Enhancing Farm Viability and Profitability through Improved Specialty Crop Production and Handling

Final report for NEWVSU14-001

Project Type: PDP State Program
Funds awarded in 2014: $16,635.00
Funds awarded in 2015: $16,620.00
Funds awarded in 2016: $16,604.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2017
Grant Recipient: West Virginia State University
Region: Northeast
State: West Virginia
State Coordinator:
Barbara Liedl
West Virginia State University
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Project Information

Summary:

The project start was delayed due to health issues, staffing problems and other project commitments for the PI over the three years.  The majority of the collaborators identified at the beginning of the project were dwindled to nothing by the third year.  In addition, possible ag service providers interested in the training also took other jobs in the state or left the state.   Hiring of new ag service providers also complicated matters since funds were not available and more of the existing providers were asked to cover more areas on more topics which limited their availability and interest in any training.  

Performance Target:

10 agricultural service providers who gain practical knowledge and skills in specialty crop production and handling best management practices and specialty crop businesses will confidently design and deliver related educational programs and services, including but not limited to workshops, webinars, presentations, fact sheets/other educational materials, and individual consultations, to 100 small scale producers who manage more than 2,000 acres of farmland.

25 farmers who manage more than 500 acres adopt at least one BMP in specialty crop production and handling.

Introduction:

The aim of this proposed program was to provide an educational program and support network for WV agripreneurs, focusing on topics identified by ASPs and producers: specialty crop production and handling for use in diversified small farms. The goals were to strengthen WV´s agribusinesses, improve local foods systems, increase rural development, and build a long-term partnerships among agriculture service providers, producing significant service and learning multiplier effects.

A needs assessment in 2013-2014 (51 ASPs and 29 farmer leaders) revealed a gap in how important each group felt sustainable agriculture is to farmers – ASPs thought less than 10% of the farmers felt it was very important, yet over 85% of the farmers felt it was important.  WV producers are using the internet as their top sources for information (>60%) with other farmers or extension agents at less than 20%.  In the same survey, producers looked for information on specialty crop production and handling in six of the top ten topic areas.  WV ASPs felt the least component in the areas of specialty crop, season extension and organic production, which is not surprising as more of them have a livestock background.  

Given the diversity of, and the interdependent and complementary relationship among the agriculture programs in WV/WMd., this WVSU SARE PDP program set out to deliver a specialty crop production & handling educational program via  training and materials for ASPs that agents could implement directly, and also  integrate into the larger WVU SARE PDP program in risk management.

Rather than offering a one size fits all training, the project proposed to focus on providing the array of options for each topic in specialty crop production and management to train agemts to apply the concepts to any specialty crop rather than just a few specified crops.  In addition, this training was designed to tie-in to the WVU training modules in risk management.  We (SARE staff & ASPs) felt producers would be more open to coming for production training over the risk management training.  Thus, ASPs have options to combine the training topics.

Advisors/Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Dr. Doolarie Singh-Knights

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

The following educational activities were planned for this project, although due to challenges encountered (as noted above) all activities were not able to be completed.

  • An introductory meeting or webinar to introduce the overall 3-year project, and training topics, schedule and format.
  • Workshops with the possibility of web-based courses; workshop topics continue in a sequence as described in the milestones, with some potential modifications in topics in years 2 and 3, based on participant feedback during year 1.
  • If possible, an online web-based delivery of selected topics, as well as web forum for sharing with service providers: project materials (curriculum materials; presentations; templates, worksheets & decision tools to use with farmers, and verification surveys to use in their own education programs); website to also serve as a discussion & Q&A forum.
  • Progress-update webinars in between the workshops to allow questions, challenges and successes to be shared.
  • Travel funds and stipends to support beneficiaries’ learning and follow-up action, and the project team available by phone, e-mail and in-person for consultation and assistance.

Milestones

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

Year 1 Milestone Accomplishments

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
20
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
60
Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2015
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
October 31, 2015
Accomplishments:

