Participatory Evaluation of Farmer Based Soil Quality Assessment Cards
A team of 30 Oregon farmers and University faculty members developed the Oregon version of a soil quality assessment card. Oregon State University published the work as OSU Extension EM 8711 “The Willamette Valley Soil Quality Assessment Card” and EM 8710 “Soil Quality Card Guide”. The soil quality assessment card was designed to assist farmers and agricultural professionals to systematically evaluate the physical, biological, and chemical properties of soil that are affected by tillage, irrigation, cover crops and other soil management practices. The quality assessment card is meant to compliment the soil fertility tests that are commonly used by Oregon farmers and agricultural professionals to make lime and fertilizer recommendations. The card is designed to broaden our thinking about what constitutes soil health to include physical and biological properties.
During 2001, over 800 sets of soil assessment cards and the soil quality card guide were distributed to Oregon farmers and agricultural professionals. Some were distributed by mail. Others were distributed at three field days held in Dayton, Corvallis, and Medford Oregon.
To assess the utility and impact of the soil assessment cards, both written and phone survey tools were developed with the help of the Oregon Survey Research Center. It took several months to respond to concerns expressed by OSU Human Subjects review committee regarding the written survey. By the time the written approval was given to conduct the survey, we were into the 2001-growing season. We felt that due to the workload on farmers during the early growing season, it would be inappropriate to send out a survey tool in the spring of 2001. The written survey mailing is being prepared at this time and will be sent out after the holiday season, in early 2002.
We have initiated the national phone survey. This survey is designed to gather information about what other states have experienced in designing and distributing their versions of the soil quality assessment cards. The phone survey will be completed by the end of February 2002. Analysis should be complete prior to the beginning of the growing season 2002.
To measure the level of adoption of the Oregon Soil Quality Assessment Card and the impact it made on card users.
To facilitate farmer’s learning about soil quality and enhance their capacity to make sustainable soil management decisions.
To improve the design of the current Oregon Soil Assessment Card and to refine the participatory process of developing future soil quality assessment tools by disseminating study results and conclusions.
Regional mail survey of farmers (in progress)
National phone survey SQC projects (in progress)
800 soil quality cards and guide books distributed to farmers
Three soil quality field days held
Planning team assessment meeting (planning stage)
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Dissemination of Results: Publication and distribution of OSU EM 8711 and EM 8710. We will be submitting an article on this evaluation to the Journal of Extension.
Potential Benefits or Impacts on Agriculture: The development, demonstration, and distribution of the Willamette Valley Soil Assessment Card have prompted increased awareness, discussion, and learning about soil quality among farmers and agricultural professionals. The evaluation process itself has prompted a lot of learning about soil quality.
Farmer Adoption and Direct Impact: Our preliminary data and observations suggest that although farmers designed the soil quality assessment card, very few farmers use the assessment cards more than once or twice to assess soil in a given field. We find that the most useful application of the soil quality assessment tool is as a teaching aide. At the soil quality field days held in 2001, farmers and agricultural professionals responded favorably to the following process. The soil quality assessment tool was demonstrated. Discussion, questions, and answers followed. Growers were then given copies of the soil quality assessment tools, divided into small groups, and directed to various spots in the field. They applied the tool as a team. We gathered and discussed the results. The soil quality assessment card is a great organizing tool for teaching soil quality.
Producer Involvement: Approximately 800 farmers have received copies of the soil assessment cards and the soil quality assessment guide. Approximately 80 farmers participated in three soil quality field days where they were given hands-on experience in using the assessment tool.
Future Recommendations: In the spring of 2002, we will finish our national and region surveys. This will allow us to challenge some of the assumptions outlined above. We will hold a second series of soil quality field days to refine our use of the soil quality assessment card as a teaching tool. In the Fall of 2002, we will gather the original group of farmers, agricultural professionals, and soil scientists to discuss the results of the survey and to discuss our next steps in promoting awareness and understanding of soil quality. We may want to re-evaluate the purpose of the soil quality assessment card and change it’s design to favor it’s use as a teaching tool.