- Agronomic: corn, oats, rye, sorghum (milo), soybeans, wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay
- Vegetables: sweet corn
- Animals: bovine
- Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing - continuous, manure management, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, grazing - rotational
- Crop Production: conservation tillage
- Education and Training: demonstration, extension, mentoring, participatory research
- Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, marketing management, whole farm planning
- Pest Management: allelopathy, biological control, chemical control, competition, cultural control, economic threshold, field monitoring/scouting, genetic resistance, integrated pest management, physical control, prevention
- Production Systems: transitioning to organic, agroecosystems, holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems
- Soil Management: composting, green manures, organic matter, soil analysis
Objectives: This project was designed to design and implement a one-year undergraduate internship in comparative farming systems with hands-on experience for students in planning and managing a small-scale farm. We also wanted students to learn how to compare the productivity, economics, energy use, and environmental impacts of different farming systems for eastern Nebraska. The farms were located for maximum visibility for the public, and the range of enterprises brought a number of faculty and farmers together to work with the students.
Methods of Field Education: Five micro-farms ranging from 11 to 20 acres were established by students at the University of Nebraska Agricultural Research and Development Center (ARDC) near Mead, Nebraska. The micro-farms had different systems: conventional corn/soybean rotation; diversified conventional crop rotation ; agroforestry with row crops and woody perennials; organic row crop rotation; and forage-based beef production. The micro-farm project was closely integrated with the Forestry research infrastructure to allow sharing of equipment and other resources. Three full-time forestry farmer-technicians played a key role in teaching practical aspects of farming to the interns. Two full-time farmers in the area served as mentors for the interns and provided reality checks as they helped in the classroom, reviewed micro-farm plans, and hosted the interns for tours and work days on their farms.
Educational Results: The first class of four students completed the spring and summer terms of their internships. A spring term curriculum was developed consisting of general readings and discussions of sustainability combined with instruction in specific agronomic techniques and development of micro-farm management plans. In addition to micro-farm operations and working with the mentors, summer term activities included participation in agricultural research at ARDC and tours of research and education programs such as the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. Two students completed the fall curriculum focused on synthesis of farm data and evaluation of the relative performance of the five farming systems. The second year had seven students through the spring and summer season, and two of them completed the fall semester. An economic model was developed for use by the interns to extrapolate micro-farm operations and management decisions to full-size analogs. A rule-based model linked to published data on time requirements and costs of field operations and inputs was developed to translate micro-farm operations into the economics of the analog farms. A second model linking micro-farm operations and inputs to energy use on full-size analog farms was completed by Richard Olson who designed the curriculum and supervised the program. Extension activities included the production of a brochure describing the intern program, fliers summarizing planting decisions for each micro-farm, and the inclusion of the micro-farms in several farmer and faculty tours.
Impacts & Contributions: We concluded from this experience that hands-on planning and implementation are essential to understanding and comparing farming systems. There was great enthusiasm for the field work, and less excitement for the written exercises connected with analysis and evaluation of the success of each system. Those who completed the program have gone on to good jobs in consulting or to graduate school. It was more difficult to recruit students than we had imagined, and without the stipend we would not have attracted those who did participate. We set our sights and expectations too high for most of the available students. The time and energy needed to develop the curriculum and exercises were underestimated, and without the full time dedication of a senior graduate student to the task it would have been impossible. We did learn about student motivation and how to evaluate learning.
A research and education project was designed and implemented to provide undergraduate students an internship opportunity in farm and ranch planning as well as hands-on, practical field experience. Small scale farms were set up so that each student could plan and operate the farm for an entire growing season and through harvest and sale of crops. Five different farming systems were used: conventional row crops (corn-soybean rotation), diversified conventional cropping (corn, grain sorghum, soybean, wheat, alfalfa), agroforestry (all of these crops plus some alternative crops), organic cropping (same field crops plus some vegetable crops), and forage-based beef production using rotational grazing. The project was designed for students to evaluate the crop and animal productivity, economics, and energy efficiency of each system and then to compare the systems. We intended to establish baseline information so that long-term impacts of these alternative systems could be measured in the field. Finally, the project included educational outreach to other students, farmers, and educators.
Land for the project was identified at the Agricultural Research and Development Center near Mead, Nebraska, specifically located on the section managed by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Wildlife. Faculty (James Brandle) and field support personnel from that department were instrumental in design of the experimental area and field supervision and instruction of students. Other faculty from the Departments of Animal Science, Horticulture, and Agronomy were involved with specific students and systems. A graduate research assistant in Agronomy (Richard Olson) worked virtually full time with the design of curriculum and supervision of students over the two years of the project. Students were recruited who had high grade point average, good recommendations, and expressed interest in farming system design and field experience. They were paid a stipend for the time in doing field work. There were four students in the first year, with two completing the entire course; seven students participated in the second year, and two completed the course.
An economic model was developed for use by the interns to extrapolate micro-farm operations and management decisions to full-size analogs. A rule-based model linked to published data on time requirements and costs of field operations and inputs was developed to translate micro-farm operations into the economics of the analog farms. A second model linking micro-farm operations and inputs to energy use on full-size analog farms was completed by Richard Olson who designed the curriculum and supervised the program. Extension activities included the production of a brochure describing the intern program, fliers summarizing planting decisions for each micro-farm, and the inclusion of the micro-farms in several farmer and faculty tours. A book that includes the entire curriculum is forthcoming, and technical articles will report the results of the comparative evaluation of the five farming systems.
• Design and implement a one-year undergraduate internship in comparative farming systems that emphasizes hands-on experience in developing and implementing a management plan for a small-scale farm.
• Develop a research/demonstration model for comparing the productivity, economics, energy use, and environmental impacts of five alternative farming systems for eastern Nebraska.
• Establish baseline soil and crop monitoring to allow evaluation of trends and relative condition of the five farming systems.
• Derive a series of alternative management strategies, educational and extension materials, and teaching tours of the farms for students, farmers, and the general public.