Small Acreage Success: Connecting Natural Resource Professionals with a Non-Traditional Audience

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2010: $95,319.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Coordinator:
Mindy Hubert
South Dakota State University
Dr. Roger Gates
SDSU Extension

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Fruits: melons, apples, berries (other), berries (blueberries), grapes, berries (strawberries)
  • Vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), leeks, lentils, onions, parsnips, peas (culinary), peppers, radishes (culinary), rutabagas, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips, brussel sprouts
  • Additional Plants: native plants
  • Animals: bovine, poultry, goats, rabbits, fish
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: housing, parasite control, animal protection and health, grazing - continuous, feed formulation, free-range, feed rations, grazing management, livestock breeding, manure management, grazing - multispecies, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, preventive practices, range improvement, grazing - rotational, stocking rate, watering systems, winter forage
  • Crop Production: windbreaks
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, youth education, technical assistance
  • Energy: bioenergy and biofuels, energy conservation/efficiency, energy use, solar energy, wind power
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, community-supported agriculture, cooperatives, marketing management, feasibility study, agricultural finance, market study, value added, agritourism
  • Natural Resources/Environment: afforestation, biodiversity, grass waterways, habitat enhancement, riparian buffers, riverbank protection, soil stabilization, wildlife
  • Pest Management: biological control, chemical control, cultural control, integrated pest management, prevention, mulching - vegetative, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, organic agriculture, permaculture, transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: earthworms, green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, composting, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: community planning, infrastructure analysis, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, urban agriculture, urban/rural integration, analysis of personal/family life, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Small acreage landholdings are common and increasing throughout the NCR. Many are owned or managed by people with limited natural resource management knowledge and skills, leading to significant potential environmental concerns. This project will improve natural resource management and sustainability of small acreages in SD. Three small acreages in western South Dakota, including an Indian Reservation site, will serve as Host Acreages for annual workshops. Each Host Acreage will be evaluated by the project team and owner to identify natural resource and other management issues and develop an improvement plan. The issues, plan, and progress toward objectives will be discussed at each workshop. Informational topics will be identified by participants and presented at subsequent workshops. Host Acreage owners will be encouraged to teach techniques learned, describe their experience working with the project team, and progress toward their goals using the Teach/Coach/Mentor instructional method. A Train-the-Trainer workshop will be held in Year 3 at one Host Acreage to expand the scope of the project. Short-term outcomes: improved management of 3 small acreages, increased natural resource management knowledge and skills of 150 small acreage owners, and increased awareness of technical assistance availability. Intermediate outcomes: improved sustainability of 100 small acreages (>2000 acres) and expansion of the project elsewhere in SD. Workshop participants will be surveyed throughout the project to evaluate the extent to which they have altered and improved management. Outputs include 9 workshops attended by > 100 small acreage owners, a Blog and website containing resources and links specific to semi-arid regions like western SD, and grazing/financial resource information distributed to workshop participants. Procedures used and results of the program will be published in the Journal of Extension.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Short-term outcomes of this project will be (See Appendix 1 for outline):
    1) improved management and sustainability of 3 small acreages
    2) increased knowledge and skills of 150 small acreage owners regarding weed identification and control, appropriate stocking rates, manure management, soil/water quality and finances
    3) 150 small acreage owners will have increased awareness of the technical assistance available to them for sustainable natural resource management information

    Intermediate outcomes will be:
    1) improved sustainability of natural resource management, including proper stocking rates and weed control on 100 small acreages encompassing >2000 acres
    2) expansion of the project to all of South Dakota and elsewhere in the North Central SARE region

    Long-term outcomes of this project will be:
    1) improved sustainability and environmental quality (e.g. reduced weeds, improved water infiltration) on 100 small acreages encompassing >2000 acres
    2) improved natural resource management on an additional 200 small acreages encompassing >4000 acres in South Dakota and the NC SARE region
    3) small acreage owners in this project will become advocates for sustainable agriculture

    Project Team: A Small Acreage Team (SAT) was formed in 2009 consisting of personnel from SDCES. Members of this team will conduct all project activities, under the leadership and of the Project Coordinator, and provide technical expertise to small acreage owners. They will work one-on-one with owners of Host Acreages, maintain the small acreage website, provide information and answers on the Blog, provide personal consultations, make site visits, and contribute to the quarterly electronic newsletter.

