Collaborative Approaches to Increase the Integration of Functional Agricultural Biodiversity in Western Farming Systems

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2015: $67,699.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2018
Grant Recipient: Oregon State University
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Gwendolyn Ellen
Agricultural Biodiversity Consulting

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: buckwheat, clovers, grass (misc. perennial), mustard, potatoes, radish (oilseed, daikon, forage), rye, spelt, sunflower, vetches, wheat, spelt and other specialty grains
  • Fruits: apples, berries (blueberries), berries (brambles), berries (strawberries), cherries, grapes, melons, pears
  • Vegetables: asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), greens (lettuces), leeks, onions, parsnips, peas (culinary), peppers, radishes (culinary), sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips
  • Additional Plants: native plants, trees
  • Animals: bees, beneficial insects such as generalist predators and parasitoids that prey upon crop pests


  • Crop Production: agroforestry, alley cropping, catch crops, conservation tillage, continuous cropping, cover crops, cropping systems, crop rotation, double cropping, fallow, intercropping, irrigation, multiple cropping, no-till, nurseries, nutrient management, organic fertilizers, pollination, pollinator habitat, pollinator health, row covers (for season extension), stubble mulching, varieties and cultivars, water management, windbreaks, habitat enhancements for beneficial insects such as insectary plant strips in crops, field edge management, hedgerows, beetlebanks and conservation of ecosystem remnants such as riparian areas or upland savannas
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, display, extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, technical assistance, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, apprentice/intern training, budgets/cost and returns, business planning, community-supported agriculture, financial management, risk management, whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: afforestation, biodiversity, drift/runoff buffers, grass waterways, habitat enhancement, hedgerows, hedges - grass, hedges - woody, indicators, riparian buffers, riverbank protection, soil stabilization, strip cropping, wetlands, wildlife
  • Pest Management: allelopathy, biological control, cultivation, cultural control, economic threshold, field monitoring/scouting, flame, integrated pest management, mating disruption, mulches - general, mulching - vegetative, mulching - plastic, physical control, prevention, row covers (for pests), sanitation, smother crops, soil solarization, trap crops
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, integrated crop and livestock systems, organic agriculture, organic certification, permaculture, transitioning to organic, transitioning to less pesticide use
  • Soil Management: composting, green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, soil chemistry, soil microbiology, soil physics, soil quality/health, toxic status mitigation
  • Sustainable Communities: community development, community planning, community services, infrastructure analysis, leadership development, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, public policy, quality of life, social capital, social networks, urban agriculture, urban/rural integration, values-based supply chains

    Proposal abstract:

    The Western Region Functional Agricultural Biodiversity (FAB) Work Group combines PNW farmers, industry consultants, NRCS, SWCD, RCD and non-profit personnel, and extension researchers. For 7 years it has acted as an incubator for collaborative projects and local networks, and a facilitator of teaching events and technical aid that increases conservation practices on California, Idaho, Washington and Oregon farms. In 2015/16, we will hold a Work Group meeting to present current regional FAB projects, solicit new members, provide initial training for potential outreach leaders and cooperatively plan a 2016 on-farm short course. The purpose of the course is to teach technical skills in establishing on-farm habitat to farmers, researchers, and conservationists. We will conduct an analysis of the Work Group structure and its projects. This will enable us to define its geographical and sociological scope, determine its ability to effect adoption of FAB practices, and its capacity to evaluate our success in teaching technical aspects of habitat establishment. In 2016/17, we will produce the first Western FAB Summit in Portland, Oregon with project participants as co-presenters. The Summit will highlight current on-the-ground practices and collaborative projects, provide technical aid for the implementation of on-farm conservation practices, and develop strategies for strengthening local and state FAB networks. In 2017/18, we will complete and distribute the network analysis. We will also continue to strategize within the FAB Work Group structure to support project-identified, state-level FAB leaders, networks and collaborative projects.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objectives and Timetable



      1. To conduct a winter 2015/16 Portland annual FAB Work Group meeting: to educate members of current regional FAB projects, to solicit new members from previous FAB projects/courses across OR, ID, WA and CA, to set the parameters of project evaluation/network analysis and to plan a 2016 Habitat Establishment Field Course to be conducted in a member-chosen state. The chosen state will be a pilot state for the evaluation/network analysis and state-level network capacity building.


