SARE Professional Development Program Annual Report for Arizona
January 1 - December 31, 2012
State SARE Coordinator:
Summary of 2012 PDP Activities and Results
Six travel scholarships totaling $3,000 defrayed travel costs for an equal number of Arizona Cooperative Extension professionals during 2012. Each professional reported in their evaluation instrument a greater understanding of sustainable agriculture concepts and an increased ability to interact with their local stakeholders and clientele.
Of 79 individuals listed as Extension employees and reporting under an agriculture or natural resource program plan, 21 agents and specialists reported work on sustainable agriculture projects in 2012. Range management, drought issues, local foods and soil quality were the topics most commonly mentioned. This represents a decrease of 21 reported projects since 2011. The work was reported through the Annual Performance Review Online (APROL) system for 2012.
One educational sustainable agriculture tour and two regional conferences allowed local Extension faculty to learn key management approaches and technologies that could be used in Arizona. Eight local agents and specialists and 26 individuals from across the country participated in a central desert sustainable agriculture tour in March. Two Arizona Extension faculty members participated in the August Water Conference in Albuquerque, NM and five agents responded to an invitation to attend the Western SARE Ag Infrastructure Conference in December.
Context and Overview
The Arizona sustainable agriculture professional development program (PDP) strives to help Extension, NRCS and non-governmental agricultural education professionals understand and apply the principles of economic viability, environmental safety and public awareness in the production and marketing of food, energy and fiber products. The Arizona PDP focuses on SARE goals and programs. The PDP program also encourages professionals to conduct research and education programs that will help build sustainable agricultural systems in Arizona.
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. Currently, the Arizona PDP focuses on helping seventy-nine Cooperative Extension agents, specialists, department heads with Extension appointments, and administrators learn sustainable agriculture concepts and access SARE resources.
Professional development efforts are generally focused upon current interests and needs of Extension professionals. Water conservation, heat stress management, production strategies and budgeting are areas of concern in both plant and animal systems. Marketing is also a major area of concern. Cooperative Extension and NRCS together and separately have primary responsibility to help clientele learn agricultural sustainability in arid lands.
Activities and Methods
The following activities and milestones were set for the 2012 program year:
- Fund 10 travel grants for Arizona Cooperative Extension professionals to attend sustainable agriculture conferences
- Conduct two sustainable agriculture-related workshops or seminars
- Create and publish one sustainable agriculture bulletin
- Maintain the Arizona Sustainable Agriculture Website
- At least one SARE grant application will be submitted by Cooperative Extension personnel
- Encourage the development and implementation of sustainable agriculture research and educational programs in Arizona
- Support the Arizona Sustainable Agriculture Advisory Committee
Professional development activities during 2012 included:
- Cooperative Extension agents were encouraged to attend conferences and seminars that focused on sustainable agriculture principles.
- Six travel grants were awarded to Extension personnel to assist in defraying travel costs. Each recipient filed a report describing how the event increased their learning.
- Extension professionals were encouraged to apply for Western SARE grants to support their own sustainable agriculture projects.
- Efforts were made to reach out to Extension personnel, non-governmental organizations and producers to work on common sustainable agriculture issues.
- The Arizona Sustainable Agriculture Website was maintained.
- A Sustainable Seminar and Tour was conducted in March of 2012.
- Responding to encouragement, at least two grant applications were submitted by Arizona Extension faculty.
- The state coordinator attended the 2012 annual Western SARE state coordinators training conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
PDP-funded Publications/Educational Materials and Products
None completed in 2012
Changes in Ag Professionals’ Knowledge, Skills and Action
Travel Scholarships. Two county agricultural agents attended the National Association of County Agricultural Agents (NACAA) Annual Meeting/Professional Improvement Conference in Charleston, South Carolina and participated in SARE-sponsored seminars and tours. All reported 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.
In addition to the NACAA meetings, additional travel grants also supported attendance at the Strengthening Agriculture’s Infrastructure: Adding Value, Breaking Down Barriers, and Increasing Profits, Portland, Oregon; the Ecological Farming Association Annual conference in Asilomar, California; the American Society of Horticulture Science in Palm Desert, California; and the Western Section of the American Society of Animal Science. Learning results reported for these conferences were similar to those reported by those attending the NACAA meetings.
