State SARE Coordinator:
Summary of 2014 State/Protectorate PDP Activities and Results:
Nine Arizona Cooperative Extension professionals attended sustainable agriculture-related professional improvement activities during 2014. Travel grants allowed attendance at five out-of-state conferences and three in-state meetings. In addition, two SARE-sponsored conferences related to sustainable agriculture topics were sanctioned by the Professional Development Program (PDP). Agriculture professionals, including Cooperative Extension personnel, were encouraged to attend and participate. Two Extension professionals applied for travel grants to attend these regional meetings. Each professional participating in these and other travel scholarship activities engaged in sustainable agriculture-related events during the individual meetings and reported that they learned important concepts at these conferences and meetings. Agents are better able to communicate and share sustainable agriculture concepts with clientele. Extension professionals are better able to understand concepts of sustainable agriculture and how to apply those in their educational programs. The PDP program in Arizona, as reflected by the increasing engagement of Cooperative Extension personnel, continues to mature.
Context and Overview:
The Arizona Sustainable Agriculture Professional Development Program (PDP) strives to help Extension, NRCS, and non-governmental agriculture professionals apply the principles of economic viability, environmental safety, and public awareness to the production and marketing of food, energy, and fiber products. The Arizona PDP program encourages professionals to conduct sustainable agriculture systems research and education programs in Arizona according to the needs of stakeholders.
Cooperative Extension, a vital part of The University of Arizona’s land grant mission, interacts with state and federal employees, producers, industry representatives, and non-governmental organizations to extend new knowledge and understanding in agricultural production techniques. In 2014 the Arizona PDP target audience, as mandated by the enabling legislation, was composed of 22 Extension agents, 45 specialists, and 35 administrators, program coordinators, assistants in Extension, and related positions. Our mission helps these and other agricultural professionals learn and apply sustainable agriculture concepts.
Professional development efforts are focused upon interests and needs of the target audiences. Water conservation, heat stress management, production strategies, infrastructure, and budget are areas of concern in both plant and animals systems. New products are also important. Cooperative Extension and NRCS together and separately have primary responsibility to help clientele learn agricultural sustainability in arid lands.
Activities and Methods:
The following goals were set for the 2014 calendar year:
- Focus on the basic principles of sustainable agriculture
- See sustainable agriculture in practice in Arizona and in other areas
- Encourage applications for SARE grants and other funding opportunities
- Work with non-governmental organizations
- Engage agents to conduct two sustainable agriculture-related regional meetings
Grant funds were expended in calendar year 2014 to support PDP programs. Cooperative Extension agents were encouraged to attend conferences and seminars that focused on sustainable agriculture principles and travel grants helped defray travel costs. Efforts were made to reach out to Extension personnel, non-governmental organizations, and producers to work on common sustainable agriculture issues. Three regional meetings were hosted by Extension agents in two different counties of Arizona. They were highlighted and encouraged as sustainable agriculture topics. The state coordinator attended the annual Western SARE state coordinators training conference in Fairbanks, AK. The following is a detailed listing of key 2014 activities.
SARE PDP Workshops and Seminars
Two PDP sponsored regional meetings addressed two separate and specific topics directly related to sustainable agriculture. These were: 1) “Farm and Ranch Weather and Climate Workshop, (Wilcox, AZ),” and 2) “Mesquite, New Agricultural Traditions for an Ancient Food, (Benson, AZ).”
Farm and Ranch Weather and Climate Workshop
Approximately 30 individuals attended the climate meeting organized by Extension agents Kim McReynolds (Greenlee County) and Susan Pater (Cochise County). The meeting was well attended by producers, but also in attendance were five individuals from NRCS and six from Cooperative Extension. Attendees indicated that they better understood the ramifications of the continued drought and that there was a need to learn adaptation skills.
Mesquite: New Agricultural Traditions for an Ancient Food
The mesquite workshop was also organized by Cooperative Extension agents Mark Apel (Cochise County) and Peter L. Warren (Pima County) and focused on the production value of this desert resource. Approximately 100 people were in attendance. One invited speaker was a producer who planted a managed mesquite orchard along the Colorado River in western Arizona. He has developed a vertically integrated operation where the mesquite trees are managed as a planted crop. The beans and wood are harvested by the producer, who subsequently turns them into products on site. The products are marketed direct to the consumer and also through commercial outlets. Of the 72 individuals submitting exit surveys, 46 (64%) indicated that they felt the information received was completely helpful and relevant; 18 (25%) felt the information received was mostly helpful or relevant; and 8 (11%) indicated that the information was somewhat helpful or relevant. There were no responses for “slightly” or “not at all” helpful or relevant. Among the many comments were several which indicated that some people were considering the mesquite as “a money-making crop.”
