- Crop Production: conservation tillage, cover crops, crop rotation, intercropping, no-till
- Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research
- Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil quality/health
Problem and Justification
Protecting and improving soil health is recognized as a key goal for sustainable agriculture yet many ag service providers feel ill-equipped to help farmers make informed decisions about adopting specific soil health strategies. They cite a lack of region-specific information and concrete local examples of successful cover cropping, reduced tillage, and rotational practices.
The Maine SARE Soil Health Program was initiated in 2014 to increase participants’ knowledge, skills and confidence to provide education and recommendations to farmers about soil health strategies. 31 ag service providers from Extension, NRCS, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, non-profits, and industry joined one of three cropping systems-based teams – potato-grain, dairy cropping, and mixed vegetable – either as a “core” or “associate” member. They receive training by working as teams to identify soil health needs and opportunities, participating in workshops, and, for “core” members, conducting on-farm demonstrations, writing case studies, and producing videos.
In a fall 2017 survey, 18 participants reported using the knowledge, skills, and confidence gained through this project in their work with farmers, reaching 1034 farmers. 13 ag service providers reported that farmers had made a management change as a result of what they learned from the ag service provider or project activities, affecting 99 farmers and 14,550 acres. Participants value project networking (95%), technical assistance (95%) and funds (67%) for on-farm demonstrations, and soil health information (95%). Participants also report needing additional training and region-specific information.
Solution and Approach
71% of respondents to a March 2017 survey said they want to continue the Maine SARE Soil Health Project as the next 3-year SARE PD project for Maine (62 ag service providers surveyed; 31 (50%) responsed). Learning outcomes will focus on topics rated highly in the survey: economics of soil health strategies, crop rotation strategies, cover crop species traits and uses, reduced tillage strategies, equipment, and soil health for high tunnels and urban agriculture. “Core” members will continue to receive technical assistance and funding to conduct on-farm demonstrations, help organize and host a team summer field day, and participate in team meetings and winter workshops. They also will participate in at least one on-farm soil health S.W.O.T. analysis and help develop educational resources such as fact sheets, slide sets, and hands-on learning activities. “Associate” members will continue to participate in educational activities and help at least two farmers per year make informed soil health management decisions.
Performance targets from proposal:
Performance Target for Service Providers
18 ag service providers (“core team members”) who gain in-depth practical knowledge and skills in soil health strategies and their implementation will work with at least two growers each year to implement a soil health strategy on their farm (108 farmers total over 3 years) and will reach an additional 5 farmers each through educational programs or one-on-one assistance (270 farmers total). In addition, 18 additional ag service providers (“associates”) who gain familiarity with soil health strategies help at least two growers each year make an informed decision about implementing soil health strategies on their farm (108 farmers total).
Performance Target for Farmers
108 farmers will adopt one or more SH practices or modify a current SH practice, including:
- Testing for soil health
- Cover cropping
- Reduced tillage – frequency or intensity
- Delay tillage to spring
- Soil-improving rotations