In 2017-18, more and more farmers have become interested in the sustainable agricultural practice of using cover crops to improve soil health and the long-term productivity of their soil. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and SARE provided opportunities for Extension Ag Educators, NRCS staff, and farmer educators to learn about the use of cover crops by providing support to attend conferences, field days, and tours. UNL Extension has developed a team of Extension Educators and Extension Specialists that are focusing on research and education of the use of cover crops and soil health. The support of SARE in the area of cover crop education has also been beneficial in the Water & Soil Protection Extension Issue Team implementing an annual Nebraska Cover Crop Conference. The Diversified Ag Production Extension Issue Team has initiated a Cover Crop Soil Health/Grazing Program and held two conferences in 2017 and 2018 that focused on cover crops, soil health and grazing. The past two years mini-grants awarded to Extension Educators, Natural Resource Districts, and Farmer Peer Groups has provided support to bring in experts to discuss the use of cover crops and soil health in cropping and grazing systems at 6 field days conducted throughout Nebraska. It has also led to cooperation with Nebraska Extension’s On-Farm Research Program, NRCS and the Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalitions in establishing cover crop/soil health research/demonstration sites across the state to help further evaluate the use of cover crops and the importance for soil conservation and soil health. SARE funding has also provided support needed for the development of a Nebraska Cover Crop Selector Tool. This was an integral component of the SARE Regional Initiative on Soil Health and Water.
The past NCR SARE Regional Initiative that focused on “Scaling Up Local Food Production” continues to be a priority for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as it continues its leadership in the development of local food systems in Nebraska, working with other organizations such as Buy Fresh Buy Local, the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society and the Center for Rural Affairs. Nebraska Extension has increased its focus on Local Foods. The Issue Team, Food Access involves development of the local food system in Nebraska. We also have a number of Extension Educators whose focus area is Local Foods. SARE has sponsored bus tours in 2017 and 2018 which have visited several local food producers and brought awareness to the local food system in Nebraska. In 2017 the Issue Team “Consumer Confidence in Food” received a mini-grant from SARE to tour area local food producers. Participants learned and saw firsthand how farmers are producing and marketing local food, Gary Lesoing initiated a blog in 2017 that focuses on farmers that produce local food to bring more awareness to the Local Food System in Nebraska.
During 2017-18, programs and projects were funded through the SARE Professional Development Fund. There were travel scholarships awarded to Extension Ag Educators and Farmer Educators to attend conferences focusing on sustainable agriculture, particularly in areas of cover crops and soil health, and small scale food production. Tours were conducted to observe and study the use of cover crops, local food systems, diversified ag enterprises and organic farming in Nebraska and regionally for Extension Educators. We also provided SARE Travel Scholarships to Extension Educators to attend the National Association of County Agricultural Agents Annual Meeting/ Professional Improvement Conference in 2017 & 2018. The support for two regional conferences that focus on sustainable agriculture was critical, as these are the primary opportunities for educational dissemination of sustainable agricultural information and networking between stakeholders in Nebraska. The Nebraska SARE Website and Sustainable Agriculture Webinars continue to be successful in increasing the awareness of SARE and the opportunity for professional development and grant opportunities in sustainable agriculture in Nebraska, across the United States and around the world. We have conducted seven webinars in 2017-18 on sustainable ag topics.
Gary Lesoing will be completing his eleventh year as Nebraska SARE Coordinator on December 31, 2018. I believe we are definitely seeing benefits from the Nebraska SARE Program and the support it provides to Ag Educators throughout the state for sustainable agriculture education, especially in the areas of cover crops, soil health and local food systems. I am very excited with the increased interest in sustainable agriculture and more ag educators, especially vocational ag instructors, increasing their knowledge of sustainable agriculture through several Nebraska SARE Professional Development opportunities. In 2017-18, the Nebraska SARE Program has provided SARE Publications and travel scholarships for professional development to vocational ag instructors. The Nebraska SARE Advisory Committee is a very active and diverse group that provides valuable input into the development of the Plan of Work.
Project objectives from proposal:
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT INITIATIVES
1. Regional Initiative of Beginning Farmer Training
In order to participate in the NCR-SARE regional initiative for 2019-20, one of our initiative focus areas will be on “beginning farmers and ranchers.” We will plan to send several representatives of our state to a regional professional development event organized by NCR-SARE on beginning farmers and ranchers, to be offered during calendar year 2019. Educators who are given support from our state SARE funds to travel to this regional training will be asked to come back to our state and in some fashion, provide educational programming to other educators and/or beginning farmers and ranchers. This can include workshops, study tours, webinars, or other educational programs. During the two-year plan of work period, we will also offer additional SARE-funded travel scholarships, and where appropriate, mini-grant support to further educational programming that increases the sustainability and success of beginning farmers and ranchers.
a). Expected Outcomes:
1). Six Ag Educators will increase knowledge of beginning farmers and rancher training programs by attending the Regional Training Program in the North Central Region.
2). Thirty Ag Educators will increase knowledge of strategies they can utilize to better equip beginning farmers and ranchers to become successful in their operations.
3). Five Ag Educators will initiate training programs for beginning farmers and ranchers.
4). Fifty beginning farmers and ranchers will participate in an activity i.e. course, workshop, tour or webinar that will increase their sustainability and success.
In 2019 we plan to initiate a survey to ag educators to determine their engagement with beginning farmers and ranchers and their knowledge of programs and opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers. We plan to conduct in-service training for Ag Educators and a workshop for Ag Educators to evaluate a beginning farmer/rancher operation for its sustainability. There will be a tour of successful sustainable farming operations to educate Ag Educators about the keys to sustainability.
c). Evaluation: An evaluation will be developed for this program to measure impact from the different programs that will be offered.
