Soil Management in Berry Crops as a Model for Management Education
Commercial berry growers in the Northeast have traditionally made standardized fertilizer applications based on crop age. This practice continues today, some 10 years or more after commercial berry crop guidelines for analysis-based fertilization programs became widely available. Adoption of soil health improving practices has also been slow.
Research demonstrates an analysis-based approach to berry crop nutrition provides increased yields along with better fruit quality and plant health. Use of soil health management practices (i.e. cover cropping) has been shown to reduce weed, nematode and soil-borne disease pressure, along with improving soil tilth, organic matter and nutrient content. Rising costs of products and concerns about environmental impacts of fertilizers make a whole farm approach to berry crop nutrient and soil management highly desirable.
Ag educators frequently called on to cover multiple commodities and/or information areas outside their field of expertise, often struggle to assist commercial berry growers with berry crop soil and nutrient problems. No single comprehensive resource on this topic is currently available for either educators or growers.
This 2 year project, led by Dr. Marvin Pritts, Small Fruit Horticulturalist and Berry Crop Nutrition Specialist, will provide in-depth berry crop nutrition and soil management training and resources for ag educators and the commercial berry growers they serve. Year one of the project will focus on helping ag educators build berry crop nutrient and soil management expertise through 1) a series of 12 in depth webinars and case study learning modules on the subject and 2) development of internet resources to be used by educators in grower training. Year 2 of the project will focus on assisting Ag educators to 3) develop and implement grower training programs and 4) carry out one-on-one consultations with participating growers. Year 2 will also involve educators in monitoring adoption and success of analysis-based berry crop nutrient and soil health management by growers.
A whole farm soil and nutrient management decision tool for commercial berry crops will be developed from existing resources. This tool, along with accompanying ag educator and commercial grower training materials, made available via an internet web site, will provide a “one-stop-shop” resource for ag educators interested in building skills or providing training and/or commercial berry growers interested in improving berry crop soil and nutrient management. Soil and nutrient management principles and practices gained through this project will have application to other crops currently or in the future.
Fifty educators from across the Northeast will participate in an in depth webinar series to expand their expertise in berry crop nutrient and soil management; of those, 15 will develop and deliver outreach programs on the same, reaching 150 berry growers who manage a total of 750 acres of berry crops; 50 growers will participate in preliminary soil, nutrient and soil health testing, receive one-on-one assistance with interpretation of results, and implement analysis-based fertilization and soil health management practices on farm.
- 150 ag educators from the Northeast are invited to participate in the project through e-mail notifications, mailed brochures, extension calendar postings and professional development opportunity listings (July ¬August 2011.)
Out of those educators invited to participate, 50 will gain basic understanding and build expertise in commercial berry crop nutrition and soil management by participating in a series of 12 in-depth webinars on the subject and completing learning modules on interpretation of soil health and nutrient test results. Changes in learning will be recorded through use of pre and post-training berry crop soil and nutrient knowledge tests (September 2011 – March 2012).
Of those educators completing training, 15 will develop and deliver grower education programs using training materials provided to 10 or more commercial berry growers in their county or region (March 2012 – December 2012).
500 commercial berry growers from the Northeast will be invited to improve soil and nutrient management skills by attending grower training through monthly berry newsletters, e-mail event calendars and mailed invitations. 150 growers will participate in soil and nutrition management training. Changes in learning will be recorded through use of pre- and post-training berry crop soil and nutrient knowledge tests (January 2013 – March 2013).
Out of those 150 growers attending, 48 will be recruited to participate in first time soil/leaf analysis and soil health testing, along with receiving one-on-one assistance with interpretation of results and advice for implementing knowledge gained on farm from educators (March 2013 – September 2013).
Changes in educator practice will be documented through post project educator interviews by the project coordinator. One-on-one interviews of participating growers will document adoption of new knowledge and practices(December 2013, 2014, 2015).
