30 ASPs will incorporate new adult learning and soil health principles and practices into their educational programs and advising, reaching 500 grain and vegetable farmers representing 37,500 acres. Of these, 20 ASPs will guide 100 farmers to complete a soil health management self-evaluation tool on their fields.
While the importance of soil for crop production has long been known, there is a growing 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 and decreasing the volume and cost of needed inputs. The University of Maryland SARE state program conducted a 2017 online survey of 551 Ag Service Providers (ASPs) and farmers. Of the 95 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. These results further justify the need for this project.
As a continuation of the 2014-2017 Maryland “Building Soil Health” PDP project, this project will offer comprehensive education to agricultural service providers 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. Project educational programs will also include adult learning principles to help ensure that ASPs have the teaching tools necessary to effectively facilitate learning. This project will also incorporate demonstration trials established through the 2016 Northeast SARE partnership grant for soil health promotion as sites for train-the-trainer education sessions. The demonstrations for the partnership grant focus on delaying termination of cover crops beyond the minimum date mandated by the Maryland cover crop incentive program, in which most grain farmers participate. This project will also instruct educators in the use of a new soil health management self-evaluation tool that is being developed through the above-mentioned partnership grant.
Maryland ASPs will be invited to participate in webinars, workshops and field days through email and newsletter announcements. ASPs will also be invited to apply to participate at a more engaged level as a ‘core group’. Benefits of membership in this group will include opportunities to help direct field trials and demonstrations on cooperating farmers’ fields and to participate in in-depth trainings aimed at improving their capacities to teach farmers. Thirty core group will be selected. 20 of these members will be chosen to participate in a field trip to Rodale Institute Experimental Farm planned for year 2.
Farmers will participate in some of the field-based workshops, as recruited by the ASPs assisting with workshop coordination.
Educational opportunities for Year 1 will include a webinar, a session at the Future Harvest/CASA conference, a morning seminar, four field days, and a session at the MD Association of County Ag. Agents conference. The focus will be cover crops and delayed termination, planting green, and fall interseeding. Soil health web pages on the UMD Extension website and a Google Group will provide opportunities for participants to learn more about the project, obtain soil health resources, and interact with other participants.
Educational opportunities for Year 2 will include a webinar about the online tool, four field-based farmer workshops, a session at the Future Harvest/CASA conference, and a field trip to Rodale Institute Experimental Farm. The focus will gradually shift to cover crop mulches, seed cocktails, and conservation crop rotations.
For Year 3, education activities include a winter meeting, four field-based workshops focusing on soil health in the context of organic agriculture, and a project wrap-up meeting. Evaluation activities will validate project goals.
Milestones for year 1
1. 550 agricultural service providers and farmers receive advertisements for the introductory webinar and an invitation to join the project as a ‘core group’ member. Core group membership will provide access to limited funding to cover costs associated with small-scale field demonstrations, support for coordination of related educational programs, and will require a commitment to attending workshops in their region and incorporating soil health into their own programs. Existing core group participants in the 2014-2017 project will be asked to indicate their interest in maintaining their membership. (Oct. 2017)
Several email notices were distributed to a project mailing list with 269 ag service providers and 23 farmers, and to a UMD ag extension list with about 50 members.
2. 100 Ag Service Providers and any additional program participants new to the project will be invited to join a new Google Group as a forum for discussion, questions, and announcements related to Maryland soil health. (Oct. 2017)
Mailing list is currently in announcement-only format, but there is opportunity to join with one or more other MD soil health projects to create a discussion group with the critical mass necessary to sustain lively online discussions about soil health and related issues.
