Progress report for SNE21-007-ME
Problem and Justification
Adapting to climate change is a new imperative for agriculture. Current and projected changes in weather present new opportunities and risks for agriculture in Maine and the Northeast. Longer growing seasons might allow farmers to grow new varieties and crops, but increased risks of spring frosts, summer droughts, wetter/cooler springs, and more frequent and intense rainfall pose serious threats to crop production and farm viability. Seventy-six percent of Maine agricultural service providers who responded to a 2021 survey felt that farmers need additional support to address climate change on their farms, and 79% said they are interested in helping farmers do so. In many cases, practices that farmers and advisors have identified as ones that would help farmers adapt to changing weather patterns (e.g. irrigation, drainage, weather-based decision tools; Johnson et al., 2019; White et al., 2018) require new knowledge and skills, not just for farmers but also for their agricultural service providers. Survey respondents reported feeling least confident in making recommendations related to implementing irrigation systems, managing excess water, changing breeds/varieties, and using weather-based decision tools.
Solution and Approach
The goal of this 3-year plan is to increase agricultural service provider ability to help farmers adapt to climate change by increasing their knowledge, skills, and confidence in providing information and recommendations about specific agricultural practices that address the risks associated with climate change. Each year, we will focus on one climate adaptation practice, such as irrigation. The aim is not to create topic experts, but to help trainees become well-informed advisors who, in the context of their current positions, will help farmers frame the right questions, address relevant considerations, evaluate options, and connect with the most appropriate resources and experts. The educational approach combines on-farm learning, peer-to-peer learning, expert presentations, hands-on experiential learning, and individual learning.
44 agricultural service providers who gain practical knowledge and skills in climate adaptation practices (CAPs) will work with at least 2 farmers each to develop a set of customized CAP recommendations for their farms and reach an additional 10 farmers each through one-on-one consultations or educational programs.
Adapting to climate change is a new imperative for agriculture. Current and projected changes in weather present new opportunities and risks for agriculture in Maine and the Northeast. Longer growing seasons might allow farmers to grow new varieties and crops, but increased risks of spring frosts, summer droughts, wetter/cooler springs, and more frequent and intense rainfall pose serious threats to crop production and farm viability. Seventy-six percent of Maine agricultural service providers who responded to a 2021 survey* felt that farmers need additional support to address climate change on their farms, and 79% said they are interested in helping farmers do so. The risks the respondents were most concerned about were drought, changes in water availability, extreme precipitation events, delayed field operations, soil erosion, flooding and saturated soils, high temperatures, higher insect/disease pressure or new insect pests and diseases, frost or freeze events, and changing weather patterns in general. In many cases, practices identified in prior surveys of farmers and advisors as ones that would help farmers adapt to changing weather patterns (e.g. irrigation, drainage, weather-based decision tools; Johnson et al., 2019; White et al., 2018) require new knowledge and skills, not just for farmers but also for their agricultural service providers. 2021 survey respondents reported feeling least confident in making recommendations related to implementing irrigation systems, managing excess water, changing breeds or varieties, and using weather-based decision tools.
* The 2021 survey, conducted for our 2020 SARE state program, was as a regional needs assessment to identify agricultural service providers’ knowledge gaps and training needs as related to helping farmers adapt to climate change. The survey was distributed to 5286 email addresses; 585 agricultural service providers responded and 467 completed the entire survey. Survey results reported here are for the 65 individuals who reported working with Maine farmers, 54 of whom completed all survey questions. Their primary affiliations were: Extension (47%), non-profit (23%), private consultants (13%), Federal/NRCS (6%), Conservation District (4%), State agency (4%), and Other (4%).
