Educational Curricula and Professional Development Training for Energy Efficient Production Practices.

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2007: $49,947.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Coordinator:
Dr. David Clay
South Dakota State University

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: focus group
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency, energy use

    Proposal abstract:

    The intended audience is producers located in the north central region of the United States. This project is based on input from a producer focus group and survey. Results from these activities indicate:
    1) High commodity prices are changing the way landscapes are managed.
    2) Training tools targeted toward increasing energy efficiency and sustainability are needed.

    Our long-term goals are to increase producers’ awareness of the importance of determining costs of production as well as conducting energy efficiency and environmental sustainability assessments during long-term planning. Producers located in the northern Great Plains will be reached through educators that will attend training sessions. Short-term outcomes are new curricula and educators trained in how to conduct energy and production assessments.

    Intermediate-term outcomes are:
    1) Increased willingness of educators to create new producer learning groups
    2) Improved ability of educators to problem solve

    Long term outcomes are increased willingness of producers to conduct energy, environment, and production assessments as a component of their long-term planning.

    Three different approaches will be used to evaluate the project effectiveness. First, a survey will be conducted of educators prior to the initiation of the study to assess their willingness to conduct energy and production assessment. Second, educators will be asked to complete pre and post workshop surveys. Third, at the completion of the workshop participants will demonstrate their ability to complete energy, environment, and production assessments. Tools developed during this project will be made available at appropriate web-sites.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Tools and Professional Development Training for Increase Energy Efficiency, Diversity, Environmental Quality, and Profitability across Landscapes.

    1. Environment and Audience

    This proposal addresses energy conservation and efficiency and addresses 2007-2012 Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service's (CSREES) Strategic Plan for protecting the nation’s natural resource base. This project is the result of 2 grower related activities. The first was a focus group meeting that was held in Brookings South Dakota on January 9, 2007. The second was a phone survey of 145 producers conducted in the spring of 2007.

    The purpose of these activities were to identify:
    1) Research and education needs relative to a shift in crop production philosophy, from providing food and fiber to energy farming
    2) Changes in cropping patterns resulting from shifts in commodity price

    Producers and educators identified that:
    - Due to higher crop commodity prices, 55% of the eastern South Dakota acres subject to re-enrolled in CRP over the next 4 years would not be re-enrolled.
    - Focused educational curricula designed to assist in long-term planning for improved energy efficiency, profitability, and environmental sustainability are needed.
    - Fact sheets and technical guides that discuss techniques to increase energy and production efficiency are needed; and
    - Resource tools that can be implemented at the field and within field scales are needed.

    This project will develop curricula that can assist educators in long-term one-on-one planning. Curricula will be suitable for self-learning or workshops. Forty five educators from South Dakota, North Dakota, and Minnesota will be invited to attend targeted energy efficiency/sustainability workshops. Curricula developed by this project will be placed on appropriate web-sites.

    2. Inputs

    Inputs included in this project include financial resources from the North Central SARE and in-kind support from South Dakota State University. Producers, extension educators, and agricultural experts will assist in reviewing curricula and beta-testing programs. Data and concepts integrated into the curricula and programs that are the product of projects funded by USDA-CSREES, NCR-SARE, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NASA, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), South Dakota Corn Utilization Council, South Dakota Wheat Board, and South Dakota Soybean Board. Computers and office space will be provided by South Dakota State University. A core group of faculty members, extension educators, and producers will participate in project activities.

    3. Activities

    - Develop educational materials that explain how:
    1) Rotations and whole farm management can be used to increase energy efficiency and environmental sustainability
    2) To determine the cost of production for individual fields and portions of fields
    - Provide step-by-step guidance on forming learning communities, conducting participatory research, and conducting one-on-one educational programs.
    - Provide professional development using newly developed training tools to Cooperative Extension Service Extension Educators, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) personnel, and professional agronomists.

