Building Soil Health in Maryland Through Agricultural Service Provider Education

Final report for NEUMD14-001

Project Type: PDP State Program
Funds awarded in 2014: $44,444.00
Funds awarded in 2015: $44,444.00
Funds awarded in 2016: $45,555.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2017
Grant Recipient: University of Maryland
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
State Coordinator:
Nevin Dawson
University of Maryland Extension
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Project Information

Summary:

While the importance of soil for crop production has long been known, the soil health movement looks beyond the basic physical and chemical properties of soil to promote a holistic approach that includes biological components and additional physical and chemical factors. Good soil health building practices can increase yields and profitability while also providing water quality benefits. A wide-reaching needs assessment showed that educational programming in soil health is needed for both agricultural service providers (ASPs) and farmers in Maryland. 

This project offered soil health education through a variety of avenues with a target audience of ASPs, although farmers were also welcome to participate in most activities. The 49 educational activities included webinars, presentations, on-farm demonstrations, workshops, field days, facilitated discussions, videos, conference exhibits, and individual consultations, reaching approximately 120 individual ASPs through 255 contacts and 165 individual farmers through 331 contacts. Throughout the three-year span of the project, it became obvious that a movement was afoot, as partner agencies and organizations also began offering similar programming, creating many opportunities for collaboration and leading to lasting partnerships with agencies like NRCS and non-profits like Future Harvest CASA. 

The Northeast SARE Cover Crop Initiative was one large-scale project along these lines. This initiative offered cover crop training and non-competitive grant funds to teams from each state in the region. This state coordinator volunteered to serve as project leader for the Maryland team, which led to the Northeast SARE project, "Changing the mindset of Maryland cover crop farmers through delayed spring burn-down" (ONE16-282c). This project focused on the practice of "planting green," which has many soil health benefits. The activities of these two projects are therefore somewhat intertwined, but every attempt is made to describe this relationship in both project reports while avoiding any double reporting. 

Annual year-end surveys were sent to project participants to verify any actions influenced by this project. 72 ASPs reported using knowledge from this project in their educational activities or services, reaching 2780 farmers representing 1,166,608 acres. These respondents also created 16 educational tools and 6 articles, and conducted 70 consultations and 86 educational activities. A summary poster can be found here: MD NESARE 2017 Final Report Poster

The momentum and interest in soil health continues to grow after the close date of this project. This state coordinator conducted a brief needs assessment in 2017 and confirmed the ongoing need for soil health education, justifying the continuation of this project through another 3-year state project by the same name (NEUMD17-001).

Performance Target:

30 Ag Service Providers will incorporate soil health concepts into their current programming and advising reaching 500 producers farming 37,500 acres, and of those, 10 will develop and offer in-depth programming in soil health concepts to their clientele, including workshops, webinars, presentations, and/or individual consultations for 150 producers farming 11,250 acres.

Introduction:

While the importance of soil for crop production has long been known, there is a new movement to look beyond the basic physical and chemical properties of soil and use a holistic approach that includes biological components and additional physical and chemical factors. Good soil health building practices can increase yields and profitability while also providing water quality benefits. NRCS initiated a national campaign to address this issue, which this project will build upon. There is a special need for a program in Maryland that redefines good soil health practices in the context of Maryland’s cover crop incentive program and strict state and county water quality regulations.

The University of Maryland Extension Agriculture Profitability and Sustainability Impact Team identified related goals in its 2014 team extension plan, including nutrient management, water conservation, profitability enhancement, and improving cultural techniques for crop and livestock production which will increase efficiency and quality.

An online survey was conducted of 520 UMD and UMES campus-based ag faculty, UMD Extension ag educators, MD farm association representatives, farm loan providers, food policy directors, MD Dept. of Ag representatives, NRCS and soil conservation district staff, river conservancy farm liaisons, and various other non-profits and Ag Service Providers. Of the 115 responses, soil health received the top ranking when respondents were asked to rank their three top choices for expanded professional development opportunities in sustainable ag production topics.

Field days, demo workshops, and one-day meetings were the highest rated methods for learning new information, and therefore will serve as the base for this project’s outreach efforts. UME fact sheets and bulletins were also in the top five learning methods, and so will also play a role in this program.

Advisors/Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Christy Brown
  • Ray Weil
  • Lindsay Thompson
  • Hans Schmidt
  • Darren Jarboe
  • Rob Schnabel
  • Patricia Engler

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

This project will offer comprehensive education to agricultural service providers (ASPs) in soil health to enable them to help farmers understand the value of healthy soil and adopt the best production practices for increasing the health of farm soil.

Field days, demo workshops, and one-day meetings were the highest rated methods for learning new information in a 2014 needs assessment, and therefore served as the base for this project’s outreach efforts. Many opportunities for collaboration with partner organizations also arose throughout the project. This often took the form of building soil health content into existing educational events, sometimes as separate sessions designed explicitly for ASPs.

ASP participants were asked each year to report their education and outreach activities related to soil health through an online survey.