      1. To develop a tool to evaluate, analyze and map the geographical and sociological scope of our state and regional networks and their effectiveness in influencing the adoption of FAB practices, and farmers’ perception of FAB. The network analysis will involve the FAB Work Group network with its members from Oregon, Washington, California and Idaho as well as the other project activities described below. Data collection will occur throughout the project and a report will be compiled and disseminated in 2018. Qualitative and quantitative post-event, IRB approved, evaluations will also be conducted at the other project activities described below and incorporated into the project on an ongoing basis.


      1. To develop and conduct a summer 2016, on-farm Habitat Establishment Field Course to increase technical skills in establishing on-farm habitat in the chosen pilot state for farmers, extension researchers, crop consultants, sustainable agriculture organizations and conservationists, and to provide training in developing a local FAB network. This short course will be held on a commercial farm in the chosen pilot state and will also serve to highlight, farm system-specific, local, agricultural conservation practices that promote functional agricultural biodiversity.


      1. To develop the first ever, Western Functional Agricultural Biodiversity Summit in Portland, Oregon in Winter 2017 with farmers, conservationists and researchers as co-presenters. The Summit’s target audience will be farmers and those who support farmers (such as NRCS, Soil and Water Conservation District, Resource Conservation District and university extension personnel and industry consultants). It will inform participants of current on-the-ground practices and research projects being done throughout the western region, teach implementation of conservation practices and habitat establishment and provide trainings for strengthening local FAB networks and resources.


      1. Relevance to WSARE Goals/Sustainable Agriculture



    This project addresses all five program goals.


    We highlight, teach, and enable adoption of place-based and site-specific FAB practices, which conserve natural resources. Developing biodiverse field borders for example, decreases soil erosion, improves soil and water quality and provides habitat for beneficial organisms. Implementing within-field insectary plantings conserves populations of native pollinators, beneficial insect predators and parasites.


    Farmers also adopt FAB practices, and enhance habitats because they appreciate birds or other wildlife on their farms. Habitat improvements that demonstrably increase wildlife improves not only farmer quality of life and well-being, but also the quality of life for local communities, and the resilience of wildlife populations beyond the farm.


    Certified organic growers and most environmental labels must demonstrate compliance with requirements to conserve and enhance on-farm natural resources. FAB practices contribute directly to these requirements, and they can also diversify farm enterprises when new crops, such as native plant seeds that can contribute to FAB, are grown and marketed.


    Enhanced biological crop pest management decreases the need for pesticides, and can therefore decrease pesticide risks to human health and the environment. By contributing to efficient production through reduction of pest risks, while also decreasing health and environmental risks, this program also meets the goals outlined in the National Roadmap for Integrated Pest Management (page 1http//


    Finally, we will qualitatively and quantitatively evaluate the regional, social and environmental implications of promoting adoption of FAB practices and the local networks that support them through the existing regional FAB Work Group structure.



      1. Methods


      1. a) Agricultural biodiversity underpins sustainability and supports integrated pest management. There are however time-lags in learning and implementation that precede the biodiversity increases that potentiate ecosystem services. Farmers must supplement their knowledge of pest biology with key information on the biology and ecology of the birds, bats, amphibians and insects that prey upon them. They must also understand the pests, predators and parasites interact, and how conservation practices can strengthen these interactions. Ultimately, effective management steps might involve increasing flowering in field borders, but selecting the appropriate plants, timing and location requires enhanced understanding of the system, and even thinking in a new way about the farm, and surrounding land uses.



    Farmers learn best from other farmers (Brodt et al 2009, Williams and Agenbroad 2009). This project recognizes innovative farmers as leaders in their communities. For seven years the USDA funded, FAB Work Group has sought out farmers that are implementing conservation practices across the west, and entrained them as teachers. Farms act as the classroom in this model and the beneficial organisms themselves provide confirmation of the benefits of increasing agricultural biodiversity. On-farm demonstrations are blended with scientific research, and hands-on trainings to address agricultural biodiversity in OR, ID, WA and CA. For full reports on the FAB Work Group’s members and courses from 2007-2013 go to the National IPM Projects Database at and search Primary PI = Ellen, Gwendolyn.


