Extension Faculty Learning with Farmers – A Seminar Series on Sustainable Agriculture
1. Educators and researchers together will learn about sustainable agriculture opportunities for dryland farming.
2. Extension faculty, researchers, and farmers will develop ideas for on-farm research to test sustainable agriculture concepts.
3. The Ag Horizons Team will develop a summary document on the project for use by extension faculty in other states and also one-page fact sheets on individual seminars for distribution to farmers in Eastern Washington.
The Ag Horizons Team of Washington State University Cooperative Extension faculty are committed to providing Eastern Washington producers with an understanding of the agronomic, economic, ecological, and social impacts of agriculture and to promoting the adoption of practices that sustain the natural resource base for future generations. The purpose of this project is to educate the Ag Horizons Team, along with other Extension faculty, researchers, agency personnel, and producers about the possibilities and options for developing agricultural management practices and markets that will sustain Eastern Washington farms and farmers in the post-Farm Program era.
The following seminars comprised this project.
1. Taking Out Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Grassland
2. Value-Added Markets for Crop Fiber And Residue
3. Farm Policy Update
4. Residue Burning in Conjunction with No-Till Seeding of Winter Wheat
5. Value-Added Opportunities for Eastern Washington Agriculture
6. Grower Experiences with Alternative Crops
7. Organic Grain Production
8. Investigating Alternative Crops
9. Expanding Swine Production
10. The Future of the Family Farm
11. Wilke Farm Field Day – Direct Seeding Project
12. Tour of Wilke Direct Seeding Project Cooperator Sites
13. Natural Resource Issues (for Washington Extension Agents Summer Meeting)
14. A Time to Act USDA’s National Commission on Small Farms
15. The Soil Foodweb – Relationships Existing Among Soil Microbes and Crop Plants.
16. Strategies for Successful Small Farms – a Videoconference with Ron Macher, Publisher of Small Farm Today Magazine.
17. Wilke Farm Field Day – Progress on the Direct Seeding Project
Consistent with our goals of learning alongside farmers, we also included farmers as speakers whenever possible. Including producers as workshop participants both as speakers and as audience adds a dimension and level of reality that is popular with other producers and is sometimes lacking from expert perspectives. Researchers can be too focused and reductionist; omitting vital questions like, What is the economic bottom line? Farmers must run their farms as businesses, and net income determines their ultimate success.
The Ag Horizons Team and attending producers reported that these seminars broadened their outlook on agricultural sustainability and gave them more hope for sustaining their land and family farms. Through this project, the Ag Horizons Team has also learned to work better as a team, has developed relationships with new grower groups, and has worked with these groups to decide on-farm research priorities. The team used this SARE project as a stepping stone to establish the area-wide Wilke Direct Seeding Project for research, demonstration, and extension of direct seeding systems. The Wilke Project incorporates farmers and agribusinesses as equal partners with the university faculty, provides producers across Eastern Washington with tools for decision-making with direct seeding, and has attracted the attention of the Under Secretary for Agriculture in Washington DC.
The Ag Horizons Team held 17 seminars during the course of this project and attendance ranged from seven to 101, with an average of 43. The number of Cooperative Extension faculty at the meetings averaged seven, so the project impacted far more than the original intended audience. The producers included ranchers, grain farmers, and small-scale, organic fruit and vegetable growers. Researchers, journalists, NRCS and conservation district personnel also attended. Under the 1996 Freedom to Farm Bill, producers in the region are hungry for alternatives to the traditional production commodities and practices, and this seminar series met a real educational need. This grant enabled us to bring in speakers that we would not normally be able to afford, and added tremendous diversity to our educational programming.
We included producers along with researchers as speakers at programs wherever possible. Eleven of the 17 seminars had producers as primary speakers or as panel members. For example, at the 1998 Wilke Field Day, speakers included a research agronomist from a private company, an Extension educator, the grower who operates the Wilke Farm, and a nationally known university researcher. At all our workshops and field days that included producers as speakers, attendees commented on the value of hearing actual grower comments and experiences.
The Ag Horizons Team prepared fact sheets that summarized the main points of each seminar. These fact sheets can be found on the Growserv Web site at http://pnw-ag.wsu.edu/ We have also published relevant fact sheets in the Ag Horizons newsletter that we send out to growers and other interested persons across five counties of Northeastern Washington.
Dissemination of Findings
In addition to the publications described above, a summary of the 1999 Wilke Field Day was published in the December issue of Wheat Life, a publication of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers with a circulation of 14,000.
Ag Horizons Team members and participating conservation district personnel have reported that these seminars have broadened their perspectives of agricultural sustainability for the region and increased their understanding of alternative practices. This will enable them to offer educational workshops that are broader in scope and they will be better able to serve as a resource for producers and other agricultural professionals.
Impacts on Agricultural Professionals
The Ag Horizons Team completed a survey of their perspectives of agricultural sustainability and teamwork before starting this seminar series and after its completion. When asked how the seminars had affected the region, responses from the project team included:
· “It has broadened regional farmers thinking of how farming is accomplished by demonstrating no-till methods, and helped educate farmers on alternative crops.”
· “I really don’t think sustainable agriculture is a dirty word any longer. I believe, that to a large extent, this is due to the seminar series combined with Ag Horizons’ open and continuous discussion about sustainability.”
· “It has given people a taste of what is out there beyond what WSU can offer, which is what we can usually afford to provide at our workshops. Bringing in people from beyond the region and with fresh perspective and expertise has been a tremendous infusion of knowledge…
Reactions from Farmers and Ranchers
At the Organic Grain Production seminar, which was attended by more than 30 people, a life-long area producer stood up and said, I wish I had been able to attend a workshop (on this topic) forty years ago!
Attendees at the seminars on value-added markets commented that they learned the importance of thinking out of the box when developing a new product or business so they might anticipate pitfalls. They also noted the importance of holistic decision-making in these projects and the need to consider value-added products and markets for every crop.
Responses from the Soil Foodweb seminar, about the most important things people learned, included:
· “This is my first class on microbes in the soil and it gave me lots to think about.”
· “A lot of books tell what we should do, this class explained why.”
Comments from the Wilke Field Days and tours included:
· “I can’t express how appreciative I am being able to see alternative crops/no-till so close to my Sprague Farm. It seems an incredible amount of learning.”
· “Quite frankly I’m glad you (the Wilke Farm) are making mistakes – that way I don’t have to make them.”
This summary was prepared by the project coordinator for the 2000 reporting cycle.