Water is a critically important resource in agroecosystems across the US. We will develop an on-line, participatory training opportunity for ag-professionals that will provide them with the tools and researched based knowledge to expand educational programs targeting agricultural water use that will allow farmers to more effectively balance water conservation with sustainable food production on their farms. The target audience for this train-the-trainer initiative will include a broad range of ag-professionals that educate or advise farmers on water management including: Extension Agents; Natural Resource Conservation Service; Dept. of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection; Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources; High-School and Technical School Agricultural Educators; Certified Crop Advisors; Wisconsin Assoc. of Professional Agricultural Consultants; and NGOs programming in water conservation (e.g. Wisconsin Wetlands Assn., River Alliance, Ducks Unlimited). Participants will become proficient in water management, on farms and in agroecosystems, enabling them to better influence farmer behavior and achieve the primary outcome of improving water use efficiencies and conservation in all forms of sustainable production systems. Short term outcomes will be measured in improved knowledge among participants and increased development of new educational programming in on-farm water conservation for farmers. To achieve training that is both practical and relevant to ongoing agricultural and environmental needs, the course will be delivered as a self-directed on-line module developed by University of Wisconsin Extension specialists. Farmers actively practicing water conservation as a component of sustainability and WDNR water specialists will aid in outreach. Targeted field workshops, linked to on-line curricula, will provide hands-on experience.
Project objectives from proposal:
Detailed short, mid and long-term outcomes are outlined below: Expected short-term outcomes ( 1-2 years):
1. Establishing the base: This project will bring together a broadly focused coalition of partners representing all stakeholders in the ongoing debate over how Wisconsin can balance a productive and sustainable agricultural economy with water conservation.
2. Developing the tools: The coalition will work together to develop an in-depth yet practical on-line training vehicle that will provide a diverse audience of ag-professionals with the knowledge they need to interact more effectively with farmers on water issues. This in-depth training is not currently available in a format that addresses all stakeholder concerns, and will be vital for individual training of participants and associated farmers.
3. lncreasing knowledge: The effectiveness of this training vehicle in providing target participants with the tools to interact with farmers more effectively is critical to project success and will be measured directly throughout the course with direct feedback in webinars and detailed evaluations.
Expected medium term outcomes (2-3 years):
1. Putting Knowledge into action: The translation of increased knowledge into new and innovative ways for agprofessionals to interact with farmers is critical to success of the project. We will measure the potential for this translation by interacting with participants during webinars and field workshops during the course and with a follow-up survey.
2. Beaching the next generation of farmers: For the first time, this project will work directly with Vo-ag and technical college instructors to determine ways in which the course curriculum could be used in their ongoing educational programs for young prospective farmers. We will assess this potential during the course through interactive webinars.
Expected long term outcomes (2-5 years):
1. Beaching the farmer via train-the-trainer opportunities: The ultimate goal of this proposal is to impact farmer behavior by working through ag-professionals to encourage farmers to adopt practices which will lead to improved water conservation in concert with profitable and sustainable production systems. We believe that our inclusion of farmers as important coalition partners in all stages of this project, from planning, through pilot-testing to teaching, will ensure that the course is practical and meets the needs of farmers. This participation will give us valuable feedback on how we can expect to influence farmer behavior.
2. ldentifying direct access to farmer participants: This course curriculum can be modified and updated overtime to provide direct access to farmer participants, where instructors could work individually with interested growers to aid in the development and integration of BM P’s for water use, conservation and stewardship. This one-on-one training effort would impact on-farm practice adoption and could provide a key link to “Water Stewards”.
3. Assessing farmer buy-in: The “Water Stewards” program will provide the mechanism to assess changes in farmer behavior directly. Many of included partners who will work on this proposal were instrumental in the establishment of the “Water Stewards” program to provide recognition to farmers who adopt new water conservation practices and this approach was endorsed by all stakeholders in 2018. The inclusion of this stewardship program as a certifiable standard in the Healthy Grown program will provide a quantitative measure to assess farmer behavior through independent audit.
4. Future expansion. The potential to increase the scope of this project to encompass farmers and ag-professionals throughout Wisconsin and in neighboring states would improve the ability of participants to balance water conservation with profitable and sustainable food production across the Midwest. Furthermore, once course curriculum is developed, we envision that this approach and outreach mechanism could be expanded to include more aspects of sustainability (beyond just water stewardship), and ultimately could include full sustainability modules training for ag-professionals and farmers.