Train the Trainers: Reducing impacts from harmful algal blooms in livestock water sources in South Carolina

Progress report for SPDP21-01

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2021: $79,975.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2024
Grant Recipients: Clemson University; South Carolina State University
Region: Southern
State: South Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Debabrata Sahoo
Clemson University
Dr. Matthew Burns
Clemson University
Mark Nettles
South Carolina State University, 1890 Research and Extension
Heather Nix
Clemson University Cooperative Extension
Dr. Michael Vassalos
Clemson University
Sarah White
Clemson University
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Project Information


Agribusiness is the #1 industry in South Carolina (SC), generating approximately $45B annually. Livestock production is one of the top agricultural commodities in SC, and adequate clean water is essential for success. Livestock typically drink from ponds, which can be unreliable during droughts or when impaired by aquatic weeds, especially harmful algal blooms (HABs). Many small livestock operations have only one water source. Risks to livestock health are magnified by climate change, decreasing summer rainfall, and increasing nighttime temperature in SC, which collectively increase the growth of HABs capable of producing off-putting tastes or toxins lethal to livestock, pets, and humans.

Reports of HABs typically started in August; more recently, SC producers began experiencing HABs  in June, increasing the duration of livestock exposure to toxins. Producers rely on Agents for advice on many issues. Currently, no clear guidance is available to educate Agents on how to best assist producers in preventing, preparing for, or managing HABs. Alternate water supplies are typically available but may require advanced planning, infrastructure development, or a combination thereof. Improving the information available to prevent and manage HABs would enhance the social, environmental, and economic sustainability of water supplies for livestock production. This multi-institution (including 1862 and 1890 land grant institutions) and multi-discipline project will develop essential materials iteratively incorporating survey results, and host effective participatory training events in collaboration with farmers to enable  agents, NGOs and other agricultural professionals to work proactively with producers to implement  cost-effective HAB prevention, management, and response options.  

Project Objectives:

Livestock ponds with HABs are of concern for the health of the livestock, as livestock drinking from HAB impacted ponds may lead to poor animal health or death. Various factors such as farm management, water source, rainfall-runoff management processes, and livestock operation type could influence the prevalence and severity of HABs in the ponds. Training and education resources to assist Trainers (Cooperative Extension Agents, NRCS staff, agricultural advisors, and relevant nonprofit advisors) expand knowledge and skills will help better educate farmers, enabling informed decisions related to management of sensitive natural resources, improved livestock health, and increased sustainability of operations and profits. Ultimately, changes in practice by livestock and agricultural producers could minimize the threat of HABs and improve sustainability of livestock operations.

The project goal is to collaborate with farming partners and professionals to develop materials and conduct practical participatory training detailing cost-effective HAB prevention and management options to encourage minimization of risk and to enable fast, effective response for livestock producers dealing with HABs. The training program will lead to increased adoption of farming practices that minimize risks to livestock from HABs, and increase profitability, Extension Agents, NRCS staff, agricultural advisors, and nonprofit advisors are the target audience (“Trainers”). Curriculum and training will build upon and be integrated with the SC SARE program.

We will accomplish the goal by completing six objectives.

  1. Conducting a facilitated focus group discussion with livestock professionals and mentor farmers to determine barriers to change in practice that limit grower adoption of practices that enhance livestock health while mitigating potential for HABs and to understand the potential areas that the agents are not familiar with on HABs.
  2. Developing and publishing (digital and print) comprehensive reference materials for Trainers about avoiding/managing HABs in livestock ponds. Materials will include information, pictures, actionable recommendations, and other resources. Developed materials will be available to other trainers throughout the Southeast and US, potentially expanding the outcomes and benefits of this project far beyond SC.
  3. Providing effective in-person and web-based training (pandemic and non-pandemic situations) about avoiding, managing, and mitigating HABs.
  4. Establishing a team of expert Trainers ready to educate and assist farmers in implementing practices to prepare for, prevent, or respond to HABs.
  5. Demonstrating implementation of efficient, cost-effective HAB avoidance and/or management strategies on-farm at mentor livestock producer sites to encourage the adoption of sustainable water management practices throughout SC and the Southeast, and to obtain on-farm experiential learning.
  6. Evaluating the impact of the trainings and field demonstrations on agents’ knowledge.

The training components, both in-person and web-based, will be developed and administered by an interdisciplinary team with expertise in water quality, HABs, livestock operations, rainfall-runoff processes, weather patterns, nutrient and sediment management, vegetation management, and performance analysis. Various objectives will be accomplished in different phases during the training (see project timeline). Throughout the project, outputs, outcomes, and participant gains in knowledge will be quantified using pre-and post-training surveys. Training effectiveness and constructive means of enhancing training to promote better acceptance/ transfer of knowledge will be evaluated after each training (classroom or field-based training) and subsequent trainings modified to improve delivery of materials.

Behavioral changes pertinent to knowledge, educational skills, and attitude among the Trainers after training programs are expected. By providing Trainers with science-based information about the complexity of causation and management of HABs in the ponds, the Trainers will gain knowledge and confidence about HAB prevention/mitigation methods, and can better assist livestock farmers to successfully exclude/manage HABs in livestock ponds. The designed reference and training materials will aid the Trainers and provide the intellectual assets to help farmers combat HABs. It is anticipated that the Trainers will apply the information, knowledge, and experience gained when farmers request assistance to diminish the frequency/severity of HAB issues locally and state-wide.

