The microbes that drive soil nutrient cycling are a largely invisible part of the landscape that can have large impacts on the sustainability of farming practices. In particular, adopting management practices that enhance the function of the soil microbiome holds great potential for reducing reliance on external inputs and therefore enhancing on-farm prosperity. The recent and ongoing explosion of emergent research knowledge on soil microbiomes and concomitant interest by agricultural producers, presents a substantial challenge and opportunity for agricultural professionals. Understanding microbially-mediated soil processes as well as communicating knowledge about the role of soil microbes in the agroecosystem to producers, is a prime target for professional development. Our project proposes to develop a series of animations, in close consultation with leading scientists, and to deploy these within an innovative outreach format “Liberating Structures,” designed to foster peer-learning, co-innovation, and network building between participants. Liberating Structures have worked well with progressive stakeholders in Eastern WA in co-innovation sessions this spring, and we plan to expand the scope of this to include WA, ID, OR, and MT.
Project objectives from proposal:
The primary objective of this work is to support increased sustainability in the agroecosystem by promoting knowledge of microbial ecology and nutrient cycling processes with the management practices that support them. The sub-objectives of this work are to:
- Reinforce the regional network of scientists working on soil microbial ecology by forming new professional connections and reinforcing existing ones
- Make the most current understanding of microbial ecology in the agroecosystem accessible to agricultural professionals both to enhance their knowledge base as well as to give them new communication tools to interact with their contacts
- Strengthen the network and professional toolkit for agricultural professionals in the inland Pacific Northwest, honoring their existing knowledge and experience by supporting them to co-innovate with their peers on the most effective ways to work with their clients
- Empower agricultural professionals to catalyze change in the region’s agroecosystem towards improving soil health and sustainability
By empowering ag professionals with increased access to the latest, research-based microbial agroecology content, and an introduction to a new set of participatory outreach tools, this program will support them with knowledge and skills. Based on our survey data, they desire to serve producers’ interest in learning more about beneficial microbes. We will support this need across four states. Connecting professionals to fundamental and emergent content from the field of soil microbiology, will enable knowledge transfer in both directions and the most effective deployment of the content. University Extension can serve as an ideal hub for this work because of access to both researchers and outreach networks.