Other Workshops and Seminars
Three additional workshops related to sustainable agriculture topics were held in 2014 in Arizona. These were not SARE sponsored events. The state coordinator attended all three of these meetings and used the events to conduct PDP activities.
Southwest Indian Agriculture Association, Livestock Division, Gila River Indian Community (SWIAA)
Drawing about 50 people from around the Southwest, participants learned about livestock operations, many of which were practicing sustainable agriculture techniques. The state coordinator set up a display with SARE pamphlets available for distribution.
Arizona Cooperatives Development Workshop, Phoenix, AZ
Organized by two Extension Agents in Central Arizona, Kelly Young (Maricopa County) and Everett Rhodes (Pinal County), this meeting was instructed by a presenter from California and gave ways that producers could benefit from forming cooperatives. With a main focus on direct market producers, this workshop drew about 50 people, including Extension and NRCS participants. Analysis of learning outcomes for this activity will be reported in February.
Soils Workshop, Maricopa Agricultural Center
Organized by the Arizona Cooperative Extension agriculture program leader, this half day workshop drew 40 Extension, NRCS, and other agriculture professionals to hear discussions of basic soils and soil health concepts. The state PDP coordinator distributed the SARE published book, “Building Soils for Better Crops” to mostly NRCS participants.
Nine Extension professionals attended a variety of sustainable agriculture related meetings. One individual attended two meetings. Scholarships granted included:
Grants are only given when the applicant has demonstrated by written application that the expected learning during the conference will relate to sustainable agriculture. By written report, all recipients indicated a better understanding of sustainable agriculture concepts after participation. They reported that their knowledge helps them 1) better understand the needs of their clientele and 2) better develop projects and programs tailored to meet local needs. All rated the learning opportunity as above average overall.
PDP-funded Publications/Educational Materials and Products:
Arizona Cooperative Extension bulletin: “Working with Non-Profit Organizations – Cooperative Extension’s Opportunity to Expand it’s Reach.” Apel, Mark and Peter L. Warren. December 2014. (While not funded by PDP monies, this publication was suggested and encouraged by the Arizona PDP coordinator as a needed output.)
Changes in Ag Professionals’ Knowledge, Intention, and Action:
Cooperative Extension personnel using travel scholarships to attend sustainable agriculture-related conferences replied through written reports that they have a better understanding of sustainable agriculture concepts after participating in their respective seminars, conferences, and tours. They report that their knowledge helps them better understand the needs of their clientele. It also helps them develop projects and programs to assist clientele. All rated the overall learning opportunity as above average in their final reports.
A review of the Annual Performance Reviews of Arizona Extension agricultural professionals indicated 8 of 22 agriculture/natural resources Extension agents and one specialist reported results from sustainable agriculture related programs during 2014. These numbers are holding fairly steady over the past five years. Other agents are involved with sustainable agriculture projects, but did not include them in their APR. Extension programs are reported in water management, small farm sustainability, range cattle health, climate issues, non-profit organization relations, and other areas. One agent has taken leadership in developing food safety programs for vegetable producers, including concepts that are applicable to local foods producers. Two USDA Beginning Farmer grants are addressing the needs of new farmers in separate parts of Arizona. The Extension personnel engaged in these projects have gained expertise to address these specific needs in part because of their participation in PDP activities. Other projects reported indicate an increasing effort in Arizona to include sustainable practices in agricultural outreach programs. Two agents have indicated interest in applying for the SARE Fellows program in 2015. There was one highly deserving but unfortunately unsuccessful applicant from Arizona in 2014.
Cooperative Extension agents participating in travel grants and other PDP projects share their expertise with colleagues in a collegial manner. This interaction has helped improve the communication of sustainable agriculture concepts among our Extension people. This in turn has led to a greater awareness and understanding of sustainable agriculture and its applications.
Involvement of Others in State PDP Planning and Implementation:
The Arizona Sustainable Agriculture Advisory Committee provides input and direction to sustainable agriculture professional development programs. The committee is comprised of three county Extension agents with high interest and frequent involvement in PDP activities. With the approval of using PDP funds to engage all audiences in the 2015 program year, this committee will need to be expanded and new producers will need to be recruited and engaged as part of the advisory team.