Search for Excellence in Young, Beginning, or Small Farmers/Ranchers

Cade B. Rensink
District Director
K-State Research & Extension
Central Kansas District

Rensink, C.B.*1,
1 District Director, K-State Research & Extension - Central Kansas District, Salina, KS, 67401

Through a local young rancher focus group, feedback was given on what outreach topics they were most interested in and from whom do they were more inclined to get information.  Overwhelmingly, they said they were hungry for management concepts which were practical and that could be immediately implemented upon returning home.  Perhaps not surprising, when asked about educational programming, they were most interested in offerings from people with real world experience.  The majority preferred actual producers presenting their experience.  To that end, several key activities over the last three years were aimed at the beginning farmers and ranchers of the Central Kansas Extension District.  In carrying out these programmatic efforts, educational objectives were aligned with the simple “wants” outlined by the focus group:  timely applied content and practitioner delivery.  Program activities focused on four main areas of soil health, finances, livestock stewardship and/or resource management.  A variety of teaching methods were employed including one day group workshops, multi-session series, one-on-one consultations, short seminars, and technical assistance provided on-farm and in-office as well as through phone and email.  Over 400 direct educational contacts were made through program attendance with an additional 3,200+ indirect contacts from digital delivery.  With those direct contacts, post event evaluations were completed to collect short term evidence of improved knowledge and planned changes in behaviors. Follow up on medium term outcomes / evidence (actual behavior change) primarily came in the form of general observations rather than survey data.  Cooperative partnerships and collaboration made the educational opportunities possible.  Through relationships with various businesses, agricultural organizations and governmental agencies, additional expertise was committed, expanded networks were leveraged for promotion, and cost recovery was secured.  While participant registration fees had to be relied upon in many instances, the larger events that required a larger budget were either partially or fully underwritten by sponsor and/or grant funding – most notably a multi-year USDA-NRCS Kansas Conservation Collaboration Grant designed specifically for outreach to underserved farmers and ranchers while connecting them with USDA programs and services.