groups and on-farm demonstrations.

At the end of the second year, we distributed an online survey to 35 Soil Health Team members and 10 responded. All said they had increased their knowledge and confidence in providing information and recommendations to farmers about these soil health topics: crop rotations strategies to increase soil health, cover crop species traits and uses, cover crop implementation strategies and details, reduced tillage strategies including no-till, economics of soil health strategies, and local examples of soil health strategies. As well, all but one said they had increased their knowledge and confidence making recommendations about equipment to implement soil health strategies. Project activities they are interested in for our final year of the project were: soil health s.w.o.t. analysis in Aroostook Co (80%), receiving financial and technical assistance to conduct on-farm demonstrations (50%), cover crop seed for on-farm demonstrations (80%), help hosting a soil health field day or farm tour (50%), help developing a soil health fact sheet or video (50%), travel reimbursement to attend a soil health event (70%).

At the end of the third year, we distributed an online end-of-project survey to 35 team members and 7 responded, 5 of who indicated they had completed the end-of-second-year survey as well. All said they had increased their knowledge and confidence in providing information and recommendations to farmers about these soil health topics: crop rotations strategies to increase soil health, cover crop species traits and uses, reduced tillage strategies including no-till, equipment to implement soil health strategies, economics of soil health strategies, and local examples of cover cropping, reduced tillage, and rotations to improve soil health. As well, all but one said they had increased their knowledge and confidence making recommendations about cover crop opportunities and implementation strategies and details. Respondents in both of the surveys (end of second year and end of project) reported having learned the most about crop rotation strategies, cover crop species traits and uses, cover crop opportunities and implementation strategies, reduced tillage strategies, and local examples of soil health strategies.

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 5 1 7 13
Consultations 72 51 123
On-farm demonstrations 3 3 2 8
Webinars, talks and presentations 19 7 26
Workshops and field days 7 16 2 25
In the end-of-second-year survey, soil health team members reported having formed 9 new working collaborations as a result of this project, started 2 new projects, and submitted and received one new grant that build upon this project. In the end-of-project survey, team members reported an additional 5 new working collaborations, 2 new projects, and 4 new grants submitted. In addition, as a result of this project, 3 team members are participating in the regional effort to develop the cover crop specific information for the Northeast Cover Crops Council (NECCC) cover crop decision tool. 12 12 24
29 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
1238 Farmers reached through participant's programs
Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

The above information is based on two surveys (see below) that I administered in December 2019 and November 2020 as well as personal communication with trainees. Ten trainees responded to the 2019 survey and seven responded in 2020, 5 of who indicated they had completed the 2019 survey. All reported numbers are from those surveys except, in years 1 and 2, I collected information about the fact sheets/videos, on-farm demonstrations, and workshops that trainees conducted through team meetings and individual conversations with soil health team members and recorded it in an Excel spreadsheet as it was obtained. To calculate the total number of farmers who were educated/advised by the trainees in the first two years of the project, I used results from the 2019 survey. I summed the number of farmers who trainees reported having reached since October 2017 through helping them adopt a new SH practice on their farm (72), other types of one-on-one consultations (125), and educational events (on-farm demos (165), workshops and field days (116), talks/presentations/webinars (520)), for a total of 998 for years 1 and 2. For the third year, I used the results from the seven trainees who responded to the 2020 survey, who reported: helping farmers adopt a new SH practice on their farm (67), other types of one-on-one consultations (19), and educational events (on-farm demos (20) and talks/presentations/webinars (134)), for a total of 240. Note, the number I reported as “consultations” above refer to the in-depth assistance trainees provided to farmers to help them adopt a new SH practice. I did not include the number of farmers they reported for “other types of consultations”.

These results are grouped over all trainees. I did not classify results based on “core” vs. “associate” members because I have found that there is more of a continuum of levels of participation among the trainees, and for an individual that can change from year to year.

December 2019 Survey

The Maine Soil Health (MESH) Professional Development Project for agricultural service providers was started in 2015 to increase our knowledge, skills and confidence in providing education and recommendations to farmers about strategies to improve and protect soil health. The project will end in September 2020. The goal of this survey is to capture what we’ve accomplished since the last survey (Oct 2017) – what we’ve learned, how we’ve put that learning to use in our work with farmers, and what changes farmers have made as a result – and to find out what we want to do for the final 9 months.

