Ensuring Sustainable Agriculture in the Face of a Changing Climate

2013 Annual Report for ENC11-127

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2011: $74,286.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Tapan Pathak
University of Nebraska
Julie Doll
Michigan Agriculture Advancement

Ensuring Sustainable Agriculture in the Face of a Changing Climate


It is well understood that changes in the climate will greatly impact agriculture. Through previously conducted focus groups, surveys, and informal discussions with educators in Nebraska and Michigan, we know that farmers want and need information on climate change that is unbiased, science-based, and locally relevant. Extension can play a leading role in helping them in this area. In order to ensure the sustainability of NCR agriculture in the face of climate change, educators need professional development that is 1) science-based, 2) relevant to local agricultural practices, and 3) a two-way exchange of knowledge with farmers.

Objectives/Performance Targets

The objectiveof this project is to provide regionally tailored climate change and sustainable agricultureprofessional development for educators in the North Central Region of the United States.


During the year 2013 the following accomplishments were made:

  •  We conducted two climate change and agriculture regional workshops in February (Nebraska) and March (Michigan). There were 32 participants at the Nebraska workshop from Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota, Missouri, and Iowa. We had 39 participants from Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio attend the March workshop. Each workshop included a farmer panel so Extension Educators could hear first hand the challenges and adaptations that are being experienced and taking place. Speakers addressed topics relevant to the NCR and challenges facing agriculture.
  • Project partner Cheryl Peters created evaluation tools for each workshop; one was distributed immediately after each workshop and one six months later. Analyses of the results are discussed in the next section.
  • We disseminated the climate change and agriculture resource handbook and a climate change and agriculture curriculum lesson that can be used during a farmer meeting or agricultural program. Both resources include science-based information from various sources such as governmental documents, USDA reports, and universities. These resources were disseminated at the workshops on flash drives distributed to each participant as well as via links where they can be downloaded.
  • Following the workshops, speakers’ presentations were shared with participants via a Dropbox folder.
  • With fewer funds used for travel and workshop expenses than anticipated, Co-PIs Pathak and Doll wrote a no-cost extension request that was approved at the end of 2013; the remaining funds will be used to hold targeted meetings and workshops on climate change and agriculture and to update the resource handbook and curriculum.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

We successfully completed two regional workshops on climate change and agriculture, disseminated a climate change and agriculture resource handbook and core curriculum to educators, and evaluated our activities at two stages. Educators who attended the workshops worked across all areas of agricultural sectors, including field crops, dairy, vegetable, beef, fruit, hog, poultry, nursery crops, and mixed livestock.

We evaluated each workshop and the resources immediately after each event and six months later. Results confirm the success of project activities:

1) Immediate evaluation results:

Quantitative evaluation data (see Table 1) show that the workshops met the project goals: Educators increased their understanding, motivation, ability, and confidence regarding climate change and agriculture knowledge and programming. One participant commented, “I thought the workshop was perfectly crafted to promote co-learning.” In addition, the majority of participants said it was ‘very likely’ they would use the resource handbook and curriculum. We asked for potential barriers to using these resources and will try to incorporate that feedback in our updated handbook and curriculum as well as in future programming.

Participants had positive feedback for the farmer panel and said there was co-learning between farmers and participants, with one participant noting, “I learned of a number of different ways that farmers were actually adapting to climate change and new perspectives on how they have been affected. The panel was a great addition to the workshop. Also had good conversations during breaks and over lunch with farmers and other Extension educators and NRCS professional about other influences on our perspectives on climate change that were helpful. [I] Also found encouragement to hear of farmers that believed in the scientific basis for climate change.”

We appreciate the support of SARE in holding these effective workshops and look forward to future collaboration with workshop participants. Two participant comments help sum up the positive energy present and the networking that took place during the workshops: “I appreciate the interaction and felt it could have gone on for a longer time. Thank you for organizing this conference and for helping us as a team,” and “Well, it was just good. Good presentations. Thoughtful discussions. There was a lot discussion around sustainable Ag.”

2) Six month follow-up evaluation:

  •          87% of participants reported the training somewhat to greatly improved their ability to respond to climate change questions from others with science-based information.
  •          67% reported they had used the materials in the Resource Handbook.
  •          Ratings on the individual sections of the resource handbook were positive, with none of the sections rated as not useful. Materials that had Midwest climate examples and examples of mitigation, adaption and change being rated the most useful. 
  •          Suggestions to improve the resource handbook included adding a pocket guide with key points and adding more applied information.
  •          100% indicated some to very high satisfaction with all the materials available electronically. Although comments indicated it was convenient with the materials all in one spot, but that materials were less likely to be picked up and looked at than if it were a hard copy because it required more intentional study.
  •          65% of participants said they will not use the factsheets provided in Spanish. However, 35% reported they might use the Spanish materials, including passing it along to colleagues.
  •          No participants had used the curriculum in its entirely.
  •          18% had partially used the curriculum slides in presentations with others. 12% had used the discussion questions that accompanied the curriculum and/or the audience worksheet handouts provided.

