Journal of the NACAA
Volume 6, Issue 1 - May, 2013
Implementing the Nevada Beginning Farmer and Rancher Project
- Emm, S., Mineral County Extension Educator, University Of Nevada Cooperative Extension
Bishop, C, Northeast Clark County Extension Educator, University of Nevada Cooperative Extesnion
Powell, P, Churchill County Extension Educator, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension
University of Nevada Cooperative Extension was awarded a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Project from USDA, National Institute of Food and Agriculture in August 2011. The project, renamed to Herds & Harvest, provides educational workshops, and one-on-one and group mentorship opportunities. Modern service marketing concepts and techniques were created to implement the statewide project that currently has a base membership of 2,670 Nevada producers. Evaluation design employs a multi-method, multi-year approach, consisting of questionnaires, interviews, and surveys to ascertain project impacts and evaluate increases in farm ownership and skills necessary to operate and sustain an agricultural operation in Nevada.
The livestock forage and specialty crop industries in Nevada comprise an essential component of the economic stability in rural communities second only to mining. According to the 2006 Nevada Agricultural Statistics Report, 94.9% of all available land in Nevada is devoted to farming and ranching activities (81.7% rangeland, 13.2% cropland). The 2007 U.S. Census of Agriculture reports that for the state of Nevada, 3,131 farms were operating, with the majority producing cattle and/or hay including alfalfa, timothy, and others (USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service, 2007). There is also an increase in the number of small farms marketing agricultural products directly to the consumer.
A standard Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Project was funded through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) in August of 2011. The long-term goal of this project is to create and enhance the sustainability of Nevada’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers (BFRs) through education, mentoring, and outreach to own, operate and sustain an agricultural operation.
The Nevada Project
Six objectives are proposed to meet the long-term goal of the Nevada Beginner Farmer and Rancher Project. The project focuses on agricultural entrepreneurship; business and financial training; agriculture production basics; environmental compliance; diversification and marketing strategies; and mentoring and outreach. The target audience for this proposed project includes all Nevada BFRs which are identified and/or recruited through USDA agencies. The project will also specifically target Hispanic, American Indian, women, and more than one race in Nevada, in addition to low-income individuals. These individuals qualify as socially disadvantaged and limited resource BFRs and comprise a significant portion of Nevada’s agricultural operators.
Building a Nevada Beginning Farmer and Rancher Project
University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) program faculty recognized that in order to create project sustainability and meet the current producer demand, new modern service marketing concepts and techniques needed to be created. The current agriculture social and economic environments in Nevada were reexamined. Specific marketing emphasis was placed on cultivating long-term relationships with Nevada agriculture producers and building a dynamic participant base for UNCE agriculture programs.
Following project award, a statewide steering committee comprised of active farmers and ranchers, university faculty, USDA agencies and local farming organizations set out to develop and implement a plan of action. The program approach was to hold statewide workshops, create a statewide mentoring program for BFRs, and to work with producers one-on-one to create individualized enterprise budgets. The steering committee chose to identify three distinct agriculture production “hot topics” on which to base the year’s educational workshops. In conjunction with topic development, specialized business plans, marketing concepts, environmental compliance guidelines and needed resources are provide to producers to support sustainability.
Program marketing management (Kotler & Armstrong, 1996) focused on the analysis, planning, implementation, and control of project development of the “hot topics” to achieve beneficial exchanges with Nevada agricultural producers and achieve funder and UNCE goals. This required project collaborators to manage producer demand and build trust with producers. UNCE program faculty and staff focused on understanding producer needs, developing educational materials to meet the personal values of producers, and building a recognizable brand for UNCE agriculture programs.
Focus group sessions with producers revealed that the name Beginning Farmer and Rancher Project did not adequately capture program goals, nor did the name sufficiently elicit participation from existing farmers and ranchers. Therefore, the project name was changed to Herds & Harvest and a graphic design artist created a program logo and promotional materials that more accurately reflected the project to create an overall brand for the program. The Mineral County, Nevada UNCE office took responsibility for program marketing and distribution to ensure that all marketing concepts were adhered to. Program development staff was hired to organize educational sessions, support teaching faculty, facilitate program marketing and manage session registration.
The Herds & Harvest kick-off was in conjunction with the January 2012 Cattlemen’s Update to a statewide audience reaching 475 producers. UNCE provides distance education throughout the state via an Interactive Television Video (ITV) system, allowing satellite sites to participate. This ITV system enabled the producers to attend Herds & Harvest educational workshops throughout Nevada. For example, the So You Want To Be A Producer Farmer originated in Las Vegas but was made available via ITV in Elko, Winnemucca, Yerington and Fallon, Nevada. Educational materials were provided to all sites prior to the start of the workshops. In addition, certain workshops were videotaped allowing absent producers to obtain materials post workshop at a fee.
The “hot topics” for year one included 1) So You Want to Be a Producer Farmer, 2) Processing and Selling Locally Grown Meat, and 3) Field Crops: Old vs. New. A total of 32 workshops (including satellite sites) reached 212 beginning farmers and ranchers. There were 66 participants at the So You Want to be a Producer Farmer; 91 participants at the Processing and Selling Locally Grown Meat; and 56 participants at the Field Crops: Old vs. New. At the end of year one, the Herds & Harvest membership database included 2,670 producers, 2,384 mailing addresses, and 286 email addresses. Many locations in Nevada are classified as rural and/or frontier, and electronic communication can be limited. While team members request electronic mailing addresses, most producers either do not have them, or choose not to provide them at workshops and/or events.