    Using established FAB Work Group structure, expertise and resources, this proposal supports a Workgroup meeting, group planning and leadership training sessions, a habitat establishment field course, and an FAB Summit. We will use locally derived conservation resources and personnel that were identified through the FAB Work Group members’ collaborative projects. Partnerships with existing farmer hosts, and with nascent local networks in each state will be strengthened by membership in the FAB Work Group, and the events that we will run. Leadership trainings and capacity-building sessions during hands-on project activities will help build local support for agricultural conservation and FAB.


    c).Timeline: Qtr 1 Oct 2015 –Feb 2016: Meeting, Define Network Analysis Parameters, Choose Pilot State, Begin Summer Course Planning, Begin Network Analysis Data Taking


    Qtr 2 Mar 2016-June 2016: Summer Course Planning Conference Call, Summer Course, Leader Training at Course


    Qtr 3 July 2016-Oct 2016: Summer Course Evaluation, FAB Summit Planning Conference Call, Collect Phase II Network Analysis Data


    Qtr 4 Nov 2016-Feb 2017: PDX Western FAB Summit, Collect Network Analysis Data, Begin Analysis of Network


    Qtr 5/6 Mar 2018-Oct 2018: Compile Network Analysis Data, Create Network Map, Analyze Data, Publish and Distribute Network Analysis Report, Revisit Pilot State for Technical Support


    During the first winter, we will conduct a full day meeting in Portland, Oregon to recruit new members, begin designing project activities, and collect data for the network analysis. This will establish a new view of our geographic scope, and established social/resource networks.


    At this meeting we will select potential farmer hosts and teachers for the summer 2017 field course. The whole-day summer course will be on a farm that currently utilizes conservation practices and we will invite local native plant and seed nurseries, agency personnel (including local NRCS and SWCD staff) that may have funding and technical resources that support farmer adoption of conservation practices. The course will include field identification and biology of pests and beneficial insects, and the key steps in establishing on-farm habitat, from planning to implementation, led by the farmer host. FAB information will be distributed, and there will be a session on FAB capacity building for participants. Participants will be asked to complete a course evaluation.


    In Winter 2017, we will present the first Summit on Western US Functional Agricultural Biodiversity, in Portland, OR. The Summit will provide a platform to present and teach FAB information that has been developed, and compiled throughout this project. This day-long event will include specific presentation topics on beneficial insect biology, developing and adopting conservation practices including hedgerows and insectary/pollinator plantings in diverse western farming systems, and local FAB resources and capacity building.


    In the final year (2018) we will complete analysis and writing for the network analysis. These outputs will be sent to all major project participants, who will contribute to a peer reviewed publication, as well as developing high quality materials for Work Group members’ websites including We will continue to support the pilot state by helping them with FAB activities they define. Such activities may include a farmer meeting, winter course or summer farm tour or field course.



      1. Products



    Increased partnerships and collaborations between farmers that utilize FAB practices, conservationists and extension personnel who help farmers adopt them and industry personnel and researchers who supply technical aid will occur during this project. This will be specifically measured in the network analysis by FAB Work Group membership increases, new farmer hosts, new potential FAB leaders identified and new relationships made. The analysis will also identify new local relationships created during the 2017 field course and identify how additional resources could strengthen them.


    Other products of this project include the project activities themselves: a summer, on-farm (field) course which will provide local resources and technical support to participants, a 2017/8 FAB Summit (a one-day FAB conference specific to western agriculture) and the network analysis.


    As the field course will be conducted on a commercial farm in the chosen pilot state it will demonstrate, place-specific, current agricultural conservation practices that promote functional agricultural biodiversity. Handouts on local resources and information that support the development of agricultural conservation practices will be developed. The field course will also be one of the first steps in building a local FAB network.


    The Summit with farmers, conservationists and researchers as co-presenters, will provide an opportunity for regional collaboration and co-teaching. It will provide valuable regional and state/agro-ecosystem specific FAB information in developing conservation practices such as hedgerows and pollinator plantings. We will include NRCS, Soil and Water Conservation District, Resource Conservation District and university extension personnel as well as industry consultants. It will inform participants of on-the-ground practices and projects being done throughout the western region, teach their implementation and provide a platform for the strengthening local and regional FAB networks, collaborations and resources.


