Final report for SAL20-001
The Alabama SARE program has a strong history of serving limited resource farmers and building capacity within the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) consisting of Regional Extension Agents (REAs) and Extension Specialists. The Alabama SARE program provides comprehensive training to 15 REAs from multiple Extension teams in organic crop production methods and sustainable IPM tactics (systems-based practices/pest exclusion systems/bio-rational insecticides); by directly collaborating with small organic/naturally grown KEY farmers statewide, we are able to provide hands-on training resulting in valuable learning experience for everyone involved. The SARE Advisory Committee provides feedback on a monthly basis (via Zoom) on relevant programming and new directions for long-term benefit of small farmers. Since small producers may lose 50 percent or more crop in the absence of IPM plan, on-farm consultation and rapid media releases about pests and management tactics are still the critical need for the industry. This proposal aims to continue the efforts in the demonstration of true IPM tactics on-farm along with updating the High Tunnel Crop Production Handbook, Organic IPM and Urban Farming IPM Toolkits that are critical resources for Alabama specialty crop producers. The Farming Basics Mobile App is also a tremendous resource that we will continue to improve with links to many new webinars and videos. All major field and educational media produced will be consistently evaluated for documenting relevant outcomes and impacts. Overall, the Alabama SARE program reaches to about 1,100 family farms annually with projects that benefit other institutions like Alabama A&M and Tuskegee Universities.
All SARE train-the-trainer events generally incorporate crop production, irrigation, pest management, food and pesticide safety training since we have subject matter specialists within the team. All events are evaluated carefully for quality and short-term impacts; these are reported annually to SARE. Following are the proposal objectives:
Obj#1. Strengthen train-the-trainer and key farmer training program. PI and REAs will organize three vegetable production/IPM workshops for capacity building with technical assistance providers (TAPs) participating for information exchange on small farms. These workshops will utilize the SARE- funded on-farm high tunnel IPM demonstration plots that will be easily accessible for attendees. All participants will be able to see improved insect and disease scouting and management practices along with discussion on how to develop written organic IPM plans focusing on the three levels of pest management.
Timeline: July 2020 to Oct 2020
Obj#2. Revision and reprint the High Tunnel Crop Production Handbook to include multiple crop production/food safety/pest exclusion chapters along with videos (E-book version). The High tunnel crop production handbook is a major publication that is used by educators and field agents in NRCS and FSA for helping crop producers across Alabama. There is constant demand for updated information that will be delivered through new book chapters linked to educational videos. The handbook and all publications are peer-reviewed publications.
Timeline: May 2020 to Nov 2020
Obj#3. Add new content to the Farming Basics Mobile App as an educational tool. We have developed and released the Farming Basics Mobile App and it is available for free on Android/Apple devices. We are planning to add direct links to educational ‘How to’ videos, the Farming Basics Online Course, and organic IPM recommendations within the app to make it a valuable tool for educators and producers. Another key feature is the direct contact with REAs based on location services. So far there have been 500 downloads of the app in few months and we anticipate growing number of installation in 2020/21.
Timeline: Aug 2020 to Jan 2021
Due to COVID-19, traditional educational programing was disrupted from May 2020. We were able to do four in-person training events with 442 participants from January to March 2020, we then shifted to virtual training via three innovative regular events, namely, Commercial Horticulture Monthly Webinar Series (21 events completed), Alabama Virtual Farm Tours (18 events completed), and Q&A Friday Weekly Shows (29 events completed). These events were streamed using a combination of Zoom and Facebook channels – Alabama Extension Commercial Horticulture and the Alabama Farmer Connection (peer-to-peer learning network launched in 2020). Overall, the event announcements reached over 84,000 people via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with great effect. We also modified our evaluation system to effectively capture feedback and data from direct participants. These online events will continue with a slightly different frequency in 2021 due to their rising popularity among small and beginning specialty crop producers.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
To inform and train beginning and small specialty crop producers in production practices and resources by highlighting mentor farmers.
Farmers learn best when it is peer-to-peer. This special activity consists of 30 min live or prerecorded segments from mentor farmers that demonstrates specialty crop and livestock production practices along with educational resources that informed and inspired new and beginning farmers for strong learning and networking during the pandemic. All virtual events were streamed Live or posted on two social media channels (Alabama Extension Commercial Horticulture, Alabama Farmer Connection on Facebook) and integrated with short updates on Instagram and Twitter for further publicity.