    Approach: Curricula Development
    In the first two years of the project educational materials will be developed. Topics addressed include:
    - Agricultural energy use
    - energy budgets for common rotation sequences in the northern Great Plains
    - The linkage between N and energy costs
    -How improved N management, watershed planning, new geospatial tools, tillage, and whole farm management can improve energy efficiency and resource sustainability
    - Step-by-step guidance on conducting an energy and environmental quality assessment
    - Step-by-step guidance to determine the cost of production;
    - Impact of increasing costs and product values on production requirements and energy efficiency
    - Database spread sheets suitable for conducting energy and production assessments at field and within field scales; and
    - How different educational approaches can be used to produce measurable changes

    This section will be based on our experience on facilitating participatory activities and creating learning communities (Reese et al., 2006). Not all outreach models are equivalent in producing change. One of the most widely used approaches is the diffusion model. The diffusion model is based on the concept that others will use the practice following the successful implementation by innovative growers (Stephenson, 2003). Rogers and Showmaker (1971) research suggests that the diffusion model is most effective when the new innovation has a clear advantage over the old approach and it is consistent with existing cultural practices. Alternative outreach models include one-on-one discussions, participatory research, and learning groups (Shepard, 1999; Blissett et al., 2005; Reese et al., 2006). In these models, personal relationships between the producers and the educators are developed and educators are encouraged visit and assist in the decision process.

    The team has considerable expertise in developing hands-on how-to-do educational material for educators and producers (Clay et al., 1998, Pierce and Clay. 2006). Materials will be suitable for self-learning or inclusion into structured training sessions. Training data sets will be included with the tools. Educational materials will include virtual tours of farms using energy efficient practices. Following the completion of the materials they will be reviewed by regional collaborators [USDA-CSREES-406 regional water quality coordinators located in EPA region 8, participants in UMAC (Upper Midwest Aerospace Consortium, extension educators, and farmers located in SD, ND, and MN]. Materials will be field tested, assessed, edited as needed, and made available at appropriate locations in digital and hard copy formats. Educators, resource managers, and professional agronomists using the materials will be requested to complete pre and post assessment surveys.

    The educational materials will build on baseline knowledge gained through water quality, live-stock and range management, and precision farming research conducted by the project team and others over the past 20 years. Baseline knowledge by the project team has been accumulating through projects funded by USDA-CSREES-Fund for Rural America, USDA-CSREES Experiment Stations, USDA-SARE, EPA, USGS, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), USDA-CSREES-National Research Initiative (NRI), and national and state commodity groups. An example of sample curricula is below.

    Each guideline will use a format that teaches the reader how to complete a specific task. When a chapter is completed, the reader will be asked to demonstrate their understanding.
    Workshops and training sessions

    The educational tools will be highlighted at targeted workshops as well as workshops that will be integrated into regional meetings. At three targeted workshops educators from ND, SD, and MN will be invited to attend. Enrollment at these workshops will be limited to 15 participants. At these workshops, farmers and professional agronomists that have adopted energy efficient systems will be invited to share their knowledge as key note talks. Educators will learn how to conduct production and energy efficiency assessments using prepared data sets and computers will be made available for workshop participants. To demonstrate their ability to conduct these assessments, educators will conduct an independent analysis. Educators successfully completing the workshop will receive recognition at in-service training. The effectiveness of the program will be determined by pre and post survey workshop assessments as well as the educator’s ability to complete the assigned task.

    Highlights from the educational tools will also be integrated into regional meetings. For example, the International Plant Nutrition Institute sponsors the InfoAg conference and the North Central Extension Industry Conference, while the Upper Midwest Aerospace Consortium sponsors annual meetings. Scientists and educators attending these meetings will be trained in the use of appropriate tools. For example, a the NC Extension Industry Conference the N management tools will be highlighted while at the UMAC annual conference conducting in field energy assessments will be highlighted.

