Extension Agents Receive High Tunnel Training to Better Assist Growers
Kentucky county extension agents are receiving high tunnel training to better assist growers with a variety of production challenges, including soil salinity, fertilizer use and season extension.
University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension specialists received funding through the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE) Professional Development Program to develop a series of trainings to provide accurate current information and equip county extension agents with useful skills to better assist high tunnel growers.
“High tunnel production has grown considerably in Kentucky since 2012,” said University of Kentucky Extension vegetable specialist Rachel Rudolph. “However, many growers still struggle with production challenges that are more commonly observed in high tunnel systems. Because high tunnels are still rela- tively new, many agents do not have the experience or information to properly assist high tunnel growers.” County agents from both University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University are eligible to participate in the training series.
To date, county agents have learned how to construct a high tunnel and offer guidance to growers with respect to proper site selection, construction details and design features; they’ve learned how to prepare the soil for crop production and manage the soil sustainably; they’ve learned how to prepare a high tunnel for summer production and transition to winter with frost protection, row cover use and winter cover crops; they’ve learned basic Integrated Pest Management strategies; and they’ve learned what it takes for a grower to prepare for the market.
SARE State Coordinators are vital for expanding sustainable agriculture training for Extension, NRCS, and other agricultural professionals, who will then help producers transition to a more sustainable agriculture.
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SARE IN KENTUCKY
The Kentucky SARE program is a collaboration between the University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University. Kentucky SARE partners with researchers, extension faculty, producers, and community organizers to research and implement the best science-based practices available in all aspect's of Kentucky's agricultural system.
Indirectly, the results of the study have significantly increased the base of experience and knowledge about using furrow guidance technology for the production of various vegetable crops. It has led to the development of new applications such as applying fertilizer and laying plastic, and has inspired new ideas for other applications including pulling drip tape, applying compost and mulch, and weeding between plants within the row.
Professional Development Program
Within each state, agricultural educators work directly with farmers and ranchers to further sustainable agriculture production and marketing practices. Through a program called the Professional Development Program (PDP), SARE state ag coordinators provide support for sustainable agriculture education and outreach strategies.
SARE and the National Association of County Agricultural Agents (NACAA) offer the Sustainable Agriculture Fellows Program, which enhances Cooperative Extension personnel’s understanding of sustainable agriculture and provides broad-based, national exposure to successful and unique sustainable agriculture programs.