Your learning since October 2017.  As a reminder, MESH project activities included:
– Maine Soil Health Workshop, December 2017 in Waterville
– Maine Soil Health Workshop, December 2018 in Presque Isle (part of Soil and Agronomy Workshop)
– Field days and farm tours
– Soil Health Reading the Farm, Belanger Farm, August 2018
– On-farm projects and demonstrations
– Sharing of soil health info and resources
– MESH team meetings
  • To what extent have you increased your knowledge and skills about these soil health topics, as a result of your participation in the MESH project since October 2017?
  • To what extent have you increased your confidence in providing information and recommendations to farmers about these soil health topics, as a result of your participation in the MESH project since October 2017?

Your activities since Oct 2017

  • For each question, please give the number of these activities you did since October 2017. Also estimate the number of farmers and number ag service providers (ASPs) reached, where applicable.(If you collaborated on an activity with another MESH team member, please list only those activities for which you took the lead to avoid double counting).

Your impacts since Oct 2017

  • Since October 2017, how many of the farmers you work with have made management changes or adopted a practice as a result of what they learned from you or from the MESH project activities.
    • Tested their soil for soil health for the first time?
    • Adopted a new cover crop practice/species or modified their current practice/species?
    • Adopted a new reduced tillage practice or modified their current reduced tillage practice?
  • Any other changes or impacts since October 2017? If so, please describe and give an estimate of number of farmers and acres affected.

Success Stories and Suggestions

  • Do you have any success stories related to our SARE Soil Health project that you would like to share?
  • What final project activities are you interested in for 2020?
    • Soil Health Reading the Farm
    • Receiving financial and technical assistance with on-farm demonstrations
    • Cover crop seed for on-farm demonstrations
    • Help hosting a soil health field day or farm tour
    • Help developing a soil health fact sheet or video
    • Travel reimbursement to attend soil health event

November 2020 Survey

I used the same survey instrument as in 2019 with these changes:

  • The two 2020 soil health workshops were added to the list of MESH project activities.
  • Respondents were asked if they had filled out the 2019 survey. If they replied yes, they were instructed to report only new activities from 2020. If they replied no, they were instructed to report everything since October 2017.
  • The question about preferences for final project activities was removed.

Performance Target Outcomes - Farmers

Target #1

Target: number of farmers who will make a change/adopt of practice:
108
Target: the change or adoption the farmers will make:
108 farmers will adopt one or more SH practices or modify a current SH practice, including: · Testing for soil health · Cover cropping · Reduced tillage – frequency or intensity · Delay tillage to spring · Soil-improving rotations
141 Farmers made a change/adopted a practice as a result of this project
Size/scale of farms affected by this project:
63,855
Performance target outcome for farmers narrative:

The figures above are from the 2019 and 2020 surveys administered in December 2019 and November 2020. See the narrative for the performance target outcome for service providers for the survey questions. Note that the total acres reported is the sum of acreage team members reported for all three of the above changes made by farmers. There is likely overlap for some of the practices (ex. no-till and cover cropping). The results by change in practice were:

  • Tested their soil for soil health (7 team members reported a total of 26 farmers had done this, affecting 1,389 acres)
  • Adopted a new cover crop practice/species or modified their current practice/species (12 team members reported a total of 70 farmers had done this, affecting 30,541 acres)
  • Adopted a new reduced tillage practice or modified their current practice (11 team members reported a total of 40 farmers had done this, affecting 27,925 acres)
  • Other changes (1 team member reported 5 farmers had done this, affecting 4,000 acres)

Additional Project Outcomes

Number of grants applied for that built upon this project:
Year 1Year 2Year 3Total
0 1 4 5
Number of grants received that built upon this project:
Year 1Year 2Year 3Total
0 1 1 2
Number of new working collaborations:
Year 1Year 2Year 3Total
0 9 5 14
Success stories:

The following quotes are from Soil Health Team members who filled out the December 2019 and November 2020 evaluation surveys:

“As a result of this project I have been part of the development of the Northeast Cover Crop Council, and have attended the annual meetings. This has greatly increased my knowledge of cover cropping and soil health practices, as well as increased my network of experts in this field. I have since been able to bring the most recent soil health practices back to my colleagues and the farmers I work with, and have adopted those regional ideas to work here in Maine. After our Reading the Farm program (Soil Health S.W.O.T.) at Belanger’s Farm, I have cultivated a relationship with the farm owner and managers and we have identified several plans of action to work towards improving their water and nutrient holding capacity on their >400 acres of very sandy soils. Funds from this project have allowed us to take soil health tests to develop a benchmark from which to quantify improvements in the future.”