    Host Acreages: Numerous small acreage owners/managers in western South Dakota have volunteered to serve as Host Acreages for demonstration workshops and/or participants of future workshops. These sites are representative of small acreages throughout western South Dakota and will allow reasonable access to other small acreage owners for workshops (see “Workshops”, below). Potential Host Acreages will be visited by the SAT at the beginning of the program to determine those most suitable for workshop success (i.e. sites are representative of the broad spectrum of classes, geographies, issues, and potential of small acreages in western South Dakota) and will allow us to attract a much broader audience than would be expected if all the sites were near Rapid City.

    Performance Targets: Two Host Acreages will be located in or near the Black Hills of western South Dakota. These sites will be representative of hundreds of small acreages which often maintain horses, goats, cattle, and/or other grazing animals, in a heavily wooded or foothills environment. A third site will be located on the Pine Ridge or Lower Brule Indian Reservation and will represent limited-resource acreages on a prairie setting. As mentioned in the Introduction, small acreages on Indian reservations in South Dakota have increased dramatically in recent years. Small acreage owners on reservations not only face the same natural resource issues as are found off-reservation, but also find themselves more limited in their access to resources. Location of one of our demonstration sites on a Reservation will not only provide Native American small acreage owners with easier access to programming, but will also provide them a more comfortable learning environment.

    Other criteria for selection of the small acreages for Host Acreages are:
    1) the interest of the owners in improving their property, or a portion thereof
    2) their willingness to work with the SAT to define goals and initiate management changes
    3) their willingness to not only host annual workshops on their property, but to allow the SAT to use their properties to highlight common natural resource issues and demonstrate management solutions.
    The owners of each Host Acreage will be provided with a stipend in each of the three years they participate in this project

    Prior to the workshops in the first year, the SAT will visit each Host Acreage and work with the owners to identify issues (natural resource, management, economic, etc.), establish goals, and develop management strategies to address those issues. Rangeland monitoring (photo monitoring and other techniques appropriate for the objectives of each site) will be initiated at each Host Acreage. SAT members will not only work with the owners to identify resources available in the region to help them implement their management plans, but will also provide consultations to teach, coach, and then mentor them.

    Summer Intern: A summer intern (with a natural resource background or current plan of study) will be hired for 3 months in each of Years 1 and 2 to assist Host Acreages and other program participants with implementation of management plans, including: fencing; soil, forage and water sampling; establishing range/photo-monitoring sites, and other labor needs associated with the project. The intern will be a valuable link between the SAT and small acreage owners. Additionally, the intern’s experience working with small acreage owners and professionals on sustainable natural resource issues will help expand the scope of this project as the intern embarks on his/her own natural resource professional career.

    Workshops: A one-day workshop will be held on each Host Acreage in each of the three years of this project. In Year 1, participants (we anticipate approximately 20 at each site in Year 1 will be introduced to the Host Acreage where their workshop is being held, including the issues, goals, and management strategies identified by the owners with the help of the SAT. A variety of general topics will be discussed, and, where appropriate, demonstrated, including: introduction to CES, natural resource inventory (assessment of current range/soil conditions), plant/weed identification, photo-monitoring sites, setting goals, and the development and establishment of a management plan. Curriculum from the Western SARE-funded “Living on the Land” projects (Donaldson et. al, 2008) will serve as a valuable resource for teaching topics. The Balanced Scorecard (Dunn 2006) and grazing kits will be distributed to all participants in Year 1, and new participants in Years 2 and 3. The Balanced Scorecard provides an overview of all things that should be considered when managing a sustainable property, including motivations and goals, and family, financial and natural resources. The grazing kits will contain resources and tools for small acreage owners to do natural resource inventories at home, including a user-friendly, colorful grass and weed identification book: Grasslands of South Dakota (Johnson and Larson, 2007). The SAT and small acreage owners who have exemplified excellent resource management (i.e. “success stories”), will lead the workshops in Year 1. Surveys conducted both during and immediately after each workshop will be part of the ongoing process indicators (see “Evaluation Plan” below). Results of these surveys will be used to guide topics in Years 2 and 3 (e.g. fencing strategies, natural energy, and supplemental income sources). Complete contact information will be collected from participants and will be used for future communication, including an Electronic Contact List (see “Electronic Contact List”, below). Follow-up consultations with workshop attendees as well as the Host Acreage owners will occur throughout the year, and will be coordinated by the Program Coordinator. We anticipate these consultations to be a major factor in the long-term outcome of this program (i.e. improved long-term communication between small acreage owners and natural resource professionals) and will encourage additional small acreage owners to participate at workshops in Years 2 and 3. Additionally, consultations and site visits will be offered to others not available to attend the workshops.