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

  • October 2014: 60 ASPs & 20 farmer leaders (based on existing list serves/mailing lists) will receive notification about the 3-year project, including learning objectives and performance target the trainings to be offered, expectations for participants, and incentives for participation (travel support and stipend for educational programs and materials).
  • November 2014: 8 ASPs and 2 farmers leaders enroll and attend introductory webinar to learn more details about ‘Enhancing Farm Viability and Profitability through Improved Specialty Crop Production and Handling’, including how participants can include this project in their annual plan of work, and more details on curriculum and timelines. Beneficiaries will be recruited from Extension Services of WVU, NRCS, Farm Service Agency, WV Department of Ag.; from ag-related non-profits including WV Farm and Food Coalition, Unlimited Future, Inc. and the WV Community Development Hub; and farmer leaders serving as potential agricultural service providers.
  • October 2014 – December, 2014: Project Team updates project website and Dropbox repository of materials to support agents training, and initiate Specialty Crop Production and Handling. Camtasia/SnagIt software will be used to create videos that can be used in trainings as well as on the website.  Skype Premium will be used to allow biweekly video calls between staff and to support meetings with the ag professionals regarding training. 
  • January – March, 2015: 8 ASP and 2 farmer leaders participate in a 16 hour Specialty Crop Production and Handling workshop conducted by project team and farmer speakers/demos to understand concepts used in producing and handling specialty crops in general so they are able to apply them to any crop in any production system. Participants will complete a general curriculum covering:
  • Planning I – Markets, Crop Choice(s), Schedule(s), Enterprise Budget
  • Planning II – Siting, Structures, Equipment, Farm Safety, Regulations
  • Preparing – Soil, Fertilization, Irrigation, Tilling, Cover Crops, etc
  • Establishing – Varieties, Seeds, Seedlings, Grafting, Propagating, etc
  • Maintaining and Care – Scouting & IPM, Weed Control, Pruning/Training/Trellising, etc
  • Harvesting & Handling
  • Analyzing – Analyzing Productivity and Profitability.

Examples will be used throughout the training to illustrate the use of these concepts to existing crops as well as new crops to our growers.  ASPs will then be better prepared to help producers evaluate their current management strengths & weaknesses, identify changes in management and production practices that can reduce risks/increase productivity, and help producers develop action plans to improve their farm viability by growing more productively and profitably.

Participants will also complete pre- and post-workshop evaluations and receive curriculum materials and supporting materials to help them develop farmer training activities.  Curriculum materials will include:  a copy of the Wholesale Success Manual and handouts applicable from “Growing For Market” (the requested “Growing for Market” subscription not only provides copies of the current issue, but also allows us to search the archives for appropriate training material)

  • May, 2015: Project team updates project website and Drop-Box repository, and initiates revision of the original training and/or develops Advanced Specialty Crop Modules as identified by evaluations from the ASPs and farmer leaders. Camtasia/SnagIt software will be used to create videos that can be used in trainings as well as on the website. 
  • June – September, 2015: 4 ASPs and 1 farmer leader receives stipend support from the project team supports in providing training. Aq Squared Plus will be trialed for use with the Specialty Crop Production and Handling Components as ag professionals will be trained on this by the WVU counterpart and we would like to complement and reinforce trainings by the other State Coordinator. 
  • September, 2015: Participants respond to Year 1 evaluations and verification surveys about project effectiveness through verification of learning outcomes and farmer actions and begin compilation of a ‘Directory of Trained ASPs and Farmer Leaders’, which will create a database of professionals with training in specific areas to use as a resource in the state. 

Progress Update

The project start was delayed due to health issues, staffing problems and other project commitments.  These have been addressed and in particular the PI is not taking on additional projects in the upcoming year. Also, we changed the project structure based on discussions with ag professionals in the state; these changes are described further below. This project will be back on track by the end of the 2nd year of the project. 

We changed the original concept of this training from generating training that service providers would use directly with growers to a two-step process – generate training to train the trainers and also generate the materials the trainers needed to train the growers.  This change came out of discussions with WVU and WVSU Extension Faculty and Staff and NCRS personnel.  All of them felt that while some trainers had the knowledge and skill sets to use materials developed directly, most had limited training to support the vast array of specialty crops being grown.  So, it was decided to use a group of ag service providers and a couple of farmer leaders to develop this two tiered system to use around the state and provide consistency in training.  An added benefit is there are currently a number of new hires within the ag service providers in the state due to retirements, and these new service providers can move into the training pipeline. 

NE SARE Specialty Crop Trainer Team has recruited the following participants and may recruit one or two more. 

  • John Porter, Kanawha County Ag Agent, SARE Fellow
  • Daisy Bailey, Gilmer and Calhoun Counties, WVU Ag Agent (maternity leave late 2016/early 2017)
  • Jodi Richmond, Mercer County, WVU Ag Agent
  • John Bombardiere, WVSU/WVDA Ag Agent
  • Terry Hudson or Caroline Anne Copenhaver, Hudson Farms

Text and digital resources for this project have been organized and/or purchased for the team.

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, 2016
Accomplishments:

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

These milestones reflect a revised timeline due to the delays and changes described for year 1.