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, 2015
Accomplishments:

YEAR 1 (October 1, 2014 – September 30, 2015)

Milestones with Broadly Recruited Ag. Service Providers

  1. 300 unique visitors will view new soil health web pages within the UMD Extension website populated with a project description, existing soil health publications, and new project publications as they are developed, as tracked by traffic analysis program (Oct. 2014 – Sep. 2015)

Complete. Website created with a description of the Building Soil Health (BSH) project, information on upcoming soil health events, handouts and video recordings from past events, a form for signing up for the email distribution list, and a page with links to vetted external resources.

 

  1. 375 ag. service providers and any additional program participants will be invited to join a new Google Group as a forum for discussion, questions, and announcements related to Maryland soil health. (Oct. 2014)

Complete. A Google Group was created and program participants were invited to join as well as a list of several hundred additional ag. service providers. Approximately 80 joined the list, which was used by myself and other members to share upcoming internal and external soil health events. General discussion was encouraged, although momentum has been slow to build. The deletion of the UMD Google account with admin privileges for the group has closed the group (hopefully temporarily). I hope to reestablish this account and access to the group.

 

  1. 375 agricultural service providers receive advertisements for the introductory webinar, which will feature an overview of the three year project, a description of the opportunity to participate at a higher level by applying to join the “core group,” and basic soil health concepts; will be taught by project coordinator and one or more soil health experts from advisory committee. (Oct. 2014)

Complete. Invitations to an introductory webinar were sent to more than 400 ASPs as well as members of additional mailing lists, like the Certified Crop Advisors.

 

  1. 50 ag. service providers register for the webinar and take live online polls—one poll pre-webinar to assess baseline level of knowledge and confidence in soil health concepts, and another poll post-webinar to measure knowledge gained, intent to include soil health concepts in future programs, and interest in attending future in-depth education programs. (Nov. 2014)

Complete. 60 people (23% NRCS, 23% UMD Extension, 11% Soil Conservation District, 9% UMD (non-Extension), 12% CCA/private consultant, 6% non-profit, 6% MD Dept. of Ag, 3% farmer/producer, 3% other) participated in the introductory webinar on 1/28/15 titled, “Building Soil Health: Why it Matters.” David Lamm (National Soil Health and Sustainability Team Leader, Natural Resources Conservation Service) was the featured speaker, who covered the many benefits of building soil health. I presented an overview of the Building Soil Health project and plans for future project activities. 

According to before and after polls, average participant knowledge in selected topics increased as follows: 8% in cover crops, 7% in soil microbes, and 7% in no-till/conservation till. In the 6 months following the event, participants were 9% more likely to provide soil health information to clients through referrals to publications or websites, and 5% more likely to coordinate or teach an event where soil health is the primary topic. Participants also reported on average a 12% increase in their confidence in their ability to evaluate a field’s soil health.

 

  1. 15 farmers and 5 ag. service providers will attend a soil health session at the January CASA/Future Harvest conference to learn basic concepts of soil health with a focus on no till/reduced till practices taught by one or more soil health experts from advisory committee. (Jan. 2015)

Complete. 40 people attended a session that I presented on soil health and cover crops at the Future Harvest CASA conference on 1/20/15. It was not possible to distinguish farmers from ASPs or to conduct surveys due to the nature of the conference, so for the purposes of reporting I will assume they were all farmers.

 

  1. 50 ag. service providers (including 30 members of core group) will attend a morning workshop on no-till/reduced-till practices taught by one or more soil health experts from advisory committee (followed by afternoon planning session below). (Jan. 2015)

Complete. 25 participants (27% NRCS, 20% farmer/producer/grower, 13% private consultant, 13% Soil Conservation District, 7% UMD (not Extension), 7% non-profit, 7% MD Dept. of Ag, and 7% other) attended a workshop in Apr. 2015 covering a brief overview of soil health principles by myself, an in-depth presentation on farming practices that can build soil health by Gordon Johnson (University of Delaware), a visit to the host facility’s cover crop overseeding in soybeans, and a session on adult learning principles and techniques by Janet McAllister (Northeast SARE).

According to before and after polls, average participant knowledge in selected topics increased as follows: 16% in soil health measurement and evaluation, 14% in compaction mitigation, 8% in no-till/conservation till, and 8% in increasing organic matter. In the 6 months following the event, participants were 6% more likely to coordinate or teach an event where soil health is the primary topic. Participants also reported on average a 16% increase in their confidence in their ability to evaluate a field’s soil health.

The workshop was followed by a discussion session (see Core Group, milestone 3, below).

