Improving Pasture Management for Sustainable Livestock Production

Progress report for SNE20-001-CT

Project Type: PDP State Program
Funds awarded in 2020: $225,330.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2023
Grant Recipient: University of Connecticut
Region: Northeast
State: Connecticut
State Coordinators:
Joseph Bonelli
University of Connecticut
Co-Coordinators:
Rachel Bespuda
University of Connecticut
Jean King
University of Connecticut
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Project Information

Summary:

The Tri-State project is designed to increase the knowledge and skills of agricultural service providers who assist livestock producers in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island and their engagement with producers on these issues.
Problem and Justification: Our comprehensive needs assessment sent to the 450 service providers and farmers on the project’s listserv, feedback from the project advisory group and direct contact with many agricultural agencies/interest groups throughout the region shows that further education is desired and necessary in the areas of pasture management, soil health and manure management.
Solution and Approach: Over the course of the three-year project, multiple delivery methods will be used to help participants gain knowledge and skills through several learning environments. These will include: classroom and field training workshops, frequent on-line correspondence, online access to all presentations, short videos, group discussions and collaboration at all workshops. Content and curricula for this project will be finalized in collaboration with the project advisory group which includes agricultural service providers, representatives from the agricultural industry and interested farmers in each of the respective states. The project will also offer a certificate program for those who are interested in participating. Electronic pre and post evaluation questions will help the project director understand the knowledge level of the participants both before and after each workshop. Follow-up questionnaires administered via a Qualtrics online survey will be conducted throughout the duration and after the completion of the project to quantify the number of participants who were able to utilize the knowledge and skills learned and apply it to their daily work with farmers.

Performance Target:

35 agricultural service providers who learn through the project will provide education and assistance (i.e. workshops, one-on-one consultations, articles, videos, websites, fact sheets, and project materials) regarding the recommended sustainable livestock production practices learned to 230 farmers in CT, MA and RI who manage livestock (bovine, goats, poultry, sheep, swine).

Introduction:

The 2017-2020 project established a solid knowledge and skills base for participants specific to the basic principles of pasture management and infrastructure. The project team members plan to build on the momentum that has been established, providing more advanced training and education in areas related to pasture management. These areas include soil health and manure (nutrient) management, both of which are recognized as key elements in sustainable agriculture, helping to advance environmental stewardship when managed properly. The goal is that many of the same participants involved in 2017-2020 project will take part in the upcoming three year project, thereby further increasing their knowledge, skills and understanding of the interrelations and synergistic relationship that pasture management, soil health and manure management have on livestock production. Agricultural Need: The topics listed above were identified as a priority among those who responded to the needs assessment administered in January 2020. Results of the survey showed that nearly 50% (38) of the respondents (19 ASP) selected pasture management and infrastructure as an area that required further training. Another 45% (35) of the respondents (21 ASP) indicated that soil health and manure management was an area of necessary education. Additionally, representatives from Connecticut and Rhode Island NRCS and the Rhode Island Division of Agriculture agreed in discussions with the project director further training is necessary in both soil health and manure management. Proposed Solution: Participants will develop increased knowledge and skills in the area of pasture management, soil health and manure management. Participants will also learn a variety of concepts and practices during the three-year period and can expect to have expanded their knowledge in areas including but not limited to the creation of a grazing plan, pasture scoring, the understanding and interpretation of soil test results, the use of soil data, maps and calculators, manure application rate charts and nutrient management plans.The project team has identified two potential barriers this project may face. One of those barriers may be the limited time agricultural service providers have to dedicate to the project. Many service providers find themselves with multiple responsibilities/duties and as a result may be unable to attend all workshops due to time constraints. If the lack of time by ASP becomes a reality, the project team will look into the possibility of recording the workshops and posting that recording on the project webpage in addition to the presentations from each workshop.  Another potential barrier in this project is the distance traveled to workshops by participants. Historically, the classroom workshops have been held in one central location. The location we have used has been an excellent venue. If travel becomes a barrier, the project director will determine if there may be other locations more central to those attending on a regular basis. Despite these potential barriers our experience from 2018 to 2020 has shown an increasing number of participants in our project who are attracted by the curricula content. Agricultural Service Provider Interest: This project will gather ASP from the Tri-State region including, but not limited to: Extension, NRCS, FSA, state Departments of Agriculture and animal health care professional personnel. Throughout the three-year project, the project director will work with involved participants to be sure that the project is meeting their desired training needs. The project director will engage with and talk to participants on an individual basis, both at workshops and via email and/or telephone correspondence. This connection with participants will encourage their continued engagement throughout the duration of the project.

