Maine Climate Resilience Training Program

Final report for ONE19-334

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2019: $29,787.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2022
Grant Recipient: MOFGA
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Ryan Dennett
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
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Project Information

Summary:

This project aimed to help farmers adapt to a changing climate by increasing knowledge of adaptation and mitigation strategies, encouraging the adoption of new practices, supporting overall well-being and stress management in relation to climate challenges, and providing access to credit. This was accomplished through educational workshops, farm tours, technical assistance, seasonal pest reports, and access to our Organic Farmer Loan Fund. We found that in workshops and farm tours 84% of farmers increased their knowledge of climate resilience practices and strategies. In a total of 61 farm visits 98% of farmers increased their knowledge of crop production and 92% increased their knowledge of soil health. The most commonly adopted practices were improved record keeping (54%), cover cropping (44%), irrigation (36%) and mulching (31%). The most common skills gained from farm visits were soil analysis (51%) and identification of insects, diseases and weeds (36%). In the end of project evaluation farmers strongly indicated that their participation in this project increased their knowledge of climate adaptation and mitigation strategies, in alignment with evaluations of individual program components. Farmers also strongly indicated that the project helped them adopt climate resilient production practices, at a higher rate than indicated at the time of farm visits. They also strongly indicated that participation increased their quality of life, which we measured as an outcome of our stress and wellbeing education in relation to climate change. Four farms accessed $90,000 in capital in order to adapt their farms for climate resilience. All farms are in good standing with their loans. One farm has fully repaid their $20,000 and graduated from our loan program to go on to accessing capital directly from a bank.

Project Objectives:

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. 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
Introduction:

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.

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.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Dr. Sonja Birthisel (Educator)
  • Abby Lydon - Producer
  • BrennaMae Thomas-Googins - Producer
  • James Gagne - Producer
  • Richard Lee - Producer
  • Kate Delvecchio - Producer

Research

Materials and methods:

We provided 10 technical assistance farm visits addressing irrigation, pest management, cover cropping, water drainage, pasture management, compost management, and season extension in 2019. We provided 20 technical assistance farm visits in 2020 addressing soil health (18), irrigation (10), converting to no till production (2), site planning for climate resiliency (3), water management to avoid erosion (1), pest and disease management (17). We provided 32 technical assistance farm visits in 2021 addressing soil health (32) and water management (25). We provided 9 technical assistance farm visits in 2022 addressing soil health (9) primarily, as well as strategies for improved forage production amid climate change and drought (1), water management (5) and disease/pest management in a changing climate (2).

In 2019, 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 2019. 

In 2020, we had to radically change our plans for educational workshops and tour topics and formats. We held one in-person day-long workshop on “Moving Water on the Farm,” but shortly after that, due to the pandemic, we pivoted to online farm tours and workshops to date. We shifted the focus of several of the early Climate Change workshops in order to provide COVID-19 information, strategies, and support. For example, we offered “Emotional Resilience during COVID-19” rather than “Emotional Resilience in a Changing Climate,” although the content is relevant regardless of the title. We held online workshops on the following climate resilience and adaptation topics: Pasture-based livestock profitability, Voice of Organic in Augusta and Washington D.C., Climate Adaptation Options with Dr. Laura Legnick and Dr. Rachel Schattman, Soil and Carbon Sequestration, A Novel Shallow Well Technology to Provide Safe, Sustainable Drinking & Irrigation Water, and a keynote presentation on Climate Resilience along with an advanced intensive workshop with Dr. Laura Legnick. We utilized our long practiced peer-learning format by lining up a block of farmer and service provider presentations followed by a block of farmer-to-farmer discussions on the topics presented.

We held 10 online farm tours and discussions on the following topics: Seed Saving, Organic Farming Practices and Principles for Crops, Organic Farming Practices and Principles for Livestock, Grazing & Forage Season Extension, Farming & Marketing Cooperatively, Soil Health & Diversified Vegetables, Modern Dairy and Agricultural Policy, Farming & Climate Change, A Novel Shallow Well Design, and A Tour of Habit Farm. We published 3 pest reports in June, July and August 2020. We prerecorded farm visits for participant viewing and held 1 hour discussions with the host farms and relevant service providers.

