Farming for the Future: Adopting Sustainable Agriculture Practices

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2013: $55,904.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2017
Grant Recipient: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Megan Clayton
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Department of Rangeland, Wildlife, and Fisheries Management

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Animals: bees, bovine, poultry, swine, sheep
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: free-range, grazing management, grazing - multispecies, grazing - rotational, range improvement, stocking rate
  • Crop Production: nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: extension
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, cooperatives, whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement, soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: biological control, chemical control
  • Production Systems: transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Historically, Texas has long been a large-acreage cattle ranching state. However, a lack of farm succession to the next generation has accelerated recent trends towards land fragmentation and non-traditional landowners, which is necessitating changes in how the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service (Extension) and USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) should educate landowners. A lack of training opportunities on sustainable and organic operations has hampered the ability of these organizations to host educational workshops on these topics.     To address this need, an 18-person committee, led by Extension in cooperation with sustainable and/or organic farmers, has planned a four-day training event on sustainable operations. The trainees will be County Extension Agents (CEAs) and NRCS personnel from South and Central Texas, who will in turn provide local learning opportunities for small to mid-sized landowners. These landowners, considered “ag of the middle,” will benefit from the subsequent local workshops to increase awareness of sustainable agriculture as well as state and federal sustainable agriculture programs.   The training will reach 50 participants, 10 Extension committee members, and 8 sustainable and/or organic farmers. It will be conducted at one farmers market and five farms near San Antonio, Texas that are currently conducting innovative sustainable practices. These farms sustainably produce pasture-raised chickens and turkeys, pasture-raised swine, bees, dairy production, and grass-fed beef and lamb. Management techniques such as intensive rotational and multi-species grazing, and water and soil conservation practices will be discussed at the farms. The training will be evaluated using a pre- and post-training survey.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Before the project was developed, six CEAs were surveyed about their need for and interest in sustainable and organic agriculture training. Agents were selected from two Extension districts in South and Central Texas with varying clientele needs and length of tenure as CEAs. Four CEAs responded that they have received “less training than necessary” on sustainable and/or organic practices for small to medium-sized landowners. The remaining two CEAs had received no sustainable agriculture training. As the need was obvious for funding and training opportunities on small, sustainable and organic agriculture operations, all six CEAs surveyed enthusiastically volunteered to develop the training with sustainable farmers. Because the CEAs indicated that their county NRCS personnel may also be interested in this training opportunity, it is being offered to South and Central Texas CEAs and NRCS.




    The training committee has developed the following four behavior-based objectives to be evaluated through pre- and post-evaluations:

    1. Increase the knowledge of South and Central Texas CEAs and NRCS about multiple successful sustainable and organic farming operations.



      • Goal: Given that the CEAs reported having no training or less training than necessary, the goal is to increase knowledge by 70%, by pre/post self-assessments and sustainable agriculture knowledge test questions on the economic, environmental, and social issues related to sustainable systems.


        2.  Increase the knowledge of South and Central Texas CEAs and NRCS personnel about Texas and Federal sustainable agricultural programs available to limited-resource farmers and ranchers.




      • Goal: To increase knowledge by 50%, based on pre/post knowledge tests


        3. Improve the attitudes of South and Central Texas CEAs and NRCS about the importance and applicability of sustainable and/or organic agricultural operations for small to medium-sized landowners.




      • Goal: To increase the rankings (pre/post evaluation) by at least one rank (i.e., from Somewhat important to Important) of the practice of sustainable agriculture and its potential to improve profitability in multi-generational farms, and to increase the percentage of their clientele that they estimate sustainable and/or organic practices will be applicable for by 30%.


        4. Provide the skills necessary for South and Central Texas CEAs and NRCS personnel to confidently educate and advise landowners interested in beginning or improving sustainable and/or organic agricultural practices.




      • Goal: To have every participant rank either Confident or Very confident their ability to design and host sustainable and/or organic agriculture workshops.

        The evaluation process for our sustainable agriculture training began with the engagement of a stakeholder team, now called the committee. This diverse group of farmers and 1862 and 1890 Extension personnel have defined the overarching goal of promoting sustainable agricultural practices in South and Central Texas. This is to be accomplished by training CEAs and NRCS personnel who work intimately with landowners, their clientele, in their respective counties.



        Because these participants will later become the “experts” on sustainable agriculture in their counties, the committee aims to provide technical guidance on the results we hoped to achieve. Section G above specifies four behavior-based objectives and the goals for the expected outcomes for each objective.


        Objectives 1 and 2 address the knowledge gained from the training, a level of evaluation higher than simply the participants’ opinion about the workshop itself (Level 2; Kirkpatrick 1975). Objectives 3 and 4 focus on a more advanced level of evaluation: the behavior and impact resulting from the training (Level 3; Kirkpatrick 1975).