The goal of this 3-year plan is to increase agricultural service provider knowledge, skills, and confidence in providing information and recommendations about specific agricultural practices that address the risks associated with climate change. Each year, we will focus on one climate adaptation practice. The first year’s topic will be irrigation. Irrigation was among the climate adaptation practices for which survey respondents did not think farmers currently have the knowledge and skills that they need to be successful. It also was among the topics for which respondents reported feeling least confident in providing farmers with recommendations. Topics for years two and three will be determined based on information from the 2021 regional survey, the project advisory board, and (for year three) an end-of-year survey of 2021-22 participants. Based on information to date, likely topics are coping with too much water (wet springs and extreme rainfall events) and weather-based decision tools. Trainees will help determine the specific topics to cover for each theme, first by participating in an introductory fall farm tour and then throughout the program.
The aim of this program is not to create experts who help farmers implement specific practices, but to help trainees become well-informed advisors who, in the context of their current positions, will help farmers frame the right questions, address relevant considerations, evaluate options, and connect with the most appropriate resources and experts. For instance, regarding irrigation, trainees will learn about relevant state rules and regulations, types of irrigation systems, economics and costs of irrigation, plant-soil-water relationships, estimating water needs and water source capacity, irrigation scheduling, soil moisture monitoring, methods to improve water use efficiency, available resources, and local examples of irrigation systems at multiple production scales. Participants also will learn how to develop a comprehensive “farm irrigation scheme” or plan that addresses all of the above and that can be used in their work with farmers.
Agricultural Service Provider Interest
Eighty-three percent of 61 respondents who work with Maine farmers said they were likely (55%) or extremely likely (28%) to participate in professional development opportunities to improve their ability to help farmers adapt to climate change. These respondents represented the full diversity of agricultural service providers in Maine and included Extension, non-profits, private crop advisors, conservation districts, NRCS, and state departments. The survey also included an open-ended question about other topics of interest for professional development. Many others were suggested, such as business planning and marketing, but none had the overall level of interest as climate adaptation practices.
In the summer before each project year, we will send an email to 150 agricultural service providers who work directly with farmers in Maine (e.g., Extension, NRCS, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, private crop advisors, non-profits, and state agencies) inviting them to participate in the upcoming one-year training. Thus, each year we will have a new cohort of 18 trainees, although we expect there to be some who participate in multiple trainings. The invitation will outline the opportunities and expectations of joining the year’s training group, which include increasing their ability to assist farmers with evaluating and implementing specific adaptation practices, gaining hands-on experience with specific tools and practices, and developing a network of fellow agricultural service providers. The expectations are that trainees will: participate in at least 75% of winter training activities; conduct a farm project individually or as a member of a team; participate in at least one farm tour; keep track of their farmer advising, outreach activities and farmer outcomes; and report on their learning, activity, and farmer outcomes in end-of-year and end-of-project verification surveys.
Farmers who host the introduction farm tour, host the CAP SWOT assessment, and partner with trainees for the farm projects will be recruited by the Coordinators, with input from the Advisory Board, and offered $500 stipends to compensate them for their time.
The education plan was designed using results from the 2021 needs assessment survey. Respondents were asked to describe a professional development experiences that they have found particularly effective and why. The educational approaches that were mentioned most often were included in this plan, and are: on-farm learning, peer-to-peer learning, expert presentations, hands-on experiential learning, and individual learning. The training topic for year one will be irrigation. Topics for years two and three will be determined as described in “Proposed Solutions” with potential topics being coping with too much water and weather-based decision tools.
Each year’s training will include the following activities:
- Introductory Farm Tour – At the beginning of each year in September (or just before in August) an initial farm tour focused on the upcoming year’s theme will be held to 1) provide an introduction to the trainees, 2) help trainees and project leaders identify the specific topics to address in winter educational activities, and 3) serve as a common case study for discussions during the year. (1 per year)
- Winter Workshop – Each workshop will be a half-day session with expert speakers that is open to the public, followed by lunch and a shorter afternoon session focused on activities for project participants only. Each year an out-of-state speaker will be invited to present at the workshop and work with trainees during the afternoon session. (1 per year)
- Farm projects – Trainees will work, individually or in groups of 2-4, with one farmer to develop a set of recommendations related to the year’s topic. Trainees will be grouped according to their interest regarding farm type and scale. They will be given the option to recruit a farmer partner themselves or to be paired with a farmer by the project Coordinators. The Coordinators will work with the project advisory group to identify interested farmer partners. The trainees will receive this assignment in the fall and work on them over the winter. The assignment for the first year will be to develop a farm irrigation scheme that outlines relevant regulations, appropriate types irrigation, water sources, water needs, methods to improve water use efficiency, irrigation scheduling strategies for specific crops, partial budgets, and resources for financial and technical assistance.
