2013 Search for Excellence National Finalists
Finalists of the 2013 SARE/NACAA Search for Excellence in Sustainable Agriculture program are:
North Central Region
Charlie Ellis and Rich Hoormann have combined to lead a very effective effort on cover crops for sustainable farming in Missouri. They have organized on farm research and demonstration trials used as part of educational workshops, done webinars and presentations on the results of this work, and gone well beyond the typical approach to an extension program. For example, instead of just training farmers, they have also done webinars and workshops for other extension staff and large numbers of NRCS staff in Missouri. They have worked to partner with cover crop educators and researchers in other states through the Midwest Cover Crops Council, and are currently working to adapt the MCCC cover crop decision tool for Missouri conditions. The partnership of these two extension staff working together has been particularly effective, with Charlie providing the engineering expertise to modify equipment for various cover crop seeding approaches in on-farm trials, and Rich supplying the agronomic expertise, including working with the farmers and Charlie on plot design, seeding dates, rates, and methods. One of their most recent outreach efforts was to provide two one-hour webinars for NRCS and SWCD technical personnel on cover crop strategies. They provided detailed information based on their own on-farm research and work done by other researchers in the region. They have also been holding a series of field tours for a diverse audience that has included NRCS, other extension staff, and industry input suppliers. Of course they have been popular speakers at a number of farmer meetings, with some of these meetings drawing upwards of 300 participants.
With nearly 162,000 acres in production, growing corn silage is a major expense for dairy farmers in New England. Planting corn consumes time and fuel, and it occurs at a time when other crops need to be harvested for maximum quality. Because of the short growing season, corn is usually grown without cover cropping, which leads to increased use of pesticides, higher rates of erosion, and depleted soils. No-till planting and the use of cover cropping offers farmers an efficient alternative that reduces fuel and fertilizer costs and improves soil fertility.
A four-year NESARE-funded project (2009-2012) to improve corn silage production and forage quality was conducted jointly with Extension researchers in Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Working with dairy producers on their farms in the tri-state region, researchers studied timing and efficiency of corn planting with no-till practices, yields of shorter season corn varieties, the value of cover crops, and alternative manure management techniques. Over a four-year period, over 35 workshops were held to disseminate our results including 4 in-service trainings for agricultural professionals.
Out of 109 producers who responded to a post-project survey, 33 adopted no-till and cover crop strategies, increasing no-till acreage from 953 in 2009 to 3947 in 2012. Adopting no-till strategies saved producers an average of 5.7 gallons of fuel/acre and 2.75 hr/acre in labor with a net direct benefit of $194,196 for these 33 producers. Growers also noted improved soil, moisture retention, and feed quality, and reduced fertility needs. Survey results and NRCS acquired data indicated that cover crop adoption in the three states increased from 9,701 acres in 2008 to 15,882 acres in 2012. Project data indicated fall cover crops supply at least 30 pounds of nitrogen per acre to the succeeding crop saving producers additional money in fertilizer costs.
To learn more, read this Northeast SARE From the Field profile of their work.
Richard Tyson, County Extension Director, University of Florida Extension
Orange County, Florida, is a rapidly urbanizing county with a long tradition of diverse agricultural production. Its population is 1.2 million and it currently has the 9th largest agricultural economy among Florida’s 67 counties. The educational objectives of the Urban Farming Extension Education Program are to identify, demonstrate and encourage the adoption of successful alternative and sustainable agricultural production methods that can be used in and around urban centers in order to take advantage of local markets. Activities and teaching methods over the last 3 years include research/demonstrations, exhibits, seminars and workshops (including PowerPoint presentations), tours, TV and web videos, as well as journal, fact sheet and newsletter articles. Alternative production systems were built and demonstrated at the Orange County Extension Exploration Gardens including 4 floating raft hydroponic systems for leafy salad crops and herbs, a solar powered nutrient film technique (NFT) hydroponic system and an aquaponic (vegetable and fish co-production) system. Several publications used in the program were viewed widely by state, national, and international audiences. Results and evaluations indicate considerable interest in the program with class sizes averaging over 100 and with over 90% increase in knowledge gained about sustainable practices. The Homegrown Food Coop in Orlando is reporting local food producer participation increasing from 5 to 60 producers and membership in the Coop increasing from 10 to 800 members over the last five years. The City of Orlando sustainability initiative is moving to enhance local food production and marketing. Impacts for local food hubs and producers based on the results are significant and are expected to be reflected in the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture data as an increase in local producers and economic food production activity for Orange County.
Stephen Van Vleet, Regional Extension Specialist, Washington State University
Our educational project, funded in part by WSARE, is the rehabilitation of a large acreage of rangeland that had been planted to “Secar” bluebunch wheatgrass and then left idle, ultimately becoming a monoculture of Secar with patches of invasive weeds. This grassland is located within Dalles Mountain Ranch, a historic cattle ranch acquired by Washington State Parks in 1994. After we conducted several on-site evaluation sessions with livestock producers, governmental agency personnel and environmentalists, these trainees became our collaborators in researching the use of managed grazing as an effective method to rehabilitate idle grassland.
The educational objectives of this project include: showcasing the public ranch as a learning site, demonstrating ways to hold family ranches together, training state employees on proper management techniques, validating managed grazing as a land management tool and diffusing negative perceptions. Program activities include the annual event “Wagons and Wildflowers,” land ecosystem monitoring workshop, field tours, and the mere presence of the project site on public land popular for nature hikes. Teaching methods include on-site evaluations, seminars, on-farm management evaluations, Native Plant Society field tours, and a kiosk featuring an educational poster at the ranch entrance.
To learn more, read this Western SARE From the Field profile of Van Vleet's work.