Ecologically based weed management: A manual and training program for farm advisors
The Project is developing a manual on ecological weed management and using drafts of the manual in a series of workshops for extension educators and other farm advisors throughout the Northeast. The present draft of the manual is 307 single spaced pages and covers weed biology, cultural and physical management methods, case studies of weed management on exemplary farms and basic ecology and management of 53 weed species. So far we have conducted 5 workshops with a total of 102 attendees. Another workshop is scheduled for Feb 2009. Through critiquing drafts of the manual and assisting in presentation of workshops, 10 educators are receiving intensive training in ecological weed management. Most of these are now giving presentations on the subject to grower audiences (17 during 2008) and are engaged in a variety of other ecological weed management related extension activities. Workshops have been favorably received, with 75% of participants indicating that the workshop substantially or very substantially increased their knowledge of weed management. Nearly 90% indicated that their ability to solve weed problems was improved, and over 90% indicated that they were likely to use the manual in their extension work. A preliminary survey of educators who had participated in a workshop at least a year earlier indicated that 71% were using information obtained from the workshop and manual regularly in their extension work. These educators estimated that they had reached a total of 499 farmers with information on ecological weed management through talks or one-on-one contacts. Moreover, this work had resulted in a change in management practices on at least 46 farms and 55 home gardens.
Target 1. Of the 10 members of the project Advisory/Training Team, all will gain sufficient understanding of the ecological approach to weed management to convey the essential paradigm shift to growers. At least 8 will co-present workshops to extension personnel. All will use knowledge gained in the project in extension activities reaching a minimum total of 300 growers, and improve weed management on 30 farms during the lifetime of the project.
Target 2. Of 210 extension professionals who take the weed management workshops, 170 will answer an evaluation questionnaire, and of these 150 will perceive improved skill in ecologically based weed management. Ninety of these will have used that knowledge in extension activities.
Verification and assessment
Members of the project Advisory/Training Team will keep records of their use of the knowledge gained from the project in their work with farmers (e.g., newsletter articles, one-on-one advice etc.) from the time they first receive the draft manuscript. They will also note any related changes they perceive on the farms with which they have contact. At the ends of Years 2 and 3, the Project Coordinator will collect and compile these notes. In addition, at the beginning of year 3, they will answer a questionnaire to evaluate their level of knowledge acquisition.
Contact information will be collected from workshop attendees. At the workshops they will be asked to keep track of their use of knowledge gained through the workshop and reading of the manual. During the latter part of Year 3, they will be contacted to determine (i) whether they perceived improvement in weed management skills as a result of the workshop or manual, (ii) the extent to which they used the information in their work, and (iii) how many farms they know of that changed weed management practices as a result of their advice. Contact will be first by e-mail, with telephone calls to non-responders.
Note that the project is currently midway through project year 3.
“The authors will complete the draft of the core of the manual, and the project Advisory/Training Team will review it and provide feedback. (2nd half of Year 1).”
Six of the ten project Advisory Training Team members have returned comments on the draft manual.
“The Project Coordinator and members of the Advisory/Training Team will conduct three training workshops for extension personnel on the principles and implementation of ecological weed management. Copies of the draft manual will be distributed at these workshops and feedback solicited. These workshops will be attended by a minimum total of 70 people. (Year 1).”
One workshops on weed management was given for extension personnel in Lewiston, ME, 26 March, 2007 with 20 attendees. In addition, the talk on weed management used in the workshop was given to farmers in Hagerstown, MD, on 13 Jan. Thirty eight people attended, 3 of whom were extension educators. Many of the growers attending were leaders in the organic/sustainable agriculture community and can be expected to use the information to aid other growers.
“The authors will revise the draft based on comments of the Advisory/Training Team, and will complete descriptions of ecology and management of individual species. The revised manual will be reviewed by the Advisory/Training Team. (Year 2).”
The manual’s authors are still revising the draft based on advisor comments (see Milestone 5). Turing Project Year 2, two case studies were written for farms in the Northeast and these were reviewed by the farmers in question and the case studies revised based on their feedback. Additional case studies from other regions are waiting on information and contacts from the SARE Outreach (the publisher). Nine additional species/species group entries were written, covering 14 weed species.
“Project leaders and members of the Advisory/Training Team will conduct 5 additional training workshops for extension personnel on the principles and implementation of ecological weed management. Copies of the draft manual will be distributed at these workshops and feedback solicited. These workshops will be attended by a minimum total of 140 people. (Year 2).”
During Project Year 2 we conducted two additional workshops: Ocean City, MD, June 20, 2007 with 10 attendees, and Ithaca, NY, Nov. 15-16 (given in two sessions) with 24 attendees. In addition, the talk on weed management used in the workshop was given to15 students in an organic farming class at Cornell University on 15 Sep., 2007. Many of these students are likely to go into extension or become leaders in the farming community. During Project Year 3, we have so far given two more workshops in State College PA on Nov. 13, 2008 (21 attendees) and in Waterloo NY on Dec 9, 2008 (29 attendees). The latter was for Certified Crop Advisors from New England and New York. In addition, during fall 2008, the talk on weed management used in the workshop was given to 9 students in an organic farming class and to 7 students in a course on agricultural ecology, both at Cornell University.