Advisors/Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

This section will be updated after the first project year is complete. Following is the educational approach from our proposal:

Recruitment

Agricultural service providers recruited for this project will include University Extension faculty/staff, agricultural educators, personnel from federal and state agricultural agencies, animal health care professionals and non-profit agricultural service providers. Farmers are also welcome to participate as co-learners. Direct contact via the project’s listserv, created in 2010 and continually growing, will be the primary method for recruiting beneficiaries. The Tri-State project currently has a listserv of 450 ASP and farmers from which the project will recruit. Of those, 139 (78 service providers and 61 farmers) have participated in at least one of the workshops conducted in 2017-2020. It is expected that some of the participants from 2017-2020 will continue to play an active role in the project moving forward, while others will become active participants for the first time. Secondarily, other recruitment strategies will include direct telephone contact, website postings, newsletters/other appropriate publications and contacting other agricultural agencies/organizations in the Tri-State area directly. ASP will be supported throughout the project by being offered analysis testing (i.e. soil, fecal and forage) for the farmers they work with, subject to funding. This will provide incentive for them to apply what they have learned through the project in their work with farmers. All participants will have multiple opportunities to provide feedback on topics of focus they wish to learn more about as the project progresses. This will give those who are actively involved an opportunity to voice their opinion ensuring their continuation of interest and participation in the project

Education

The needs assessment and other feedback, determined the following project topics.

  1. Pasture Management (grazing plans, pasture scoring, soil health and manure management, carbon farming)
  2. Soil Health (conservation, link to climate change and manure management)
  3. Manure Management (nutrient content, planning, composting)

The primary educational delivery methods will be classroom and field workshops. All project programming is developed to meet the needs of ASP and farmers. Classroom workshops will be planned as a series, each session building on the next. These can also be attended as stand-alone workshops. Field workshops will apply the concepts learned in the classroom, in a hands-on approach. The project director will invite topic specialists to present. Participants maybe both instructors and co-learners, building their knowledge and skills in new areas. Each classroom workshop will have dedicated time for group discussion. These will be structured and moderated giving participants time to discuss ideas for advising about content learned and developing plans to implement those ideas. The discussions will allow for service providers and farmers within the room to interact with one another and gain an understanding of each others’ perspective. A variety of adult learning strategies will be employed, including but not limited to small groups working on situational scenarios. By the conclusion of each workshop, participants will have worked together to create a written list of the concepts learned. These concepts will be incorporated into the yearly follow up surveys to determine what actions the participants took to apply the concepts. The written lists developed at each workshop will be shared in the monthly updates, posted on the project website and serve as a source of information for those who could not be in attendance. Each field workshop will include an analysis of concepts presented in the classroom with participants given time to assess the farm and apply the concepts learned in the classroom. The host farm will understand the intention and objectives of the technical analysis and will be willing to take feedback provided by participants. Participants will learn the goals of the farm, be given time to assess the farm and provide the farmer with feedback and recommendations. This will allow for co-learning in a team setting, further discussion and application of the concepts learned. On-going communication with participants will be maintained monthly via email, or other strategies allowing them to share questions, challenges and successes of implementing concepts learned. Videography has been used in the past to enhance the project programming. If education continues virtually in the future, videography will likely be used for this purpose. Additionally, participants will receive a binder, allowing them to keep all information over the three year period. All presentations from the workshops will be posted on the project website to serve as a reference and to enable others to learn. Consistent and regular communication with the group will facilitate a community of learning and enable the formation of a cohort of Tri-State service providers allowing for cross-border networking and collaboration.

Verification

The project director will gather information and assess baseline knowledge and skills, verify participants learning and identify their needs for additional learning at each training workshop. This will be done through a series of pre and post evaluation questions administered electronically at the beginning and end of each workshop. A Qualtrics online survey will be distributed 4 to 6 months after the completion of the training workshops each year. Every participant attending at least one of the workshops conducted in that year will receive the follow-up survey. The survey will be designed in such a way to present questions to each participant based on the workshop(s) they attended. This survey will verify how well the participants were able to follow through in applying the knowledge and skills learned to teach and advise farmers. They will also have the opportunity to share any comments/thoughts they had on the workshops and make suggestions for future programming. The project will also offer a certificate program for participants. This program will require the participant to attend all classroom workshops and at least one field training workshop each year. In order to earn the certificate, after the completion of the yearly workshops, the project director will discuss with each participant how they have applied the skills and knowledge learned to their everyday work. They will be expected to share information on how many farmers they have worked with in regard to what they have learned as a result of this project and what educational tools they used when providing the training and education.

Milestones

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

Every January, 450 unique individuals (agricultural service providers and farmers) receive an announcement describing the classroom workshops planned for the Tri-State SARE professional development project (one announcement per year, 3 in total for the project). The announcement includes an invitation to provide feedback to the Project Director and the opportunity to register for one or all of the classroom workshops to be held that year. Moving forward throughout the project year, planned workshops will be promoted and advertised on the project website (www.meatsystems.uconn.edu) and with the help of agricultural service provider organizations/groups and publications.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
450
Proposed Completion Date:
January 31, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

January 2021- First Year

An announcement, showcasing the 2021 winter webinar series was distributed to 484 service providers and farmers on the Tri-State SARE mailing list in January. This announcement was also sent to agricultural service provider groups and organizations throughout the region. The recipients were invited to look at the project website for more information and encouraged to use the link provided to register for the webinars.

