- Education and Training: technical assistance
- Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, budgets/cost and returns, risk management
- Production Systems: organic agriculture
- Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, new business opportunities, analysis of personal/family life
To succeed, farmers must understand the equipment needs of their enterprise, how these needs may change as the business grows, and how to meet these needs safely and efficiently. Unskilled equipment operation can put farmers at serious physical and financial risk. Lack of knowledge about farm equipment can limit farm scale and productivity, and therefore the farm’s ability to provide a sustainable family income. Yet, new farmers increasingly come from non-farm backgrounds and have limited experience with machinery. Equipment, for example, was the second-most common challenge (after time management) identified by 140 Northeast beginning farmers who answered an open-ended question in a 2010 survey. In a fall 2012 survey, over 90% of 53 beginning farmer respondents indicated that inadequate tractor education was a barrier to the development of their current or planned farm businesses. Over 60% indicated they would need substantial training in tractor use and safety to feel competent, and over 80% indicated they would need substantial training in tractor maintenance and mechanization strategies to feel competent. In many places, access to tractor education is limited. In Vermont, tractor education programs are primarily geared to youth seeking farm employment; the old model of Extension agents sharing the latest tractor and mechanization information on farms has practically disappeared. This capacity-building project will develop a new, collaborative model for providing tractor education. It will train and support agricultural service providers— including representatives from Extension, agricultural nonprofit organizations and educational institutions, state and federal agricultural agencies, vocational/technical education center staff and experienced farmers—to work across organizations to deliver education that helps farmers gain practical skills, realistically assess and communicate their equipment needs, and make informed decisions, all of which will improve farmers' efficiency, safety and satisfaction with their businesses. Through online learning, hands-on training, and follow-up support, participants will gain skills, knowledge and understanding, enabling them to offer comprehensive farm mechanization training for farmers. After completing training, participants will gain experience as paid trainers themselves through two farmer trainings organized by project staff. Participants will receive ongoing support to work one-on-one with farmers on mechanization strategies, and to organize future trainings.
Performance targets from proposal:
1. 160 agricultural service providers and 380 farmers learn about the tractor education program and receive an online survey about their learning needs and current level of knowledge. (Oct-Nov. 2013)
2. Fifty service providers and 90 farmers respond to the survey; eight service providers and 12 farmers participate in in-depth interviews. (Dec 2013)
3. 36 agricultural service providers (who include 6 farmer educators) submit applications to participate in the program. (January 2014)
4. 30 agricultural service providers demonstrate increased knowledge of a) approaches to adult farmer education, b)working with diverse audiences, and c) strategies for implementing hands on learning after completing online training modules on those subjects. (May 2014)
5. 24 agricultural service providers complete in-person training and demonstrate proficiency in teaching tractor safety, use and maintenance to new farmers and farm workers (June 2014).
6. 30 agricultural service providers demonstrate increased knowledge of a) mechanization strategies and their relationship to other farm business planning decisions, and b) insurance, liability and logistical concerns associated with equipment workshops after completing online training modules on those subjects. (July-Aug 2014)
7. 30 agricultural service providers access the project’s online resource library, downloading: workshop planning materials and checklists; presentation outlines, slides, graphics and video links; farmer-oriented hand-outs; and evaluation and target verification surveys. (Aug 2014-June 2015)
8. 20 service providers request and receive support services from the project team as they plan and deliver tractor education workshops and follow-up individual assistance to farmer workshop participants. (Oct 2014-May, 2015)
9. 6 agricultural service providers affiliated with 3 educational institutions/farms work with the project team to plan for tractor education to be offered on an ongoing basis at their facility. (May 2015-Oct. 2015)
10. 20 agricultural service providers submit verification survey data and reports on the education they conducted and on farm-level impacts. (December 2014-August 2015)
20 agricultural service providers work in teams to deliver tractor safety, use, maintenance and farm mechanization education to 108 farmers and farm workers; 12 service providers work individually with 40 farmers on farm mechanization plans; 2 collaborating organizations incorporate the tractor education curriculum into their ongoing adult education program.