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SARE Profession Development Grant: No-till and Cover Crop Education Program

North Jersey RC&D was awarded a Professional Development Grant by Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) to deliver a series of workshops in 2020 aimed at educating agricultural service providers regarding no-till and cover crop implementation in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Agricultural service providers targeted for training include staff of NRCS, soil conservation districts, extension services, consultants, seed and chemical dealers and non-profit employees.    

The agricultural community widely recognizes no-till and cover crop practices as beneficial to soil health and long-term farm sustainability. Yet, the transition to no-till and cover crop farm systems demands to acquire a significant amount of knowledge, skill, and equipment to ensure success. Many agricultural service providers (ASPs) do not possess the necessary knowledge nor resources to assist farmers with implementation decisions. Furthermore, digital and print educational resources available to northeastern commodity crop farmers do not provide concise, practical instructions. Thus, the onus is on the producer to research practice implementation -- often a time consuming and overwhelming task. Knowledge barriers prevent widespread adoption of soil health practices which enhance farm productivity and promote resilience while protecting water quality.

Well trained ASPs can more effectively promote, encourage and facilitate no-till and cover crop implementation. This project will engage 120 ASPs, including extension agents, NRCS, FSA, soil conservation districts, crop consultants and others, in a comprehensive education program that focuses on preparation for and implementation of no-till and cover crop. To encourage subject mastery, a three-step approach will be used: teach, review, apply. Topics will be introduced at a broad level during a series of lunch and learn held via webinar. The material will be reviewed during field-based workshops that incorporate active learning pedagogical techniques and material will be reinforced during subsequent Listserv discussions. As participants apply to learn, project leaders will be available for consultation and assistance as needed. To supplement ASP-farmer interactions, the project will generate detailed, practical recommendations for a comprehensive list of the common no-till or cover crop scenarios using insights from experienced farmers.

To reduce participant travel requirements and facilitate higher enrollment, the field trainings will be replicated at four locations throughout the Delaware River Basin. The project coordinator will measure changes in participants’ knowledge and skills as a result of project participation, and track participants’ delivery technical assistance to farmer and farmer’s subsequent actions.

A network of educated and knowledge ASPs will support farmers transition to no-till and cover cropping and reduce the knowledge barrier that discourages implementation. Access to well-informed ASPs and succinct unbiased education materials will simplify the transition process, reduce uncertainty, and increase the likelihood of success.



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