3. 50 Ag Service Providers and 25 farmers register for and attend the introductory webinar taught by the project coordinator and one or more soil health experts from the advisory committee. The webinar will review basic soil health principles and practices, review the activities and outcomes of the 2014-2017 PDP project, outline this plan, and describe the opportunity to participate at a higher level by applying to join the “core group;” Webinar participants will also take live online polls during the webinar—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. 2017)
The state coordinator, Nevin Dawson, hosted a webinar presenting information about the Building Soil Health project and featuring a guest speaker, Dr. Sara Hirsh. Hirsh presented the results of her recently completed doctoral research on deep soil nitrogen capture and recycling by early planted, deep-rooted cover crops. At the time, Hirsh had just accepted an offer to serve as the Somerset Co. UMD Extension Ag Educator, so the presentation served as an introduction to her and her expertise in that role as well.
Dawson gave an overview of the project, the associated soil health self-evaluation tool, and the opportunities for ag service providers to participate in the project. These opportunities include further development and outreach of the tool, and also participation in a trip to Rodale Institute to learn about their work in reducing tillage and building soil health in organic production systems.
Attendance was lower than proposed, but, in retrospect, 75 attendees was probably an overly ambitious goal. A video recording of the webinar is available at https://extension.umd.edu/soil-health/workshops.
4. 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 cover crops and delayed termination, planting green, and fall interseeding taught by one or more soil health experts from advisory committee. (Jan. 2018)
The Future Harvest CASA annual conference (Hyattsville, MD; ) included a “Regenerative Agriculture” track, which had 33 participants. Session topics included the advances in science and initiatives to promote carbon farming in Maryland and around the world, and farming practices that build upon the synergy between healthy soils and climate change adaptation/mitigation. In the “Grassfed: Meat and Dairy” track, Nicole Masters (Integrity Soils) spoke about reading weeds as an indicator of soil condition, and the importance of soil microbial health. Gabe Brown, an internationally renowned regenerative rancher, was a keynote speaker who addressed most of the 452 attendees on that day, recounting his successful use of cover cropping, no-till, and other soil health practices to significantly increase his farm’s profitability and sustainability. Dawson served on the conference planning committee and helped to plan the sessions.
5. 50 Ag Service Providers (including 30 members of core group) will attend a morning workshop on delayed cover crop termination, planting green, and fall interseeding taught by one or more soil health experts from advisory committee (followed by afternoon planning session below). (Feb. 2018)
The Alice Ferguson Foundation (AFF) is leading a project, Harnessing Our Underground Workforce: Putting Healthy Soils to Work for Maryland Agriculture, that in part aims to “Establish a cadre of leaders and practitioners in the healthy soils arena through identification of statewide cross-sectoral leaders who can engage in and influence policies and practices related to healthy soils in a productive and meaningful way.” As this goal closely aligns with the performance target of this state project, the partnership was natural. Dawson participated in one of two sessions that brought ASPs and some farmers together to learn about current work in soil health and discuss the best way forward. A full report by AFF, including recommendations, is expected for release in the spring of 2019.
6. 30 members of core group will meet in an afternoon session (following educational morning session above) to develop a plan to begin use of the soil health management self-evaluation tool with farmers. (Feb. 2018)
While the meetings discussed above (Milestone 5) did include facilitated discussions, there was no time for the topic of the self-evaluation tool. The plan for the tool will be developed and realized in year 2 of the project.
7. 10 interested members of the core group form a committee led by the state coordinator to track usage of the self-evaluation tool and provide support to ASPs in promoting and using the tool. Existing members of the Cover Crop Initiative NESARE Partnership Grant project will be invited to join first. (Feb. 2018-Sep. 2018)
While a functional pilot version of the tool is available to the public for use (http://ter.ps/SHeval), final revisions and full-scale roll-out of the tool are still underway, scheduled for the spring of 2019. The opportunity to participate in the committee was described in several soil health presentations. An online form for indicating interest in serving on the committee was developed and will be distributed in the spring of 2019.