Fifty educators from across the Northeast will participate in an in depth webinar series to build their expertise in berry crop nutrient and soil management; of those, 15 will develop and deliver outreach programs on the same, reaching 150 Northeastern commercial berry growers who manage a total of 750 acres of berry crops; 50 growers will participate in preliminary soil, nutrient and soil health testing, receive one-on-one assistance with interpretation of results, and implement analysis-based fertilization and soil health management practices on farm. (June 2011 – December 2013)
Seventy-seven ag educators from across 13 US states and Canada registered to participate in the in-depth webinar series on berry soil and nutrient management; of those, 59 were from the NE region. Ninety-two percent of registrants attended at least one webinar in the series; 81.0% completed 50% or more of the webinars in the series; 21.6% completed the series in its entirety. Sixteen educator participants trained through the series in turn provided training to 397 commercial growers through one-on-one consultations and/or meetings and workshops. Forty of the commercial berry growers receiving training then were recruited to take part in on-farm berry soil and nutrient management demonstration trials; receiving complementary soil, leaf and soil health analyses in exchange for their participation. Each grower selected a new management practice as suggested by test results to implement on-farm, to be compared with their standard practice. Plant growth and development, yield, and economics data will be collected for both new and standard management practices in 2013 to evaluate costs/benefits of analysis based soil and nutrient management vs. calendar and/or plant age based fertilizer applications.
150 Ag educators from the Northeast are invited to participate in the project through e-mail notifications, mailed brochures, extension calendar postings and professional development opportunity listings. (July ¬August 2011)
This milestone was accomplished on 9/1/2011; see 2011 annual report for details.
Please note project member D. Welch moved to a new position on Cornell main campus and was replaced by new project member K. Severson from Mr. Welch’s previous organization, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cayuga County.
Out of those educators invited to participate, 50 will gain basic understanding and build expertise in commercial berry crop nutrition and soil management by participating in a series of 12 in-depth webinars on the subject and completing learning modules on interpretation of soil health and nutrient test results. Changes in learning will be recorded through use of pre- and post-training berry crop soil and nutrient knowledge tests. (September 2011 – March 2012)
Part one of this milestone was achieved on 9/30/11 with 60 educators initially registering to participate in the series of 12 webinars. The first webinar of the series provided a project overview on the same date. The educator pretest was presented in the form of polls during this webinar.
Additional educators continued to register through 12/5/11, viewing recorded webinars they had missed previously and attending remaining live webinars. Final registration was 77. Registrants were asked to participate in a demographics survey along with an educator pre-test to measure understanding and expertise prior to training.
Part II of this milestone was achieved in March 2012 with the completion of the webinar series. A post-test was administered at the end of the series to document changes in learning. This was done in the same manner as the pre-test using polls. Participants were also requested to complete an on-line exit survey regarding their webinar series experience and how they anticipated using the information they gained to benefit commercial berry growers.
The 77 webinar registrants were distributed across 13 US states and Canada (Table 1) with 59 from the NE region. Of the 77 total registrants 48 were associated with a college or university; 12 were associated with a government agency; 40 were involved in extension activities; 8 were associated with USDA/NRCS; 3 were associated with organic production/producers; and 7 were associated with other enterprises.
Fifty-four registrants responded to a demographics questionnaire prior to participating in the webinars. Respondents ranged in age from 25 to 62 or over, with 67% of those responding within 10 years of retirement age (65). Twenty-two percent of registrants indicated they had a college education, 76 percent had post-graduate education. Occupations of respondents included: Extension & Ag educators, Professors, Instructors, Soil conservationists, Conservation agronomists & planners, Consultants, Horticulture, Research, IPM & Extension specialists, Scientists, District managers & conservationists, Technical advisors, Program coordinators, Water stewardship & Soil conservation technicians, Outreach coordinators, Program leaders, and Environmental biologists & engineers.
Areas of professional expertise of respondents included: Commercial agriculture & horticulture, Animal husbandry, Pest management, Farm business management, Postharvest technology, Natural resources, Environmental compliance, Consumer horticulture, Conservation technology, Plant pathology, Sustainable agriculture, Agronomy, Land protection, Pesticide education, Soil management, and Best management practices.
In terms of commodity responsibilities, 76% of respondents indicated they had small fruit responsibilities, 54% had tree fruit responsibilities, 22% had forage crop responsibilities, 52% had vegetable crop responsibilities, 30% had Natural Resources responsibilities and 13% each had Dairy, Animals or Maple responsibilities, respectively.