 

  1. 200 unique visitors will view a new fact sheet (2-4 pages) summary of soil health practices adapted for Maryland, written by the project director and members of the advisory committee, published on the UMD Extension website, and advertised through the ag. service provider email list, county ag. newsletters, and other appropriate distribution channels. (Nov. 2014 – Apr. 2015)

Not Completed. This planned fact sheet specific to Maryland was intended to address the best soil health building practices within the framework of the MD Cover Crop Incentive Program, which at the time of project development, did not allow for the use of any legume crops (i.e., farmers could not plant legume cover crops and also receive incentive payments). Legume cover crops are now allowed by the incentive program, and further big changes to the program are under discussion. Pre-existing soil health publications made available by partners (e.g., Cornell and NRCS) are therefore sufficient, although the need for publications specific to Maryland will continue to be evaluated as the incentive program continues to evolve.

 

  1. 100 unique visitors will view a new bulletin (12-14 pages) with details of soil health practices adapted for Maryland, written by the project coordinator and members of the advisory committee, and published on the UMD Extension website, and advertised through the ag. service provider email list, county ag. newsletters, and other appropriate distribution channels. (Jan. 2014 – Jun. 2015)

Not Completed. See note above for Milestone 7.

 

  1. 50 ag. service providers will attend one of four field days taught by the project coordinator and members of the advisory committee and offered in each of the four Maryland regions; participants will gain knowledge and confidence in no till/reduced till practices and soil health evaluation as a part of soil health improvement through witnessing successful adoption of the practice (May – Jul. 2015)

Complete. 75 participants attended one of four events offered throughout Maryland:

BSH workshop and farm tour at Ernst Farm (Western MD, large, mixed use, 16 participants) and at Sassafras Creek Farm (Southern MD, small, vegetable, 18 participants). The total of 34 participants had the following affiliations: 25% Soil Conservation, 22% NRCS, 12% commercial, 9% UMD Extension, 9% farmer, 6% UMD (no Extension), 3% non-profit, 3% MD Dept. of Ag., and 3% other. According to before and after polls (responses were online and mixed into one batch), average participant knowledge in selected topics increased as follows: 12% in soil health measurement and evaluation, 6% in compaction mitigation, and 6% in sediment and erosion control. In the 6 months following the event, participants were 15% more likely to coordinate or teach an event where soil health is the primary topic. Participants also reported on average a 7% increase in their confidence in their ability to evaluate a field’s soil health.

“Crop Showcase” with a soil health focus coordinated by The Mill crop advisor team and hosted by Clear Meadow Farm (Central MD, large, grain).  I was in the process of organizing my own workshop and discovered that this large event was already scheduled nearby within a few weeks of my proposed dates. I arranged with the event coordinator for a special discussion session for ASPs after the main event and sent announcements to my lists. Eight ASPs (3 NRCS, 2 ARS, 2 private consultant, 1 UMD Extension) attended as a result. Logistical issues on the day of the event prevented a formal meeting as planned, but valuable informal discussions still took place (including one in depth conversation on adult learning principles) in addition to the cover crop demonstrations and soil health talks already on the agenda.

2015 UMD Eastern Shore Small Farm Conference Soil Health Workshop. Note: this workshop took place on November 6, 2015, after the project year end date, but was considered to fill the need for a Lower Shore workshop during the 2015 project year; numbers are not included in milestone summary below.  The annual UMES Small Farm Conference included soil health as one of its several pre-conference workshop topics this year, taught by myself and Jarrod Miller (Univ. of MD Extension Ag Educator). 35 participants (30 farmers, 5 ASPs) learned how to interpret standard soil test and soil health test results, the basic principles of soil health, and witnessed several principles and practices in the field. Conference organizers administered the standard conference evaluation form instead of the BSH project evaluation survey. Results are forthcoming from conference organizers.

 

  1. 25 UMD Extension ag. educators will attend a one hour soil health session at the Maryland Association of County Ag. Agents conference to learn the importance of soil health testing and techniques for soil health evaluation taught by one or more soil health experts from advisory committee (Jul. 2015)

In Progress. I had a long-standing schedule conflict with this conference and could not attend. Travel budget restrictions for UMD Extension agents also led to very light attendance. I plan to include this session in the 2016 conference agenda.

 

Milestones with Core Group of Ag. Service Providers

  1. 375 ag. service providers will be invited to apply for membership in the “core group”; membership will provide access to limited funding, program support, and demonstration plots, and will require a commitment to attending workshops and incorporating soil health into their own programs. (Nov. 2014)

In Progress. I have not yet created an application process for a core group, as I have struggled to develop a set of tangible benefits to offer potential members. However, a small group of ASPs enthusiastic about soil health has naturally emerged and regularly attends project events.

 

  1. 30 ag. service providers who applied for membership in the “core group” will be selected to join. (Dec. 2014)

In Progress. See note above for milestone 1.

 

  1. 30 members of core group will meet in an afternoon session (following educational morning session above) to develop and implement plan for four demonstration sites across Maryland. (Jan. – Sep. 2015)

 

Complete. The workshop described above (Ag. Service Providers, Milestone 6) was followed by a discussion session (12 ASP participants) on promoting adoption of best practices for building soil health in Maryland, which generated ideas and strategies to move the BSH project and soil health in general forward. This was considered to be the first meeting of the Maryland Soil Action Group. Examples of discussion points include:

  1. establish demonstration farms, one of which should be organic;
  2. work with fertilizer sales reps to find a soil health angle in their work;
  3. train NRCS staff on how to ask farmers about their soil health goals and interpret soil health test results;
  4. develop a list of cheap and easy measurement tools to try on farm; and
  5. develop a comparison of Haney and Cornell soil health tests.

