Final report for WSP19-017
The SARE PDP in Washington is designed to help Extension, Conservation Districts, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and other agricultural professionals increase their ability to respond to the needs of farmers, ranchers, and the public regarding sustainable agriculture concepts and systems.
In Washington State, SARE PDP is part of WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources (CSANR). The goal of our professional development program is to help WSU Extension, CDs, NRCS, and other agency personnel to gain knowledge and skills that will help them serve their constituents in these areas to promote the health of Washington’s people, land, and communities. This is accomplished through mini-grants to attend conferences and workshops; mini-grants to host professional development events; regional and statewide educational events; and the development of webinars and other emerging educational and communication tools.
- Facilitate knowledge gain for 100 agricultural professionals by providing mini-grants for attending and hosting professional development events. Topics will vary but will include priority areas described above and other sustainable agriculture areas of need. Proposals will be accepted on a rolling basis and events will be completed before the end of the grant period.
- Facilitate knowledge gain for 100 agricultural professionals by providing funding to coordinate larger educational events. Events will be completed before the end of the grant period.
- Facilitate knowledge gain for 50 agricultural professionals by providing sustainable agriculture presentations via webinar and other emerging technologies. Presentations will be online before the end of the grant period.
This proposal was focused primarily on in-person training activities, both via mini-grants (attending and hosting) and facilitated educational trainings. This project was in its final phase with a handful of mini-grants planned for spring / summer 2020, all of which were impacted by COVID-19 shutdowns. Due to these shutdowns, funding for mini-grant trainings shifted to a future annual projects, while this project was re-tooled (along with a no-cost extension) to address increased virtual learning needs. The primary focus for funding was SoilCon- a virtual soil health conference and training put on in 2021 and 2022, as well as a digital communication needs assessment for future program trainings.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
To train ag professionals in Washington State and the broader PNW on the latest research-based information related to managing soil health in the region.
This weeklong virtual event covered all aspects of soil health in Washington State and beyond, February 8-12, 2021. It has 30 speakers broken down into all cropping systems and topics. The event was shifted to virtual after COVID-19 limitations closed the door on an in-person event during winter 2021. Because we were not allowed to continue in-person trainings for PDP, we shifted funding from selected in person trainings to SoilCon for this winter and will fund those trainings from future WSARE PDP projects.
- Soil health assessment framework
- Soil health policy
- Long term field experiments, soil carbon, & climate change mitigation
- Soil health indicators to make soil management decisions
- Soil health in varying production systems
- Reduced tillage
- Cover crops
SoilCon was developed to bridge the gap between researchers, extension, and producers within Washington agricultural systems in order to improve state soil health. This format allowed for a week-long conference with attendees across the US. This conference provided well respected scientists a forum for communicating traditional and innovative routes toward improved soil health and maintained accessibility to all interested people by being free for attendees. Attendees reported increased knowledge with soil health principles, and a greater interest in teaching others about the importance of soil health. This conference also laid the groundwork for future soil health conferences, both virtual and in-person, with the amount of support we received from attendees.
To train ag professionals, researchers, and producers in Washington State and the broader PNW on the latest research-based information related to managing soil health in the region.
This virtual conference brought research, extension, and production together to discuss soil health parameters at a local, regional, and global scale. SoilCon addressed soil health questions by explaining what metrics are used when assessing soil health, how these may change by production system and region, and management practices to support a resilient soil system. The topics are relevant to agriculture or natural resource professionals, producers, consultants, University faculty and students, and interested members of the public. The virtual format allowed for a broader reach across both geographic regions and audiences.
- Global Land Degradation & Solutions
- Soil Health & Tribal Ecological Knowledge
- Managing soil pH
- Biodynamic farming
- Soil Biology
- Economic case studies
SoilCon has become a highly regarded event to share new and innovative science, communicate basic soil health principles, and discuss regional soil health concerns and solutions. Though we targeted the Pacific Northwest and had a majority of audience members from northwest, our attendance stretched across the globe. As a virtual event, we were able to bring top names in soil health research together for a discussion on soil biology, bring producers together from across the state, and record the webinars for continuous learning.
Overwhelmingly, attendees reported an increase in their knowledge of soil health, a shift in attitude, an increase in skillset, the desire to change behavior, and an increase in the ability to make decisions.
The majority of attendees reported learning new information about 1. the definition of soil health, 2. indicators of soil health, 3. practices that maintain or improve soil health, 4. how to access science-based soil health information, and 5. opportunities for further education/training.