Of those that had used the Resource Handbook and Curriculum materials, a total of 733 people were reported as reached with the materials, by 16 different program participants with the average audience size 44 (range 2 to 250 people).

Type of audience the materials were shared with:

  •          67% Farm owners/operators
  •          53% General public
  •          47% Extension professionals
  •          27% Agriculture business consultants
  •          27% State agency/department professionals
  •          13% Farm workers (includes seasonal)

Most of the suggested changes for improved materials related to showing more examples. For example, “You must consider the location and crop types produced by the clientele to be effective. Practical steps such as utilizing cover crops should be mentioned so they understand how it applies to their situation.”

  •          81% reported the slides in the PowerPoint curriculum as useful.
  •          86% reported the notes/script in the PowerPoint curriculum as useful.

Examples of how the materials were used with audiences:

Dealing with drought over the past 3 summers, followed by heavy rain and flooding. Information on the increased probability of extreme events. i.e., not that much difference in average annual precip for 2013, but extreme drought up until receiving 14-18″ of rain in a 2 week timespan in late July-early August, resulting in flooding. Just the precursor of things to come.


Distributed the MSUE climate change bulletins at a spring garden show in NE Michigan. Also, I used material from Chapter 2 (Get Your Audience’s Attention) of Psychology of Climate Change Communication with a group of farmers who were preparing to interact with the public in grocery stores.


Up to this point, my main use has been with leader/ advisory groups such as extension councils and others to discuss the need to address this issue as part of our work.


I believe that hearing the messages from Dr. Andresen, the state climatologist, in March and Dr. Mark Seeley from Minnesota in Sept. 2012 at the CEC conference about trends was the most helpful in my understanding of climate change. I’ve had one-on-one conversations with clientele explaining the important messages and how their situation is impacted.


I used a few PowerPoint slides at a regional agronomy day to help frame climate issues with relevance to production agriculture. Reasonable level of grower acceptance. With weather extremes we have experienced in our region, the general attitude toward climate change has become less “rejectable”.


I was presenting research results related to storm size frequency. The information exchanged was basic concept of climate change and how that may be a possible factor for the results we were seeing. Not necessarily a climate change specific presentation (oral or written).


Additional feedback of how the SARE Climate Change and Sustainable Ag training helped Extension Professionals in their Work


“I have a much better understanding of the issue and how it could be addressed as part of my program. My approach has been to slowly introduce the issue and resources to those around me. I plan to include more as time moves forward and opportunities present themselves.”


“I appreciated the interaction with others who work in Extension and university research. I recently attended the Food, Fuel and Fiber Tour at the University of Illinois because I want to continue learning more from other educators in nearby states.”


 “I attended a climate training in NE and was able to bring a different set of folks with me instead of the same ones that went to MI. I’m trying to get as many educators as I can to understand these issues.”


 “Some new partners with SARE at the state and multistate levels.”

“It help[ed] with explaining the concept. As far as new partnerships, very little given the circumstances.”


Karen Deboer

Extension Educator
Extension PO Box 356
Sidney, NE 69162
Office Phone: 3082544455
Dr. Martha Shulski

Assistant Professor
3310 Holdrege St
Lincoln, NE 68583
Office Phone: 4024726711
Dr. Betsy Dierberger

Grassland Forage Specialist
3001 Coolidge Road, Suite 250
East Lansing, MI 48823
Office Phone: 5173245270
Marilyn Thelen

MSU Extension Educator
Michigan State University Extension
100 E. State St.
St. Johns, MI 48879
Office Phone: 9892245240
Henry Miller

17613 Fairchild Road
Constantine, MI 49042
Julie Doll

Extension Coordinator
Kelloggs Biological station
Hickory Corners, MI 49060
Office Phone: 2696712266
Dr. Jeff Andresen

Professor and State Climatologist
Michigan State University
116 Geography Building
East Lansing, MI 48824
Office Phone: 5173554649
Dr. Cheryl Peters

MSU Extension Specialist
Michigan State University Extension
151 E. Huron Ave.
Rogers City, MI 49779
Office Phone: 9897342166