In 2021 we hosted 5 workshops on Soil Management and Carbon Sequestration; Innovative Cover Cropping; Habitat Plantings for Pollinators and Other Beneficials; Equity, Climate and Agriculture; Pasture Renovation and Reclamation. We held 11 educational farm tours on the following topics: No-till Production, Tunnel Management for Temperature and Humidity Control, Climate and Water Management, Winter Tunnel Production, Soil Health and Intensive Vegetable Production, Diversified Farming, Irrigation, Climate Change and Farm Resiliency, Seed Keeping, Pasture Irrigation, and Pasture Based Livestock. We published 3 seasonal pest reports in June, July and August.

In 2022 we hosted 3 workshops on Irrigation & Water Storage, Soil Health, and Climate Adaptation. We held 2 farm tours on Soil Moisture Monitoring and Managing Soil Health on Leased Land.

We made loan guarantees for 4 farms to access credit for a total of $90,000. One farm used their $20,000 loan to purchase equipment and make capital improvements. The other three used their $20,000, $20,000 and $30,000 loans as lines of credit while they made cropping and labor changes to improve the resiliency of their farms.

Research results and discussion:

In 2019, 56 Farmers (86% of evaluations completed) reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness in the following key areas of production practices and strategies to counteract climate change: 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. 

In 2020, 137 farmers (83% of evaluations completed) reported increases in knowledge, skills, awareness, and/or changed attitudes in the following key areas: pasture management and season extension strategies, how to engage in legislative policy at the state and national level, how to utilize a decision making framework pertaining to climate resilience practices, carbon sequestration strategies and soil management, irrigation adaptations, seed saving, organic crop and livestock management practices, no till and cover cropping practices, and pest and disease identification and management. The 17% of farmers who reported no change in knowledge as a result of the programming all ranked themselves as having considerable knowledge on the subject to begin with. We did use two types of evaluation to report these changes. Referring to 33 evaluations asking farmers to indicate the level of knowledge increase as a result of the farm tour or workshop, 55% of farmers reported experiencing a significant increase in knowledge and 45% of farmers reported experiencing a minimal increase in knowledge. We also used an evaluation approach that asked farmers to rank their knowledge prior to the educational event and as a result of the educational event. In these 132 evaluations, most participants (27.5%) started with minimal knowledge and increased to a moderate level of knowledge, followed closely by 26.5% of farmers who started with a moderate level of knowledge and increased to a considerable amount of knowledge. 10.6% of farmers started with a non-existent knowledge base and increased to a minimal level of knowledge, while 14.4% of farmers jumped from having non-existent knowledge to a moderate level of knowledge. 

Farmers were much more engaged in programming this year because of our pivot to online education formats. Although we received regular feedback from farmers about email, resource, survey, and even funding opportunity fatigue during the pandemic, we saw much higher numbers of attendees overall, with the added benefit of more diversity from out of state participants enriching the experience for our Maine growers. 

Of the 20 farm visits conducted to address the unique needs of farmers in preparing for and dealing with climate change and unusual weather events, farmers reported the following increases in knowledge:

  • Soil health (17)
  • Crop production (20)
  • Irrigation (1)
  • New invasive pest (1)

As a result of the farm visits, the following practices were reported to have been adopted:

  • Record keeping (12)
  • Irrigation (10)
  • Mulching (8)
  • Cover Cropping (12)
  • Infrastructure change (1)

Gained skills were reported as: 

  • Soil analysis (12)
  • Insect or pest ID (5)
  • Weed ID (9)
  • Disease ID (8)
  • Insect ID (8)
  • Soil fertility planning (1)
  • Irrigation (1)
  • Nutrient deficiency symptoms in crop (1)

In 2021, 51 farmers of 81 online workshop evaluations (63%) reported increases in knowledge, skills, awareness, and/or changed attitudes in the following key areas: soil management, cover cropping, habitat plantings for beneficial insects, climate change and agriculture policy, pasture renovation practices, no-till production practices, tunnel management and water management practices. In farm tours, 100% of the 157 attendees increased their knowledge of farm tour topics and 127 (81%) of participants planned to implement learned practices. The high percentage of learning at these in person events was likely influenced by our evaluation style of asking the groups to raise hands in response to our evaluation questions, as we tried to minimize physical contact by not having paper and pen evaluation materials. 

