Compelling evidence of widespread surface and groundwater contamination across the US was compiled by the US Geological Service (USGS) through the National Water Quality Assessment Program. During the 1990s over 50 river basins and aquifers were studied across the country revealing an urgent need for more effective chemical management. Losses of pesticides and nutrients from agricultural fertilizers represented a serious water quality concern: between 1992 and 2001 the USGS found at least one pesticide in each stream sampled (USGS, 2006)
The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is charged with supporting landowners in protecting natural resources through competitive, cost-share programs and by providing direct support in developing conservation plans. To enable farmers to implement science-based, effective practices, agency staff required training in nutrient and pest management, focusing on practices that would prevent or mitigate pollutants from reaching ground and surface waters.
To address this educational challenge a team of university and extension faculty, initially supported by a USDA National Water Program grant developed a comprehensive education program that integrated the latest science with decision-support tools. Team members had expertise in adult education and program evaluation, soil science, crop production and nutrition, pesticide fate and transport and integrated pest management. These areas were integrated to develop innovative and locally-relevant education programs. The Integrated Soil Nutrient and Pest Water Quality Education Program (iSNAP) was established as a vehicle to develop this unified approach. The initial target audience was information providers in agencies and industry that work directly with farmers on both pest and nutrient management. Two years later, funding was acquired to provide education to farmers to increase their skills in making pest management decisions that also protect the environment.
Funding sources: USDA National Integrated Water Quality Program, Western Region IPM Center and USDA Risk Management Agency
We designed workshop curricula that integrated pesticide and nutrient management as well as providing tools to reduce the opportunity for pesticides, fertilizers and manure to reach water resources. The programs connected effective strategies and best management practices to the site-specific pest and nutrient issues. The highest levels of learning reported at the professional workshops was for 1) determining effective pesticide risk mitigation options to protect water quality, and 2) explaining management options to reduce pesticide drift. The farmers at workshop on IPM plan development reported new skills in creating their own IPM plans and increasing IPM practices on their farms.
Five months after two workshops on accessing and using climate and weather data to inform pest management decisions the participating farmers (n=23) reported:
1) that nearly 75 percent had considered sensitive sites before applying pesticides, 2) 30 percent had sought more information on options to reduce off-target pesticide losses, and 3) 87 percent had adjusted their spray equipment to reduce pesticide drift.
Towards the end of the project the project team reflected on what they had gained from this experience; three key insights were captured:
The iSNAP project was the progenitor for the Pesticide Stewardship Partnerships project, and Reducing pesticide risks to farmers and the environment in the Senegal and Niger River Basins project.
This work demonstrated the importance of centering education program design on the learner. Our approach focused learning experiences on actively building skills and this enabled deeper learning through the application of skills in a problem-solving context. The process evolved over the course of the project with increasing clarity gained in the core elements of pest and nutrient management knowledge that underlie the specific needs of both technical information providers and farming audiences. For more details see the final reports to the NWP or Western Region IPM Program.
NRCS (ID, WA and OR), US EPA, Washington State University, University of Idaho, Idaho and Washington State Pesticide Safety Education Programs, Oregon and Idaho IPM Programs, Far West Agribusiness Association, Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakima Nation, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and Washington Department of Ecology