 

  1. 10 enthusiastic and highly involved Maryland program participants will be identified and invited to attend Northeast SARE cover crops conference, all expenses paid by NE SARE, and to participate in conference development to ensure that program is relevant to Maryland needs (Sep. 2015)

Complete. Team size is now limited to six by NE SARE. MD NRCS has identified one representative from the state office (Christy Brown, state agronomist) and will also identify one additional representative, probably from a field office. The team will also include myself as leader, and a mix of farmers and MD Dept. of Ag. Representatives, to be identified shortly

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:

YEAR 2 (October 1, 2015 – September 30, 2016)

Activities are divided below by two target groups: the larger population of ag. service providers, and the smaller core group that were identified in Year 1.

Educational opportunities for Year 2 will include a regional cover crops conference, four field-based farmer workshops, a session at the Future Harvest/CASA conference, and a follow-up meeting to the conference. The focus will gradually shift from no till/conservation till practices to cover crops and their links to reduced pest pressure, pesticide inputs, nutrient loss, soil compaction, and soil erosion; and increased soil moisture and crop yields. A new fact sheet on tillage practices will also be developed.

 Milestones with Broadly Recruited Ag. Service Providers

  1. 15 farmers and 10 ag. service providers will attend a soil health session at the January CASA/Future Harvest conference to learn basic concepts of soil health with a focus on soil pathogens taught by one or more soil health experts from advisory committee. (Jan. 2016)

Complete. I served on the conference planning committee and helped determine the content of the program. A 2.5 hour soil health pre-conference workshop was taught by one UMD faculty member and one farmer associate with this project. A 1.25 hour lecture on advanced soil health topics including …was also included in the program and 35 farmers and 8 service providers participated.

  1. New Milestone. 50 ag. service providers will attend one of four field days coordinated by attendees at the March 2016 Regional Cover Crop conference (described below) and offered in each of the four Maryland regions; participants will gain knowledge and confidence in no till/reduced till practices and soil health evaluation as a part of soil health improvement through witnessing successful adoption of the practice (May – Jul. 2016)

Complete. See details below.

  1. 200 unique visitors will view a new fact sheet (2-4 pages) on no till/reduced till practices, written by the project coordinator and members of the advisory committee, published on the UMD Extension website, and advertised through the ag. service provider email list, county ag. newsletters, and other appropriate distribution channels. (Nov. 2015 – Apr. 2016)

Not yet completed. Fact sheet will include lessons learned from first year of Cover Crops project.

Milestones with Core Group of Ag. Service Providers

  1. 30 members of core group will meet to learn current state of cover crop practices in Maryland and discuss opportunities for improvement. (Nov. 2014 – Sep. 2015)

Complete. 25 members met in April 2015 and discussed priority topics and methods for reaching farmers with soil health information and best practices. The discussion informed future outreach efforts, e.g., a highly simplified field evaluation for NRCS/Soil Conservation staff to perform with farmer clients involving only a shovel, pin flag, and basic scorecard. 

  1. Coordinator and 6 core group members identified in Year 1 will attend Northeast SARE “Cover Crops for Soil Health” conference in Baltimore, MD to increase knowledge of technical details of cover crop practices and benefits to soil health, and to develop cover crop education action plan for implementation in Maryland with two strategies: promoting the inclusion of soil health-based cover crop principles in existing ag. service provider programs and consultations (led by project coordinator), and increasing rates of cover crop adoption and improving practices of farmers who have already adopted cover crops through farmer programs (led by the team). (Dec. 2015 – Mar. 2016)

Complete. I identified 7 key players in Maryland Cover Crop and soil health practices (see below in “Key Individuals”) to attend this training along with myself, serving as team leader. The group met by conference call before the training and brainstormed pressing needs in Maryland in terms of cover crop adoption and best practices. The topics of cover crop planting and kill dates rose to the surface as appropriate issues to address through the project.

During the training, the group engaged in intensive workshops and an enlightening field trip. A rough extension and outreach plan was developed during the team work session, with a focus on delaying the common practice of killing rye on March 1, the first date allowed by the MD cover crop incentive payment program. The formal project proposal was submitted and approved. I will continue to serve as team leader and PI on the project, which will mesh very well with this PDP project. Both have similar goals, with the PDP project having a primary audience of ag service providers and a broader range of topics within soil health, and the cover crops project having a more focused topic and a target audience of farmers.

