Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 3, Issue 2 - December, 2010

Ohio's Conservation Tillage & Technology Conference Keeps Growing

Hoorman, J.J., Extension Educator, Ohio State University Extension
Reeder, R.C., Extension Specialist, Ohio State University Extension
Sundermeier, A.P., Extension Educator, Ohio State University Extension
Wilson, G.W., Extension Educator/Director, Ohio State University Extension

ABSTRACT

The Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference (CTTC) started in 1984 as a one day ridge-till program, attended by about 150 farmers. In 2010, 966 participants and 35 exhibitors attended two days of concurrent educational talks by 66 speakers on conservation tillage, no-till, cover crops, soil and water (SW), nutrient management (NM), integrated pest management (PM), precision agriculture (PA), and new agricultural technologies. Consultants, farmers, and agricultural dealers have the opportunity to obtain Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) credits. Annual surveys show that farmers valued this educational program at $11 per acre while consultants, fertilizer, and chemical dealers valued it at $16 per acre. Using a five point Likert scale (1=Poor, 5=Excellent), CTTC scored 4.34 for educational programming and 4.65 on program cost for the past 3 years. Knowledge gained has been tracked using a Pre- and Post-conference Likert survey (1=low knowledge gained, 5=High). Cover crop knowledge gained was 0.6 to 0.7 points, and knowledge gained for NM, SW and PA were in the range 0.3 to 0.5. About 30 Ohio State University Extension Educators and 10 Ohio Soil & Water Conservation District technicians assist with CTTC. Since 2005, $65,000 in accumulated funds has been awarded in small grants for research on conservation tillage, soil and water quality, and soil nutrient management. CTTC presents a mix of research-based information along with farmer, consultant, and agency experiences to increase adoption of conservation tillage and continuous no-till. Adoption of these practices decreases soil erosion, improves nutrient recycling, improves water quality, and increases farmer profitability.

Introduction

The Conservation Tillage & Technology Conference (CTTC) is the longest running conservation tillage conference in the United States. CTTC began as a one-day Ridge Tillage conference (1984) and evolved to a conservation tillage and technology program held at Ohio Northern University (ONU), Ada, Ohio since 1993. The conference typically has 60 to 70 speakers, including extension and researchers from Ohio State University (OSU) and other land grant universities, agency and industry representatives, and farmers. Participants can choose from more than 50 hours of Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) credits on Soil and Water (SW), Nutrient Management (NM), Pest Management (PM), and Crop Management (CM). It is a regional conference drawing participants from Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, the Midwest and Canada.
 
 
 
Photograph 1: CTTC Main ballroom participants listening to keynote speaker.
 
Miller and Cox (2006) study of technology transfer showed that producers prefer on-farm trials and periodicals as ways to learn about conservation tillage but they valued workshops for networking with others doing the new practice. Baraos (1992) stated that generating knowledge is not always synonymous with diffusing and adopting knowledge. He found that producer-led demonstrations created a more relaxed, informal setting for the dissemination, evaluation and the ultimate transfer and application of that knowledge. Foster et al. (1995) commented that researchers, extension and farmers have recognized the need for a cooperative, participatory approach in the adoption of new technology. King and Rollins (1999) found that participatory assistance improved adoption of new technology. CTTC has used participatory assistance to network producers, researchers, extension, and consultants to explain and improve the adoption of new technology related to conservation tillage.

Description

The overall goal of CTTC is to promote conservation tillage, especially no-till, and best management practices (BMPs) to improve agricultural profitability and sustainability. Farmers, consultants, agency personnel, and university researchers and extension professionals learn from each other about ways to improve the success of conservation tillage systems. The emphasis is on recommended BMPs that are good for the environment and improve soil and water quality. Conference Goals:
 
1)      Farmers will adopt no-till and other conservation tillage practices (cover crops, grass    
      buffers, grass waterways) to improve water quality and the environment.
 
2) Farmers will use nutrients and inputs more efficiently, resulting in direct economic                   
     benefits to them, and environmental benefits to society.
 
3) Certified Crop Advisors will receive training so they will be well informed and 
     motivated to help their farm clients reach the goals listed above.
 
The typical format includes an opening general session, with four sessions running concurrently the rest of the two-day conference. Concurrent sessions include SW, NM, CM, PM, Corn University, Soybean School, and/or Precision agriculture (PA) topics. In two days, a participant can obtain at least 5 hours of CCA credits in both SW and NM which are difficult to obtain. Most presentations are either 30 or 60 minutes. About 400 CCA’s are trained every year.
 