Creating a Mentoring Environment
A mentoring group was created under the Herds & Harvest program called Great Ideas from Growers. This grower discussion forum was created to provide producers from across the many remote locations in Nevada the opportunity to learn from each other’s niche crop experiences, good and bad. The producers are invited to participate through email lists, announcements and posters to meetings held through 11 ITV and teleconference sites across Nevada. Participants to date have ranged widely in their locations, production focus and their years of experience. The majority of participants have less than five years of experience which matches the total niche crop farmer population in Nevada.
While Great Ideas for Growers was formed as the basis for group statewide mentoring activities, two university faculty also meet one-on-one with beginning farmers and ranchers to create enterprise budgets for new or expanding agricultural businesses. In the first year, Herds & Harvest educators met one-on-one with 28 producers and mentored them to complete enterprise budgets specific to their operation. There were also general cow-calf budgets and small farm budgets created for educational purposes and made available to every participant in the Herds & Harvest program.
Designing Evaluation for Overall Program Impact
The Herds & Harvest evaluation design employs a multi-method, multi-year approach, consisting of questionnaires, interviews, retrospective and mail-out surveys. The logic model was the guiding principal behind this design approach of measuring short, medium and long-term outcomes (Arnold, 2002). The Dillman (2007) tailored design method was also used in designing the evaluation format. Data obtained from assessments is analyzed using statistical analysis software for quantitative data and description and thematic (interrelation development) for qualitative data. Impact data collected will provide important information about methods used to educate producers. Investigators will use the data to determine if program education increases ownership and the skills necessary to operate and sustain an agricultural operation.
Prior to program involvement, participants are asked to complete a Questionnaire in order for educators to obtain baseline data. The Questionnaire queried the use of written plans, awareness of USDA financial assistance, income from agriculture, size of operation, skill level, definition of success, and demographic information. Following each workshop, participants were asked to complete a retrospective survey designed to measure immediate knowledge gain. While each survey inquired about workshop effectiveness, 21 indicators queried workshop content. In addition, participants and educators who engaged in mentoring activities completed a contact evaluation form designed to provide feedback on frequency, duration and outcome of the session(s). A Cronbach’s Alpha test was run to determine the reliability of the immediate workshop evaluation instruments used. The Cronbach’s Alpha test for the Herds & Harvest workshops received reliability scores of .924, .923, .957, .954, and .964, respectively, indicating that the evaluation surveys were consistently measuring what they were designed to do.
Retrospective surveys administered immediately following the workshops in the first year revealed statistically significant increases (p<.05) in knowledge and skill acquisition for almost all (19 of 21; 20 of 21; 17 of 21; 20 of 21; and 20 of 21) of the topics queried, based upon a paired t-test comparison of mean pre-test and post-test scores. The top indicator in each of the workshops were 1) How to decide if Tef is a potential alternative crop, 2) What production practices are required to sell meat to Whole Foods Market, 3) How to use plants and farming practices for insect control, 4) The potential income and costs associated with hog production, and 5) How to decide if cellulosic biomass is a potential alternative crop.
When producers were asked about what they liked best about the workshops, they indicated individualized responses to questions, the detailed information provided, the ability to network with other producers, farm tours, and the availability of help in developing enterprise budgets. Over 65% of the participants reported they would make changes or take actions in agricultural business based upon the knowledge gained in the workshops. One producer reported that due to education regarding fertilization for grass/alfalfa mix, yields on his large field have almost doubled. Another producer said his Community Service Agriculture (CSA) business doubled after meeting Whole Foods management in Las Vegas, Nevada at a Herds & Harvest program.
The Herds & Harvest faculty team will administer a telephone assessment designed to ascertain the effectiveness of first year education and to determine if information presented has been used to improve agricultural practices. Questions will query improvement in production, realization of increased profits and/or cost savings, acreage planted to “new “ or low water crops, changes in business planning and marketing, as well as value of the Herds & Harvest program.A final follow-up assessment will be sent to the membership base and representative interviews will be conducted to determine overall program effectiveness at the end of the project. All evaluation instruments were approved through the University of Nevada Institutional Review Board to ensure that correct investigative protocols were maintained throughout the entire process to protect subjects’ rights.
The Herds & Harvest program is currently in its second year of implementation. Overall program marketing has been essential to building loyalty and developing the “hot topics” for year two based on producer preferences (Hughes, 2006). A participant profile has been integrated into the overall evaluation of the project to learn more about Herds & Harvest producers and to ensure that producers feel that their educational needs have been met. The program has added different collaborators within the University system and outside the University system, which directly impacts the resources available to Nevada agriculture producers and broadens the influence of the overall project.
Building trust and relationships has been the key determinant in the success of the overall project. There has been a commitment to marketing Herds & Harvest statewide, which has increased communication among producers and facilitated relationships between Cooperative Extension faculty and the Nevada agriculture community. This trust relationship between UNCE program faculty and Nevada producers has created the success and prosperity in the project. The direct connection between marketing, developing the project brand, and building trust determines Cooperative Extension’s negative or positive reputation and placement in the agriculture education sector marketplace (Covey, 2006). Evaluation over the three-year project period will show overall project effectiveness and the significance of marketing Cooperative Extension programs.
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