UNL’s Weather Ready Farms Partners with eXtension Through USDA-NIFA Cooperative Agreement

As part of eXtension’s New Technologies for Agricultural Extension (NTAE) Cooperative Agreement with USDA-NIFA, the eXtension Foundation is partnering with four existing programs aligned with USDA strategic goals across Cooperative Extension in Year 1 to explore new methods and models for program scale and implementation. These initiatives are being documented in a series of eFieldbooks to inform the system of the models, learnings, and outcomes. Professional development opportunities will be created and delivered centered upon these learnings and offered to the entire system beginning in 2020.  

The first program identified by the Catalyst team is Weather Ready Farms from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Tyler Williams, Cropping System Extension Educator at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln leads this program. Tyler will also serve as a funded Fellow with eXtension throughout the course of this project.

As one of four topics within the current NTAE Cooperative Agreement, Weather Ready Farms will expand to additional geographies and conditions. Williams, along with an action team will develop documentation to assist with professional development of Extension educators and seek expansion opportunities through assisted market research.

About Weather Ready Farms

Weather Ready Nebraska is a portfolio of Extension engagement programs developed to increase resiliency by identifying vulnerabilities and prioritizing actions. Included are initiatives that emphasize climate and weather literacy, scenario planning to overcome impactful conditions like drought or flooding, and an innovative credential dubbed Weather Ready Farms.

Weather Ready Farms is an emerging certification  program designed to improve or increase resilience towards the impacts of extreme weather on Nebraska’s farms. Participants learn through a year-long program consisting of in-person and online material about improving resilience towards the impacts of extreme weather on Nebraska’s farms. Certified producers successfully undergo separate phases including assessment, education, and verification. 

Since the formation of Weather Ready Farms in 2017, researchers and educators from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln designed a self-assessment framework to be used as an initial assessment of whole-farm risk to weather-related losses. This self-assessment was pilot-tested by four producers, representing over 4000 acres of row crops, in the spring of 2019. Through feedback from the pilot-test, the framework is currently under revision to better address farm-to-farm variation. 

The potential for impact, and collaboration with partners, is illustrated by the substantial variety and scale of weather-related losses on farms in Nebraska and the surrounding region. In 2017, the USDA Risk Management Agency issued over $2.1 billion in indemnity payments to the 12 North Central Region States due to weather-related losses in agriculture.

Support For This Initiative and Implications for the System

Through funding by eXtension’s NTAE Cooperative Agreement, Weather Ready Farms will receive direct support from a third-party marketing firm specializing in agriculture that will conduct market research and an audience engagement initiative that establishes baseline measures for reach and utilization of Extension information, identifies new markets, measures growth in reach and utilization of Extension resources and information, and determines best practices for using technology to engage target markets. 

The results and learnings from this initiative will be captured in an eFieldbook led by Tyler Williams and provided to the entire Land-Grant University system. An eFieldbook is a digital, curated, peer-reviewed collection of program resources that provide multimedia communication and interaction between and among experts, individuals, teams, partners, and other content contributors. Professional development opportunities will be delivered to the entire system through eXtension’s new FlexLearn platform to provide information and support for replicating this model across the system. FlexLearn will be available for the entire system in Spring, 2020. 

Additionally, eXtension’s Partnership Development Specialist, Megan Hirschman, will provide direct support to the Weather Ready Farms program by exploring public and private-sector partnerships that build capacity for this program, and further efforts to expand the reach of row crop producers in the state of Nebraska to engage with this program. 

This initiative will run through August 2020. Three other program initiatives have been selected for 2019-2020 aligned with USDA strategic goals including a mass media campaign supporting pollinator stewardship efforts in Texas in partnership with the National Pesticide Safety Education Center and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, and a food sovereignty initiative in partnership with the College of Menominee Nation.

Topic areas and programs were identified by a three-member Catalyst team consisting of former  senior Extension leaders that address USDA strategic goals. The Catalyst Team includes:

  • Scott Reed, Former Vice Provost University Outreach & Engagement, and Director of Extension at Oregon State University
  • Fred Schlutt, Former Director of Cooperative Extension at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks
  • Jimmy Henning, Faculty, Plant & Soil Sciences Department, and Former Director, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Kentucky

About the eXtension Foundation

The eXtension Foundation is a membership-based non-profit designed to be the engine fueling U.S. Cooperative Extension’s advancement in making a more visible and measurable impact in support of education outreach from land-grant universities/colleges located in every state and territory. eXtension provides an array of opportunities for Extension professionals that foster innovation creation, the adoption of innovations at member institutions, and increased impact of Extension programs.

USDA NIFA logo

This work is supported by New Technologies for Agriculture Extension grant no. 2015-41595-24254 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.