Strengthening the Whole-Farm Planning Process through Producer-Agent Partnerships and Professional Development

Project Overview

ENC96-015
Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1996: $75,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Agronomic: corn, oats, soybeans, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Additional Plants: native plants
  • Animals: bovine, poultry, sheep

Practices

  • Animal Production: feed/forage, parasite control, manure management, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, range improvement, grazing - rotational, watering systems
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: technical assistance, extension, farmer to farmer
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, whole farm planning
  • Pest Management: cultural control, field monitoring/scouting, physical control
  • Production Systems: transitioning to organic, agroecosystems, holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life

    Abstract:

    Whole-farm plans allow farmers and ranchers to view and manage their operations as biological systems, so that dependence on purchased inputs may be reduced and nutrient cycles may be closed. In 1996, the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society (NSAS) and the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota (SFA) received NCR-SARE PDP funding to build partnerships among farmers, ranchers and agency personnel so that they could learn how to build effective, whole-farm plans from and with each other. Our specific objectives for this project were to:

    – Train NRCS field staff and Cooperative Extension field staff alongside producers in the use of a site-specific, goal-oriented planning model to develop and evaluate whole farm plans that are based on producers’ goals.

    – Train NRCS field staff and Cooperative Extension field staff to use decision case studies as a learning and teaching tool in holistic decision making, and provide them with sustainable agriculture case study materials for use in whole-farm planning.

    This project trained 84 Natural Resource Conservation Service agents, Cooperative Extension educators, farmers, ranchers, and non-profit representatives in the use of Holistic Management to develop and evaluate whole-farm plans. 421 individuals participated in 12 follow-up events that addressed communication and goal setting, testing guidelines, biological and financial planning, monitoring, and marketing as a part of the whole-farm plan. 37 participants were trained in the use of decision cases in whole-farm planning.

    On-farm workshops encouraged participatory learning strategies and team approaches to whole-farm planning. At each workshop, small teams including Extension, NRCS, and farmer participants spent a day listening to a farm family’s goals and evaluating their farming system. Everyone who participated in the on-farm workshops said that they clearly saw the benefits of working in teams of farmers, ranchers, educators and agency representatives.

    Decision case study workshops presented facilitation techniques for teaching with decision cases. After completing these workshops, participants held a medium-high opinion of decision case studies as a discussion tool for whole-farm planning. Several Nebraska participants felt that there is a need to develop new decision cases that specifically address whole-farm decision-making rather than individual practices or enterprises.

    Participants completed a written evaluation and/or paired-interview at the completion of each training event. In 1999, we surveyed a small sample of farmers and Extension Educators to see if they had put the information to use. 60% of the Extension Educators had used the information in one-on-one meetings with farmers, for designing trainings, for facilitating small groups, and for critically analyzing farming operations. 70% of the farmers said that they spent more time monitoring and taking inventory of their whole farm operations following the training, and 50% said that they felt more comfortable and prepared when working with technical resource providers as a result of this training.

    Both farmers and Extension Educators told us that, in the future, they would like to participate in field days and workshops that emphasize whole farm planning, goal setting, monitoring, and marketing. Future trainings should include marketing as an important part of whole farm planning. Better utilization of on-farm resources may lower production costs, but this strategy may not significantly increase profits when prices are low. Both farmers and technical resource providers indicated a preference for hands-on training events held on farms and ranches.

    Project objectives:

    Our specific objectives for this project were to:

    Objective 1: Train NRCS field staff and Cooperative Extension field staff alongside producers in the use of a site-specific, goal-oriented planning model to develop and evaluate whole farm plans that are based on producers= goals.

    Objective 2: Train NRCS field staff and Cooperative Extension field staff to use decision case studies as a learning and teaching tool in holistic decision making, and provide them with sustainable agriculture case study materials for use in whole-farm planning.

    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.