Nutrient Management Education: Development and Implementation of Training Modules on Basic Principles, Current State of Knowledge and Advances in Research
SARE funding helped support a collaborative effort to train 64 “front-line” field staff from various state, federal and local agencies in nutrient management. The program, which was science-based and reflected the latest research from Delaware and nearby states, focused on eight topic areas identified by participating agencies. SARE funding supported a technical assistant who prepared the educational materials for the program. These materials include a series of eight training module slide sets, a training handbook containing copies of the slides in note format, interactive exercises and other relevant handouts, and an informative registration brochure used to publicize the program to potential participants. The workshop format included not only educational lectures but also practical discussions and interactive exercises designed to ensure that program participants not only understood the concepts being presented but also how to apply them in the field.
Participants reported that they found the program helpful and the material presented educational. They indicated that they now have a better understanding of several nutrient management issues and feel better able to deal with questions from growers and other individuals. By strengthening field staff’s basic knowledge of nutrient management principles, and by giving these professionals initial exposure to recent developments in research and technology, we believe that they will be better able to respond to their clients needs and questions.
1.Prepare training module slide sets on key aspects of nutrient management for use in educational programs for individuals involved in developing nutrient management plans.
2.Develop support materials including educational handouts and interactive activities/exercises for use in the training program.
3. Provide the initial training program using the eight modules to Cooperative Extension personnel and others from state and local agencies.
Activities and Results
Eight module consisting of 30 to 54 slides each were completed for the eight topics listed in Table1. The slide sets were created using the software package Microsoft-Powerpoint97. The modules were used in the training program described under Objective No. 3.
Additional sets of the training modules were provided to each of the Delaware Cooperative Extension county offices and to the two Nutrient Management Specialists hired by UD-CES since that time for use in educational programs developed by CES staff.
Several modules have been used in educational presentations made by UD personnel to the Delaware Nutrient Management Commission, the group appointed under 1999 Delaware legislation and charged with writing and implementing nutrient management regulation for the State of Delaware.
Copies of specific modules have also been provided to the Delaware Department of Agriculture. Copies of the complete set have also been requested by several others involved in the development of nutrient management educational programs for other states including Virginia, Colorado and Ohio.
Educational materials, including copies of the slides in handout format, interactive exercises, related fact sheets, journal articles, reference materials and a bibliography of nutrient management publications, were prepared and organized in 3-ring binder format training handbook. The handbook is titled, “Cooperative Bulletin No. 77: Nutrient Management for Water Quality Protection – A Training Program on Nutrient Management in Delaware.” Copies of the training book were provided to all program participants. Additional copies were placed in county Cooperative Extension Offices and provided to selected Nutrient Management Commission members.
The initial training program was held during January, 1999. Sessions were held one day a week for four weeks at the Kent County Cooperative Extension Office in Dover, DE. The program format included slide supported lectures, large and small group discussion, interactive exercises and panel discussions. The program content was selected with the dual goals of providing trainees with an objective, science-based background in the basic principles of nutrient management and bringing them up-to-date on the latest research and technological advances available to assist them in developing plans for growers.
Sixty-four individuals from ten organizations participated in the program. Participants included representatives from Cooperative Extension, the University of Delaware, and federal, state and local agencies with job responsibilities ranging from grower assistance to regulatory enforcement. Participants were charged a registration fee of $50.00 and were provided with training handbooks and additional materials. All meals and breaks were included in the registration fee and provided on site for the convenience of the participants and to encourage and facilitate continued interaction among the trainees and program leaders. Continuing educational credits were also offered through the University of Delaware Division of Continuing Education and the Certified Crop Advisor program. A wrap-up survey was mailed to all participants to evaluate the success of the program and to obtain information for use in future planning of programs.
The purpose of this program was to develop training materials and to provide initial training to front line field staff. Comments from participants and results of the wrap-up indicated that trainees found the program helpful and the material presented educational. Conversations with several participants have indicated that they now have a better understanding of several nutrient management issues such as soil phosphorus and phosphorus management, a volatile topic in our state at the present time, and feel better able to deal with questions from growers and other individuals. Another individual, a conservationist with the conservation district said that he appreciated that the all groups, both grower support and regulatory, were hearing the same information and were able to find some common ground on which to agree. Another individual from Cooperative Extension said that he had a better understanding of some of the recent research developments and would be better able to explain them to the growers he dealt with who could benefit from the information.
By strengthening the basic knowledge of trainees about nutrient management principles and giving them some initial exposure to recent developments in research and technology, we believe that they will be better able to respond to their clients needs and questions. Many expressed comments that several issues, especially those related to phosphorus, had changed substantially since they were in school and the that the information provided in this program gave them a better understanding of the problems and issues that must be dealt with today. The benefits arise not only from the material covered but also in the contacts and references developed so that when questions arise, individuals – especially those serving in front-line field staff positions -- will have direct knowledge of who to contact for assistance, in other organizations as well as their own. They also may be better able to incorporate new technologies being developed because they have a better understanding of processes involved and the implications those processes have in a particular management situation.
Future Recommendations and Areas Needing Additional Professional Development Efforts
The format chosen for this program seemed to work very well, especially with a group so diverse in education, experience and responsibilities. The ability to bring together such a group for organized and informal discussion provided the educational opportunities beyond those specific topics included in the schedule. All groups heard the same information presented in an objective, even-handed manner. It enabled the various groups represented to raise specific concerns they held and hear how others were dealing with those issues.
The wrap-up survey results indicated that in general the group was satisfied with the material presented for an initial training, both in scope and level of difficulty. Based upon the discussions during the program and comments received in the survey, additional training opportunities focusing on more narrow topics would be useful in the future. Suggested topics included:
·nutrient management regulations
·nutrient management for intensive management systems
·nutrient management and irrigation use
·management of high P soils (e.g., the Phosphorus Site Index)
manure management and disposal alternatives.
·educational activities designed to promote nutrient management plan development to growers
·nutrient management plan development – step-by-step how-to program.
I would recommend two changes for future training programs The first is to offer them on a multi-state basis, if possible. In regions such as Delmarva, where our program was held, many growers operate on both sides of the state line. Having instructors and participants from both areas and including topics which are of interest regionally would not only be likely to increase attendance but would also help to educate the audience on perspectives/issues within each state that may impact growers and field staff working in those areas.
The second change would be to allow more time for the interactive exercises – time which would include not only the problem solving but also discussion of the answer or process. In several instances, this discussion was cut short in the interest of time. While several people with additional questions did contact me after the program to discuss their questions, I believe bringing their questions up for general discussion would have been beneficial as I’m sure there were others with the same or similar questions.
Reported January 2000.