- Winter webinars and meetings – Three 1-2 hour sessions will occur from January through April. They will be a mix of webinars that address specific technical subjects related to the year’s topic presented by expert speakers (ex. water source development rules and regulations) and working sessions where trainees present and troubleshoot their farm projects. (3 per year)
- Resource Directory – Each year’s training group will develop a curated list of informational resources on their topic that will be shared with the public as an Extension webpage. Certain will be assigned for individual learning.
- CAP SWOT Assessment – In the summer, trainees will engage in a “Reading the Farm” like exercise to help apply and dive deeper into what they learned during the winter. They will tour a farm and, working as a team, conduct a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis for the host farm related to their training topic.
Participants will receive an end-of-program survey in the November following their training year to verify learning and performance target outcomes for service providers. Participants in years one and two will receive similar surveys each following year in November to further verify performance target outcomes for service providers as well as for farmers. A draft of the verification tool is attached.
18 agricultural service providers sign up to participate in a 1-year Climate Adaptation Practices (CAP) training project after receiving an email invitation from the SARE state coordinator. The invitation outlined the opportunities and expectations of joining the year’s training group. NOTES: This and all of the following milestones occur each year. Recruitment for year 1 will occur before the project start date. The total number of agricultural service providers who participate in this 3-year project is based on an assumption that 10 individuals will participate in two of the three years: 3 times 18 minus 10 equals 44.
In September 2021, 11 agricultural service providers signed up to participate in the Maine Climate Adaptation Practices (MECAP) Year 1 training, "Too Little Water". Participants were from Extension (4), non-profits (3), state agency (1), NRCS (1), Soil and Water Conservation District (1), and University (1). The trainee from NRCS later dropped out for lack of time.
In September 2022, 17 agricultural service providers signed up to participate in the MECAP Year 2 training, "Too Much Water". Participants are from Extension (7), non-profits (4), state agency (3), and Soil and Water Conservation District (3), and include two participants from New Hampshire. Six of the Year 2 participants also participated in Year 1.
To date, 22 agricultural service providers signed up for, and 21 participated in, Year 1, Year 2, or both years of the MECAP program.
18 trainees participate in an introductory farm tour focused on the year’s topic and drawing on what they learned during the tour, help decide what specific topics will be addressed during the year’s training.
Six MECAP trainees participated in the Year 1 Fall Farm Tour, held on November 2, 2021 at Snell Family Farm in Buxton, Maine. Eight trainees participated in the Year 2 Fall Farm Tour, held on November 4, 2022 at Crystal Springs Farm in Brunswick, Maine. Before each farm tour, participants received and reviewed information about the host farms, climate change impacts on agriculture in Maine, potential adaptation practices for Too Little Water or Too Much Water, and an on-farm climate change risk assessment guide. During these farm tours, trainees:
- Learned about one farm’s experience with the risks they face associated with too little/too much water and the strategies they are using to address those risks that can provide context for the remainder of the training.
- Identified the topics that trainees feel they need to be familiar with to advice farmers on implementing and managing irrigation (Year 1) or managing for excess moisture and extreme rainfall events (Year 2).
- Started building connections and trust among participants and coordinators.
- Learned about the MECAP program activities for the year.
- Provided feedback and suggestions for the winter’s activities (Year 2 only).
- Learned about NRCS water source development and irrigation programs (Year 1 only).