8. 50 Ag Service Providers and 20 farmers 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 (tied to SARE Partnership Grant); participants will gain knowledge and confidence in delayed cover crop termination, planting green, and fall interseeding as a part of soil health improvement through witnessing successful adoption of the practice. These field days, open to all, will be immediately followed by a session specific to Ag Service Providers that will cover adult learning principles and practices, with a focus on “motivation to learn” and “brain-based teaching.” (May – Aug. 2018)
The full series of field days was not presented as planned, but 3 events were put on in partnership with other groups and organizations.
The first event (3/27/18; 25 ASPs, 11 farmers) was put on in partnership with the MD Healthy Soils Consortium, and featured a tour of Mason’s Heritage, a large-scale organic grain and vegetable operation, as well as a visit to a neighboring conventional grain farm. Soils at both were compared and contrasted using the MD Soil Health Card.
The second event (5/7/18; 24 ASPs, 6 farmers) was put on in partnership with ShoreRivers, “A clean water voice for Maryland’s Eastern Shore,” and Queen Anne’s County UMD Extension. The morning session featured a demonstration of liquid dairy manure injection (with an unintendedly spectacular show of what can happen when improper mixing leads to hose clogs and the resulting fountains of manure down the line). Attendees also participated in a tour of the host Fry family’s Fair Hill Farm, an innovative organic dairy operation. Dawson led the afternoon session, with a presentation on why soil health matters, a demonstration of the self-evaluation tool, and an invitation to use the tool with farmers. David Wilson (Penn State Extension) talked about Penn State’s Reduced-Tillage Organic Systems Experiment (ROSE) project, and his experiences in working towards the broader goal of no-till organic grain cropping.
The third event (6/7/18; 8 ASPs, 10 farmers) was put on in partnership with Future Harvest CASA, a sustainable agriculture non-profit organization, and featured a tour of St. Brigid’s farm, a veal and dairy operation with rotational grazing and robotic milking. Dawson talked about soil health and demonstrated the use of the MD Soil Health card.
9. 25 UMD Extension ag. educators will attend a 20 minute soil health session at the Maryland Association of County Ag. Agents conference to learn the importance of cover crops and delayed termination, planting green, and fall interseeding taught by one or more soil health experts from advisory committee (Jul. 2018)
Dawson presented a 30 minute session on story-telling as an educational tool to 41 UMD ag Extension colleagues as part of the summer UMD ag in-service training. He included an example story about the development of his own interest in soil health and two examples showcasing successful Northeast SARE grantees in the Partnership and Farmer Grant programs.
10. 300 unique visitors will view 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. 2017 – Sep. 2018)
Google Analytics shows a count of 425 “Users” during the project year.
Milestones for year 2
1. 550 agricultural service providers and farmers receive advertisements for a webinar that will review basic soil health principles and practices, and will introduce the online self-evaluation tool. The program will include step by step instructions and demonstrations for the tool, as well as protocols and expectations for working with farmers. (Oct. 2018)
2. 50 Ag Service Providers and 25 farmers register for and attend the webinar. Participants are invited orally and by email to work closely with the state coordinator in conducting outreach and training with farmers in use of the self-evaluation tool. (Nov. 2018)
3. 15 ASPs agree to guide 100 farmers to complete the soil health management self-evaluation tool. (Nov. 2018 – Sep. 2019)
4. 10 members of the committee identified in Year 1 will monitor usage of the tool and make updates as needed. Each of the 15 ASPs who are not members of the committee will be matched with a committee member, who will serve as a mentor and support person. Committee members and ASPs will participate in bi-monthly check-in conference calls to share progress and address issues. (Nov. 2018 – Sep. 2019)
5. 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 cover crop mulches, seed cocktails, and conservation crop rotations taught by one or more soil health experts from advisory committee. (Jan. 2019)
Session topics at the conference included the role of sulfur in soil health (55 participants, taught by Ray Weil, member of project advisory committee) and two sessions related to building soil health in pasture (48 participants). The PI served on the conference committee and helped to direct the program content.