    4. Outputs

    This project will develop new educational materials, curriculum, and new partnerships among scientists, extension specialists, educators, and producers located in the Northern Great Plains. Individual curricula for targeted activities will be made available at appropriate web-sites under the appropriate headings. In addition, the individual sections will be organized into a manual which can be downloaded from an appropriate web-site. The manual will contain data sets that can be used for teaching purposes. The manual will be modeled after the Global Information Systems (GIS) in Agriculture book recently published by CRC Press that was edited by the project leader. The purpose of the GIS in Agriculture Book is to provide step-by-step guidance on how to conduct specific tasks. New partnerships will lead to at least 3 new learning communities where participatory research activities will be practiced. It is anticipated that each learning community will become involved in 2 participatory research activities.

    5. Outcomes

    A purpose of this project is to produce measurable behavioral change. Specifically this project will:
    1) Increase educator awareness
    2) Train educators about the linkages between energy, environment, and production efficiency, and
    3) Teach educators how to conduct energy and production assessments.

    The intermediate term outcomes are related to educators’ willingness to create new learning opportunities for producers. Education provided to the educators will improve their ability to solve problems and develop useful solutions to real agronomic situations.

    Long term outcomes are related to changed behavior of producers. This project will develop educational tools that can be used for long-term one-on-one planning. Producers and educators will use curricula for scenario testing.

    Training that increases management skills will become increasingly important in the future. Energy farming is changing the way we farm. For example, a phone survey of 145 South Dakota producers this spring showed that:
    1) 55% of the eastern South Dakota acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) will not be re-enrolled over the next 4 years.
    2) 46% of the producers had wetlands they would like to drain.
    3) In the eastern South Dakota 6, 62, and 25% of the CRP acres not re- enrolled would be put into corn/corn, corn/soybean, and grass/pasture systems, respectively.

    Producers are considering these changes to capitalize on high grain prices and to satisfy the high demand for corn grain at ethanol plants. The conversion of CRP land to cropland may reduce wildlife and soil quality benefits accrued during CRP enrollment. An alternative for re-enrollment is to produce perennial grass feedstocks that could be used for ethanol production or livestock feed. To maintain the long-term sustainability and energy efficiency of these highly sensitive acres, education must be started now. Common sense dictates that to protect these sensitive landscapes, Best Management Practices (BMP’s) and/or Integrated Pest Management (IPM) should be adopted. However, previous assessments have shown BMP and IPM practices are routinely ignored (Drost et al., 1996; Shepard, 1999; USDA-NASS, 2005).

    6. Program Evaluation Logic Model and Narrative

    The ability to document short, intermediate, and long term outcomes will be assessed using several different methods. First, a pre-assessment survey of educators will be conducted. This survey will identify educators attitudes about energy and agriculture. Second, educators attending workshops will complete pre and post workshop surveys. The surveys will be designed to determine attitudes about energy conservation. This survey will be designed to assess short term outcomes. Third, at the completion of the project, a follow-up survey of educators attending the workshops will assess changed attitudes and new programs initiated resulting from the training activity. This follow up survey will be designed to assess intermediate outcomes.

    Information that will be collected during pre and post assessments include project records, demographics of those involved, time spent in workshops, and their zip code. This information will be used to assess changed attitudes in educators and producers and the impact of the project on the management decision process. The outputs, activities, and inputs will also be documented. Activities that will be monitored include, reports of farmers and students beta-testing the curricula, pre and post survey assessments, comments of participants, the number of requests for hard copies of curricula, the amount of time preparing curricula, number of participants at workshops.


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    Pierce, F.J., and D. Clay (eds). 2006. GIS Applications in Agriculture. CRC Press, Taylor and Francis, New York, New York.

    Reese, C. L., D. E. Clay, D. Beck, J. Kleinjan, C. G. Carlson and S. Clay. 2006. Lessons learned from implementing management zones and participatory research in production fields. Eighth International Conference on Precision Agriculture. 23 – 26 July 2. Marriott Hotel, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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    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.