Elevating Examples of Excellence: A professional development and outreach model
The project sought to educate agricultural professionals in innovative conservation practices and the federal programs that support them, specifically the Conservation Security Program (CSP), by highlighting exemplary CSP farms.
1) Educate Extension, conservation staff, farm leaders, farmers and other information providers about what constitute exemplary stewardship practices. This includes educating them about profitability and any new marketing opportunities that arise as a result of sustainable practices, as well as benefits for the environment;
2) Interest producers, especially mainstream farm group members, in applying to the CSP, its new list of “conservation enhancement practices”; also interesting them in applying to SARE;
3) Foster interagency collaboration on successful projects of mutual interest to both agencies, with the hope of identifying opportunities to work more closely on other projects in the future; and
4) Give voice to Tier 2 and Tier 3 producers who have used the CSP successfully about the role the program plays on their farms.
We will conduct 4 field days/farm tour events, mostly with CSP Tier 2 and 3 contract recipients. Three of them will be in Wisconsin, including a farm or farms in the Lower Chippewa River Watershed, the Crawfish River watershed, and the Kishwaukee River watershed, on the Illinois border. A fourth will be on the Illinois side of the Kishwaukee River watershed.
We will attract local and regional producers to attend the events, including mainstream producers.
With NRCS state staff, we will develop local planning teams to organize the events, made up of ourselves plus some combination of local Extension, conservation, and NRCS staff and local farm leaders.
We will develop multiple-use outreach materials that can be used in power point presentations, web site development and physical copies for media, consisting of a list of several CSP recipients in a watershed, including event hosts but also other producers, and including farm photos and brief descriptions as well as commentary from the farmers.
We will generate an average of at least 20 participants at each event, and no fewer than 15 at any event, including at least seven Extension, local conservation agents, farm leaders or other educators and at least 10 farmers, including more mainstream farmers.
The project developed a model of collaboration among NRCS, Extension, SARE, local conservation departments and NGOs on CSP outreach and education. We have developed CSP factsheets and powerpoint presentation on CSP and we plan to build on this work with NRCS by conducting CSP workshops at farmer and conservationist meetings this winter. Additionally, in August of this year, we used the CSP powerpoint presentation to present this project at the SARE conference in Oconomowoc.
We have recently expanded our work on CSP by collaborating with NGOs in 4 Midwestern states to develop this model of CSP outreach with NRCS offices in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. In addition to outreach and education, the 5 state project partners are collaborating on an evaluation of CSP, using qualitative research methods. We anticipate that a total of 100 interviews of farmers, NRCS staff and others will be completed by the end of October. The results of these interviews will be published in a report due out next year. MFAI is coordinating the 5 state collaboration.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The Conservation Security Program has undergone some significant changes since it was created in the 2002 Farm Bill. Most significantly, funding for the program has been dramatically curtailed. Originally intended to be a nationwide program, the USDA chose to roll out CSP on a watershed-by-watershed basis with 18 watersheds selected in the country during the pilot year of the program in 2004. The program was then expanded to 220 watersheds in 2005 and decreased again to 60 watersheds in 2006, due to funding cuts. As a consequence, once a watershed is selected for CSP, farmers only have one opportunity to apply to the program. If they do not apply for CSP or are denied a contract, with current funding scenarios, it could over 25 years before their watershed is selected again for the program. While we are cautiously optimistic that CSP funding may improve in the future (the Senate recently took action to leave CSP funding uncapped), current implementation of CSP impacted our ability to achieve some of the outcomes described in our original proposal, as described below.
We were able to reach a diverse audience of state and federal agency staff and private consultants, along with CSP farmers, with our outreach in Wisconsin. The feedback we received from the participants was that the events provided needed information about CSP and conservation practices, generally. But because CSP enrollment will not be available in the near future in the areas where we held the events, there is little reason for many of the agricultural professionals who participated to increase their assistance with farmers on CSP or to highlight CSP, generally, in their work – two original objectives of our project. For example, months after the CSP farm tour, we spoke to one Extension agent who helped organize the tour. He said that he does not currently work on CSP in his county because the program will not be available for farm sign up in the near future.
Because of these limitations on the program, we attempted to expand the reach of our work on CSP. For the Dodge County CSP field day, we worked with NRCS to invite farmers who live in the neighboring Rock River watershed, a potential CSP watershed. We wanted to use the field day to help prepare Rock River watershed farmers for CSP. However, few farmers who live in the watershed attended the event. We suspect that few came because NRCS was hesitant to advertise the event clearly stating that the Rock River watershed will be a future CSP watershed because of funding concerns that may prevent the Rock from being selected for CSP enrollment.
Despite these limitations, we have seen increased conservation among CSP-enrolled farmers and we believe that the CSP education work has been a benefit. For example, in 2004 the lower Chippewa River Watershed had 46 Tier III farms (requiring the highest level of conservation), 131 Tier II farms, and 30 Tier I farms. In 2005, CSP farmers had the opportunity to modify their contracts and move up to the higher Tiers of the program by adding new conservation practices to their farms. After the late fall contract modification period in 2005, there were 6 Tier I farms, 100 Tier II farms and 101 Tier III farms – representing a significant shift to the high tiers of the program. After the 2006, 76 percent of Dodge County CSP farmers modified their contracts by moving up a tier or adding conservation practices to their existing Tier III contracts, as compared to 65 percent of all CSP enrolled farmers in Wisconsin who modified their contracts and less than 50 percent of the CSP enrolled farmers nationwide who modified their contracts.
We believe that our education efforts in the Lower Chippewa River watershed and Dodge County (Crawfish River watershed) helped farmers to understand the opportunities to advance to the higher tiers of CSP and work with NRCS staff to add conservation practices to their farms.
Finally, is important to note that the project garnered state and local media attention for CSP and the farmers enrolled in the program. The leading farm papers, The Country Today, Agri-View and the Wisconsin State Farmer ran stories with photos from the farm tour and field day. The Country Today did two stories, one for each event. We also had 5 local print stories. Furthermore, MFAI is a member of the Wisconsin Public News Service, which works with member nonprofits to place radio stories. Using their service we were able to get CSP stories placed on 23 radio stations. Overall, the media coverage of the two events surpassed our original project goals.