    At the workshops in Years 2 and 3 (we anticipate 35-40 participants at each workshop) an overview of the previous workshops will be given, as well as a re-introduction of the SAT to provide first-time attendees the needed background to progress in the workshop. Host Acreage owners will take on a significant role in leading/instructing these workshops (see “Teach/Coach/Mentor”, below), including reporting on further development of their management plans, specific management strategies they have employed, and progress toward their goals. Their report to the workshop participants will be very important, as it will provide genuine experience with regard to working with the SAT, new observations/ideas created, obstacles encountered/overcome, successes and shortfalls. Photo-monitoring sites will be revisited and monitoring methods repeated each year even if measureable change is not expected, so that participants can learn to use the techniques and to demonstrate that change is sometimes slow. Invited speakers will discuss topics chosen by participants at previous workshops, and topics will continue to be customized and further developed to fit the needs of each demonstration site for future workshops.

    In Year 3, final reports will be provided by Host Acreage owners, program surveys will be conducted, and range monitoring sites will be revisited. In addition, the workshop at one of the Host Acreage will be expanded to two days to include a Train-the-Trainer program which will initiate expansion of this project to a much broader scale. Natural resource professionals from universities and agencies from across South Dakota, North Dakota, and throughout the North Central Region will be invited to that workshop, and a stipend will be available for 20 professionals to help with travel costs. In Day 1 of the workshop, the professionals will see first-hand the results of the 3 year project. They will participate in all of the workshop activities, including listening to speakers and participating in field activities. They will also witness interaction between small acreage participants and natural resource professionals, and hear success stories of demonstration site owners, and workshop participants. On day 2, the SAT will provide the Trainers an overview of the project and discuss with them the successes of the program and obstacles they met. Considerable time will be devoted to discussion of how the professionals from other parts of the state and region might improve the program and apply it to their own regions and situations.

    Website: Westenbroek et. al (2009) found that most small acreage owners have access to the Internet. Thus a small acreage website will be developed in the first year of this project. This website will provide information about the Host Acreages, dates and locations of workshops, and contact information for SAT members. Of critical importance will be the inclusion of information and links to sustainable resource information appropriate for small acreage owners in the region. Small acreage owners searching for information on topics of interest are, all too often, confronted with extensive arrays of information and recommendations developed for ecosystems vastly different from theirs. With minimal background and experience, they may be convinced to apply management techniques that are inappropriate for the conditions of their properties.

    The website will also include updates on and additional sources for topics discussed at workshops, and links to current and previous copies of newsletters (see “Newsletters” below) as well as to the project Blog. The website will provide photographs of Host Acreages and workshops. One particularly useful link will be the progression of photographs (both general and at photo-monitoring sites) taken at each Host Acreage that chronicles changes in the natural resources over time.

    Blog: An interactive small acreage Blog will be managed exclusively by the SAT. It will provide an interactive method for sharing ideas generated by the SAT and by small acreage owners who have had successes in managing natural resource issues. It will also be a resource for sharing fact-based natural resource management information as it becomes available rather than waiting for a workshop. One very important use of the Blog will be in answering the questions of small acreage owners outside of workshops. Many owners of small acreages work “off farm” during the day and attend to the needs of their small farm or ranch in the evenings or on weekends. This makes it very difficult for them to call members of the SAT during business hours to obtain specific information or to ask questions. Many have time to seek information only late at night or early in the morning, and typically resort to the Internet. The Blog will provide participants with a means of asking questions at any time of the day, and provide the SAT members with an opportunity to provide them with well thought-out and researched answers.

    Newsletters: We will send electronic newsletters to the Electronic Contact List featuring such topics as “small acreage of the month”, “have you seen this weed?” and “new fencing strategies”, every 3 months. The newsletters will keep program participants in touch with the SAT, and may trigger a new idea or technique for small acreage owners. Print copies will be distributed at local CES offices.
    Teach/Coach/Mentor: We will utilize the Teach/Coach/Mentor education philosophy adapted by Patterson et. al (2003). In this method, sustainable natural resource principles and skills will be taught by the SAT to the Host Acreage owners and workshop participants in Year 1; Host Acreage owners will then be coached in applying these principles and skills by the SAT. In Years 2 and 3, once the Host Acreage owners have developed greater confidence, the SAT will step back and serve as mentors to the former “students”. We strongly believe this education method will allow for more “buy-in” by both the Host Acreage owners and all workshop participants. Additionally, it will create a cadre of teachers that can provide educational resources to a broader community of small acreage owners, thus expanding the long-term impacts.