        Below are the types of questions in pre- and post-training evaluations for participants through SurveyMonkey and through paper evaluations in person at the completion of the training:


        Objective 1: Increase the knowledge of South and Central Texas CEAs and NRCS about multiple successful sustainable and organic farmer operations.

          • What is your knowledge level on the following sustainable agricultural practices (list all that apply to this training)? Please select your knowledge level on a scale of 1 (least amount of knowledge) to 10 (expert level).

          • Three factual questions about each agricultural practice covered during the training to be related to 1) Social knowledge, 2) Economic Knowledge, 3) Environmental knowledge.


        Objective 2: Increase the knowledge of South and Central Texas CEAs and NRCS about Texas and Federal sustainable agricultural programs for limited resource farmers and ranchers.

          • Four factual questions about state programs and four factual questions about Federal programs for limited resource farmers and ranchers.


        Objective 3: Improve the attitudes of South and Central Texas CEAs and NRCS about the importance and applicability of sustainable and/or organic agricultural operations for small to medium-sized landowners.

          • Given choices (Not Important, Neutral, Somewhat Important, or Important), participants select the importance level of sustainable agricultural operations in their small to medium-sized landowners in their county.

          • Select the percent of the small to medium-sized landowners in their county who could benefit by introducing sustainable practices into their operation.


        Objective 4: Provide the knowledge necessary for South and Central Texas CEAs and NRCS to confidently educate and advise landowners interested in beginning or improving sustainable and/or organic agricultural practices.

          • Given choices (Not Confident, Neutral, Confident, or Very Confident), participants select their level of confidence in educating others about beginning or improving their sustainable agriculture operation.

          • Describe initial ideas for the participant to incorporate sustainable agriculture into the plan of work for 2014–2015.


        The questions related to Objectives 1–4 will remain the same in the pre- and post-training surveys. In in the post-training evaluation, the participants will also be asked to provide feedback about the format of the training and highlight any other information they feel would improve their knowledge about sustainable and/or organic operations to gauge participants’ reactions to the training overall (Level 1; Kirkpatrick 1975).


        Funds for evaluation were not included in the budget because they will be covered by resources (such as a SurveyMonkey subscription) provided by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and completed during the training, making postage unnecessary. The results will be summarized for the final SARE report.



        The training should produce these outputs by these dates:

          • Participant applications (sent April 15, 2014; due June 1, 2014)

          • Committee participant rankings (June 15, 2014)

          • Final participant list (June 31, 2014)

          • Training and hands-on learning opportunities for CEA and NRCS participants (October 2014; demonstrated with copy of agenda)

          • Extension publication on starting a sustainable agricultural business (April 1, 2015; demonstrated with pdf version)

          • Video highlighting training components (April 1, 2015; demonstrated with edited electronic media version)

          • SARE final report with evaluation results (April 1, 2015; paper and pdf version of final report)



        Activities will be held throughout the year of grant funding to accomplish the planned outputs:

          • The full committee will meet in March 2014 to determine the dates for the training, items to include in participant applications, and the hotel to be reserved for the training (via teleconference).

          • The advertisement with flyer and application will be sent April 15, 2014

          • The applications will be due June 1,2014.

          • The committee will rank the applicants before the selection meeting June 15, 2014, via teleconference

          • The pre-training evaluation will be administered via Survey Monkey and the pre-event materials will be assigned and mailed to accepted participants and committee members August 1, 2014.

          • The project director and consultant will conduct the farm visits and complete the training event preparation in early September 2014.

          • Five farm visits in the San Antonio, TX area will be held in 3 days in late September 2014.

          • A 1-day farmers market visit in San Antonio, TX, will be made in late September 2014.

          • The NRCS training on programs for Limited Resource Farmers and Ranchers and post-training evaluation will be held on the last day of training in September 2014.

          • The project director and consultant will meet to develop the publication on starting a sustainable agricultural business, edit the video highlighting the training components, and summarize the evaluations in October/November 2014.

          • The final publication, video, and report will be submitted to SARE by April 1, 2015.


        By identifying the desired objectives of the training, defining the outputs necessary to meet these objectives, and selecting the most appropriate activities to create the desired outputs, we have designed a feedback loop to ensure that our pre- and post- training evaluations will produce an accurate assessment of the sustainable agriculture training. This data can be used to plan future workshops on these topics or serve as a model for other areas in the Southern Region.

        A previous survey of Texas CEAs (Clayton, unpublished data) indicated that they were interested in participating in multi-day sustainable agriculture trainings but preferred to learn about the practices directly from the farmers, on their property. This training will use pre-event reading materials, farmer presentations, and hands-on experiential learning to give an in-depth, systems-based, sustainable agricultural training to South and Central Texas CEAs and NRCS personnel.


        This 4-day on-farm experiential training will take place on five farms near San Antonio, TX, in late September 2014. Farmers were selected based on their ability to educate, willingness to allow hands-on trainings at their farm, and the sustainable practices they use in their operations.