  1. 6 core group members that attended “Cover Crops for Soil Health” conference will implement the plan developed at the conference with assistance from the project coordinator and advisory committee, which will include the implementation of any new cover crop techniques on four existing demonstration sites, and the majority of the coordination for four MD regional field-based workshops for ag. service providers and farmers in Year 3 at four demonstration sites. (Jan. – Sep. 2016)

Complete. The project team has met by phone to plan the details of the first steps of the project. I have worked closely with the Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) project to recruit farmers for participation in their project, which is a prerequisite for participation in this SARE project. Of the 11 total farmers recruited for the CIG project (several with multiple fields), the SARE project team will identify 4 to invite to participate as demonstration farmers for this SARE project. The project team will meet again by phone in January to select these four farmers based on their geographical location, their practices, and their likelihood of enthusiastic participation.

Substantial progress has also been made on the soil health self-evaluation tool. Myself and Travis Martin have been working closely with the authors of "Soil Health in field and forage crop production," Sjoerd Duiker, Lisa Blazure, and Joel Myers, to develop a draft of the tool. This sub-committee met by phone and in person to develop the set of multiple choice questions based on the 14 criteria for good soil health management described in the publication. The sub-committee also developed a corresponding scoring rubric that generates an overall soil health management score, as well as sub-scores for each of the 14 criteria. Users will also receive a report with a spiderweb (or radar) graph that will visually highlight areas of good management and areas with room for improvement. After some refinements, the tool will be ready for field testing in early 2017.

  1. 30 members of the core group will attend a statewide meeting taught by one or more soil health experts from advisory committee to learn about soil health practices with a focus on cover crops in the context of Maryland nutrient management regulations and the cover crop incentive program. (Jul. 2016)

Not Complete. 3 months of parental leave delayed planning for this event. I will coordinate this meeting in conjunction with one of the centrally located Spring field workshops.

 

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

Year 3 Milestone Accomplishments

Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
44
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
116
Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2017
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
October 31, 2017
Accomplishments:

Activities are divided below by two target groups: the larger population of ag. service providers, and the smaller core group that were identified in Year 1.

Milestones with Broadly Recruited Ag. Service Providers

  1. 200 unique site visitors will view a new fact sheet detailing demonstration site farming practices, data on costs, benefits, and predicted future benefits published on the UMD Extension website and advertised through the ag. service provider email list, county ag. newsletters, and other appropriate distribution channels. (Oct. 2016 – Jul. 2017)

Incomplete. Results of Year 1 of the delayed cover crop termination demonstration were inconclusive, so the fact sheet was postponed pending further study. 

  1. 10 ag. service providers and 10 farmers will take a continuing education soil health class offered at Chesapeake College. The course will be taught by Nicole Fiorellino and other soil health experts. (Jan. – Mar. 2017)

Incomplete. This activity was not completed due to project team's time restraints.

  1. 200 people will view a new five-minute video with footage from representative stages of the growing year and detailing demonstration site farming practices, data on costs, benefits, and predicted future benefits published on the UMD Extension website and advertised through the ag. service provider email list, county ag. newsletters, and other appropriate distribution channels. (Oct. 2016 – May 2017)

Complete. A formal video has not yet been produced, but two informal demonstration videos from field days have been published and promoted. The first (https://youtu.be/J6Z5Fyf948I) is a demonstration of a roller crimper from a Crop Showcase field day coordinated by The Mill, and has 2,350 views. The roller crimper aids with the practice of delaying cover crop termination, and the model demonstrated is articulated to accommodate contour changes in the field. The second (https://youtu.be/6G9LRrRBsAU?t=2m37s) is a segment from RFD TV Market Day Report (4/25/17) in which Ben Hushon (Crop Consultant, The Mill) describes the cover crop demonstration project along with footage from the field day on 4/18/17. 

  1. 40 ag. service providers and 40 farmers will attend one of four MD regional field-based workshops highlighting new or improved cover crop techniques at the four demonstration sites. (Apr. 2017)

Complete. A session on the Maryland Soil Health Card was included in the 2017 Maryland Association of County Agriculture Agents annual conference, which included 40 extension educators (ASPs). The session was intended to take place in the field, but logistical barriers precluded this option. Instead, a large soil sample was brought into the classroom to simulate the field evaluation as closely as possible. Other related educational activities included a soil health presentation at the annual Howard County nutrient management (19 ASPs and 22 farmers), a soil health presentation for the training class of 10 Volunteers as Chesapeake Stewards (VoiCeS), a tabletop slake test at the 2016 UMD Eastern Shore Small Farm Conference (25 farmers) and tabletop slake test and rainfall simulator demonstrations at the 2017 UMD Extension Program Summit (25 ASPs; Facebook demonstration video here, 163 views). 

  1. 150 program participants will be invited to participate in project evaluation and performance verification, including an online survey focusing on the rate of adoption of soil health concepts and management practices into existing ag. service provider programs and consultations, new education programs with a soil health focus, number of participants attending each program type, farmed acreage represented by attendees, and reported intent to adopt new practice by attendees. Respondents will also be asked to report any farmer level data they may have on the adoption of soil health evaluation and management practices. (Jun. – Jul. 2017)

Complete. An email invitation to complete a Qualtrics survey was sent to a list of 250 people who have participated or shown interest in the project, mostly ASPs. See "Performance Target Outcomes" below for a detailed description of the survey and results.