The proposed project will directly benefit the Trainers. The Trainers will mark a change in their educational behavior towards the farmers. They will be the intellectual capital for the farmers to avoid and mitigate HABs in the livestock ponds and increase sustainability of farming. The participating Trainers will be a part of the network with HAB expertise able to assist farmers with various water management challenges. The training will foster collaboration among the Trainers and the mentor farmers which will continue beyond this proposed program. When completed, the training materials developed will be published so that they can serve as extension resources for other state Extension agents and specialists to broaden application of program training materials to the southeastern region (and potentially beyond).


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Educational approach:

Attendees answering the survey during the training.
Attendees in action
In-person training
In-person training

To assess the level of understanding of HABs in livestock ponds among the trainees, various questions were formulated and discussed during the focus group meetings. The discussion indicated the resource needs of the water agents, extension agents, NRCS members, and other participants. Various educational materials such as manuals, presentations, and factsheets were developed.  

In-person training sessions were organized at three locations in South Carolina — the Water Resources Center (upstate location), Sandhill Research and Educational Center (REC), and Edisto REC — on August 10, 2022, August 23, 2022, and August 24, 2022, respectively. The training covered topics on Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) in general, as well as HABs specifically in livestock ponds. Participants from various organizations, including Clemson Extension, SC State University, NRCS, and SCDHEC, attended the training, representing 50 individuals from 46 counties in South Carolina. Additionally, a few farmers also participated in the training.

Surveys were conducted during the training to evaluate agents' level of knowledge (LOK) regarding Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) and to assess the effectiveness of the in-person training. The training was conducted as a one-day, 5-hour event, covering topics such as the causes, consequences, prevention techniques, and management techniques of HABs. Additionally, various resources developed as part of the project were shared with the participants during the training. 

The attendees were provided with a reference manual titled 'Harmful Algal Blooms: Prevention, Response, and Avoidance Manual' which covered various aspects of HABs. Additionally, at the conclusion of the training, the attendees were awarded a 'Certificate of Attendance'. As part of the program, a pocket field guide for identifying HABs in South Carolina has been developed. This field guide will be distributed to agents and participants during the field training in the fall and spring.  

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Provide resources to co-operative extension service agents, water agents, NRCS staff, and others on HABs in livestock ponds

The objective of the project is to understand the level of awareness regarding HABs in livestock ponds among various participants such as extension service agents, and water agents, and design resources to help them address HAB issues.


Focus group meetings were organized at different locations throughout the state with farmers, extension agents, NRCS agents, USEPA, and SCDHEC personnel to understand the need for resources to address HABs in livestock ponds. Survey questions were designed and provided to the trainees to gauge the effectiveness of training on HABs in livestock ponds. 

Outcomes and impacts:

The focus group meetings have helped the team to develop resources for the participants to address HABs in livestock ponds. 

Provide resources to co-operative extension service agents, water agents, NRCS staff, and others on HABs in livestock ponds

The objective of the project is to train and develop resources for various Extension service agents, water agents, and farmers to help them address HAB issues, particularly in livestock ponds.


In-person training on how to prevent, respond and avoid HABs was offered at different locations spread across the state. Various resources such as a HAB manual developed during the project were shared with the trainees. The manual will guide the trainees while addressing HAB issues in smaller waterbodies such as livestock ponds.   

Outcomes and impacts:

The level of knowledge of the attendees was evaluated by a survey conducted before and after the training. The study showed discernible differences in performance and training effectiveness among the trainees. Water resource agents displayed a higher capacity for improving their level of knowledge in their field. Water resource agents are better prepared than their counterparts to identify HABs for their stakeholders and provide management recommendations.

Educational & Outreach Activities

10 Consultations
3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
3 Webinars / talks / presentations
3 Workshop field days
3 Other educational activities: Knowledge gathering on HABs in livestock ponds from different participants such as NRCS agents, extension agents, and water and livestock agents in focus group meetings.

Participation Summary:

30 Extension
5 Researchers
4 Agency
5 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

40 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
26 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The project created a database with participants from NRCS, USEPA, SCDHEC, farmers, mentor farmers, water agents and extension agents at Clemson University. The participants were engaged in three focus group meetings organized in fall 2021 at three distinct locations in South Carolina. An understanding of harmful algal blooms among the participants was assessed. Some degree of baseline knowledge among the participants was evaluated. Resource needs among the participants were discussed. 

Based on the discussions, currently, the team is engaged in developing educational materials (e.g., factsheets, manuals), and resources for the trainees to address HABs in livestock ponds. Various questions have been formulated to assess the knowledge gained by the trainees through surveys before and after the workshop. The survey has been approved by IRB.  

Additional Outcomes:

In the next phase of the project, we'll conduct workshops in different regions of the state and provide resources to the trainees. We'll measure the outcome of the training and materials developed using a survey. The survey results will be analyzed and education materials will be revised. Field tours will be organized with mentor farmers to show different BMPs, water quality sampling, and discuss further the resource needs. 

Information Products

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.