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Evaluation of extension impacts


 Field days, bus tours, and plot tours 2018

Data for six of the 15 NDSU Extension events, including field days, bus tours, and plot tours, show a total of 256 unique participants. For those whose affiliation we have, the majority were farmers (61%), followed by university personnel (19%) (Figure 25). Zip codes from 182 of the participants show them traveling from 67 different North Dakota zip codes, 19 different Minnesota zip codes, 14 South Dakota zip codes, plus three additional states and two foreign countries—Canada and China (Figure 26).


We conducted a survey of participants from these six events in January 2019 and received 64 valid surveys from the 219 participants for whom we have valid email addresses – 29% overall response rate.


All of the respondents shared information from the events they attended, and 93% reported that they used the information in their work (Figure 27).


Event impacts on grower respondents included practices they started using as a result of attending one or more of the events (Figures 28 & 29 dark green bars). Of these, the greatest percentage of respondents started using cover crops for soil moisture management (35%), followed by 31% who started to use cover crops to manage pests, 30% who started evaluating soil health in their fields, and 29% who established a cover after harvest of a cash crop. Twenty-three percent used cover crops to transition to conservation tillage practices, 22% established a cover crop in standing cash crops and used cover crops for soil erosion control. Nineteen percent of respondents used cover crops to manage problematic areas (e.g., salinity, headlands, low spots), and used cover crops for nutrient management (e.g., reducing losses, fixing nitrogen).


Over two-thirds of respondents (67%) are considering using cover crops to attract pollinators as a result of attending one or more NDSU Extension events in 2018 (light green striped bar in Figure 29). Red bars in Figure 25 indicate the percentage of respondents who are not considering adopting the practice after attending one or more of the events. Of the 52% who are not considering establishing a cover crop for grazing, only one is currently a rancher.


Workshops and professional training

NDSU hosted two workshops that contributed greatly to increasing awareness of this project’s research and findings: the Midwest Cover Crops Conference (MCCC) and the Conservation Tillage Conference (CTC). The MCCC had 199 participants, including attendees, presenters, sponsors, and exhibitors. In addition to a survey of attendees, we tracked the conference hashtag (#coverfargo) on twitter over time to document information transfer outside the meeting itself and any change over time. The day prior to the start of the conference (March 12, 2018), 19 Twitter users had tweeted about the event, and there were 34 connections among them. These connections are made when one user replies to or mentions another user using the hashtag (Figure 30). At the end of the first night of the conference (March 13, 2018), the network grew to 109 Twitter users with a total of 327 connections (Figure 31). One week after the conference (March 19, 2018), the tweeted conversations continued with a total of 201 Twitter users and 620 connections among them (Figure 32).

The 2018 CTC had 350 participants, including attendees, presenters, sponsors, and exhibitors. Nearly all (99%) of survey respondents used information from previous CTCs in their work/on their farm, and 100% reported that they would use information from the 2018 conference (Figure 33).


The greatest impacts among grower-respondents on their practices as a result of attending the CTC was their use of cereal rye as a cover crop, their use of a multi-species cover crop mix, and establishing a cover crop after harvest of a cash crop (all 19%). Nearly half (44%) of grower respondents are considering establishing a cover crop in a standing cash crop as a result of attending the CTC (Figure 34).



The evaluation of the first two years of the project in conjunction with a NC-SARE Professional Development Program (2015-2017) included the surveys of attendees to 22 field days and winter workshops with more than 500 participants.  


Workshops and professional training

During the project, we held three separate Train the Trainer workshops for cover crops; two in Fargo, ND, and one in Langdon, ND. We had 19 agents participating of the workshops. These agents accounted for about one-third of the workshop participants. Other university research and extension personnel accounted for nearly another third, and the rest included industry representatives, crop consultants, and various state and federal agencies. Attendees who completed cover crop “tests” before and after training averaged a 16% gain in scores from 64% pre-workshop to 80% post workshop in 2016. Tests scores from the 2017 workshop are incomplete, though the scores that we do have average 81% in the post test.

In addition to cover crop identification, topics covered by the experts included: cover crops grazing, soil health improvement, soil salinity control with cover crops, soybean cyst nematode reduction with cover crops, cover crops N and P uptake, nutrient cycling, soil erosion reduction, importance of mycorrhizae, and residual herbicides injury to cover crops and how to avoid it.

Train the Trainer impacts – the domino effect
The point of train the trainer events is that those attending the training will then take what they’ve learned to train others. We were very successful in this area, according to survey respondents, 81% of whom rated the workshops very or extremely useful. Key findings from the survey include:

  • 97% of respondents used what they learned to create cover crop activities in their part of the state
  • 91% shared what they learned with their colleagues
  • 89% shared what they learned with farmers


Farmer impacts and outcomes – changes in attitudes and behavior
This project is having a great impact in advancing the knowledge and adoption of cover crops in corn-soybean systems in the northern Great Plains. The graph below demonstrates the impact among survey respondents in terms of changes in their practices and potential future changes (attitudes), as a direct result of having attended one or more cover crop events between 2015 and 2017. The survey listed key practices that we covered during field days and winter workshops and asked respondents which ones they have implemented as a result of attending the events. The darker bars on the left side denote the percentage of respondents who have adopted the practices, and the lighter bars on the right are those who are considering adopting the practices. The chart lists the practices in order of highest impact to the sum of combined and potential changes. Other categories of responses not shown include “I am not considering this” or “I was already doing this prior to 2015.”

The greatest change in behavior among respondents was establishing a cover crop after harvest of a cash crop (50%) and using cover crops for soil erosion control (51%). The greatest potential for adoption of new practices include establishing a cover crop in a standing cash crop (51%) and interseeding at the time of side-dressing in corn (50%). Fifty percent or more of the respondents have either adopted or are considering adopting all but two of the practices listed – growing cover crops for seed production (39%), and interseeding in tall corn or soybean with Hegie type equipment (34%).


Field day activities in North Dakota in 2017

Two field days (15 August, Rutland, ND and 26 September Fargo, ND) were subjected to short surveys right after the event.  In summary, based on surveys conducted after the field day in Rutland, 73% of the respondents indicated that learned something useful. Additionally, 57% of the growers indicated that they would probably try interseeding a cover crop into corn and 79% in soybeans and 27% expressed interest in intercropping alfalfa in corn. Based on a survey of participants of the Fargo field day, 78% indicated that they learned something useful and 37% and 82% indicated that they would likely try intercropping cover crops into corn and soybean, respectively.

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