  1. 10 phone interviews will be conducted to collect anecdotes and keys to success from highly involved project participants, and to evaluate non-response bias in project participants that did not respond to surveys. (Sep. 2017)

Incomplete. This activity was not completed due to project team's time restraints. Survey respondents were offered the opportunity to enter success stories.

Milestones with Core Group of Ag. Service Providers

Description: Affiliations of core group members include the state NRCS office, county NRCS offices, county Soil Conservation Districts, private consultants, ag marketing specialists, and farmer/educators. Approximately 20 members participate regularly.

  1. 30 members of the core group will attend a winter meeting to discuss results of demonstration sites and plans for continuing education and outreach through project completion and afterwards. (Feb. 2017)

Incomplete. This activity was not completed due to project team's time restraints.

  1. 10 core group members that attended cover crop conference will coordinate and offer four MD regional field-based workshops for ag. service providers and farmers at four demonstration sites. (Apr. 2017)

Complete. The cover crop session at Clear Meadow Farm on 9/7/17 included content from both this project and the related Cover Crop Initiative project (ONE16-282c), with 33 ASPs and 22 farmers in attendance. This related project also hosted 3 spring workshops (total of 37 ASPs, 18 farmers) at its three delayed cover crop termination field demonstration farm sites. These programs included a hands-on demonstration of the Maryland Soil Health Card.

  1. 30 core group members will attend a project wrap-up meeting to evaluate project successes and challenges, answer any remaining questions, and develop/confirm a plan for implementing soil health practices into their continued work with farmers, including the possible continued use of demonstration sites. They will also each receive 20 copies of the fact sheet described above and a DVD copy of the video described above (in addition to YouTube link; additional DVDs available upon request). Suggestions for use of each will be covered during the meeting. (Aug. 2017)

Partially complete. A needs assessment survey tool was distributed to the project mailing list and UMD Extension faculty (~400 recipients) to determine the topic of the PD's following 3 year state project (2017-2020). Soil health was reported as a topic with ongoing need for support and training, and was therefore selected as the topic for the following state project (https://projects.sare.org/sare_project/neumd17-001/).

 

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities conducted by the project team:

ActivityYear 1Year 2Year 3Total
Consultations 9 9 5 23
On-farm demonstrations 1 0 0 1
Webinars, talks and presentations 5 1 3 9
Workshop / field days 5 2 1 8
Other educational activities: Public TV program; 7 conference exhibits (tabletop slake test and/or rainfall simulator) 4 2 2 8

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

AudienceYear 1Year 2Year 3Total Individuals
Extension 21 35 73 41
NRCS 35 0 10 23
Nonprofit 9 0 17 14
Agency 39 0 16 28
Service providers (other or unspecified) 17 0 0 14
Farmers / ranchers 217 70 44 165

Participation Summary:

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

Learning Outcomes

66 Agricultural service providers reported changes in knowledge, skills and/or attitudes as a result of their participation.
72 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::

Year 1 key areas of learning verified
Pre- and post-event surveys asked participants to rate their knowledge level in 10 topic areas related to soil health on a five point Likert scale. Mean knowledge level increased in all topics listed. The highest increases were seen in “Soil health measurement and evaluation” (7.8%), “Cover crops: multi-species and legumes” (5.6%), and “Compaction mitigation” (5.4%).

Year 2 Key areas of learning verified
In end of year surveys, project participants rated their knowledge level in 10 topic areas related to soil health on a five point Likert scale. Mean knowledge level increased between 2015 and 2016 most notably in “Soil Moisture Management” (6.8%) “Soil Microbes 3.95-3.64” (6.2%), and “Pest Management 3.81-3.36” (9%).

Year 3 Key areas of learning verified
In end of year surveys, project participants rated their knowledge level in 10 topic areas related to soil health on a five point Likert scale. Mean knowledge level increased between 2015 and 2017 most notably in “Sediment and Erosion Control" (5.8%) and “Pest Management” (12.2%).

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 8 8 16
Consultations 28 19 23 70
Online trainings 8 8
Published press, articles, newsletters 6 6
Webinars, talks and presentations 13 12 13 38
Workshops and field days 16 11 0 27
Other 8 5 0 13
72 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
2780 Farmers reached through participant's programs
Total amount of production these farmers manage:
1,166,608 acres *includes a response of 1M acres
Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Data presented throughout this report were collected with a detailed end-of-year survey. The same survey tool was used at the end of each year for consistency and valid aggregation of results at the end of the project. The email invitation that potential respondents received was clear that the survey was intended primarily for participants in the project, and a list of relevant project events was included. The first survey question presented this same list and asked respondents to indicate which events they participated in. Those who selected "I have never participated in a Building Soil Health project event" were routed to a "Thank you" page and given the opportunity to enter comments before exiting.