2. Soil Health and Water
a). Expected Outcomes:
1). 50 Ag Educators will increase knowledge of how Soil Health can best be used to maximize water use efficiency and improve quality of ground water in diversified cropping & crop/livestock systems in Nebraska.
2). One-hundred Ag Educators will increase knowledge on the use of cover crops in crop and livestock production systems and how they improve soil health.
3). 15 Ag Educators will initiate training programs and conduct on-farm research activities with cover crops.
4). 10 Ag Educators will initiate training programs and conduct on-farm research activities with manure applied as a resource in cropping systems and to improve soil health.
In 2019-20 UNL Extension and SARE are sponsoring training for UNL Extension Educators and Specialists to learn about the use of cover crops and manure to improve soil health at programs in Nebraska with some NRCS, representatives from the cover crop seed industry and experienced farmer cover crop practitioners. Nebraska SARE will also cooperate with NRCS, farmer educators and the cover crop seed industry to provide learning opportunities on the use of cover crops and impact on soil health through field days and tours throughout Nebraska. On-farm research will be conducted throughout the state to evaluate and demonstrate how cover crops impact soil health. Travel scholarships will be provided to ag educators that are interested in attending regional soil health/cover crop meetings; i.e. 2019 Iowa Soil Health Conference, Ames, IA; 2019 Midwest Cover Crop Council Annual Meeting, Springfield, IL, No-till on the Plains, Wichita, KS and Practical Farmers of Iowa, Ames, IA. and return to provide training to ag educators in Nebraska.
c.) Evaluation – Evaluations have been developed for these programs to measure impact immediately following the program and others are being developed to measure impact 6-12 months following the program.
3. Regional Conferences Focusing on Sustainable Agriculture issues
a.) Expected Outcomes – A short-term expected outcome is that 20 ag educators that participate in these conferences will develop a specific program area that focuses on a sustainable agriculture issue or practice what they learned at these conferences. A more intermediate-term outcome is that the 10 ag educators that participated in these conferences will become leaders in a specific focus area of sustainable agriculture education. The long-term outcome is that the ag educator will develop a change in practices implemented by producers as a result of programming conducted in sustainable agriculture.
b.) Activity – This initiative is a continuation of an initiative that began in 2008 and has been our most successful vehicle in professional development in sustainable agriculture for ag educators and farmer educators in Nebraska. This initiative includes two conferences in Nebraska that address sustainable agriculture issues. These are the NSAS Healthy Farms Conference which is held in February and the Western Nebraska Sustainable Crop and Livestock Conference that is held in December. These conferences are made available to ag educators that focus on sustainable agriculture issues. Travel scholarships are made available to ag educators that want to attend these conferences as well. From information learned at these conferences, ag educators will have the opportunity to apply their knowledge in working with clientele.
c.) Evaluation – Ag educators that participate in these conferences will complete a post-conference survey and also a survey 6-9 months to determine how progress is being made toward the expected outcomes. In the post-conference survey, participating ag educators will be asked questions, i.e. How many client questions on sustainable ag issues were answered and how many newspaper and newsletter articles were written? How many meetings were conducted? How many people reached?
4. Scaling Up Local Food Systems
a.) Expected Outcomes
1) By conducting annual Small Farm Workshops across Nebraska that focus on diversified and sustainable agriculture, including local food production; 10 educators will gain knowledge to answer questions and provide educational programs for clientele.
2) Thirty educators will participate in five webinars in 2019-20 to increase their knowledge of small scale local food production to be able to assist farmers interested in producing local food.
3) Forty Educators will participate in Local Food Systems Tours in Nebraska in 2019 and 2020 and become knowledgeable in the development and scaling up of local food systems.
4) Five educators will become knowledgeable about fruit and vegetable production systems and evaluate different production methods through on-farm research.
b.) Activity – This is a continuation of our Regional Initiative of Scaling Up Local Food from 2010. This is still a very important issue in Nebraska and there is increased interest in local food production and the scaling up of local food production with the sale of food to schools, other institutions and local and regional grocers. More ag educators are also realizing the potential and opportunities that exist with local food production in Nebraska. We plan on continuing conducting on-farm research to evaluate fruit and vegetable production systems. Extension Ag Educators will gain knowledge by conducting these trials and explaining the results of the trials at workshops. Ag Educators, including farmer educators will participate in the Small Farming Workshops and in Local Food Systems Tours in the summers of 2019 and 2020 at different locations across Nebraska.
Evaluation – A survey of ag educators will determine the knowledge gained and impact Educators have on Scaling Up Local Foods in Nebraska in 2019 and 2020.
5. Web-based Education of Sustainable Agriculture
a.) Expected Outcomes
1) 1000 people will become knowledgeable about sustainable agriculture principles through these webinars and other sustainable agricultural resources on our website., such as: Power Points, videos of Farm Tours, blogs, articles and images on sustainable ag issues.
2) Ten Ag Educators will develop and initiate sustainable ag programs for clientele in their county and region.
3) With the use of social media tools we create opportunities for education and professional development for more people in sustainable agriculture.
1) Five to ten webinars on sustainable agriculture issues will be presented in 2019 and 2020.
2) I have initiated a blog on local food producers and other sustainable agricultural topics.
c.) Evaluation – An evaluation of webinars & blogs will be conducted following each presentation. A follow-up 6 -12 month evaluation will be conducted to determine impact of these resources.