Of the 32 farms visits conducted in 2021, farmers reported the following increases in knowledge:

  • Soil health (30)
  • Climate change adaptation/mitigation (15)
  • Irrigation systems (14)
  • Crop planning (21)
  • Crop production (32)

As a result of the farm visits, the following practices were reported to have been adopted:

  • Irrigation (10)
  • Mulching (10)
  • Cover cropping (15)
  • Record keeping (20)

Gained skills were reported as: 

  • Soil analysis (10)
  • Cover cropping (1)
  • Insect or pest ID (13)
  • Weed ID (6)
  • Disease ID (13)

In 2022 55 farmer participants (71% of evaluations completed) reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness in the following key areas: soil health concepts, climate adaptation strategies, and how soil moisture monitoring may help save time and money while improving crop health and yield.

Of the 9 farm visits conducted, farmers reported the following increases in knowledge:

  • Crop production (8)
  • Irrigation systems (3)
  • Soil health (9)

As a result of the farm visits, the following practices were reported to have been adopted:

  • Irrigation (2)
  • Improved record keeping (1)
  • Mulching (1)
  • Cover cropping (1)
  • Soil moisture monitoring (2)

Gained skills were reported as: 

  • Soil moisture monitoring (2)
  • Disease ID (1)
  • Soil analysis (9)
  • Cover cropping (1)

In early 2022 farmers indicated the following outcomes from their overall participation in the program from 2019-2022: 

Helped me to increase the viability of my farm. 94% agreed.

Helped me increase my quality of life. 94% agreed. 

Helped me meet my production goals. 94% agreed.

Increased my knowledge of soil health. 91% agreed.

Helped me adopt/implement soil health practices. 91% agreed.

Increased my knowledge of climate adaptation and mitigation strategies. 88% agreed.

Helped me adopt/implement climate resilient production practices. 81% agreed.

Research conclusions:

This project sought to increase farmer knowledge of climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies, provide on-farm guidance, increase well-being and stress management in relation to climate change, and access credit to increase climate change resilience. A series of workshops, on farm trainings, individual TA, pest reports, and access to our Organic Farmer Loan Fund enabled farmers to increase their understanding of ways to farm in a changing climate, adopt practices, access credit and increase their quality of life. In 2022, 71% of farmers increased their knowledge. Overall, from 545 evaluations of individual workshops and farm tours, 83.67% of farmers increased their knowledge of climate resilience practices and strategies. In a total of 61 farm visits 98% of farmers increased their knowledge of crop production and 92% increased their knowledge of soil health. The most commonly adopted practices were improved record keeping (54%), cover cropping (44%), irrigation (36%) and mulching (31%). The most common skills gained from farm visits were soil analysis (51%) and identification of insects, diseases and weeds (36%). In an end of project evaluation farmers strongly indicated that their participation in this project increased their knowledge of climate adaptation and mitigation strategies, in alignment with evaluations of individual program components. Farmers also strongly indicated that the project helped them adopt climate resilient production practices, at a higher rate than indicated at the time of farm visits. They also strongly indicated that participation increased their quality of life, which we measured as an outcome of our stress and wellbeing education in relation to climate change. 4 farms accessed $90,000 in capital in order to adapt their farms for climate resilience. All farms are in good standing with their loans. One farm has fully repaid their $20,000 and graduated from our loan program to go on to accessing capital directly from Bangor Savings Bank.

Participation Summary
4 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

61 Consultations
9 Published press articles, newsletters
20 Tours
37 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

1169 Farmers participated
29 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities
Education/outreach description:

Farm Tours were held on the following topics:

  • legume-based cover cropping strategies
  • on-farm composting
  • transition to wholesale
  • irrigation strategies
  • land access, animal health
  • breeding fine sheep and wool to optimize regenerative agriculture
  • seed saving
  • organic farming practices and principles for crops
  • organic farming practices and principles for livestock
  • grazing & forage season extension
  • farming & marketing cooperatively
  • soil health & diversified vegetables
  • modern dairy and agricultural policy
  • farming & climate change
  • a novel shallow well design
  • a tour of Habit Farm
  • no-till production
  • tunnel management for temperature and humidity control
  • climate and water management
  • winter tunnel production
  • soil health and intensive vegetable production
  • diversified farming
  • irrigation
  • climate change and farm resiliency
  • seed keeping
  • pasture irrigation
  • pasture based livestock
  • soil moisture monitoring
  • managing soil health on leased land