“Our District highlighted soil health improvements at our District Annual Meeting in 2019. We featured Tim Hewett (same farmer of the soil health profile) as our Ag producer of the year and highlighted all of the soil health changes and practices that he has been implementing. This event was attended by +60 people, including many farmers, who not only heard the highlights but were able to look at some of Tim’s cover cropping and no-till corn via PowerPoint slideshow. So not only has Tim himself been a success story. His experiments and management changes are well known in the area and have encouraged other farmers to try some cover cropping and/or no-till. … So glad that I was able to be a part of your project. I think you did a fantastic job and I learned so much. It has been so helpful for me as I talk with farmers – most notably when I am working with them on nutrient management, but even if I am working with them on grassland bird habitat, there is usually a relevant time to bring some of the soil health principles into the discussion.”

SARE Outreach

Outreach about SARE:

The Maine SARE Outreach program strives to increase awareness and understanding of SARE grant programs and informational resources by 1) giving short informational talks and staffing poster display tables at grower meetings and field days, and 2) providing one-on-one information to prospective grant applicants. The Maine SARE Outreach Coordinator and State Coordinator provided information about SARE resources and grant opportunities at 8 meetings/trade shows for an estimated total of 670 farmers and 138 agriculture professionals contacts in year 1, at 7 meetings/trade shows for an estimated total of 536 farmers and 175 agriculture professionals contacts in year 2, and at 7 meetings/trade shows for an estimated total of 332 farmers and 149 agriculture professionals contacts in year 3 (see table below; numbers in parentheses are in-depth consultations that occurred at the state agricultural trades show). The Maine SARE Outreach Coordinator provided in-depth assistance via email or phone to an additional 15 farmers and 6 agricultural professionals in year 1, to 10 farmers and 4 agricultural professionals in year 2, and to 3 farmers and 1 agricultural service providers in year 3. One unexpected outreach outcome was that, based on an outreach conversation at the Maine Ag Trades Show with a staff member from Maine Farmland Trust, the Outreach Coordinator encouraged them to connect with Maine SCORE and submit a Professional Development proposal, which they did.

2018 SARE Outreach Activities

Location

Date

Farmer contacts

ASP contacts

MOFGA Farmer-to-Farmer Conference

Northport

Nov. 5, 2017

36

4

UMaine Extension Aggies Team Meeting

Bangor

Nov. 17, 2017

0

33

Soil Health Workshop

Waterville

Dec. 5, 2017

14

54

State of Maine Agriculture Trade Show

Augusta

Jan. 9- 11, 2018

250 (4)

20 (1)

Maine Potato Conference

Caribou

January 17, 2018

120

17

Maine Annual Grazing Conference

Hinckley

March 16, 2018

65

3

Maine Dairy Seminar

Waterville

March 20, 2018

150

6

Maine Sustainable Agriculture Field Day

Old Town

June 27,2018

35

1

TOTALS

 

 

670

138

2019 SARE Outreach Activities

 

 

 

 

UMaine Extension Aggies Team Meeting

Bangor

Nov 26, 2018

0

25

Maine Soil and Agronomy Workshop

Presque Isle

Dec 5, 2018

85

17

Ag. Trade Show

Augusta

January 15-17, 2019

250 (8)

20 (3)

Maine Grain Conference

Presque Isle

March 1, 2019

56

33

Maine Dairy Meeting

Waterville

March 19,2019

50

30

Maine Vegetable School

Bangor

March 26, 2019

45

10

UMaine Mechanical Weed Control Expo

Orono

September 12, 2019

50

40

TOTALS

 

 

536

175

2020 Reporting Year

 

 

 

 

UMaine Extension Aggies Team Meeting

Bangor

Nov 20, 2019

0

27

Ag. Trade Show

Augusta

January 14-16, 2020

250 (6)

20 (4)

MESAS Ag Trades Show Program on Soil Health

Augusta

January 14, 2020

15

15

Climate Change talk at Ag Trades Show

Augusta

January 15, 2020

6

20

Healthy Soils, Healthy Farms workshop

Presque Isle

February 19, 2020

36

35

Maine Grain Conference

Orono

March 13, 2020

21

20

Corn Silage Meeting

Clinton

September 9

4

12

TOTALS

 

 

332

149

 

Recieved information about SARE grant programs and information resouces:

Audience Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Total
Service providers 144 179 150 473
Farmers 685 546 335 1566
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.