6. 30 members of the core group will meet to learn current state of cover crop practices in Maryland and discuss opportunities for improvement. Members will also discuss the results and impacts of the Partnership Grant (project closed on 12/31/18) field demonstration sites, and then decide by consensus to either continue them at their current locations or identify some or all new sites. The decision will be based on the relative success of each demonstration site, event attendance, and the desired topic of demonstration. Related educational programming at the field demonstration sites for the following two years will be outlined. (Feb. 2019)
7. 30 core group members will receive an invitation to apply for participation in a bus trip to Rodale Institution Experimental Farm to see and learn about the latest research in soil health in the context of organic agriculture. (Apr. 2019)
The State Coordinator spoke to Rodale Institute staff about tour and workshop options and decided against visiting the campus for the public open house in favor of a private tour and focused presentations and discussions on soil health with Institute researchers. He also described this tour opportunity during several soil health presentations (see milestone 9).
8A. 20 core group members will be accepted as participants for bus trip to Rodale. (May 2019)
8B. 20 core group members take bus trip to Rodale. (July 2019)
9. 50 Ag Service Providers and 20 farmers 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 cover crop mulches, seed cocktails, and conservation crop rotations as a part of soil health improvement through witnessing successful adoption of the practices. These field days, open to all, will be immediately followed by a session specific to Ag Service Providers that will cover adult learning principles and practices, with a focus on “facilitating peer learning between farmers” (May – Aug. 2019)
The state coordinator taught two workshops at the Delmarva Soil Summit on November 1, 2018.
“For Agricultural Service Providers: How to Create Change” focused on best practices for communicating with farmers to help them improve their operations. Topics fell under the categories of brain-based learning, story telling, and motivating continued engagement of educational programs. 12 ASPs participated.
“Soil Health Toolbox for Grain Producers” showcased four free tools for soil health and cover crop decision making and evaluation. One of these was the Soil Health Self-Evaluation tool described above. 9 ASPs and 16 farmers (25 total) participated.
The state coordinator gave a presentation summarizing his state project work at the Northeast Cover Crop Council conference on November 15, 2018 titled, “Building Soil Health Through MD Ag Service Provider Education.” He highlighted the tools and techniques used and demonstrated throughout the project. 20 ASPs participated.
The state coordinator co-chaired the UMD Extension Winter Ag and Food Systems In-service training on December 13, 2018. He presented a workshop, “Motivating Adult Learners,” that helped participants understand the factors that influence participants in educational programs to continue their participation and learning after the first event. 11 UMD Extension faculty participated.
At a collaborative soil health meeting hosted by Future Harvest CASA on January 16, 2019, the state coordinator gave a presentation summarizing the development and function of the Soil Health Self-Evaluation Tool to a group of 31 ASPs.
On January 31, 2019, the state coordinator hosted a group of Chinese delegates employed by various agricultural agencies for an afternoon session about soil health. Topics included the basics of soil health and soil health management, the no-till revolution, local agricultural history, and the role of herbicides in soil health management. 20 Chinese delegates attended (not included in above totals).
10. 25 UMD Extension ag. educators will attend a 20 minute soil health session at the Maryland Association of County Ag. Agents conference to learn the importance of cover crop mulches, seed cocktails, and conservation crop rotations taught by one or more soil health experts from advisory committee (Jul. 2019)
The State Coordinator is chairing the planning committee for the University of Maryland Ag and Food Systems In-Service Training. The cover crop topics were replaced with a session on behavioral economics (factors in language and survey design that can intentionally or unintentionally influence readers and participants). Topics by other speakers will include infographic design and farmer mental health.