With 2 exceptions, all respondents indicated they had either some previous training in soil and/or nutrient management; 37 indicated they had some previous training in soil health management. In terms of assisting growers with interpretation of test results, 56% felt competent to do so with soil tests, and 26% felt competent to do so with foliar analyses. Only 17% felt competent in field identification of nutrient imbalances in berry crops. Numbers for those feeling competent in making recommendations to growers based on test results were lower, 35% for soil deficiencies, 12% for foliar deficiencies and 22% for soil health deficiencies.
Webinar registrants participated in an on-line pre-test (Appendix B) during the introductory webinar of the series, consisting of 20 berry crop soil and nutrient management related questions posed through the use of opinion polls. Answers were recorded for each question and % correct responses were calculated. The same test was re-administered at the end of the final webinar in the series and % correct responses were calculated for these as well. Table 2 provides a summary of pre- and post-test results by question. Total respondents for the pre-test were 50; total respondents for the post-test were 28. Change in learning was calculated for each question as % correct responses post-test minus % correct responses pre-test. Average change in learning per question was a positive increase of 20.1; median change in learning was a positive increase of 17.3.
Participants were requested to complete an on line exit questionnaire to provide feedback on their webinar experience. Thirty-seven participants responded. Of those responding 75.7% best described their involvement in berry crop production as Cooperative Extension; 13.5% described their involvement as NRCS; 2.7 percent each of the remaining respondents best described their involvement as commercial grower, Agri-business or private sector, University research and/or teaching, or other.
Regarding webinar viewing, 91.9% of the respondents indicated they viewed the webinars alone at a home or office computer; 8.1% viewed the webinars with one or more others in a group setting. Most respondents experienced little or no problems in viewing the live webinars. In terms of webinar attendance, 21.6% of participants affirmed they had completed the entire webinar series; 81.0% completed 50% or more of the webinars in the series (Table 3). When asked if they later viewed recorded versions of live webinars they missed, 81.3% indicated they had. Fifty-eight percent of participants found the recorded versions of the webinars to be as informative as the live webinars; 84% indicated recorded versions were as convenient as or more convenient than the live webinars as they could be viewed (and reviewed) at the any time (Table 4).
Ninety-four percent felt their expectations were met or exceeded through their participation in the series. This was further reflected in the responses regarding webinar speakers and topics. More than half indicated the material presented was informative, timely, understandable, and research-based (Table 5). Most respondents rated the speakers’ pace of presentation as good; they also rated the speakers’ knowledge of the topic presented, organization and visual quality of the presentation and responsiveness to participants as either good or excellent (Table 6). Ninety-five percent indicated they would be likely to recommend attending future webinars to others involved in berry production.
Fifty percent or more of participants indicated they would likely not have attended the same session(s) if they had been conducted as a 2-day workshop either 1-2 or 4-6 hours from their location rather than as webinars.
A majority of participants indicated their understanding of the 29 topics presented during the webinars was slightly to greatly improved (Table 7). In some instances no change in understanding was noted; in one instance a participant indicated they were more confused about soil test options than prior to listening to the webinar.
More than half of participants indicated they were likely to take some action in the next 12 months as a result of attending the webinar series (Table 8), including such actions as:
- Seek more information on berry soil and nutrient management
Relay information from webinars to commercial berry growers in one-on-one setting
Relay information from webinars to commercial berry growers through formal educational event i.e. workshop or educational meeting
Relay information from webinars to commercial berry growers through an informal educational event i.e. twilight or field meeting
Encourage commercial berry growers to view archived webinars
Relay information from webinars to others in one-on-one setting
Relay information from webinars to others through formal educational event i.e. workshop or educational meeting
Relay information from the webinars to others through informal educational event i.e. twilight or field meeting
Encourage other growers to view archived webinars
Encourage colleagues to view archived webinars
Make use of web site and/or training materials provided through this project in programming
Other possible actions included:
- I do plan to view archived webinars that I haven’t viewed yet.
I will definitely be able to look for/find answers to specific questions. In the beginning I had little confidence in finding answers to questions. While I may not have retained all of the information presented in the webinar series, I will be able to use the recordings as a resource to seek the correct answers.
Create handouts summarizing key take-home points, for presenting to and giving to commercial cranberry growers.
Write better newsletter articles
I would be unlikely to relay info in twilight meeting or formal setting only because soils and nutrients are not my area of expertise, but I would definitely encourage specialists in soil/nut areas to use the info and/or the webinars.