We aim to increase the awareness, knowledge, and skills of 100 ag professionals in areas related to their expertise and local needs for the improvement of the agricultural sustainability of their operations and clientele (via mini grants for travel and educational events).
The goal of our PDP is to help WSU Extension, NRCS, Conservation Districts and other agency personnel gain knowledge and skills that will help them serve their constituents to promote the health of Washington’s people, animals, land, and communities. Therefore, we have given mini-grants to individuals so that they can take advantage of educational events put on by professional organizations or regional/national events. Though many of these mini grant events were delayed or cancelled to COVID-19, one project was able to take place.
Hosting Mini Grant:
- Dairy Practitioner Outreach: Partially funded through two PDP projects, this event provided WSU researchers to meet with dairy professionals in the PNW and provide continuing education. Topics covered included summary findings from a fecal microbiota transplant project as an alternative therapy for calf GI disease. Additionally, results were presented from investigations into preweaned calf disease covered clinical pathology, differential gene expression, thoracic ultrasonography, and necropsy findings.
We aim to adequately recognize and establish areas of success and areas for improvement within the Washington Professional Development Program.
In order to effectively facilitate the Washington Professional Development Program, needs and areas of improvement should be recognized and established. This needs assessment allows us to gauge current professional development success, and explore future opportunities, especially with the rise in virtual communication.
A survey was compiled with 46 respondents to assess current areas of interest within professional development, and future topics that needed to be addressed. It also established where we can further target agriculture professionals. Additional research is being done to determine how we can most effectively communicate via online platforms, and how our program should adapt to new forms of outreach. This report is also being used to inform CSANR and WSU projects beyond SARE, as it provides valuable insight into areas that need to be further targeted within sustainable agriculture research, extension, and communication.
Educational & Outreach Activities
COVID-19 required us to pivot our plan for completion of the PDP19 project. We had to shift to on-line events, and thus transitioned our plan to supporting SoilCon: Washington Soil Health Week. The success of the first virtual SoilCon led to additional support for SoilCon 2022. These virtual conferences have allowed greater flexibility for both speaker and registrant attendance and greatly increased the diversity of speakers available for soil health topics. Planning for SoilCon 2023 is already underway, and many participants have already expressed interest in maintaining these conferences regularly.
SoilCon 2021 brought together 30 speakers from across the U.S. and provided insight into topics such as soil health indicators, long term soil health research, and the current status of soil health in the PNW and U.S. Registrants’ self-reported significant knowledge gain, and a greater likelihood to make informed decisions regarding soil health management in the future.
SoilCon 2022 was highly regarded by participants, who were involved with soil health and sustainable agriculture in many capacities. Quotes from the post-conference evaluation are listed below.
Answers to question: Has this conference inspired you to make any changes in your actions or recommendations for approaching soil health?
- Reinforced my idea that rehabilitating the soil is vitally important, that there's no one size fits all approach, and that we are still in the infancy of understanding soil health
- I appreciated the Native American perspectives and hope to learn & incorporate more Tribal Ecological Knowledge into my work
- I will be much more emphatic about maintain/improving soil health when I am requested to provide information to Master Gardener clients.
- Overall, much good information but specifically I will encourage soil testing with more gusto!
- My perspective is broadened on what to include when discussing soil health and the spectrum of approaches used in "sustainable" agricultural practices
- Always add a reminder about soil and soil health each time I consult with a farmer/rancher
SoilCon: Participants requested that we continue to include diverse perspectives within the conference, as the 2022 Native American Perspectives session was very popular. Providing both global and local soil health considerations was also well-received, and a broader region may be considered for future years.
Needs assessment: Future recommendations include focusing on the topics of soil health, climate change, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. For outreach, both our audience and method of communication may need to be modified to reach our future objectives. There has been limited communication of opportunities with PNW based agencies beyond WSU, and we hope to increase our participation within these agencies. New communication tools, such as web-based meetings, social media, and digital event spaces, will be further utilized, and adjusted accordingly as we gain more insight into digital participation.
Face of SARE
SARE support was acknowledged in all conference promotion materials and verbally within the conferences. A description of the PD Program was included with the needs assessment survey to provide context. All mini-grant recipients are asked to acknowledge SARE in their event materials. We focused our efforts on "hosted" events that were focused on building capacity of extension and partnering ag professionals who will be developing activities and products for farmers or who oversee issues impacting ag sustainability and viability.