        The farms and a short description are listed in Section J under Honoraria.


        This training will focus on these sustainable agriculture practices: 1) pasture-raised chickens and turkeys, 2) bee keeping, 3) multi-species grazing, 4) grass-fed beef, 5) grass-fed dairy cattle, 6) water conservation practices, 7) state and Federal sustainable agriculture programs, 8) pasture-raised swine, and 9) grass-fed lamb. These practices can be dissected or viewed as a whole in a systems approach to help diversify traditional small to mid-sized farming operations. The basic training schedule will be:


        Day 1 (Wednesday):

        AM – Travel to San Antonio

        PM – Twin Oaks Ranch, Dinero, TX


        Day 2 (Thursday):

        AM – Gretchen Bee Ranch, Seguin, TX

        PM – D – S Steubing Dairy, Hondo, TX


        Day 3 (Friday):

        AM – Shudde Ranch, Sabinal, TX

        PM – Parker Creek Ranch, D’Hanis, TX


        Day 4 (Saturday):

        AM – Visit Historic Pearl Brewery Farmer’s Market, San Antonio, TX

                 USDA – NRCS State & Federal Programs Training

        PM – Travel Home


        We have added a trip to the Pearl Farmers Market in San Antonio where three of the five farms we will visit during the week sell their products. This market brings in 50 vendors and 5,000 customers on a Saturday. The impact of these products, well beyond the farming community, will bring the training full circle to encompass environmental, economic, and societal contributions from these farmers.


        The farm visits have been designed using a checklist for “The Principles of Adult Education” ( ) to effectively reach our intended audience and appeal to different learning styles. Below is a general outline of the farmer introduction to participants at the training.




          • Explain the process that led you to create a sustainable and/or organic operation.

          • What practices have you seen improving the health of your land?

          • How are you benefiting the environment on a larger scale?

          • What water conservation practices or water improvements have you established or created on your property?



          • Detail the different products in your operation.

          • How did you decide which sustainable products to grow? Did you try others that did not work out as well?

          • What products do you see in the future for your operation?

          • What software or record-keeping products do you use for your sustainable operation? Have you tried any others that did not work as well?



          • Have you participated in any state and/or federal assistance programs? Where did you go for help to qualify and apply for these programs?

          • Where do you market your products?

          • How does your operation contribute to the economic health of the nearby community?



          • How has your sustainable operation contributed to an enhanced quality of life for you and your family?

          • Do you believe that your operation is in a better position to be passed to the next generation as a sustainable and/or organic farm?

          • How do you think your sustainable operation products are affecting your nearby community and even further into the surrounding urban environments?


        Farmers will speak to the participants using either handouts or computer technology. After an introduction on their farm practices, they have been asked to allow the participants to experience as many of the sustainable practices on site as appropriate.


        This training is limited to 50 South and Central Texas CEAs and NRCS personnel, in addition to the 10 Extension Committee members who will be invited to participate. This number was determined based on the feasibility of allowing hands-on training opportunities. Because the participants will be asked to provide their own travel to San Antonio for the training, our target counties will be in South and Central Texas. These regions encompass about 80 counties, making our goal to train half of the counties in sustainable and organic agricultural practices (40 counties), recognizing that some of the counties may be represented by both a CEA and NRCS personnel.


        The pre-event reading assignments will enable the participants to better understand general sustainable and organic practices before their farm trainings begin; the materials will also serve as references upon completion of the training. Completing the pre-readings will be expected as a prerequisite as stated on the training application if selected.


        We are fortunate to have high-quality books and publications, mostly developed through previous SARE funded projects, to provide to participants before the training. Therefore, our project will build on other previously funded SARE Research and Education projects by using their outputs as the core materials for our CEA and NRCS personnel training. Those publications include:

          • Civic Agriculture: Reconnecting Farm, Food, and Community, by Thomas Lyson

          • How To Direct Market Your Beef

          • What Is Sustainable Agriculture?

          • Western SARE’s Living on the Land Curriculum

          • Sustainable Control of Internal Parasites in Small Ruminant Production

          • A Sustainable Approach to Controlling Honey Bee Diseases and Varroa Mites

          • Selecting Cattle to Improve Grazing Distribution Patterns, Rangeland Health and Water Quality

          • Meeting the Diverse Needs of Limited-Resource Producers

          • Profitable Pork

          • Profitable Poultry

          • Rangeland Management Strategies

          • Smart Water Use on Your Farm or Ranch

          • Transitioning to Organic Production

          • Online Book: Building Sustainable Farms, Ranches, and Communities

          • Building Soils for Better Crops


        This project aims to contribute to sustainable agricultural publications by using Extension funds to develop an Extension/SARE publication on starting a sustainable agricultural business and a video highlighting components of this farmer-taught training. Section M contains more information about leveraging these funds for future work.


    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.