Development of a Forage Establishment and Management Curriculum for Extension Agents and Mentor Farmers

Progress report for SPDP21-04

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2021: $77,469.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2023
Grant Recipient: Auburn University
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Leanne Dillard
Auburn University
Co-Investigators:
Dr. Michelle Elmore
Auburn University
Ken Kelley
Auburn University
Dr. Kim Mullenix
Auburn University/Alabama Cooperative Ex
Dr. Rishi Prasad
Auburn University
Dr. Soren Rodning
Auburn University
Max Runge
Auburn University
Dr. David Russell
Auburn University
Dr. Jason Sawyer
Auburn University
Dr. Sonja Thomas
Auburn University
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Project Information

Abstract:

The development of this project will enhance productivity, environmental quality and profitability in agricultural production systems in Alabama and the Southeast through development and delivery of educational resources. This initiative is a collaboration among Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) specialists and Auburn University College of Agriculture faculty. The goals of this project are: 1) provide in-classroom training and hands-on demonstrations to educators for tools and related concepts to increase productivity, sustainability and profitability of forage-based livestock production systems, and 2) develop decisions tools (forage quick reference guide, webinars). These tools will address forage, soil, economic, and livestock market considerations in the region. The curriculum will also include topics on sustainability and resilience of forage-based systems considering climatic and economic issues (e.g. prolonged droughts and COVID-19 pandemic) in the region which have increased the need to improve management strategies and incorporate new technologies. Short-term knowledge gained will be accessed through pre- and post-knowledge surveys applied during trainings to attendees (NRCS and Extension agents and farmers). After completion, selected farmers (n = 3) will be invited to participate in a follow-up recorded interview to measure adoption rate of management practices from educational trainings and resources. Potential barriers will be noted and used to structure future curriculum development and trainings. This project includes web-based delivery of trainings if required to follow COVID-19 pandemic guidelines. Since Mar 2020, our Extension program has remained active and provided educational resources and content (e.g. Alfalfa in the South) and engaged through social media to reach broader clientele.

Project Objectives:

      The objectives are to develop an updated forage establishment and management curriculum for a reference guide and educational material and training for Extension agents from the Southeast region, NRCS agents and mentor farmers aiming to increase productivity, resilience and feasibility of forage-based systems. The specific objectives are:

1) Educational Trainings and Network: develop educational resources on forage, beef, soil, economics, nutrient management, animal genetics and marketing strategies for forage-based livestock operations. Target tool for development of this project is to provide in-classroom training and hands-on demonstrations for Extension agents and mentor farmers on tools and concepts related to increase productivity, sustainability and profitability of forage-based livestock production systems. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, any in-person program delivery will be subjected to current guidelines at the time and will follow physical distancing and face covering regulations. If needed, trainings will be held on-line, and hands-on demonstrations will be held live through media resources using internet connection through portable routers (Hot Spots). PowerPoint presentations, handouts and other materials will be compiled and given to each attendee for further use, including local Extension activities and programs.

Outcome: Increase educational resources available to improve forage and beef production, environmental sustainability, soil quality, and profitability in livestock production operations. Knowledge gained in sustainable production practices and application of concepts following training events.

Evaluation plan: Pre- and post-knowledge surveys will be given to all attendees. After completion, a follow-up survey will be sent to mentor farmers to assess rate of implemented practices and concepts. Similarly, a follow-up will be conducted with agents to assess the transfer of knowledge to clientele and main barriers they are facing. The information gathered will serve to improve training quality and serve as basis to improve quality of following programs.

2) Reference Guide Development: Create content and distribute reference guide to clientele. This guide will address forage identification, establishment and management, soil fertility and improved management practices, agricultural economics concepts, marketing and beef-related considerations.

Outcome: Provide an easy to access guide that will serve as toolbox for decision making agricultural operations. Provide improved agronomic, environmental, economic and sustainable knowledge of forage-based systems.

Evaluation plan: As distribution of resources occurs, we will monitor web-metrics to determine access to related content and reference guide distribution numbers. Thus, attendance and access of content pieces, Extension publications and trainings (in-person and web-based) related to topics from the guide will be monitored.

Education

Educational approach:

A forage-livestock curriculum and coursework were developed and resulted in a printed publication (book) and training. The book was the textbook for a 2-day training held at Columbiana, AL by a group of around 20 Specialists from Auburn University, Clemson University, University of Florida, University of Georgia, University of Tennessee, Alabama A&M University, and North Carolina State University. The audience (n=75) consisted of Extension agents, educators, and professionals associated with agricultural institutions from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The first day of the training was designed to be inside the classroom with several talks on a wide variety of topics, and the second day was just hands-on demonstrations on the field. The focus was heavy to provide tools to the educators to replicate content and think outside the box on how to explain complex concepts and deepen their knowledge as well. We had a roundtable of more experienced agents that shared their experiences with the audience in a variety of subjects, including the development of the program, accessing clientele, and measuring impact.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Southern SARE Forage Training for Agents and Producers
Objective:

Provide participants with knowledge on forages- and beef-related topics and with tools to disseminate that knowledge and replicate Extension demonstrations to facilitate understanding of concepts.

Description:

A 2-day training was held with an audience (n=75) consistinging of Extension agents, educators, and professionals associated with agricultural institutions from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. We had Dr. Don Ball as the keynote speaker of this event and he shared his experience and advice for agents to succeed in their programs. The first day of the training was designed to be inside the classroom with several talks on a wide variety of topics, and the second day was just hands-on demonstrations on the field. The focus was heavy to provide tools to the educators to replicate content and think outside the box on how to explain complex concepts and deepen their knowledge as well. We had a roundtable of more experienced agents that shared their experiences with the audience on a variety of subjects, including the development of the program, accessing clientele, and measuring impact.

Outcomes and impacts:

Surveys regarding the training held on April 11-12 are still been compiled, but, participants gave high ratings for the event and the coursework associated (book). The majority of participants are requested to have hours of professional development activities logged in and the majority of respondents appreciated the opportunity to be able to participate in an event that was designed for them - how they could teach the content to their clientele. Thus, the majority of participants have requested that this event has continuity and alternate locations in coming years so they can get to learn about specificities of forage systems in different locations and are exposed to new concepts as well. Networking was a special component of this training since we had several specialists from land-grant Universities and Extension professionals from different systems and institutions coming together throughout the Southeast region. This was an unique opportunity for professionals from all levels of their careers since we were able to cover from basics to advanced aspects and provide them with coursework, curriculum and additional publications to support their program and development.

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Tours
24 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

41 Extension
14 NRCS
20 Researchers
2 Nonprofit
2 Agency

Learning Outcomes

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

Project Outcomes

2 New working collaborations
55 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers

Participants

No participants

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.