Workshops were held on the following topics: 

  • 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
  • whole farm planning
  • moving water on the farm
  • emotional resilience
  • pasture-based livestock profitability
  • voice of organic in Augusta and Washington D.C.
  • climate adaptation options with Dr. Laura Legnick and Dr. Rachel Schattman
  • soil and carbon sequestration
  • a novel shallow well technology to provide safe, sustainable drinking & irrigation water
  • climate resilience keynote
  • soil management and carbon sequestration
  • innovative cover cropping
  • habitat plantings for pollinators and other beneficials
  • equity, climate and agriculture
  • pasture renovation and reclamation
  • irrigation & water storage, soil health, and climate adaptation

At least 3 Pest reports were published (online subscription) each year. Reports can be accessed on our website. Here are PDFs of those reports:
Pest Report – August 2, 2019 - Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners
Pest Report – August 16, 2019 - Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners
Pest Report – August 30, 2019 - Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners
Pest Report – June 5, 2020 - Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners
Pest Report – July 3, 2020 - Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners
Pest Report – August 14, 2020 - Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners
Pest Report – June 4, 2021 - Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners
Pest Report – July 2, 2021 - Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners
Pest Report – August 13, 2021 - Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners

61 farm consultations were provided by direct request or through our intake form

Learning Outcomes

453 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

Farmers reported increased production knowledge in the following areas: how to engage in legislative policy at the state and national level, nutrient management using cover crops and incorporating them into no till vegetable systems using solarization or occultation (tarping), soil health, pasture management and season extension, 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. 

Project Outcomes

33 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
Project outcomes:

In March 2021, 20 out of 31 farmers reported changing a practice as a result of participating in the project to date and reported an increase in farm viability, quality of life, net work, and having met production goals as a result of those changes. In March 2022, 33 farmers reported having made a change over the duration of the project and reported the following results:

  • Helped me to increase the viability of my farm. 94% agreed.
  • Helped me increase my quality of life. 94% agreed. 
  • Helped me meet my production goals. 94% agreed.
  • Increased my knowledge of soil health. 91% agreed.
  • Helped me adopt/implement soil health practices. 91% agreed.
  • Increased my knowledge of climate adaptation and mitigation strategies. 88% agreed.
  • Helped me adopt/implement climate resilient production practices. 81% agreed.

 

Quotes that indicate the benefit of the project 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."

“I think info on on-site water management and low tech well technology is very timely and helpful.”

Regarding Dr. Laura Legnick’s workshop: “This was terrific! I loved her multidisciplinary approach to climate change, blending life science with sociology and psychology, to help farmers approach resiliency. While a rather disheartening topic, I found her address to be uplifting.”

Regarding Voices of Organic workshop: “Networking with policy initiators and supporters was very exciting! I want more!”

Regarding Soil & Carbon Sequestration: “I'll be expanding my no-till growing space and using James from Dickey Hill Farm's method of opening new plots. Going to try and work in more cover cropping.” 

Regarding a Novel Well Design: “Really fascinating, lots of potential.”

Participants’ expressed plans for implementing practices in 2022 include:

  • creating larger beneficial insect habitats 
  • broadcasting clover underneath field tomatoes
  • planting no-till potatoes through grown-in-place rye mulch
  • trial more overwintering
  • “I am planning to employ no-till practices and pollinator hedgerows learned from two of the workshops I attended.”
  • trying out new sowing dates and new species of cover crops
  • trying out no till practices (4)
Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

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 relevant to different geographic areas of the state, with a focus on reaching northern, downeast and western Maine with online content. 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. Last year we planned to 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. 

In 2020, our pivot to online learning increased participation and drew in more individual farmers. We observed more engaged dialog, with opportunities for vocal and written discussion. As mentioned above, there was a learning curve where we struggled to have surveys completed before participants dropped off toward the end of the webinars. Facilitators adapting to new online formats occasionally neglected to use the evaluation polls and follow up survey tools were not effective. By the end of the year we had improved our techniques in this area by requiring 2 facilitators for each online workshop, with the secondary staff member taking responsibility for tech support and implementation of evaluation polls. We also shifted from doing evaluations at the end of a session to spreading them throughout the session to increase completion rates. 

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.

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.