Year 1 Narrative

Data presented for this year were collected with three survey instruments: a detailed pre-event survey (89 responses), a brief post-event survey (53 responses), and a detailed end-of-year survey (40 responses). Additional information is presented above in the milestone report.

One respondent offered the following description of their soil-related film series: “Discussions after the films were well participated in! Speakers included Ben Friton of Forested, Linda Bilsens of ISLR and Ashley Thompson of Virginia Tech and each speaker brought a different focus to the community. We were encouraged to see so many people interested in soil health and composting initiatives!”

Year 2 Narrative

Data presented for this year were collected by using a detailed end-of-year survey (32 responses). Other topics covered by respondents coordinating soil health related educational events included cover crop species, soil health principles, planting green, interseeding cover crops, diverse farming. One respondent coordinated an event featuring well-known NRCS Soil Health speaker, Ray Archuleta.

Topics covered by respondents teaching soil health related events included soils in watersheds, soil health physical parameter recognition, soil organic matter, cover crops, compaction, water, nutrients, and soil biology. One respondent shared that they are offering education programming “Enabling farmers to recognize platey structure as evidence of compaction and organic matter accumulation.” Another respondent reported teaching a group of Watershed Stewards, a train-the-trainer program, further multiplying the outcomes of this project.

Year 3 Narrative

Data presented for this year were collected by using a detailed end-of-year survey (37 responses). Other topics covered by respondents coordinating soil health related educational events included Principles and Practices of Biological Management; Cover Cropping and Soil Health; Soil health & cover crops; and Haney Test.

Other topics covered by respondents coordinating soil health related educational events included cover crops & soil health; Envirothon - Soils section, for students & teachers; high school - Advanced Ag. Course; Soil health in Home Gardens: Soil health in raised bed gardens in inner cities; nutrient management; and Haney Test, Cover Crops, & Green Planting. One respondent stated, "Using a pin flag to demonstrate compaction was remembered and referenced by a farmer in another conversation." Another said, "We have increased the organic matter on our farm from less than half a percent after decades of conventional grain to 3-5 percent in our fields. We attribute our success to not using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides which are very damaging to soil micro-organisms which are essential to building healthy soils."

Additional Project Outcomes

Number of grants applied for that built upon this project:
Year 1Year 2Year 3Total
1 2 1 4
1 New working collaboration
Additional Outcomes Narrative:

Year 1 Narrative

New working collaborations are established with NRCS partners, both at the state office and at field offices across the state. I have also been working with ARS and campus faculty who are conducting research in soil health. My project dovetails with the NE SARE “Cover Crops for Soil Health” conference in Baltimore, 3/16. This new project will lead to an additional outreach project with a team of 6 partners. I collaborated with Future Harvest CASA and Chesapeake College on a USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative grant, which was not funded. We are currently considering reapplying for the next round of funding.

 

Year 2 Narrative

Although this outcome is not related to ASPs or farmers, one respondent reported, “I am working with the Green Club at a high school in Prince Georges County. There are 40 members of the club. They are responsible for the school garden. Many of their members had participated in the summer work program at the site, working in the garden. They are very interested in expanding the garden next year. We removed all of the vegetable remains after the season and planted a cover crop in the raised beds for winter. I felt this was important that they understand healthy soil will help them in expanding their yields next year and retaining moisture in the soil.” One respondent also reported teaching an Envirothon training.

As described above, this project is closely tied to the Maryland project (ONE16-282c) stemming from the “Cover Crops for Soil Health” training held in Baltimore in March 2016. The Partnership Grant project relies on the USDA Agriculture Research Service CIG project personnel to conduct data collection and analysis, adding value to the demonstration sites, educational events, and educational products. These personnel (Steven Mirsky and Nate Richards) are also involved in the SARE project. Mirsky is also leading the creation of the Northeast Cover Crop Council, of which I am a member.

The work on the soil health management self-evaluation tool as part of the Partnership Grant project led to a new project grant proposal submitted to the Northeast Extension Risk Management Education Program. If accepted, the grant would fund extensive piloting and ground truthing for the tool throughout Maryland and Eastern Pennsylvania, as well as a workshop series in Eastern Pennsylvania.

I also am a member of the Maryland NRCS Soil Health Team, which hosts several workshops per year and recently developed a simplified field test procedure for soil health.

 

Year 3 Narrative

Although this outcome is not related to ASPs or farmers, one respondent stated, "I have been working with school groups that have school gardens. I have had them plant cover crops during the fall to cut down on the weeds for the following year. As part of the school garden, we have done soil tests and planned crops based on their soil types. I have introduced them to Best practices meeting with the group several times a month for 45 minutes to any hour each time."

I was invited to join the team proposing a regional multi-institutional grant that would fund work with ethnic produce. I agreed to offer programming in soil health for interested producers on the Lower Shore of Maryland in partnership with University of Maryland Eastern Shore. This proposal is still in progress.