  • March – June 2016: Project team completes training materials for project, constructs website and Dropbox repository for development of a two tiered training system: 1) Training materials for ASP and farmer leaders to meet needs for training the “Specialty Crop Production and Handling” workshop (Train the trainer) and 2) Materials for trainers to train growers in “Specialty Crop Production and Handling” workshop (workshop).  Camtasia/SnagIt software will be used to create trainings that can be used in person as well as online.  In Progress.
  • July – August: 4 ASP and 2 farmer leaders participate in Train the Trainer – Specialty Crop Production and Handling Workshop – 8 weeks course that ASPs and farmer leaders complete (mixed group will be in person and online). Delayed
    1. The course covers:
      1. Specialty Crop Production and Handling training for ASP
      2. Participants complete pre- and post-workshop evaluation
  • Participants receive curriculum materials and supporting materials to help them develop farmer training activities.
  • September 2016: 2 ASPs and 1 farmer leader receives financial support (trainer travel costs, supplies for training) from the project to assist in providing training (trained ASPs providing workshop to growers). Delayed
  • September 2016: Project team supports the trainers via updated project website and Dropbox repository, and revises and updates training materials based on evaluation from ASPs, growers and trainers input. Delayed
  • September 2016: Participants respond to evaluations and verification surveys about project effectiveness through verification of learning outcomes and farmer actions and continue compilation of a ‘Directory of Trained ASPs and Farmer Leaders’. Delayed 

Progress Update

Once again moving ahead in the project was delayed due to staffing problems and other project commitments.  The PI has added additional temporary staff to help with other projects to leave her time to devote to this project.  She has also had identify new team members due to people leaving their positions or are no longer interested in participating.  A year ago it was thought that there were going to be new hires in the state due to retirements.  However, with a massive budget shortfall in the state this is no longer a possibility.  Instead the PI has rearched out to several NGOs to see about working with them to help with deploying the training.  We expected the project to be back on track by the end of the 2nd year of the project but at this point, we want to have the training developed and at least one round deployed before the end of the 3 year program. 

NE SARE Specialty Crop Trainer Team has recruited the following participants and may recruit one or two more. 

  • John Bombardiere, WVSU/WVDA Ag Agent
  • Terry Hudson, Hudson Farms
  • Caroline Copenhaver, Refresh Appalachia
  • Jodi Richmond, WVU Ag Agent – Mercer County
Milestone #3 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Year 3 Milestone Accomplishments

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

YEAR 3 Milestones

  • October 2016 – January 2017: Project team supports the trained ASPs in providing updated materials via project website and Dropbox repository, and revises and update training materials based on evaluation from ASPs, growers and trainers input.  Training can be offered on the ground or online if requested by ASPs, farmers or organizations. – Delayed
  • November 2016 – March 2017: A new group of 8 ASP and 2 farmer leaders participate in Train the Trainer – Specialty Crop Production and Handling Workshop. – Delayed  The course covers:
    1. Train the Trainer – Specialty Crop Production and Handling Workshop – (mixed direct and online)
    2. Trainers complete pre- and post-workshop evaluation
    3. Trainers receive training curriculum materials and supporting materials to train growers with the Specialty Crop Production and Handling workshop.
  • November 2016 – August, 2017: 4 ASPs and 1 farmer leaders trained in Specialty Crop Production and Handling receives financial support (trainer travel costs, supplies for training) from the project to assist in providing training (trained ASPs providing workshop direct to growers). – Delayed
  • December 2016 – August 2017: Trainers (see milestone 3 above) trained from this program and the WVSU NE SARE PDP Coordinator will train the 30 Farmers participate in Specialty Crop Production and Handling Online Workshop. – Delayed The course covers:
    1. Specialty Crop Production and Handling Workshop
    2. Participants complete pre- and post-workshop evaluation
  • July – August, 2017: 15 ASPs and 3 farmer leaders Participants respond to Year 3 evaluations and verification surveys about overall project effectiveness through verification of learning outcomes and farmer actions. – Delayed
  • September, 2017: 10 ASPs & 2 farmer leaders and 15 selected farmers receive notification, enroll and attend a focus group workshop to discuss the progress and evaluate the success of the project, help develop future plans, and continue compilation of a ‘Directory of Trained ASPs and Farmer Leaders’. – Delayed

Once again moving ahead in the project was delayed due to staffing problems and other project commitments.  The PI had added additional temporary staff to help with other projects to leave her time to devote to this project.  However, once again, she had to identify new team members due to people leaving their positions or are no longer interested in participating.  Two years ago it was thought that there were going to be new hires in the state due to retirements.  However, with a massive budget shortfall in the state this is no longer a possibility.  The PI tried reaching out to several NGOs to see about working with them to help with deploying the training.  We expected the project to be back on for 3rd year but were disappointed again.  One positive note, is that the PI was asked to join the West Virginia Food Incubator Training Network run by the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition.  This group is tasked with organizing a united curricula for training new/beginning farmers in the state.  Thus, the work the PI has done on this project but has not been deployed has a high likelihood of being utilized thru this groups efforts.  

