Whole-farm / Whole-Watershed Planning for Sustainable Agriculture
A conference, case studies, and follow-up meetings provided the framework for this New Hampshire project. Extension and NRCS field staff, working together, learned to develop solutions to problems using case studies that allowed them to consider the farm ecosystem and the whole watershed.
Coordination with other professionals, discussions with land-users on sustainable agriculture practices and other professional development activities pertaining to whole farm/whole watershed planning greatly improved as a result of this project. However, there is a need to broaden professional knowledge about a wide range of issues in order to better help the producers.
The dissemination of the information learned through this project will be an ongoing activity as the participants work with farmer clientele and become more comfortable with addressing public concerns about the impacts farms have on their local communities.
The most effective way to evaluate an operation is through a team approach, because no one person can see the whole farm/whole watershed effectively. New England farms are more diverse than those the Field Office Computing System is designed to serve.
1. Develop solutions to problems on a more ecological basis.
2. Create local coalitions for ecosystem planning.
3. Gain an understanding of the computer systems Field Office Computing System (FOCS) for developing sustainable agriculture plans.
4. Understand how to use whole watershed ecosystem components when completing individual farm plans. Understand shortfalls of the computer model and what needs to be considered by field staff.
5. Learn to assist landowners/users in making decisions based on social, economic, environmental, and cultural considerations.
6. Have videotapes available for future use by individuals and groups when educational programs are needed.
7. Produce an on-farm checklist that can be used by staff in the field to facilitate whole farm planning.
A day long conference was held in February, 1996 featuring Marty Strange from the Center for Rural Affairs and Doug Karlen from the National Soil Tilth Lab. Fifty-seven Extension and NRCS employees from around New Hampshire attended this session. These speakers stimulated new thinking among the participants and did an excellent job of opening up the topics of whole farm planning and systems approaches to farming operations. The group learned a great deal about the direct and indirect consequences of actions taken within the production system and grappled with the complexities of considering the entire ecosystem and watershed when solving problems that are faced as a matter of everyday work.
In the month following this session, the participants worked in county field offices on a case farm that was known to both extension and NRCS staff. These small workgroups looked at devising a farm plan for the operation, looked at the application of the Field Office Computing System, and had the opportunity to discuss issues which arose in the course of evaluating the farm.
This gave local agency people a chance to interact and share their strengths and weaknesses with each other and to learn from each other about the environmental, economic and social concerns of a farm operation.
Six weeks after the initial session, the participants were reconvened to discuss and analyze what they had learned by doing the case studies. Twenty-seven people attended this segment of the training program.
A year later, the majority of active participants re-convened to discuss what they had implemented as a result of the previous training sessions. A presentation on the future of New England agriculture and the implications of the changing face of agricultural industries was presented by Marty Strange. This session also included two farm visits to learn more about intensive pasture management, wildlife habitat on farms, watering systems for pasture, use of geotextiles on pasture access roads, impacts of dairy operations on highly erodible lands, manure storage facilities, and other topics of interest to the group.
By sharing the talented people we have, we are broadening our understanding of agriculture and its impacts. We are increasing our comfort level as we provide land use information using a more encompassing approach. We will incorporate local soil, water, air, plant, animal and human concerns as we help people to plan and implement future uses of their land. Problems recognized by these customers will be addressed in a more holistic manner, so that the strengths and weaknesses of potential solutions can also be discerned. These solutions will be expressed in terms of social and economic effects as well as environmental impacts so customers can make informed decisions, use our natural resources wisely, and continue their prosperous and productive contribution to New Hampshire’s way of life.
Reported December 1997