Milestone #2 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Each year, a series of three half day classroom training workshops will be held in a central location to the Tri-State region (3 workshops per year, 9 in total for the project). The project director will invite content area specialists to these workshops, allowing participants to increase their knowledge and skills in the area of soil health and manure management as they relate to grazing management. This milestone will be attended by single attendees who may participate in multiple workshops.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
225
Proposed Completion Date:
July 31, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

First Year (2020-2021)

*Prior to the start of the 2020-2021 programming, the project team with approval from the SARE Program Coordinator made the decision to conduct all classroom programming virtually due to COVID restrictions* 

The project hosted a winter webinar series (4 in total) on the topic of creating (writing) a simple grazing plan. The Project Director invited 4 content area specialists from across the Northeast to be a part of the series, all of whom participated in at least 2 of the webinars. This helped in keeping consistency and continuity throughout the series. Many participants were a part of more than one webinar. The Tri-State SARE project collaborated with the New England Grazing Network (funded through the Cedar Tree Foundation) for the series. The Network’s Project Coordinator was a part of all 4 webinars and offered one on one follow up support for those who attended the webinar(s). The first webinar (Introduction to the development of a simple grazing plan) was held on February 19th. 25 ASP  and 25 farmers attended. The second webinar (Grazing plan calculations) was held on March 10th. 25 ASP and 18 farmers attended. 

Milestone #3 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

At each classroom workshop, participants will engage in group discussions (3 in total for the year, 9 in total for the project). By the end of the discussion, participants (as a group) will generate ideas and develop a list of steps that can be taken to teach and advise farmers as a result of the knowledge acquired and skills learned during the workshop. The farmers will be asked to determine what of the concepts learned can apply to their own situation. This milestone will be attended by single attendees who may participate in multiple workshops.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
225
Proposed Completion Date:
July 31, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

First Year (2020-2021)

Each webinar consisted of instruction and time for interaction and collaboration among participants. Being held virtually, the group discussion that would have occurred if the workshops were in person became breakout room sessions. Each webinar had 2 breakout sessions. These sessions were led by moderators who were part of the project team and/or the content area specialists who were invited to be speakers.  The sessions, which consisted of 5 to 8 participants in each, worked through exercises that helped reinforce the content taught. By the end of the 4 webinar series, participants will have worked through all of the basic steps to create a simple grazing plan. The participants were also asked after each webinar via a post evaluation what action step(s) they planned to take as a result of attending the webinar.  

Milestone #4 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Every April, 450 unique individuals (agricultural service providers and farmers) receive an announcement describing the field training workshops planned for the Tri-State SARE professional development project (one announcement per year, 3 in total for the project). The announcement includes an invitation to provide feedback to the project director and the opportunity to register for one or all of the field workshops to be held that year. Moving forward throughout the project year, planned workshops will be promoted and advertised on the project website (www.meatsystems.uconn.edu) and with the help of agricultural service provider organizations/groups and publications.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
450
Proposed Completion Date:
April 30, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #5 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Each year, two half day field training workshops will be held (2 workshops per year, 6 in total for the project). These workshops will highlight the recommended practices taught in the classroom training workshops. To the best of the project director’s ability, these workshops will be planned and hosted by a farmer who is also a participant in the project, working to implement the concepts learned throughout the classroom workshops. These workshops will allow for continued learning and further discussion about the topic and concepts learned in the classroom. This milestone will be attended by single attendees who may participate in multiple workshops.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
90
Proposed Completion Date:
August 31, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #6 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

At each field workshop, participants will complete an analysis of the farm (2 in total for the year, 6 in total for the project). Prior to the end of each workshop, analyses will be shared and recommendations will be made to the host farm regarding the pasture management, soil health and manure management practices on their farm. This milestone will be attended by single attendees who may participate in multiple workshops.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
90
Proposed Completion Date:
August 31, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #7 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

All uniquely individual project participants receive monthly updates from the project director. These updates will allow for the sharing of questions and information throughout the project and facilitate a community of learning among participants.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #8 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

All participants involved in the project will be eligible to receive a certificate at the end of each project year (can earn up to 3 in total for the project). The requirements include: attending all classroom workshops (3 per year), at least one field workshop per year and being in direct communication with the project director discussing how they have applied the knowledge and skills learned throughout the year in their day to day work.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
10
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #9 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

4 to 6 months after the completion of each project year all uniquely individual participants who attended at least one of the 5 workshops (3 classroom and 2 field) held will respond to a follow-up survey (3 in total for the project) from the project director. Service providers will report on actions taken to teach and advise farmers using the knowledge and skills learned through the workshops, while farmers will report on what changes they have implemented on their farm.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
35
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2023
Status:
In Progress

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers

SARE Outreach

Outreach about SARE:

Much of our SARE outreach is occurring through online webinars and conferences in 2021. In the opening comments of each Tri-State SARE workshop the CT state SARE coordinator takes 3 to 5 minutes to discuss the different grant opportunities that SARE provides. 

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.