Soil quality workshop: Concepts and practices

2006 Annual Report for ENE05-089

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2005: $43,659.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Mary Barbercheck
PSU Dept. of Entomology

Soil quality workshop: Concepts and practices


We held a two-day soil quality workshop at the Rodale Institute, on July 5-7, 2006. The purpose of the workshop was to build capacity among extension agents and other agricultural professionals in the NE for evaluating and promoting the soil quality paradigm to agricultural professionals and other stakeholders.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Of 25 extension agents and other agricultural professionals that participate, all will increase their knowledge about the relationship of ag practices to soil quality, 23 will accept that managing soil quality is critical to a more sustainable agriculture, and 15 will develop at least one new or transform at least one existing program to incorporate soil quality concepts, practices and evaluation to motivate farmers and others in the ag community to adopt practices that enhance soil quality. These agents will deliver at least one program on soil quality in the subsequent year for their clientele.


1) Thirteen extension educators and other agricultural professionals responded to an informal survey to express needed topics, dates of availability, and preferred learning formats. 2) Selected agents and the training team developed the workshop program, chose educational materials from existing sources, identified topics that required new materials, and developed a time line. 3) 30 agents responded to program recruitment notices. 4) 24 agricultural professionals from across the NE attended the workshop, developed a soil quality action plan and completed post-workshop evaluations. they will participate in participate in follow-up activities in 2007. 5) Based on the workshop and evaluations, the planning team and participants are developing and will distribute additional soil quality educational tools and materials and information resources in 2007. 6) In a one year post-workshop evaluation (2007), 25 agents will report attitude, skill, competency and 15 will report behavior change (integration of soil quality evaluation into their programs).

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

In this project extension educators and other agricultural professionals increased their awareness and useable knowledge and obtained resources (in the form of a workshop information and resource binder) for developing extension and outreach programs on the concepts, benefits of and evaluation tools for promoting soil quality and soil health in the Northeast. Participants benefited by making new contacts for networking and developing extension programs, projects and demonstration projects on soil quality.

A total of 30 people (participants and planner/trainers) attended the soil quality workshop. 60% of attendees were male, and 40% were female. 87% reported that the workshop was a considerably good use of their time, and 13% reported that it was a moderately good use of their time. 94%, 3%, and 3% of the participants found the workshop facilities at the Rodale Institute very, moderately, or somewhat conducive to learning about soil quality, respectively. 55% of participants reported an increased likelihood of attending educational events related to organic agriculture as a result of the soil quality workshop.

Workshop topics and activities included: background and introduction to soil quality (inherent vs. dynamic soil quality, soil carbon and its role in soil quality); physical, chemical and biological aspects of soil quality; biology, ecology and management effects on mycorrhizae; in-field evaluation of soil quality; reading and interpreting a soil test; use and interpretation of selected tests from Doran/Gempler soil Quality Test Kit (infiltration, respiration, slaking; use and interpretation of the permanganate test of active C; use of a soil pit as an instructional tool; use of soil condition cards; holistic monitoring of land and soil; soil management equipment (crop roller and organic no-till) a wagon tour of The Rodale Institute (The Farming Systems Trial, Compost and Manure study, Organic and conventional no-till and cover crops, Mycorrhizae production); Steve Groff presentation on cover crops, reduced input no-till; an introduction to the NRCS Soil Conditioning Index; a nutrient budgeting exercise; facilitated small group discussions and participant team report back to whole group for incorporation into action plans (topics included Strategies for using cover crops and reduced tillage, and nutrient management to improve soil and environmental quality, and strategies for incorporating soil quality information and practices into home horticulture and landscape systems; development of participant Action Plans; and a wrap-up discussion and workshop evaluation.

Of 14 technical topics covered, 64% of the participants increased their understanding of 9 to 13 topics, 23% increased their understanding of 6 to 8 topics, and 13% increased their understanding of 3 to 5 topics.

56%, 28%, and 16% of the participants found it very useful, moderately useful, and somewhat useful, respectively, to participate in the facilitated small group discussions.

Participants created a Soil Quality Action Plan to help increase the ability of participants to incorporate soil quality/health concepts and practices to motivate farmers and other members of the ag community to adopt practices that enhance soil quality into their educational programs. All of the action plans were distributed to all of the participants. the Action Plans included information on intended target audiences or clientele for programs on soil quality; kinds (e.g. field days, demonstrations, conferences, bulletins, websites, articles, etc.) and how many activities on soil quality participants will organize or participate in over the next 2 years; kind of information or materials on soil quality that the target clientele will receive; location of these planned activities or programs, and outlets for published articles or bulletins; the time-frame for producing electronic or written materials, or conducting programs, demonstrations or activities that incorporate information on soil quality; and information on how participants will incorporate soil quality into their current or new educational activities or other work.
50%. 27%. and 23% of the participants found it very useful, moderately useful, and somewhat useful, respectively, to develop an action plan for using information from the workshop. 54%, 31%, 12% of the participants are very likely, moderately likely, and somewhat likely, respectively, to make a change in their educational programs and activities to include soil quality in the next year.


Sjoerd Duiker

[email protected]
PSU Dept. of Crop and Soil Sciences
408 ASI
University Park, PA 16802
Office Phone: 8148637637
Nancy Ellen Kiernan

[email protected]
Program Evaluator
PSU Cooperative Extension
401 Ag Admin Building
University Park, PA 16802
Office Phone: 8148637621