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

1996 Annual Report for 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:

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


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. The goal of this project is to build partnerships among farmers, ranchers and agency personnel through classroom and on-farm training events, so that they can learn how to build effective, whole-farm plans from and with each other. Led by the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society (NSAS) and the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota (SFA), this project is strengthening whole-farm planning efforts in Minnesota and Nebraska.

In 1997, this project trained 53 farmers, ranchers, non-profit representatives, Natural Resource Conservation Service agents and Cooperative Extension educators in the use of a site specific, goal-oriented planning model (Holistic Management) to develop and evaluate whole-farm plans. 92 individuals participated in six follow-up workshops which addressed communication and goal setting, testing guidelines, biological and financial planning, and monitoring progress towards whole-farm plans. In 1998, 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. At these on-farm workshops, participants experienced a variety of sustainable farming practices including management-intensive grazing, crop rotation, strip cropping, grazing maize, walk-through flytraps, and alternative crops and livestock. 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 addressed the use of these studies as learning tools and 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 and as a way to gain an understanding of whole-farm planning options. 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. Evaluation results were extremely positive. After completing this training program, a Minnesota NRCS representative commented, “I am better able to help farmers consider goal-setting and provide ongoing help to enhance grazing and land planning. I’m able to look at overall plans better and realize that decisions should involve more people.”

In 1999, the project partners will provide additional training in whole-farm planning. NSAS will work with Nebraska’s State Sustainable Agriculture Training Program to provide Holistic Management training and on-farm workshops to 50 additional Extension Educators and NRCS agents. SFA will co-sponsor additional whole-farm planning field days and workshops with Extension and the NRCS. Both organizations will interview project participants to learn how they have applied what they learned from this project to their work in whole-farm planning.

For more information:
Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society
PO Box 736
Hartington, NE 68739


Chris Carusi

[email protected]
Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society
1200 N. St., Suite 610
Lincoln, NE 68508
Office Phone: 4024710817