This project seeks to demonstrate that when farmers are informed and properly prepared for the exigencies of climate changes, they will be able to adapt and even thrive. With funding from SARE, we will develop and deliver this innovative and replicable training series to 960 farmers, utilizing MOFGA’s education models and building on existing research and resources concerning climate strategies that farmers in Maine need to be aware of.
The benefits to farmers are as follows:
- Increased knowledge of production practices and strategies to counteract various climate scenarios
- On-farm guidance and consultation addressing the unique needs of each farm in preparing for and dealing with unusual weather events and climate changes
- Access to low-interest funding for investment in farm adaptations
- Increased well-being and stress-management in the face of worrying change
- Networking opportunities designed to facilitate farmers supporting and collaborating with each other in these uncertain times
Maine farmers, like others in the Northeast, have now experienced drought conditions for three years in a row The impact of increasingly extreme and unpredictable weather patterns directly affects farmers’ production and income, and consequently their well-being.
The Maine’s Climate Future: An Initial Assessment, a compendium of “information Maine needs to mitigate, adapt, and capitalize on new opportunities in a changing climate,” underscores the need for more farmer education about climate resilience. “This industry…faces substantial effects from projected increases temperature and shifts in the amount and distribution of precipitation. In addition to factors like soil texture and management inputs, temperature and precipitation are two of the driving forces controlling the productivity and, ultimately, the viability of agriculture in Maine. This includes both direct effects (like the effect of higher temperature on current or potential crops) and indirect effects (changing pest pressure, for example). Farmers can expect a greater need for irrigation, particularly for high value crops, to offset increased soil moisture loss through evaporation and transpiration. Increasing temperatures will also negatively affect confined livestock in the state. New pests, invasive plants, and pathogens will increasingly encroach into Maine, threatening plants, animals, and humans, and making management more difficult.” The report goes on to say, “however, with adequate preparation, farmers will also have access to a new and broader range of crops to serve a population increasingly interested in locally produced food.”
As our farmers here in Maine contemplate the years to come, the drought and predicted climate concerns have also prompted requests – on our Journeyperson listserv, in Farmer to Farmer Conference evaluations, and through MOFGA’s program application questionnaires – for climate change adaptation programming as well as information on irrigation, strategic land planning, crop management, well-being resources such as counselling, and peer networking events in order to share innovations and social support. There has been a keen interest in agricultural conservation strategies to reduce the need for irrigation, such as low tillage, diverse cover crops, and mulch.
MOFGA’s comprehensive Climate Change Resilience Training Program will address resilience and production adaptations by developing, in collaboration with agricultural climate resilience experts, a series of workshops, on- farm trainings, presentations, individual technical assistance, enhanced pest reports, a resilience planning workbook, and fact sheets. Topics will include Crop Sensitivities, Livestock Sensitivities, Weeds, Insects and Disease, Soil and Water Strategies, Animal Health, Local Marketing (to reduce our carbon footprint), Risk Assessment, and Decision Making. Our Ag services staff, all pre-trained and educated in climate change issues, will initiate 60 farm visits providing individual consultation salient to the needs of each farmer. We will also open access to our Organic Farmer Loan Fund.
All of the above strategies will be designed to ensure farmers have the resources they need to navigate the complex uncertainties of farming in a changing climate.
We provided 10 technical assistance farm visits addressing irrigation, pest management, cover cropping, water drainage, pasture management, compost management, and season extension.
We held educational farm tours on the following topics: legume-based cover cropping strategies, on-farm composting, transition to wholesale, irrigation strategies, land access, animal health, and breeding fine sheep and wool to optimize regenerative agriculture. We taught the following workshops: cover cropping and crop rotation on low acreage, compost and soil health, nuts and bolts of irrigation infrastructure – irrigation tools and strategies, good pasture management, extending the grazing season – harvesting tree fodder and other methods, managing soil fertility with organic and natural fertilizers, legislative action and laws which affect Maine farms and how to propose legislative bills, climate change and carbon sequestration, climate adaptation, compostable packaging, and whole farm planning. We published 3 seasonal pest reports in August, September and October.
We are planning educational tours on weed management in a changing climate, emotional resilience in a changing climate, no-till and reduced tillage, on-farm composting and animal health for early 2020.
WORKPLAN FROM PROPOSAL
-August, 2019: Caleb Goossen will produce pest report
-August-November, 2019: Ag Services staff will make 2-3 farm visits each month,
-August-December, 2019: Monthly project management to offer support and keep project on track by lead, Ryan
-August-December, 2019: Monthly on-farm trainings planned and facilitated by Anna Mueller
-August-November, 2019: Anna Mueller and Ryan will plan 2 workshops for Farmer to Farmer Conference
-November, 2019: Laura Lengnick will present at Farmer to Farmer Conference and train MOFGA staff to use
resilience planning workbook with farmers for testing to help customize the book for a northeast audience
(previously tested in Kansas).
-November, 2019: 2 workshops at Farmer to Farmer Conference are facilitated by Anna and Ryan .