In 2021, all Year 1 trainees filled out an introductory survey that included questions about their interest in specific training topics (ex., drought and water stress, surface water and groundwater pumping regulations, monitoring soil moisture). As well, the 4 Year 1 trainees who did not attend the Fall Farm Tour, plus 4 who did, participated in an online MECAP program meeting on November 19, 2021 to learn more about the MECAP Farm Projects and Resource Directory activities, and to provide further input on webinar topics and speakers for the winter.
18 trainees and an additional 12 agricultural service providers and 20 farmers participate in a morning workshop focused on the year’s topic. In the afternoon, trainees participate in project activities including beginning work on their farm projects. NOTE: The total number of non-trainee agricultural service providers who participate in these annual workshops is based on an assumption that 10 individuals will participate in two of the three workshops: 3 times 12 minus 10 equals 26. The total number of farmers makes the same assumption: 3 times 20 minus 10 equals 50.
Eight Year 1 trainees, 15 other agricultural service providers, and 10 farmers participated in a 2-hour online workshop on February 7, 2022 titled, “Getting Started with Irrigation”. The invited speakers were Trevor Hardy of Brookdale Fruit Farm, Inc. and Brookdale Farm Supplies, the largest irrigation and row crop supplies company in New England, and Candi Gilpatric, an Agricultural Engineer with Maine NRCS. Trevor and Candi talked about evaluating if irrigation is cost-effective, assessing whether water resources are sufficient to meet crop needs, and irrigation equipment options and considerations.
All 10 trainees met in their farm project groups with SARE Outreach Coordinator Tom Molloy during the fourth week of January to review the objectives and resources for the farm projects. These farm project group meetings took the place of a trainee meeting after the online workshop.
Trainees work individually or in groups of 2-4 with a farmer partner to develop a set of recommendations related to the year’s topic and guided by the farmer’s interests. The trainees receive their assignment in the fall and work on them over the winter.
Year 1 trainees formed three groups (with 4, 4, and 3 trainees) and each group worked with one farmer to assess their farm’s needs related to the increased frequency of dry spells and drought on their farm and to develop a plan to address those needs. Two groups worked with mixed vegetable farmers and one group worked with a potato-grain farmer. In all cases, farmers were interested in implementing irrigation systems on their farms. Trainees evaluated existing water sources, irrigation systems. Two groups also worked with their farm partner to trial soil moisture meters on their farms. The SARE Outreach Coordinator helped farm project teams schedule 3-4 meetings (including in some cases a farm visit) and provided guidance on their projects.
Each year’s training group develops a curated list of informational resources on their topic, which is posted on the UMaine Extension website.
The Year 1 trainees developed the “Directory of Resources on Irrigation in Maine”, a curated list of over 50 online resources on irrigation planning checklists, suppliers and consultants, drought and water monitoring, water rules and regulations, water sources, types of irrigation systems, economic, irrigation management, and crop specific resources. The directory will be posted to the UMaine Extension website and updated annually by either the SARE Coordinator or the Extension Irrigation Specialist.
18 trainees each participate in at least 2 out of 3 webinars and meetings from January through April. These sessions include webinars on specific technical subjects and working sessions where trainees present and troubleshoot their farm projects.
9 trainees each participated in at least 2 out of the 4 webinars and meetings that were offered each month from February through May, listed below with topics and speakers. One trainee participated in only one due to time constraints. Recordings of all webinars were made available for trainees to view.
February 25 – Follow-up session with Candi Gilpatric, NRCS (9 trainees attended)
- Trainees had the opportunity to ask Candi, a speaker at the February 7 Workshop, questions regarding their farm projects or other interests regarding assessing whether water resources and planning for irrigation.