Milestone Activities and Participation Summary
Educational activities and events conducted by the project team:
|Activity||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Total|
|Curricula, factsheets or educational tools||1||1|
|Webinars, talks and presentations||1||7||8|
|Workshop / field days||9||9|
|Scripted and starred in YouTube video demonstrating the use of the MD Soil Health field evaluation card and associated tools; in partnership with Future Harvest CASA |
Presented project poster at national SARE conference
Beneficiaries who particpated in the project’s educational activities and events:
|Audience||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Total Individuals|
|Service providers (other or unspecified)||69||17||0||0|
|Farmers / ranchers||124||119||0||0|
Performance Target Outcomes
Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers
30 Agricultural service providers (ASPs) will incorporate new adult learning and soil health principles and practices into their educational programs and advising, reaching 500 grain and vegetable farmers representing 37,500 acres. Of these, 20 ASPs will guide 100 farmers to complete a soil health management self-evaluation tool on their fields.
|Year 1||Year 2||Year 3|
|Year 1||Year 2||Year 3|
|Year 1||Year 2||Year 3|
|Activity||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Total|
|Curricula, factsheets and other educational tools||67||67|
|Published press, articles, newsletters||63||63|
|Study circles / focus groups||25||25|
|Webinars, talks and presentations||45||45|
|Workshops and field days||49||49|
The data reported here was collected through an end of year survey distributed by email to a project mailing list with 269 ag service providers and 23 farmers, and to a UMD ag extension list with about 50 members. The first question on the survey asks respondents to check all boxes corresponding to the project events they participated in. If they check the box, “I have never participated in a Building Soil Health project event,” they are automatically sent to a “Thank you but your response is not needed” page with an opportunity to leave comments. 34 respondents completed their responses. Overall numbers are high, especially with two respondents each reporting 40,000 acres affected. This is likely a reflection of a) the relatively large field and farm sizes in Maryland (especially on the Eastern Shore) compared to most other Northeastern states, and b) the high level of interest in improving soil health in Maryland.
Data on activities conducted by ASPs are in response to the question, “How many times have you incorporated information and/or used skills learned through the project (e.g., soil health and/or adult education techniques) in education programs with your clients through the following methods between October 2017 and September 2018?” Multiple choice response options were “Never,” “1-3 times,” “4-6 times,” “7-9 times,” and “10 or more times.” Numbers used for calculating totals were 0, 2, 5, 8, and 10, respectively.
Additional Project Outcomes
|Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Total|
“We have had great luck in cover crops for vegetables in our fields. We are turning to the tunnel to a greater degree because of concerns of moisture even with the best soils. We also will be working more with intensive grazing for the field area.” Farmer; Montgomery Co., MD
Maryland has the benefit of many ASPs of all types working to promote soil health. This is undoubtedly beneficial to the state of Maryland’s soils, environment, residents, and farmers. The fact that so many people are doing so much good work sometimes creates a crowded marketplace of educational opportunities when it comes to competing for a slice of the farmer’s precious time, but it more often leads to strong partnerships and a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. In the context of this project, many planned activities were merged with the work of other leaders and organizations in the field, and partnerships were the primary theme of 2018’s work. Alice Ferguson Foundation, Town Creek Foundation, ShoreRivers, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Maryland Department of Agriculture, Maryland NRCS, and Future Harvest CASA were all instrumental in further promoting the research, practices, policies, and programs that advance the profitability of the farmer while minimizing their impact on the environment, and in some cases, like carbon farming, mitigating the effects of other sectors.
11/1/17: spoke about Northeast SARE grants at field day
11/7/17: Northeast SARE grant display at Northeast Cover Crops Council conference
3/9/18: Northeast SARE grant display at Delmarva Organic Ag conference
6/18/18: Presented webinar on Northeast SARE grants with a focus on large grant programs
1/18/19: Staffed Northeast SARE exhibit at the Future Harvest CASA conference in College Park, MD
3/7/19: Spoke about Northeast SARE grant programs at the UMD Extension Organic Agriculture Roundtable in Chestertown, MD
5/2/19: Spoke about Northeast SARE grant programs at the Maryland Eastern Shore UMD Extension ag educator meeting
Ongoing individual discussions with many farmers and service providers in response to emails, phone calls, and conversations about SARE grants
Recieved information about SARE grant programs and information resouces:
|Audience||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Total|