Virtual Farm Tours quickly became very popular for the Alabama SARE program reaching to thousands of people digitally. We developed special promotional materials for all virtual events and publicized them through the Farming Basics Phone App, Alabama Beginning Farmer/IPM Communicator E-newsletter, and many social media channels. All events are archived at https://www.aces.edu/blog/topics/farming/2021-digital-resources-for-farmers/ and also on playlist on Facebook channel (Alabama Extension Commercial Horticulture). This activity engages the Program Assistant heavily for recording the tours and marketing. We also provided a special certificate to all participating mentor farmers to acknowledge their engagement which was greatly appreciated by them.
Here are the outputs from 18 virtual farm tours (outcomes are reported separately for all virtual events together):
Event posts reach over 84,000 people
Number of live participants = 225
Number of indirect participants reached = 4611
Recording views = 12,382
Likes and Shares on Social Media = 480
Engagements = 492
To provide rapid updates to specialty crop producers throughout the year based on crop production and IPM research
This is a year-round activity where 2-3 presenters provide 15 min update on each topic on a monthly basis (60 min total running time per month). Due to COVID-19 shut down, we did many additional webinars and collaborated with many Extension teams throughout the year for additional benefits to the producers. This is streamed via Zoom where audience can interact in the live session and also streamed and recorded on Facebook channels.
This is a year round team-based activity in the Commercial Horticulture Extension Team which provides valuable research-based information to clientele. The webinar recordings are archived at https://www.aces.edu/blog/topics/farming/2021-digital-resources-for-farmers/ and also available as videos on the Farming Basics Mobile App.
Here are the outputs from 21 commercial horticulture webinars (outcomes are reported separately for all virtual events together):
Event posts reach over 84,000 people
Number of live participants = 694
Number of indirect participants reached = 12159
Recording views = 5047
Likes and Shares on Social Media = 244
Engagements = 1417
To provide a platform for small producers to ask questions and interact with Extension team members in an innovative format. Special guest from the Alabama Ag Industry and ag trivia were also incorporated on each show to spark interest and interaction in the one hour weekly shows.
Small producers need constant training and interaction for rapidly resolving crop production and marketing issues. Q&A Friday is a weekly interactive show where anyone can submit question via a Qualtrics survey or ask question by joining the show Live on Facebook channel. We also incorporated special guest from the Alabama Ag Industry and ag trivia in each show to spark interest and interaction in the one hour weekly shows.
Q&A Friday is a year-round team-based activity in the Commercial Horticulture Extension Team which provides valuable research-based information to clientele in an entertaining format. All Q&A Friday recordings are archived at https://www.aces.edu/blog/topics/farming/2021-digital-resources-for-farmers/.
Here are the outputs from 29 Q&A Friday Shows (outcomes are reported separately for all virtual events together):
Event posts reach over 84,000 people
Number of live participants = 386
Over 170 queries answered by Extension team members that are archived in Qualtrics survey
Number of indirect participants reached = 18,617
Recording views = 9158
Likes and Shares on Social Media = 464
Engagements = 3680
Educational & Outreach Activities
Cumulative Evaluation Data from all online events (Q&A Friday, Monthly Webinars, and Virtual Farm Tours) since March 2020:
1,335 direct participants, 68 online events
35,387 people reached
5,589 engagements (170 questions answered)
4,071 followers (77% increase)
47% M, 50% F, 3% Other
84% White, 7% Black, 7% Asian, 2% Others
94% usefulness of info, 25% new audience
22% beginning, 10% experienced farmers
40+ farm magazine articles by team members
60+ on-demand mailing of publications
$50,000+ gain from 125 client reports
Farming Basics Mobile App (SARE support is acknowledged in the app):
63 training videos
215,727 video & 1,800 channel views
IPM Communicator E-newsletter:
3494 contacts (25% growth during the pandemic)
10,025 emails read
2,723 blog views from 25 issues
Face of SARE
Alabama SARE has a dedicated website that is used for training faculty and producers on various grant opportunities, publications etc. I have also published fact sheets on trap crops (2 bulletins) and pest exclusion systems (2 bulletins) – I use these resources routinely for training and social media posts. The SARE Advisory Committee that meets monthly via Zoom also spreads the word out to various communities regarding activities that helps the Alabama SARE program tremendously.