Composting Education and Information Access for Western Agriculture
The goal of the project is to increase the knowledge, effectiveness, and comfort level of agricultural professionals in dealing with agricultural composting issues. To advance this goal, the project has the following objectives.
1. Impart a “beyond-the-basics” understanding of composting to agricultural professionals (e.g. educators, advisors, service providers).
2. Provide resources for participants to extend composting knowledge to local clientele.
3. Establish mechanisms for agricultural professionals to access and retrieve current information about composting and the performance of compost in agricultural production systems.
Ultimately, the aim is to improve and expand the practice of composting within western agriculture, and thereby enhance agricultural sustainability.
The project is being conducted under the working tittle of “Compost Education and Resources for Western Agriculture” or CERWA. CERWA is a regional two-year comprehensive educational program for agricultural professionals about agricultural composting and compost use. The project effectively began with a planning meeting of the project team in February of 1998. As of this writing, CERWA is nearing its half-way point. One satellite workshop has been conducted. Two additional workshops are planned for 1999. In addition, the project has produced other training and educational products including a web site and regional newsletter.
Regional workshops: The core of the CERWA project is a series of multi-state/multi-site concurrent workshops, linked together by satellite. At each site, a facilitator coordinates the satellite instruction plus additional on-site presentations to address local issues and conditions. Three workshops are planned. The first took place on November 5, 1998. The two remaining workshops will be held in 1999.
The first workshop, “Composting: A Tool for Western Agriculture,” covered the opportunities, benefits, and drawbacks of composting in an agricultural setting. The broadcast was received by at least 47 local sites in 13 states plus sites two provinces of Canada. The Pacific territories will be holding local workshops at a later date using a tape of the broadcast as the basis. Total attendance at local workshops was estimated to be more than 550. The audience was diverse. Approximately one-fourth of participants were ag professionals in Extension, NRCS and other governmental agencies. More than one-third of the audience were producers. Other participants were consultants, composters, city and county employees and members of various organizations. The two hour broadcast featured video tape of numerous agricultural compost producers from ten states and provinces in the west. Most local workshop sites added to the workshop with local presentations and discussions. Feedback from viewers has been very positive.
The second workshop will take place on January 14, 1999. It will concern the use of compost in agricultural production systems. Generally, the local sites which participated in the first workshop will also participate in the second workshop (several sites have been added). The third workshop is currently scheduled for the autumn of 1999. It will cover compost trends and key issues.
Resource materials: Workshops are supported by resource materials including a manual of literature, video tapes, and slide sets. The resources will supplement the workshops and aid participants in teaching their own clientele. A manual of literature was provided for the first workshop and another is currently being assembled for the second workshop. Also, video taped copies of the first broadcast have been duplicated and are available upon request. To date, 20 tapes have been distributed in response to requests.
Information access: A newsletter, originally produced in Washington called “Compost Connections,” has been expanded into a regional publication via this project. The newsletter includes articles about compost-related research, practice, and activities within and beyond the region. Two regional issues have already been distributed and a third issue will be distributed in December 1998. Approximately 1,500 newsletters go to Extension and NRCS offices within the region plus a small number of individual subscribers. Issues have also been included in the workshop manuals plus are accessible electronically via the project web site. An internet web-site for the project has been established. The URL for the site is: www.aste2.usu.edu/compost/. The web site serves as a source of information about the project and the workshops. It also functions as a clearinghouse for compost information. For example, answers to the questions submitted by the audience during the first satellite workshop have been posted to the web-site.
Information gathered through CERWA is and will continue to be disseminated via several educational products. The primary mechanism is the workshop series, including both the broadcasts and the local workshop activities. Other project components are intended to help the audience extend the training to clientele and to provide them access to more detailed and emerging information. These components include the newsletter, web site and written resource materials. In addition, CERWA will provide slide sets, video tape, and a college-level internet course. Although slides have been collected, the slide sets have not been developed. Input from workshop facilitators is being collected regarding the desired purpose and content for the slide sets. The current plan is to produce a condensed, ‘stand alone’ video from the footage used for the satellite broadcasts. The internet course will be one of the last components of the project to be developed. It is expected to be available by the end of 1999.
Composting and compost use offer many potential benefits to agriculture and the environment. Thus, these practices are expanding quickly across the Western region. Agricultural professionals are struggling to handle the requests generated by the rising tide of interest in compost. In general, they lack the information and the depth of understanding to do what they are being asked to do: teach farmers about the benefits and costs of composting, advise on how to adapt the farm management system to the use of compost, answer questions about odor, evaluate compost use as a conservation measure, comment on pending regulations, and advise local officials. The knowledge that many agricultural professionals acquire about composting often comes from a few sources with limited experiences. CERWA will broaden and deepen their understanding of composting and compost including the applications, practices, benefits, and limitations. Hopefully, agricultural professionals can then better help farmers determine if composting and compost is a right for them and assist them in implementing these practices in the production system.
This summary was prepared by the project coordinator for the 1999 reporting cycle.