-November-December, 2019: Workshop planned by Anna and Ryan to be held at Agricultural Trades Show in
-December, 2019: Laura will make workbook available for farmers.
2020 & 2021
-January, 2020 & 2021: Anna and Ryan facilitate workshop at Agricultural Trades Show. Anna and Ryan plan
workshops for February and April
-January-December, 2020: Monthly project management to offer support and keep project on track by lead, Ryan
-February, 2020 & 2021: Anna and Ryan plan and facilitate a workshop and plan another for April
-April, 2020: Anna and Ryan plan and facilitate a workshop
-March-November, 2020 & 2021: Anna and Ryan plan 2 workshops for Farmer to Farmer Conference in
-March-December, 2020: Monthly on-farm trainings planned and facilitated by Anna Mueller (70 hours each year).
-April-November, 2020 & 2021: Ag Services staff will make 2-3 farm visits each month, for total of 20 each year
-June-August, 2020 & 2021: Caleb Goossen will produce monthly pest report (12 hours each year).
-November, 2020 & 2021: 2 workshops at Farmer to Farmer Conference are facilitated by Anna and Ryan
-November-December, 2020 & 2021: Workshop planned by Anna and Ryan to be held at Agricultural Trades
Show in January
-January, 2022: Anna and Ryan facilitate workshop at Agricultural Trades Show. Anna and Ryan plan workshops
for February and April
-January-July, 2022: Monthly project management to offer support and keep project on track by lead, Ryan
-February, 2022: Anna and Ryan plan and facilitate a workshop and plan another for April
-March-July, 2022: Monthly on-farm trainings planned and facilitated by Anna Mueller
-April, 2022: Anna and Ryan plan and facilitate a workshop
Thus far, 56 Farmers (86% of evaluations completed) reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness in the following key areas: nutrient management using cover crops, incorporating cover crops into no till vegetable systems using solarization or occultation (tarping), soil health, pasture management, carbon sequestration strategies and how common agricultural stewardship practices such as plowing, cultivating, plasticulture and timber harvesting affect the carbon footprint of their farm, strategies for optimizing irrigation and how soil moisture monitoring may help save time and money while improving crop health and yield, understanding whether any compostable packaging options are actually better for the environment, emotional coping strategies for stress related to climate change, and production-related adaptation strategies. We will be measuring farmer participants’ plans to implement behavior change and adoption of skills and climate related practices in March, and actual changes in November, through surveys.
Our project offers comprehensive approach to increasing farmer knowledge and adoption of climate resilience practices. Early results show that 86% of farmer participants increased their knowledge about these practices, however we would like to increase our evaluation completion rate (currently 37%). We also have more climate practices to address and geographic regions of Maine to reach. As farm tours occurred in August and September, and most workshops occurred in late fall, we will be surveying farms for planned and implemented adoption of behaviors and practices in March and November, respectively.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
Farmers reported increased production knowledge in the following areas: nutrient management using cover crops and incorporating them into no till vegetable systems using solarization or occultation (tarping), soil health, pasture management, carbon sequestration strategies and how common agricultural stewardship practices such as plowing, cultivating, plasticulture and timber harvesting affect the carbon footprint of their farm, strategies for optimizing irrigation and how soil moisture monitoring may help save time and money while improving crop health and yield, understanding whether any compostable packaging options are actually better for the environment, emotional coping strategies for stress related to climate change and production-related adaptation strategies.
We do not yet have evidence of changes in practices or behavior of the farmers who received education and technical assistance because most of the farm tours and workshops were held this fall. We will be surveying participating farms in March to share their intentions of changing practices and behaviors for the 2020 growing season. We will reach out to them during the growing season to confirm implementation and results of any changes made.
Quotes that indicate the benefit of the project thus far include:
“I learned so much and left really inspired.”
“It was informative and well-run.”
“Such a great blend of ag scientists and farmers for every subject.”
Our pairing of a peer-education approach combined with University research is tangible and effective for farmer participants. Offering a wide array of climate-related topics in a variety of formats and locations, in both the classroom and the field, while only titling some events explicitly as such, allows us to engage a broad audience and make climate adaptation strategies more widely accepted than if all workshops and tours were promoted as specific to climate change. We have begun to increase farmer knowledge around climate resilience practices but have additional topics and farmers to reach.
We will continue to provide educational workshops and farm tours on additional climate resilience topics in different geographic areas of the state, with a focus on reaching northern, downeast and western Maine next. We will highlight numerous farms and farmers as all climate challenges and adaptations are unique.
It is sometimes difficult to collect evaluations from the large number of attendees at our tours and workshops. In 2020, we will pair the paper evaluations with interactive evaluation activities to wrap up each educational event. We have realized better results when we send participants an online evaluation after the event at which time we solicit their increase in knowledge on relevant topics. We will also solicit the changes to practices and behaviors they intend to make this season as a result of the education.
New England farmer educators will directly benefit from the results of this project, and farmers in this geographic region, particularly those on diversified and organic farms, will benefit from the lessons we learn from offering a range of climate resilience programs in various formats and any additional programming that stems from it.