    Advertising Plan: Marketing the workshops will be critical to this project’s success, and will be a major responsibility of the Program Coordinator. Results from surveys taken during the SDCES small acreage programs “Healthy Lands, Healthy Horses” held in the Black Hills in 2009 (40 participants) have been used to identify two areas critical to any workshop’s success: 1) dates of maximum participation and 2) methods of advertising that drew the most participants. For the “Healthy Lands, Healthy Horses” programming, it was determined that promotion at local rural events (home/garden and stock shows, expos, fairs, etc.), advertising in country print media, direct phone calls and emails, flyers, and radio advertising were the most effective methods, and that Saturdays are the best available day of the week for reaching the small acreage audience.

    Electronic Contact List: An Electronic Contact List consisting of 150 names of small acreage (and related) program attendees and contacts was compiled by members of the Small Acreage Team in 2009 and will be used in the advertising campaign. This Electronic Contact List will be a critical building block for our program. As new people contact the SAT for help or become involved in the workshops, their contact information will be added to the Electronic Contact List. We understand that not all people on the Electronic Contact List will be able to attend the workshops; therefore we will keep them updated about progress and findings at the workshops with brief electronic updates.

    Evaluation Plan: Progress of Host Acreages in meeting their objectives will be evaluated through several different land monitoring techniques (e.g. photo-monitoring, forage availability measurements, species frequency, etc.) through the 3 years of participation in the program. Since many practices in natural resource management can be accurately evaluated only over the long term, CES personnel will continue to monitor change on Host Acreages after the 3 year project is complete to identify further improvements based on management changes.

    Workshop participants will be the primary focus of project evaluation. Several different surveys will be used. During programs, participants will be asked to use remote responders (Turningpoint Technologies, 2009) to respond to questions concerning the quality of the program. This interactive survey allows workshops participants to respond anonymously and see the results instantly. Participants will also be asked process indicating questions after the first demonstration program including:
    1) How did you hear about the program (i.e. which method of advertising was most effective)?
    2) Have you utilized a natural resource professional (Extension Educator, NRCS, etc.) before?
    3) After today, do you feel comfortable contacting a natural resource professional?
    4) Which information presented today will you implement at home?
    5) Which information was lacking today?
    6) Will you seek one-on-one technical consultations in the future?

    Results from each type of survey will be evaluated to determine how to best reach small acreage land owners. Internet surveys will be sent to individuals one month, six months, and one year after they have attended initial workshops. As the program develops, we anticipate the relationships between small acreage owners and natural resource professionals to grow. In these surveys of participants from the first workshops, we will use outcome indicating questions including:
    1) Have you performed a resource inventory/problem assessment at your acreage?
    2) Have you created a management plan since the last workshop?
    3) Have you made a phone call, participated in the Internet Blog or had a personal consultation with a technical resource professional?
    4) Have you been able to identify and control weeds on your property? If yes, what percentage of your property?
    5) Have you adapted or improved your stocking rates?
    6) Have you tested your soil, water, or forage quality? What were these results?
    7) Have you, since the last program, referred a neighbor/friend/relative who owns a small acreage to one of our workshops? If yes, how many people have you referred?

    Past participants will be mailed a postcard approximately 6 months after attending a workshop letting them know that there will be a survey coming in their mail in the following days. They will be encouraged to complete the survey and mail back. The survey will then be sent to participants approximately 1 week after the initial postcard is sent. Surveys will include a postage paid return envelope. If surveys are not returned from participants after one month’s time, a second copy of the survey will be sent to individuals that did not respond to encourage participation.

    We will be able to estimate the success of these outcomes by calculating percentage of small acreages affected by implementation of specific management plans (e.g. weed control, improved stocking rates, water quality testing). Additionally, new participants at programs in Years 2 and 3 will initially be asked the process indicating questions. We will survey project collaborators (natural resource professionals) semi-annually to determine if calls and consultations with small acreage owners have increased since the beginning of our project, and determine which topics were most popular. We will have a hit counter placed on our small acreage Blog to determine number of page visits, and utilize a website analytics system to track where the hits come (i.e. direct hits, referred from another source, etc.), which will help us to determine which advertising venue (e.g. workshops, radio, newspaper, etc.) is most effective.

    Results from surveys will be reported in the Journal of Extension. That information will also be utilized to reach more small acreage landowners and to help develop similar programming across the state of South Dakota. ?

    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.