    The analysis and mapping of the project’s networks (FAB Work Group and pilot sate partnerships) are unique products of this project.  The network analysis is a tool to analyze, map and demonstrate the geographical, sociological, and resource providing scope of our collaborative partnerships and their effectiveness to positively influence the adoption of FAB practices and farmers’ perception of FAB. It will quantitatively demonstrate the increase in our functional connections, partnerships and collaborations regionally and at the state level. It is also an effective evaluation tool that can be used throughout the project to identify the relative strengths of our collaborations and networks and what areas could be improved. The network analysis report and publication will add to supportive data on the importance of diverse, regional and local collaborative partnerships in moving a sustainable agriculture agenda forward in the west.



      1. Outcomes



    This project will significantly increase the exchange of experiential and research knowledge of FAB, and awareness of practices and resources that support them in western farming systems through a Group meeting, a Summit and a field course. Participants will not only have more FAB regional and local information to provide education programs in their states, but we will also provide direct training and support. Increased awareness of FAB practices and intentions to adopt them will be measured not only through the network analysis but also through the field course and Summit evaluations.


    Already established FAB partnerships and networks as well as newly formed ones will be strengthened from the opportunities this project provides. Documentation of increases in interaction strength, awareness of FAB and creation of new connections and networks will be quantitatively documented in the network analysis.


    The pilot state field course will specifically increase technical skills in establishing on-farm habitat for farmers, researchers, and conservationists as well as increase their awareness through their demonstration within a specific commercial farming system. Awareness of beneficial insects and crops pests will also be increased through hands-on, field identification of beneficial insects and crop pests. This quality of technical assistance can add to increased adoption of conservation practices in the pilot area.


    The Summit with farmers, conservationists and researchers as co-presenters will provide valuable regional and state/agro-ecosystem specific FAB information and resources to farmers and those who support farmers in developing conservation practices.


    Through a combination of established networks of professionals, increased informational exchange, hands-on technical training and capacity building, and a regional conference to present current research and real-life examples, we will build FAB networking and educational infrastructure. On-going feedback from participants will strengthen these networks and attract more educators and conservationists to support western FAB. This will result in more farmers adopting a greater variety of FAB practices on their farms. Increased agricultural biodiversity in the west could ultimately result in a regional increases in beneficial organisms and the ecological functions they perform.



      1. Evaluation



    Network analysis began in the 1930’s when J. Moreno developed a sociogram using nodes to represent people and lines to represent relationships between them (Moreno, 1934). This technique, just beginning to be used in agricultural and natural resource sciences assumes: (1) relationships among participants are important; (2) relationships between two participants represent a flow of resources; and (3) network structures enhance or inhibit participants’ ability to act (Wasserman and Faust 1994). Research suggests collaborations between scientists and stakeholders are a factor that can contribute to greater participant conservation adoption and success (Vance-Borland and Holley, 2011).


    The network analysis is an important tool to evaluate the strengths of collaborative projects, to document new and established social and resource building relationships and to analyze their effectiveness. This provides valuable feedback on an on-going basis. It will help us design more effective collaborations and networks while at the same time quantitatively verify new relationship development within our project.


    Ken Vance-Borland, of The Conservation Planning Institute and Ellen will begin surveying current and new FAB Work Group members to establish their FAB collaborative relationships. We will also track collaborations on specific work products such as papers and reports. From this we will develop a map of the Work Group’s network structure. Because we will have two periods of data collection from December 2015-February 2016 and December 2016 – March 2017 we will compare how this project’s collaborative activities affect the scope of the FAB Work Group network interactions.


    We will use the FAB field course to form a baseline to evaluate how things have changed in the pilot state in terms of attitudes towards FAB, knowledge about agricultural conservation practices, and access to support personnel and resource information. We will choose another state with no FAB field course in 2017 as our control state and collect the same data there. We will begin analyzing data, writing and disseminating the report in fall 2018.

    IRB approved, qualitative and quantitative evaluations will be conducted for the field course and Summit to evaluate perception of knowledge gained and intents to adopt learned practices

    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.