 

Additional Activities

The activities below represent related workshops and events that did not fit into any of the categories above, often because opportunities presented themselves after the year’s plan was submitted. These numbers are included in the Milestone Summary above where appropriate.

Year 1

  • 2014 UMES Small Farm Conference: Preconference Soil Health workshop. Forty participants attended (1 NRCS, 1 non-profit, others unknown and assumed farmers). Jarrod Miller (UMD Extension Ag Educator) and I were invited to present a workshop focusing on soil health. Miller gave a soil science background and introduction in the classroom, and I performed an indoor runoff demonstration and coordinated a field trip to showcase a grower using multi-species cover crops.
  • Maryland Public Television “Maryland Farm & Harvest” Soil Health segment. This show has the highest ratings on the MPT channel and has one million viewers. I was contacted by the show’s producer to coordinate a segment about soil health. I identified the farm, farmer, NRCS representative, and UMD representative, and coordinated logistics. The episode containing the segment was aired on November 10, 2015.
  • I was invited to speak about soil health to women’s farmer groups in two counties: Caroline (13 farmers, 3 NRCS, 2 Soil Conservation) and Talbot (14 farmers, 1 non-profit, 1 UMD Extension).

 

Year 2

  • I was invited to speak about soil health at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore School of Agriculture and Natural Resources Seminar Series. I included basic soil health concepts in my presentation (20 students, 5 faculty).
  • 2015 UMES Small Farm Conference: Preconference Soil Health Workshop. 35 farmers attended this workshop co-presented by myself and Jarrod Miller (University of Maryland). Miller gave an indoor lecture on the importance of soil testing and interpreting soil test results. I coordinated and taught a field tour with stops at no-till and recently tilled pasture, grain, and vegetable sites. I presented soil health test results at some of these sites.
  • I reviewed a fact sheet on soil organic matter authored by Jarrod Miller.
  • I staffed an exhibit featuring soil health materials and a slaking demonstration at the 2015 UMES Small Farm Conference (24 people), the 2016 Future Harvest CASA conference (18 people), and the 2016 Appalachia Grows conference (20 people).
  • I was invited to speak about soil health for a Rotary Club (12 people) and a Unitarian Universalist Church service (25 people).
  • I gave a project update to 35 University of Maryland Extension educators at an Ag Action Team meeting.

 

Year 3

  • I spoke to a group of 18 Chinese delegates about soil health and cover crops.
  • I developed and taught a soils and soil health hands on presentation for 20 students at a Howard County elementary school.
  • I taught a field program to 25 middle school students at a Baltimore City International Academy summer camp. 
  • I served on the planning committee for the 2018 Delmarva Soil Summit
  • I served on the planning committee for the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Soil Health Conference
Success stories:

We have increased the organic matter on our farm from less than half a percent after decades of conventional grain to 3-5 percent in our fields.  We attribute our success to not using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides which are very damaging to soil micro-organisms which are essential to building healthy soils. --Maryland Eastern Shore farmer

Addition of mychorrizal fungi in plant supplement products has significantly enhanced yield and quality of vegetable crops in field soil and in raised bed soil environments. --Agricultural consultant

Using a pin flag to demonstrate compaction was remembered and referenced by a farmer in another conversation. --Soil Conservation District staff

SARE Outreach

Outreach about SARE:

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

Year 1 (2014-2015) SARE Outreach Activities

Event/Activity

Number of Contacts with:

Farmers

Ag. Professionals

2014 UMES Small Farm Conference (exhibit)

18

2

2015 Future Harvest CASA Conference (exhibit)

27

3

Annie’s Project: Grants and Funding Sources (talk)

22

3

UMES Seminar Series (talk)

0

4

Appalachia Grows Small Farm Conference (exhibit)

20

2

Individual consultations

18

5

 

Year 2 (2015-2016) SARE Outreach Activities

Event/Activity

Number of Contacts with:

Farmers

Ag. Professionals

2015 UMES Small Farm Conference (exhibit)

21

3

2016 Future Harvest CASA Conference (exhibit)

16

2

2016 Future Harvest CASA Conference (presentation)

35

8

2016 Appalachia Grows Small Farm Conference (exhibit)

18

2

2016 Univ. of MD Extension Organic Ag Meeting (exhibit)

13

3

Grants for Farmers (webinar)

30

0

SARE Farmer and Partnership Grants (webinar)

13

0

Individual consultations

14

5

 

Year 3 (2016-2017) SARE Outreach Activities

Event/Activity

Number of Contacts with:

Farmers

Ag. Professionals

2016 UMES Small Farm Conference (exhibit)

25

0

2017 Future Harvest CASA Conference (exhibit)

27

0

2017 Organic Grain Roundtable (exhibit)

9

18

Individual consultations

12

4

 

NOTE: Northeast SARE grant programs are also briefly described and upcoming deadlines are announced at all educational soil health events described in the above sections.

Recieved information about SARE grant programs and information resouces:

Audience Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Total
Service providers 19 23 22 64
Farmers 105 160 73 338
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.