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Developing Local Leadership and Extension Capacity for Performance-Driven Agricultural Environmental Management


The goal of the project is to build institutional and local watershed capacity to develop citizen leadership and apply performance-driven environmental management in agricultural watersheds. The effort builds on previous pilot projects to create a state-wide system of involving residents and applying local knowledge to the management of impaired watersheds. <P>The project has three major objectives. First, it will leverage the "citizen effect" to improve agricultural environmental management by developing farmer-to-farmer watershed relationships that move farm operators and their neighbors "beyond the status quo" to seek local solutions for sustainable environmental improvement and address regulatory needs in priority watersheds.<P> Second, the project will promote and further develop measures of environmental performance that, a) can be used and interpreted at the farm level by active farm managers, b) provide feedback that enables adaptive management for sustainable environmental improvement while maintaining farm profitability, and c) serve as appropriate vehicles for education and participatory discovery of crop and livestock best management practices. <P>The third project objective is to increase acceptance by extension educators and watershed technical professionals of citizen involvement and build their capacity to support performance driven environmental management by citizen working groups in impaired watersheds.

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Non-Technical Summary: Although it has been scientifically documented for over two decades that agricultural practices are major sources of nonpoint pollution in the Mississippi River Basin, success in solving the problem has been limited. Part of the difficulty is the disconnect between scientific knowledge and the subjective local knowledge farmers bring to their management decisions. CSREES-funded pilot projects in Iowa have shown that a performance-driven environmental management process, involving citizen-farmers working together to set watershed goals that are environmentally sound and economically practical, can move farm operators beyond current status quo management to pro-active environmental practices. Achievements are measured not just by technical experts or by the number of practices in place but also by farmer-useable, science-based performance measures that estimate reduced risk of phosphorous and nitrogen delivery and improvement in soil condition/reduced erosion. This project will create a state-wide system of involving residents on the ?ground floor? in managing their watersheds, applying their local knowledge in partnership with professional and technical advisors. Success of the pilot projects will be expanded to the entire state by developing institutional capacity in Extension and state agency technical providers and local capacity among a targeted group of producers to implement performance driven processes in impaired agricultural watersheds. The project will be implemented through a broad-based partnership of university and state agencies and will leverage support from research, outreach, and graduate education. <P> Approach: The centerpiece of building capacity is the development of a curriculum and training that integrates leadership and performance-driven management skills-creating a co-learning environment for farmer-leaders and technical specialists to develop and support groups of farmers in learning to implement performance driven management in their impaired watersheds. The project will leverage a state-wide network of environmentally-concerned producers and extension specialists through the Iowa Learning Farm (ILF). Networks of ILF cooperators conduct on-farm demonstrations so producers can evaluate agronomic and economic information, share local wisdom, and provide a place where "seeing is believing." To leverage the citizen effect, curriculum development and training will focus on collective action and leadership skills which include group facilitation, visioning and goal setting, watershed impairment assessments, building trust relationships, communication strategies, and transmission of the culture of conservation and stewardship. The curriculum will also help producers learn about management practices and environmental impacts on their watershed and the application of performance measures that are useful at the farm and watershed levels to farm managers. The collection and analysis of data on their own fields and farms and application of their results to model and evaluate environmental outcomes will enable adaptive management for sustainable improvement in environmental performance while maintaining profitability. Support and guidance by agricultural educators and technical professionals are essential if farmer working groups are to move beyond the status quo, learn more about the ecology of their watershed, and adopt a flexible approach to progressive, sustainable environmental improvement of their crop and livestock management practices. The first year of the project will focus on curriculum development, and delivery of the program will proceed in years two and three with two cohorts of farmer-leaders across the state. Both curriculum development and delivery will incorporate a co-learning process as experts and citizens participate together throughout. Educators/technical specialists will be asked to voluntarily pair up with farmer leaders in the first and second cohorts and work together in farmer selected impaired watersheds. The curriculum will have both theoretical and practice aspects, with meetings in the winter months, implementation and field days during the growing season. Farmer-leaders will receive support from project staff as they develop and practice group facilitation and leadership skills in their own watershed organizations. Educators/technical specialists will learn how to listen and learn from farmers and how citizen groups function; how to use performance measure tools as an education opportunity and how to keep records and aggregate field and farm level performance measure results so that change can be documented at the watershed level.

Morton, Lois
Iowa State University
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