Developing Technical Skills of Service Providers in the Northeast to Assist Farmers with Transition to No-Till

Project Overview

ENE18-149
Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2018: $171,222.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2022
Grant Recipient: University of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Dr. Heather Darby
University of Vermont Extension

Commodities

  • Agronomic: corn, hay, soybeans

Practices

  • Crop Production: cover crops, cropping systems, crop rotation, no-till
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, mentoring, technical assistance, workshop
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem and Justification
    While unpredictable weather conditions, rising production costs, and prolonged low commodity prices continue to challenge farmers in the Northeast, they have also caused a spike of innovation amongst farmers. To reduce input costs many producers have started to implement no-till farming practices. According to USDA Natural
    Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) contracts, Vermont farmers have increased no-till acreage five-fold since 2012. Clearly, farmers throughout Northeast are showing strong interest in adopting no-till, yet have expressed many barriers to adoption. In general the Northeast has been slow to adopt these cropping systems; less than 8% of the corn silage acreage in Vermont and Maine is no-till (NRCS, personal communication) while 61% of total acreage in the Great Plains is no-till (Wade et al. 2015). Although farmers are interested in these practices and adoption is on the rise, many questions remain unanswered to be able to expedite adoption throughout the entire
    region. Short growing seasons, cool temperatures, and heavy soils present a challenging combination for the successful implementation of no-till. There are also concerns regarding the use of no-till when combined with surface manure applications. Farmers feel torn and a bit confused as for years it has been recommended to use tillage to incorporate manure as best practice to reduce runoff and volatilization. Clearly there is a need for accurate information and resources to help farmers successfully implement no-till systems on their farms.

    Solution and Approach
    Cooperative Extension staff, crop consultants, and NRCS personnel need research-based information to respond to questions coming from their farmer clients to address barriers to no-till. Farmers want to know how to manipulate these practices to reap the greatest benefits and they are looking to their local technical service providers (TSPs) for information. The University of Vermont (UVM) has held numerous field days demonstrating the efficacy of no-till and clinics on how to successfully utilize no-till equipment. Although these events were largely intended to train farmers, 85% of participants have been TSPs. These events provide valuable information, but lack the breadth needed to understand all aspects of a no-till system. Furthermore, TSPs not only need to understand the information, they need to be able to effectively communicate and implement it alongside their farmer clients. Providing a comprehensive training designed for TSPs to learn technical aspects and current research on no-till, as well as strategies for communicating effectively with farmers will result in more acres converted to no-till.

     

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Performance target for service providers

    50 TSPs who increase knowledge and troubleshooting skills related to no-till practices in a livestock forage cropping system will provide targeted and efficient technical assistance to 200 farmers who manage 40,000 acres of forages.

    Performance target for farmers

    100 farmers implement 2500 acres of no-till forages and generate an estimated cost savings of $50 per acre.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.