Date of Award
Master of Science
Agricultural Education and Studies
Systematic adoption of agricultural conservation practices in the Midwest is progressing at a gradual pace despite the degradation of habitat, soil, and water quality. Complex social and economic factors contribute to insufficient adoption including; financial risk, lack of technical supports, and poor perceived fit with current practices. Agricultural advisers, including extension educators, are trusted sources of guidance for conservation practice decisions and are familiar with farmers’ needs. Prairie strips is a conservation Best Management Practice (BMP) made available around 2014 by Iowa State University and has potential to improve habitat, soil, and water quality if broadly applied across Midwest row crop fields. In 2017, a three-part program for farm advisers was held throughout the state of Iowa that included a workshop series, creation of a communication piece, and assisted consultation with a prairie strips client. The intention of the program was to prepare advisers to provide consultation to farmers and landowners on potential adoption of prairie strips. Farm advisers included government and nonprofit staff, and both private and independent contractors, including Technical Service Providers (TSPs), Certified Crop Advisors (CCAs), and Extension educators. Program development was refined using a needs assessment survey. Outputs included seven workshops; one of which was canceled due to low registration. The workshops were held throughout Iowa and designed to educate advisers on (a) research on prairie strips, (b) siting and design of prairie strips, (c) prairie identification and management, (d) incentive program eligibility, and (e) communication with farmers and landowners. The itinerary included interdisciplinary speakers and hands-on applications. Ninety-one attended from five Midwest states comprising various occupational areas. The evaluation for the workshop series utilized a pre and post skills test and an online survey. Participant ability to assess age and health of prairie showed little improvement as a result of instruction. Participants, however, indicated that confidence and abilities in this area had improved. Advisers rated the value of additional supports during the workshops, including eligibility of prairie strips for government programs. Most attendees reported that they considered prairie strips to be a useful technology with potential to become a common BMP within the region, however, about half felt more research was needed. Management of prairie strips appeared to require skill levels that many advisers have not yet acquired.
Rachael Lee Whitehair
Whitehair, Rachael Lee, "Agricultural conservation adoption in the US Midwest: Needs assessment and evaluation of professional development for farm advisers" (2019). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 17607.