Sustainable Agriculture Training Initiative for Texas

1997 Annual Report for ES97-036

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1997: $70,136.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1999
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $19,456.00
Region: Southern
State: Florida
Principal Investigator:

Sustainable Agriculture Training Initiative for Texas


Extension agents, NRCS personnel and other agricultural professionals will be able to explain the concept and encourage their clients to consider the environmental and social consequences in addition to economics when making farm decisions.

The Texas Agricultural Extension Service and the Prairie View A&M University Cooperative Extension Program, other agricultural and natural resource agencies, and alternative agricultural producers will increase communication and strengthen their working relationships to expand the concept of sustainable agriculture in Texas.

Almost 600 county agents in Texas attended a two-hour training session which included a basic introduction to the concepts and principles of sustainable agriculture and information about sustainable agriculture resources that they can access to help the producers they serve. Resources developed include a website (a video illustrating farmers and ranchers in Texas working towards sustainability, and a display for meetings and trade shows. A regional meeting “Developing East Texas Sustainable Agriculture Systems for the 21st Century” was held in July, 1998. Activities associated with this grant have improved communication among professionals of the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, the Prairie View A&M University Cooperative Extension Program, and alternative agriculture practitioners and groups.

Outcomes and Accomplishments
Objective 1. Between August, 1998, and April, 1999, our program introducing the concepts and principles of sustainable agriculture was presented to county agents in all 12 Extension districts in the state. A regional workshop, “Developing East Texas Sustainable Agriculture Systems for the 21st Century” was conducted in the summer of 1998.

Objective 2. The video, which was shown to all agents, included interviews with Texas producers using alternative methods. Alternative producers and representatives of producer groups such as Texas Organic Growers Association (TOGA), and Holistic Resource Management (HRM) were among the speakers, tour stops, and participants in the meeting in East Texas. Specialists have been invited speakers at alternative agriculture meetings, such as ACRES, and are serving on the boards of HRM of Texas and TOGA. Agents are working with NGOs such as Promised Land Network to help educate producers and the public.

Dissemination of Outcomes
The Texas Sustainable Production Systems website was developed and expanded throughout the term of the grant. Our 22 minute video, completed in the spring of 1998, contains interviews with 7 Texas producers who are working towards sustainability on their farms or ranches. All county agents who participated in the training were shown the video. Copies were given to all participants in the video, and to any county agents who requested it. It is for sale to the public on our website.

The display illustrating sustainable agriculture in Texas was developed and is available to Extension agents and professionals from other participating agencies. It has been displayed at the Southern Region SARE meeting in January, 1999; the Stiles Farm Field Day in central Texas in June, 1999; and the statewide Extension staff conference at College Station in July, 1999. Illustrated SARE handouts on sustainable agriculture are distributed with the display.

Potential Benefits and Impacts
The loss of so many producers indicates that major changes are needed within agriculture. Extension and other agricultural professionals must be innovators and develop creative programs, which encourage producers to use improved methods of farming. Our introduction to the principles of sustainable agriculture was intended to encourage these professionals to work with alternative producers, use a variety of sources for their information, and introduce conventional producers to alternative methods of approaching the challenges they face.

We have met our objectives of providing this basic training program of concepts of sustainable agriculture to all county agents in Texas. This included an introduction to the definition and concepts of sustainable ag, explanation of our website and computer resources, and information about some alternative agriculture groups and resources.after training) surveys. We did not find a significant change in the perceptions, and there was a non-significant trend towards increased knowledge. Although initial attitudes about sustainable agriculture were more positive than we had anticipated, (3.6 on a 1-5 scale, with 5 being the most agreeable), they did increase slightly (to 3.7) after the training. There was also an increase in their actions about sustainable agriculture with more of them reporting that they had conducted sustainable agriculture activities in their counties.

Many have personally expressed that they would like to recommend alternative methods, such as products which are “environmentally friendly”. However, they often do not have the information to do that. Although many specialists and research scientists would like to conduct alternative research programs, they have trouble finding the support to do this. One specialist who attended the training expressed this in his comment: “As a specialist, I believe my time would be better spent developing materials that would support the sustainable ag program’s efforts. I am working with agents and other specialists to develop fact sheets, slide shows, etc. that address specific needs and issues within my expertise and job responsibilities. Hopefully my efforts will complement those of other specialists and agents as we address specific issues within the more general sustainable agriculture package.”

The real changes that we noticed during the time of this grant do not show up in the surveys. During the years of this grant, we observed changes in the attitudes of many agents. Two districts requested training sessions in organic farming/gardening, and several agents requested producer/homeowner programs on these subjects. Open-minded agents are finding that there are quite a few producers and homeowners who are interested in non-traditional agriculture. This program helped to reinforce the idea that they have the approval of the administration to pursue these types of programs.


Nathaniel Keys

Prairie View A&M University Cooperative Extension
Office Phone: 4098572517