- I find the webinar format a very useful way to learn information.
I found the presentation done by Marvin Pritts, Eric Hansen, and Harold Van Es to be very well presented. The Soil Testing webinar in week 3 was not well presented, and I found the information provided to be of little value. Speaker went on talking about Dairy program in New York, information that was not necessary
Excellent series. For future viewing it might be nice to have an index with topic details as you do in question 15 above.
The series was great. Just hard to commit the time I would have liked to and focus completely on the webinar. In my case a manual or something like that would be useful to refer to sections of the webinars. Each webinar being its own section. I can listen to a webinar but I’d learn more if I had a hard copy to refer to and use in field situations
Very worthwhile!! I expect to learn a lot more as I re-watch each one, when developing my handouts.
I was hoping for a more enlightened approach to fertility management that really addresses biology and chemistry in the soil and their relationship. All of the information that I listened too seemed very conventional. I quit coming to the seminars.
Marvin and Harold were great speakers! Information was delivered in a straight forward easy to understand manner!
Very well planned out and organized. I enjoyed the series greatly.
Many of the areas discussed where very basic. Would have liked to heard more about measures growers are using successfully to address some of the nutrient and soil health issues successfully. Dr. Hansen did a good job of this in his sessions. The pre- and post -test had questions poorly worded and hard to interpret – choices did not match what info was given in webinars.
There did seem to be a fair amount of overlap when covering topics that seemed unnecessary. Overly reliant on Cornell Soil Health Assessment.
Very well done; great info and very well presented!
I think it was very well done, but a lot of the information I already knew, so it may not have been appropriate for me. But I would like our NRCS field staff to view the archived webinars.
I thought these were an excellent use of technology to disseminate research-based info to ext. specialists. Excellent work for the organizers and the speakers.
Would help to have handouts that could be given out with each webinar
My work is in tree fruit, viewed webinars to increase my competency in soil management. Great series!
I had to miss 2 because of scheduling conflicts. When the links were not timely, I was unlikely to go watch the missed webinar.
Well done, I need to view two of the webinars, then do the post test.
I was very impressed with the caliber of lectures. It was nice to have cross department programming and speakers from outside of the university – thank you.
In the future please make available the Powerpoint as a Powerpoint or a pdf handout of the Powerpoint. I spent a lot of time writing when I could have jotted a few notes on the handout and spent more time actively listening.
This was too basic on soils and not enough on crop particulars.
Even though the focus here was small fruits, I found many topics that will assist me in my area of tree fruit extension education.
Certificates of participation or completion were mailed to attendees 6 months after the webinar series finished, along with a post-webinar verification tool and beneficiary forms to capture how information learned during the series has been multiplied forward.
Twenty-six participants responded to a questionnaire regarding how they had utilized knowledge gained from the webinar series 6 months after the series concluded. Respondents were from 6 of the 13 NE States (24), along with Illinois (1) and Michigan (1). Fifty-eight percent indicated they had conducted one-on-one berry soil and nutrient management consultations with commercial berry growers as a result of their participation in the series for a total of 84 consultations. One participant indicated although he did not work with commercial berry growers he had conducted 5 one-on-one consultations with commercial Christmas tree growers. When asked if they now felt more confident in assisting commercial berry growers with the following they responded positively: interpretation of soil analysis results (80.8%), interpretation of foliar analysis results (76.9%), making field identification of nutrient imbalances in berry crops (73.1%), Suggesting corrections for: berry crop soil deficiencies (76.9%), foliar deficiencies (69.2%), and soil health issues (61.5%).
Eleven of the 26 respondents indicated they had held a grower training event, with 71 growers participating for a total of 76.5 contact hours. When asked if as a result of holding a berry soil and nutrient management training the 11 participants now felt more confident in assisting commercial berry growers with the following they responded positively: interpretation of soil analysis results (81.8%), interpretation of foliar analysis results (90.9%), making field identification of nutrient imbalances in berry crops (81.8%), Suggesting corrections for: berry crop soil deficiencies (90.9%), foliar deficiencies (90.9%), and soil health issues (90.9%).
When asked what further training would be helpful to improve their confidence and capacity to assist growers with nutritional issues the following responses were received:
- Perhaps even more coverage on the roles of the nutrient inside the plant (their functions)
Not necessarily further training because I refer back to the webinars, but the opportunity to work with growers with real numbers and maybe review my recommendations with project staff. Having the opportunity to actually measure yield data for the 2013 season should be helpful.
