This project will offer comprehensive education to agricultural service providers in soil health to enable them to help farmers understand the value of healthy soil and adopt the best production practices for increasing the health of farm soil.
While the importance of soil for crop production has long been known, there is a new movement to look beyond the basic physical and chemical properties of soil and use a holistic approach that includes biological components and additional physical and chemical factors. Good soil health building practices can increase yields and profitability while also providing water quality benefits. NRCS initiated a national campaign to address this issue, which this project will build upon. There is a special need for a program in Maryland that redefines good soil health practices in the context of Maryland’s cover crop incentive program and strict state and county water quality regulations.
The University of Maryland Extension Agriculture Profitability and Sustainability Impact Team identified related goals in its 2014 team extension plan, including nutrient management, water conservation, profitability enhancement, and improving cultural techniques for crop and livestock production which will increase efficiency and quality.
An online survey was conducted of 520 UMD and UMES campus-based ag faculty, UMD Extension ag educators, MD farm association representatives, farm loan providers, food policy directors, MD Dept. of Ag representatives, NRCS and soil conservation district staff, river conservancy farm liaisons, and various other non-profits and ag service providers. Of the 115 responses, soil health received the top ranking when respondents were asked to rank their three top choices for expanded professional development opportunities in sustainable ag production topics.
Field days, demo workshops, and one-day meetings were the highest rated methods for learning new information, and therefore will serve as the base for this project’s outreach efforts. UME fact sheets and bulletins were also in the top five learning methods, and so will also play a role in this program.
Performance targets from proposal:
30 Ag Service Providers will incorporate soil health concepts into their current programming and advising reaching 500 producers farming 37,500 acres, and of those, 10 will develop and offer in-depth programming in soil health concepts to their clientele, including workshops, webinars, presentations, and/or individual consultations for 150 producers farming 11,250 acres.