Planning Grant: Development of a Farmer/Extension/Research Network and Farming Systems Data Base for Low-Input Agriculture
This proposal requests funding for the implementation of a planning process which will develop plans for two major comprehensive project components, or sets of components: 1) a farmer/extension/research network, and 2) necessary data bases concerned with low-input agriculture in Arkansas, Oklahoma and appropriate adjacent areas. The network will serve as a mechanism for communication among farmers, extension workers and researchers and, as such, will be the major mechanism for data accumulation and information dissemination, as well as for identification of high priority research questions.
Data base development will use an analytic inventory of existing data bases and data base methodology to determine how to prepare and store new data bases. A farm management data base focusing upon costs and returns of actual practices in use will be the first developed. The process outlined, which will follow key elements of the Farming Systems Research/Extension approach, represents a cooperative effort of university researchers and extension personnel, farmers and public/private sector organizations, some of whom are already heavily committed to low-input and sustainable agriculture. Lead responsibility for implementing the planning project will be taken by Winrock International Institute for Agricultural Development. Completion of the planning process will result in specific implementation plans for the establishment of the farmer/extension/research network and low-input data bases, as well as the creation of an ongoing planning and coordinating mechanism for low-input research and extension activities in the target region.
The Network and Its Accomplishments
The formation of the network began with a meeting in March and continued with monthly meetings throughout the year. Primary accomplishments were:
1.Planned and conducted four meetings of farmers and agency representatives to increase understanding of low input sustainable agriculture (LISA) concepts and to generate ideas and/or obtain inputs concerning high priority needs of research and education on these concepts. The Rodale Institute’s regional representative
also obtained information about farmer viewpoints through a survey of readers of New Farm Magazine.
2. Planned and conducted a 1-day program focusing on LISA in Arkansas and Oklahoma at the International Farming Systems Research and Extension conference.
3. Obtained information through a survey of Arkansas extension agents by the Extension Service LISA representative; it showed that more than 50% of them need and desire training to improve their ability to counsel with farmers on LISA concepts.
4. Assisted Arkansas Extension Service with an orientation discussion on LISA concepts in the annual extension conference program.
5. Cooperated in a study and development on a profile of farming systems and methodology of the Ozark Region and the Arkansas River Valley Region.
6. Developed and submitted the proposal for a comprehensive 3-year regional LISA project based on the concepts originally offered in the planning proposal.
7. The number of participating organizations and agencies has been expanded from 15 to 20 (it is expected to increase more). The expansion includes the addition of participants from Missouri and Texas.
The Assessment of Databases
In the Arkansas/Oklahoma region, data concerning LISA systems exists in the files and publications of the Agricultural Experiment Stations, the Extension Services, the Private Research and Education Organizations, Agricultural Producers Organizations, and in farmers’ files or experiences. The project database subcommittee concluded that optimizing use of the information requires (1) some standardization of recording and storage and (2) development of improved methods of communication for exchanging information. Thus, the comprehensive proposal includes the concept of data storage center(s) using more standardized input formats. The Appropriate Technology Transfer to Rural Areas Center (ATTRA) will provide leadership in development of this concept. A combination of electronic bulletin boards and newsletters will facilitate information exchange through leadership of Winrock International and the Extension Service. A preliminary characterization and descriptive directory of participating organizations has been drafted as part of the study of farming systems of the region. It will be updated and expanded in the future.
Viewpoint and Characteristics of Farmers
Significant information has been obtained from the four meetings of farmers and agency personnel, the panel discussions at the Arkansas day of the International Farming Systems Research and Extension Conference, the farmer participants of the project committee and subcommittees, and the survey by the Rodale Institute. The farmers responding represented a large array of farm sizes (from less an acre for herb farmers to thousands of acres for row crop and livestock farmers), locations (from the Mississippi River delta near Memphis to the Ozarks of North Arkansas to grazing areas of southeastern Oklahoma), part-time and full-time operations, organic farms, and conventional high input farms. A broad array of commodities were produced on the farms. Farmers expressed the following viewpoints:
1. Primary sources of information: farm magazines, other farmers, farm organizations, extension service and experiment station personnel, fertilizer and feed dealers.
2. LISA-related practices some farmers used: conservation tillage, legumes in rotation, green manure crops, cover crops, water conservation measures, reduced herbicide applications for weed control, animal manure applications, crop rotations, reduced insecticide use, and rotational grazing.
3. Chemical use: most farmers either maintained the same level of use or decreased it, but some increase occurred in the practice of no tillage procedures.
4. Effects of reduced chemical use: increased management and/or labor, increased information needs, yields and net income remained same or increased.
5. Reason for reduced chemical use: concerned about water quality and/or environmental contamination, need to reduce costs.
6.Types of LISA information and/or research needed: weed control, insect control, crop and livestock diseases, soil fertility, water management, alternative crops, farm budgets, marketing, crop and livestock management.
(1) Bring together interested organizations, agencies and persons in the region composed of Arkansas, Oklahoma and appropriate adjacent areas to engage in the planning process for the identification, elaboration and development of low-input agricultural techniques and production in the region.
(2) Produce a detailed plan for the cooperative achievement of the above, using a Farming Systems Research/Extension (FSR/E) approach, which emphasizes farmer involvement together with multi-disciplinary and multi-agency collaboration.
(a) comprehensive project proposal(s) for multi-year funding, which will be implemented cooperatively by the planning group, and/or by individual agencies or groups from the planning group; and
(b) a mechanism for identifying, prioritizing and funding individual component project phases that are proposed.