I attended to further my own knowledge in order to direct County Master Gardeners. They didn’t feel comfortable dealing with Berry questions. I don’t work with any commercial growers.
Our county had 2 Master gardeners attend the berry webinars at our office. They found the webinars to be a great source of information and valuable. It was offered as a train-the-trainer. They do not feel confident to present information that they learned as of yet. Maybe future training for participating volunteers, have them sign a contract that they would need to present a class or two on the basics. That would help county educators who are doing multitasks, and you too, Cathy, and other specialist staff.
I am sorry but I don’t recall using this information. I have trouble digesting webinars.
More fundamentals in berry growing in our county
Just more practice to keep building my confidence!
Training on how to remediate soil compaction
Further information session/refresher on foliar symptoms and deficiencies
More info on field id of nutrient deficiencies; offer this training on an annual basis
Irrigation and interaction between nutrition and irrigation.
An in-person field trip where we can look at foliar deficiencies with the experts right there would always be helpful.
I would like to have the series of classes on DVD so I can watch them and re-learn the information as needed.
None, just more practice with lab and field results.
- Very glad I took part in this program! It has stretched me in my career and has brought me out of my comfort zone.
I plan to hold a training for a larger audience beyond those who are participating in the project. I think even more will be learned as they (participating growers) actually apply a practice this growing season.
Participated to broaden my experience but not a nutrition professional. Work with cranberries, so much of this was not applicable to our soil conditions. I still learned but not more confident for my growers.
But plan to hold grower training in 2013.
If I practiced more this would be a “yes” (Q3c) as the information provided was helpful. I do hope to initiate more soil health workshops this year, or promote ones already planned with my clients. This would not specifically be berry growers, but many diversified vegetable operations also plant small fruit.
I have not yet held a grower training.
I am a commercial horticulture educator serving the nursery, landscape, turf and Christmas tree audience. I learned about small fruit as a result of these webinars. I used some of the info on interpreting soil test results to train my audience.
Too busy with freeze and drought (to hold a grower training this season). Excellent workshop. I learned a lot. Especially useful was introduction to Cornell’s soil health concepts- I was already familiar with soils and plant nutrition. Good to have presented as an integrated whole, rather than parts. Also liked background on soil tests methodology and different tests.
Thanks for the classes.
Great webinar series
Sorry, they were Christmas tree growers (not berry growers) but used information form these sessions. Thanks for letting me join in. Although I don’t work with berry growers, it was an excellent series on soils and plant nutrition.
It was an excellent and very useful project.
Of those educators completing training, 15 will develop and deliver grower education programs using training materials provided to 10 or more commercial berry growers in their county or region. (March 2012 – December 2012)
Sixteen educator participants trained through the webinar series in turn provided training to 397 commercial berry growers through one-on-one consultations and/or meetings and workshops. To date, 11 educators (8 from New York, 1 from Maine, 1 from Connecticut) have developed and delivered grower education programs using a core PowerPoint presentation, handouts, recorded webinars and other project materials to commercial berry growers. At least 4 additional educators (2 from NY and 1 each from Michigan and Massachusetts) are actively planning berry soil and nutrient management grower training for 2013.
Grower pre- and post-tests were used to gauge changes in learning by participating growers (Appendix C). Answers were recorded for each question and % correct responses were calculated. Change in learning was calculated for each question as % correct responses post-test minus % correct responses pre-test. Table 9 provides a summary of pre- and post-test results by question. Total grower respondents for pre-test = 39; Total respondents for post-test = 28. Average change in learning was a positive 13.5; median change in learning was a positive 14.9.
One educator participant, C. Armstrong, has crafted 6 commercial cranberry grower fact sheets highlighting cranberry-relevant information from the webinar series and shared them with his commercial growers during his annual on-site IPM cranberry twilight meetings during Summer 2012. They are also accessible from his website at: http://extension.umaine.edu/cranberries/grower-services/whats-new/.