Extension Projects. A review of the Annual Performance Reviews of Arizona Extension agricultural professionals indicated twenty-one of seventy-nine individuals paid with Extension dollars reported results from sustainable agriculture-related programs in 2012. In 2011, forty-two Extension professionals reported work in a sustainable agriculture area. Other sustainable agriculture-related projects may have been performed during the year and not included in their annual report. The decrease we feel is due to several factors. Some can be explained by the dynamic nature of Cooperative Extension as it addresses each year new issues of importance and priority. Another reason for the change is the decrease in the number of Extension professionals as positions are trimmed due to budget stresses. Most of those reporting sustainable agriculture projects in 2012 are those who consistently engage in sustainable agriculture PDP activities.
The most common areas of focus in 2012 were soil quality management, range improvement and drought response in agricultural systems. Below are listed several summaries or excerpts from various reports that highlight learning outcomes and impacts.
- One agent continues to provide leadership in developing food safety programs for producers of edible crops using concepts that are applicable for local foods producers. Small farm and market garden operators are among his target audiences.
- An all-natural gardening project helped youth in the San Carlos Apache community learn traditional gardening skills that once were common practice within the community.
- A Beginning Farmer program in Maricopa County focused on sustainable local food production techniques for small farm producers. Thirty-one participants responded on a learning survey at the end of the course which measured learning on a 1 to 5 Likert Scale instrument. With 1 on the scale indicating no learning and 5 indicating “quite a lot,” the average response to a question asking how much they learned about organic certification options was 4.61.
- Speaking of a “Reading the Range” monitoring program, an agent reported that “perhaps one of the most significant impacts was the collaboration that was encouraged by agency/rancher teams in the peer to peer learning group exercise. Both sides reported that they were able to see things through new eyes.”
- A focus group comprised of livestock producers from three Southern Arizona counties met to develop local priorities for Range Livestock Extension programs. Representatives included livestock producers, land management agency personnel and the U of A Rangeland Management Specialist. Participants were asked to rank these programs and activities as high, medium or low importance. High importance was defined as having the greatest importance to the programs, medium would include issues of ongoing importance, but less critical and low importance would include non-critical issues but still need some limited Extension support. Those listed as of having high importance included 1) animal nutrition, 2) training in the selection of replacement bulls and artificial insemination sires, 3) organic certification programs for meat producers, and 4) the development of a forage finished testing program for grass-fed beef. The results are to guide programming in the future.
The viability of these and other Extension projects seem to indicate that Arizona Extension professionals understand and accept the need for continued focus on sustainable agriculture programs. Most agents and some specialists in conversations with the PDP coordinator seem to understand the basic concepts of sustainable agriculture, but they have little formal training beyond their participation in meetings and conferences. Providing options for formalized and focused training, such as the National Continuing Education Program provided online by the national SARE website, would appear to be a critical next step.
Workshops and Seminars. A sustainable agriculture seminar and tour allowed eight Arizona agents and specialists, plus 26 individuals from across the country, to hear and see sustainable practices at work in the central deserts. One stop featured a subsurface drip irrigation system in a field mainly dedicated to cotton and small grain rotations. The irrigation system allowed production with a minimum of water. Other stops included the organic milk production section of a local dairy and an alternative dried flower production enterprise on a diversified farm. Discussion on the bus included a focus on the basic principles of sustainable agriculture.
Agents and specialists were encouraged to attend regional SARE conferences and seminars. Two Arizona Extension faculty members participated in the August Water Conference in Albuquerque, NM and five agents responded to an invitation to attend the SARE Ag Infrastructure Conference in December. An informal survey of those attending these meetings indicated that the participants felt that their time was well spent and that the professionals increased their understanding of sustainable agriculture.
No unintended outcomes were noted in 2012.
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 the state coordinator, two county Extension agents and a local foods producer. In 2012, the committee provided program input with verbal, individual feedback. Extension professionals continue to say that the travel grants are a valuable resource and should be continued.
With two members of the advisory committee leaving Extension in early 2013, there is a need to reconstitute committee membership as quickly as possible.