- Crop Production: conservation tillage, cover crops, forest/woodlot management, irrigation, nutrient management, pollinator habitat, water management
- Education and Training: extension, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
- Soil Management: soil quality/health
Mississippi State University (MSU) Extension Service faculty, in collaboration with Alcorn State University and partners from agriculture service providers, non-governmental stakeholders, and key producers developed and implemented Sustainability Training in Agricultural Resources Systems (STARS), a multidisciplinary, professional development program for agricultural and natural resources (ANR) educators. Agriculture is the state’s leading industry, and an expanding wealth of programs, research, management practices, and technologies is available. However, those tasked with serving farmers are often unprepared to assist producers with incorporating these options. The STARS program was developed to equip Extension professionals and other natural resources personnel with relevant training and support resources in sustainable agriculture and natural resources conservation topics so as to promote information transfer and adoption of conservation practices by landowners. Six professional development workshops were hosted by the project investigators in collaboration with Alcorn University, NRCS personnel, researchers, and private farmers during the project period. STARS workshop topics, informed by a team of consultant stakeholders, varied with region and over time to provide diverse, locally applicable training for participants on natural resources sustainability subject areas, including soil health, water conservation, nutrient management, wildlife habitat, pollinators, forestry practices, natural resources business enterprises and others. A total of 56 MSU and Alcorn University Extension Agents, 20 NRCS personnel, 5 agency staff, and 11 service providers participated in these workshops. Subsequently , 5 landowner workshop/field days were hosted by 9 STARS-trained Extension agents, educating an additional 11 Extension agents, 23 NRCS personnel, 11 agency staff, 4 service providers, and 118 landowners. Pre-/post-workshop evaluations indicated agents understanding of workshop concepts improved and their confidence in speaking to clients increased. One-year, post-workshop surveys of STARS-trained agents (n=21) indicated that 90% of agents had shared STARS-based content with their clients and that landowners were subsequently implementing conservation practices on their property.
STARS objectives were:(1) Improve awareness and knowledge of ANR extension and education personnel of the economic, social, and environmental value of integrating plant and animal production practices with conservation of natural resources systems; (2) Increase awareness and knowledge by ANR extension personnel of best management practices, technologies for measuring and managing natural resources use; (3) Increase knowledge in ANR extension and education personnel of existing federal- and state-level programs and research-based educational materials which can assist producers in adopting and implementing sustainable agricultural practices; (4) Promote competency of ANR extension and education personnel in sustainable agriculture outreach, and; (5) Promote adoption of best management practices and other strategies which optimize production and economic returns as well as natural resources conservation.