500 commercial berry growers from the Northeast will be invited to improve soil and nutrient management skills by attending grower training through monthly berry newsletters, e-mail event calendars and mailed invitations. 150 growers will participate in soil and nutrition management training. Changes in learning will be recorded through use of pre- and post-training berry crop soil and nutrient knowledge tests. (January 2013 – March 2013)
Progress toward achieving this milestone is already ongoing, even though the work was projected for 2013. To date 397 growers (380 berry and 17 turf growers) have attended soil and nutrient management training as part of various other agricultural educational events (Table 10).
In addition, a special August 15, 2012 edition of NY Berry News focused on soil and nutrient management for berry crops; this newsletter has a circulation of 560 including commercial berry growers, small fruit faculty and extension staff and private industry members.
Out of those 150 growers attending, 48 will be recruited to participate in first time soil/leaf analysis and soil health testing, along with receiving one-on-one assistance with interpretation of results and advice for implementing knowledge gained on farm from educators. (March 2013 – September 2013)
Of the 397 commercial berry growers trained in 2012, 40 were recruited by 11 educators to take part in on-farm berry soil and nutrient management demonstration trials, receiving complementary soil, leaf and soil health analyses in exchange for their participation (Appendix D). Growers received training and assistance in soil, leaf and soil health sampling, as well as preparing and shipping samples. Later each grower met one-on-one with their educator to discuss test results and their implications on berry productivity. During the one-on-one meetings with educators, each grower selected a new management practice as suggested by test results to implement on-farm, to be compared with their standard practice. Plant growth and development, yield, and economics data will be collected for both new and standard management practices in 2013 to evaluate costs/benefits of analysis based soil and nutrient management vs. calendar and/or plant age based fertilizer applications.
During the one-on-one meetings with educators, each grower selected a new management practice as suggested by test results to implement on-farm, to be compared with their standard practice. Plant growth and development, yield, and economics data will be collected for both new and standard management practices in 2013 to evaluate costs/benefits of analysis based soil and nutrient management vs. calendar and/or plant age based fertilizer applications.
To assist in preparing for the one-on-one meetings with growers the 11 aforementioned educators participated in a 4-hr hands-on learning event either live or remotely by webinar October 2, 2012. During this educational event the group received training on and experience in how to interpret soil leaf and soil health test results, This was accomplished through review and group discussion of 12 grower case studies from the project and culminated with development of grower recommendations based on test results. Berry soil and nutrient specialists from Cornell University also participated in the group meeting providing additional training, resources, feedback and insights as needed.
Changes in educator practice will be documented through post project educator interviews by the project coordinator. One-on-one interviews of participating growers will document adoption of new knowledge and practices. (December 2013, 2014, 2015)
Efforts for this milestone will begin in Fall 2013.
2012 Beneficiary Form
- Certificate of Participation
- Certificate of Completion
- Grower Handout Packet Materials
- Cranberry Fact sheet #1
- New York Berry News Vol 11 No 8b August 2012
- Appendix B: Educator Pre- and Post-test
- Changes in Learning for Webinar Participants as Evaluated by Pre- and Post-testing
- Webinar Exit Survey
- Table 3: Number of Webinars Completed by Series Participants.
- Table 5: Value of Information Provided by Webinars in the Series
- Press release #2 Grower participants
- Sample Meeting Announcement
- Berry Soil and Nutrient Management Core Presentation
- Appendix D Educator and Grower Participant List
- Appendix A Registrant Demographics Questionnaire
- Table 1: Webinar Registrants by Location
- NE SARE ENE11-120 Beneficiary report form 2012
- Table 4: Viewing recorded webinars in comparison with live participation.
- Table 6: Evaluation of Webinar Speakers
- Table 7: Changes in Knowledge and Understanding of Topics Presented
- Table 8: Actions likely taken as a result of participating in the webinar series
- Appendix E Post Webinar Verification Tool for Educators
- Appendix C: Grower Pre- and Post-test:
- Table 10: Grower Outreach Efforts, 2012
Ag Issue Leader
Cornell Cooperative Extension, Oneida County
121 Second St.
Oriskany, NY 13424-9799
Office Phone: 3157363394
Extension Executive Director
Cornell Cooperative Extension, Cayuga County
248 Grant Avenue
Auburn, NY 13021-1437
Office Phone: 3152251183
Cornell Cooperative Extension
Capital District Vegetable and Small Fruit Program
415 Lower Main Street
Hudson Falls, NY 12839
Office Phone: 5187462562