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Learning Outcomes

Key areas in which the service providers (and farmers if indicated above) reported a change in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness::

not applicable

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers

Performance Target Outcomes - Farmers

Additional Project Outcomes

Number of grants applied for that built upon this project:
Year 1Year 2Year 3Total
3 3 2 8
Number of grants received that built upon this project:
Year 1Year 2Year 3Total
1 1 2 4
Dollar amount of grants received:
Year 1Year 2Year 3Total
$10000 $10000 $60000 $80000
Number of new working collaborations:
Year 1Year 2Year 3Total
0 0 2 2
1 New working collaboration
Additional Outcomes Narrative:

Over the three years, connections made thru NE SARE work both in WV and in the NE region allowed 8 grant proposal to be developed over the 3 years.  Several were not funded, but in year 3, two grants were funded.  One is a renewal of a USDA EIP grant with WVU as the lead and WVSU focusing on IPM for greenhouse and high tunnel production.  The second funded grant is a new collaboration with Dr. C. R.R. Hooks at the University of Maryland thru the USDA ELI REEU program to do Undergraduate IPM training for the South and NE regions.  I am also now a part of the WV Incubator Farm Training Network thru the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition.  This group comprises both ag service providers and farmers.  I see some of the work that is completed can be used thru this venue for training around the state.  

SARE Outreach

Outreach about SARE:

Overview

The SARE in WV facebook page is the main way we have used to publicize SARE in West Virginia.  While the number of likes is not large, we had posts read by 900 unique users during year 1, and over the 3 years, unique users have grown to 1,200..  Facebook posts from year 1 included a post on the Ted talk by Dr. Marla Spivak (https://www.facebook.com/WVSARE/posts/303813619742856).  Popular posts in year 2 included “The Rising Tide of Female Farmers” and another post with high reach (492) announcing that Annie’s Project was coming back to WV (to be taught by Doolarie Singh-Knights). Also in year 1 we added a Twitter account, which grew in followers from 39 to 72 during the project. The coordinators use the scheduling software “Buffer” to schedule posts simultaneously to both social media accounts.

Throughout the project the two state coordinators for Northeast SARE PDP in WV maintained a strong presence at the major farming events in the state (WV Small Farms Conference, WV Women in Agriculture Conference and WV Urban Agriculture Conference) as well as other smaller events or workshops where possible.  The WVSU state coordinator has added new working collaborations. 

In year 3, WVU changed their website for Extension and the Northeast SARE information and page was removed.  The two state coordinators are looking at other options to host the information that was previously housed here.  

Information about SARE grants 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 WV Women in Agriculture Conference Table (Nov 14-15, 2014)

75

20

2015 WVDA Write Your Food Safety Plan Workshops (Jan 23, 2015 and May 14, 2015)

7

20

2015 WV Small Farm Conference Table (Feb 26-28, 2015)

390

60

2015 WV Small Farm Conference Presentation

25

2

2015 WV Urban Ag Conference Table (Sept 18-19, 2015)

138

30

 Year 2 (2015-2016) SARE Outreach Activities

Event/Activity

Number of Contacts with:

Farmers

Ag. Professionals

2015 WV Agricultural Innovations Showcase Table (Oct 16, 2015)

125

25

2015 WV Women in Agriculture Conference Table (Oct 23-24, 2015)

100

20

2016 WV Small Farm Conference Table (February 25-27, 2016)

400

50

2016 WV Urban Ag Conference (April 30, 2016)

150

25

Online and Social Media Outreach Activities

Media

 

 

Location

Website – SARE in WV

 

 

http://anr.ext.wvu.edu/sustainable-ag/sare

Facebook – SARE in WV

379 likes

372 posts

https://www.facebook.com/WVSARE/

Twitter – SARE in WV

51 followers

372 tweets

@SAREinWV

 

Year 3 (2016-2017) SARE Outreach Activities

Event/Activity

Number of Contacts with:

Farmers

Ag. Professionals

2017 WV Small Farm Conference Table (February 12-14 2017)

375

45

2017 WV Urban Ag Conference (April 28-29, 2017)

125

20

Online and Social Media Outreach Activities

Media

 

 

Location

Facebook – SARE in WV

398 likes

380 posts

https://www.facebook.com/WVSARE/

Twitter – SARE in WV

72 followers

380 tweets

@SAREinWV

 

 

Recieved information about SARE grant programs and information resouces:

Audience Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Total
Service providers 40 45 55 140
Farmers 150 200 250 600
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.