Thus, so far we have given 5 workshops with a total attendance of 104 people. An additional workshop is scheduled for Feb 2009, but it seems likely that we will fall short of the Performance Target of eight wprkshops and 210 attendees. Repeated attempts at organizing a workshop for southern New England have failed due to a paucity of extension educators in that region and the lack of a forum to bring them together. Several attempts at organizing a workshop in New Jersey also failed, but recent developments may provide an opportunity for one during summer of 2009.
Milestone 5: Text of the manual will be revised based on comments of the Advisory/Training Team and others. The draft will be submitted for publication (Year 3).
Work on the manual has been badly slowed by a severe, prolonged illness in the Project Coordinators immediate family beginning in Nov 2008 (second half of Project Year 2). We hope to resume progress on the book early in 2009. Nevertheless, the pace of the writing will be slower and we are currently projecting a submission date in Spring 2009.
Milestone 6: Records of extension activity by the Advisor/Training team and their observations on changes in farmer weed management will be compiled for evaluation (end of Year 2). Knowledge acquisition of Team members will be assessed (early Year 3).
Only two of the advisors kept actual logs of their extension activities during Project Year 2, though several others supplied anecdotal accounts after the fact of work performed. Reports for Project Year 3 are currently drifting in and will be compiled.
Six of the advisors have demonstrated thoughtful reading of the manual by returning comments. Two of those who appear unable to do so have, however, played an important role in the project by helping organize and conduct workshops (see Milestones 2 and 4). A third has absorbed the material sufficiently to have now given two talks on ecological weed management to large grower audiences. Thus, knowledge acquisition by the Advisory/Training Team seems to have been sufficient to create a cadre of experts around the region as planned. One Advisor has dropped out of the project and has essentially been replaced by Mark Schonbeck, who has supplied extensive comments on the manuscript and is helping organize a workshop for Feb 2009 (See Milestone 4).
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Evaluations of the workshop have been highly favorable. Seventy five percent of participants indicated that the workshop substantially or very substantially increased their knowledge of weed management. Nearly 90% indicated that their ability to solve weed problems was improved. Ninety percent indicated they would definitely or probably use the manual in their extension work.
One hundred twenty two copies of the draft manual have been distributed so far: 11 to project advisors, 104 to workshop attendees and an additional 7 to extension personnel who were unable to attend a workshop but requested a manual for use in their work.
Five advisors have now helped lead workshops for extension educators (see Performance Target 1). The advisors engaged in extensive and diverse extension activities related to ecological weed management during 2008. Advisors gave at least 17 talks on ecological weed management or which included a substantial component on ecological weed management (see Performance Target 1). One advisor reported 50 one-on-one contacts with growers relating to weed management. Many of these were follow-up contacts relating to advice given in 2007. He indicated that these growers were showing both improved understanding of ecological management methods and improved weed control on their farms. Another advisor has applied for funds to produce a series of on-farm workshops on ecological weed management for vegetable growers. She indicated that this activity is a direct out growth of learning obtained through the project. Several advisors published articles on ecological weed management in extension newsletters or grower publications. Our newly added advisor, Mark Schonbeck, is coordinating the weed management section of the e-Organic web-site and producing extensive content for that site. Although he had a substantial background in ecological weed management already, he has indicated that work with the project has greatly improved his capacity to do this work.
We sent an e-mail evaluation of the project’s usefulness to the 54 attendees of workshops that had been held in 2007 9ME, MD, NY). We had a 26% response rate but plan to follow up with telephone calls to non-responders during early 2009. Response to this survey was bimodal, with participants either using the information extensively ((71% of respondents) or else barely using it at all (29% of respondents). Of the positive respondents, 90% indicated that the workshop and manual had improved their weed management skills either moderately or a lot. Sixty % of these educators had used the information gained 5 to 12 times, and the other 40% had used the information greater than 12 times. They were referring to the manual frequently, with 80% saying they had referred to it at least 5 times in the last year. These educators estimated that they had reached a total of 499 growers through talks or direct contacts with information on ecological weed management and potentially another 5,660 through newsletter and magazine articles. Perhaps most significantly, these educators knew of 46 farmers and 55 home gardeners who had modified their management practices based on the educators’ advice on ecological weed management. Although these are preliminary results, they indicate that the project is having a substantial impact on some educators and that this is translating into benefits for growers.
Organic Research Associates
PO Box 5
Titusville, NJ 08560
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University of Maine Cooperative Extension
Waldo Co. Extension Office
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Waldo, ME 04915
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Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
31 Anson Rd.
Greene, ME 04236
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130 Ruckytucks Rd.
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Lakeview Organic Grains
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Maryland Cooperative Extension
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Senior Extension Associate
Cornell Cooperative Extension
IPM Program Office
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Geneva, NY 14456
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The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station
153 Cook Hill Rd.
PO Box 248
Windsor, CT 06095
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Organic Extension Educator
Northeast Organic Farming Association-Massachusset
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Plainfield, MA 01070
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Pennsylvania State Cooperative Extension Service
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Doylestown, PA 18901
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Virginia Association for Biological Farming
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