March 16 – Water Sources and Regulations (8 trainees attended)
- Navigating surface water or groundwater pumping regulations, Bill Sheehan of Maine Department of Environmental Protection
- Developing on-farm water sources – pond and well installation and design, George McLaughlin, Maine Potato Board
- Water quality regulations and assessment, including how to comply with FSMA/GAP standards and testing, Rob Machado, UMaine Extension
April 25 – Irrigation Management and Efficiency (7 trainees attended)
- Monitoring soil moisture, Haley Jean and Rachel Schattman, UMaine
- Tools for monitoring weather and drought, Sean Birkel, UMaine
- Determining optimal timings and amount of irrigation applications, Ricardo Griffin, irrigation consultant
May 11 – Managing risk / farm projects (5 trainees attended)
- Insurance and emergency resources in case of drought, Tom Molloy, SARE Outreach Coordinator
- Farm project progress-to-date reports
August 10 – Optional irrigation field day (3 trainees attended). This field day was offered by the Southern Aroostook Soil and Water Conservation District and the MECAP project provided funding for one speaker. The northern location made it difficult for many trainees to attend.
18 trainees participate in a CAP SWOT assessment in which they tour a farm and, working as a team, conduct a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis for the host farm related to their training topic.
Seven trainees participated in in-depth farm tours of Marr Pond Farm (one of farm project partners) and Stutzman Farm on June 14. The purpose of the tours changed from a SWOT assessment to reporting out and getting feedback on the Marr Pond Farm farm project, assessing the results of moisture meter trialing at Marr Pond Farm, and touring a neighboring farm’s irrigation systems. Marr Pond and Stutzman Farm Tours
18 trainees complete end-of-year evaluation surveys that assess learning outcomes and performance target outcomes for agricultural service providers and farmers.
Only 3 Year 1 trainees completed the online survey. The SARE Coordinator will follow up individually with trainees once she is back from sabbatical.
18 trainees work with at least 2 farmers to provide in-depth guidance on CAPs and reach an additional 10 farmers each through one-on-one assistance or educational programs.
This information has not been collected yet.
Milestone Activities and Participation Summary
Beneficiaries who particpated in the project’s educational activities and events:
|Audience||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Total Individuals|
|Service providers (other or unspecified)||4||0||0||0|
|Farmers / ranchers||10||0||0||0|
Trainees received an email request to complete an online verification survey in mid-September and a reminder in early October. The three trainees who responded reported they had increased their knowledge and understanding about all 13 irrigation topics listed and learned the most about different types of irrigation systems and their uses, irrigation management, local examples of irrigation system, where to go for technical and financial information for farmers. They reported similarly about the extent to which they increased their confidence in providing information as a result of participating in the MECAP program. Trainees found all components of the MECAP program valuable and rated the farm tours, farm projects, and networking with other trainees as the most valuable aspects. One trainee reported that a farmer they worked with has adopted the use of soil moisture sensors for informing irrigation initiation. The Year 1 trainees will receive another survey next year to record their work with farmers based on what they learned in the MECAP program and any changes farmers made as a result.
Performance Target Outcomes
Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers
Gain practical knowledge and skills in climate adaptation practices (CAPs) and apply that knowledge by working with at least 2 farmers each to develop a set of customized CAP recommendations for their farms and reach an additional 10 farmers each through either one-on-one consultations or educational programs.
|Year 1||Year 2||Year 3|
Discussions of irrigation options. On-farm trialing of a soil moisture sensor to determine irrigation timing.
|Activity||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Total|
We provided in-depth personal assistance to five farmers and one agricultural service providers about SARE farmer and partnership grants. We provided information about the SARE grant programs to 67 farmers and 32 service providers at four in-person events:
- Southern Aroostook Irrigation Field Day, August 10, 2022
- Piscataquis County SWCD twilight meeting, October 19, 2022
- Crystal Springs Farm Tour, November 4, 2022
- Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Farmer-to-Farmer Field Day, November 5, 2022
We created an online display for the 2022 Maine Agricultural and Trades Show that was a 4-day all-virtual event from January 11 to 14. Typically, the majority of our in-person contacts come from this annual event but this year it was impossible to know how many people accessed the online display.
Recieved information about SARE grant programs and information resouces:
|Audience||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Total|