The conference is held in late February during final exams (Thursday and Friday) at the ONU McIntosh Center. CTTC uses four meeting rooms plus a large open area for 36 commercial exhibitors. Space is becoming an issue as attendance has increased. Space for lunch in the student cafeteria is tight, but staggering the ending times for morning concurrent sessions has helped. Inviting prominent speakers on timely topics has kept the program fresh.
 
The CTTC conference is a multi-agency educational program provided by OSU Extension, USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency, Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD), The Ohio No-till Council, Great Lakes Commission, Conservation Action Project, Ohio’s Country Journal and Citizens National Bank of Bluffton, commercial exhibitors, and sponsors. Altogether, about 30 OSU Extension educators and 10 USDA and SWCD professionals assist in planning and conducting the program. 
 
 
Photo 2: Ray Archuleta (NRCS) demonstrating water infiltration on No-till soils.

Committee Assignments

The major conference committees are: 1) Program, 2) Promotion, 3) Facilities, 4) Registration, 5) Exhibitors, and 6) CCA certification/Evaluation/ Facilitators. The Program committee (Chairman: Randall Reeder) starts lining up major speakers a year ahead and is 90% complete at least three months before the conference. Full day sessions focus on SW and NM topics, with half day sessions on PA and Advanced Scouting Techniques. At least one full day session is assigned to Cover Crops and a half day or more to Corn University and Soybean School. Several farmer and consultant panels provide “real world” information and promote networking. Evaluations help identify speakers and topics for future programs. Members of the program committee are active nationally, participating in the National No-till Conference and Midwest Cover Crops Council, and these contacts help maintain a high caliber program.

The Promotion committee (Co-chairs: John Smith and Gary Wilson) uses direct mail, news articles and agriculture radio networks. About 8,000 brochures are printed; half are mailed to CCAs in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and past participants, and the rest are available at county Extension and USDA offices. News releases highlight timely information from key speakers and are distributed nationally through OSU Extension. A monthly no-till column in Ohio’s Country Journal (circulation: 20,000) keeps readers informed. The schedule and registration information are kept up to date on our website http://ctc.osu.edu. Two agriculture radio networks broadcast live from the site. Total cost for promotion is about $5,000.

 
 
Photo 3: Radio broadcaster Dale Minyo interviewing Ohio State University Dean Bobby Moser.
 
The Facilities committee (Gene McCluer and Curtis Young) works with ONU to get contracts for food, meeting rooms, and equipment (LCD projectors, computers, radio connections, and TV broadcast), coordinates meals, and takes care of parking.
 
The Allen County SWCD staff (Albert Suniga) maintain a database of past participants and handle all registrations. Over 75% of our participants are repeat clients. The registration committee prepares a packet for each participant and speaker, including schedule, meal tickets, name tags, evaluation forms, and receipts. Eight people work the registration table each day. Usually 80-90% of participants pre-register. The pre-registration fee in 2010 was $45 for one day or $65 for two days. Walk-ins pay $10 more.
 
The Exhibitor committee (Randy Buxton, NRCS) lines up about 35 industry exhibitors. The exhibitor area is located at a crossroads of three meeting rooms and adjacent to the cafeteria entrance. Morning and afternoon breaks are scheduled in this room with donuts and beverages served in the morning, and ice cream bars, cookies and cold beverages in the afternoon. CTTC also recruits sponsors to help financially including The Ohio Corn Growers Association, DeKalb/Asgrow, Pioneer, Seed Consultants and Wingfield Crop Insurance. Total income from these sponsors is about $7500.
 
     
 
Photo 4: Exhibitor Hall (35 exhibitors) is a beehive of activity and promotes networking.
 
The sixth committee arranges for CCA credit approvals (Harold Watters) in December/January and manages the evaluation and moderators (Jim Hoorman). The CCA sign-up process for each talk was recently streamlined by using hand-held magnetic card readers. Two or three moderators are assigned to each room to introduce speakers, keep the program on schedule, assist with AV equipment, assist in getting CCA’s signed up, and collect evaluations.
 
The CTTC team meets about a month after the conference to evaluate the program and to start planning for the following year. Team members discuss the evaluations, review the program, registration, exhibitors (space and concerns), facilities (parking, food, equipment, seating) and other issues. This meeting has served as the official annual business meeting since CTTC was incorporated as a non-profit corporation (501 3 d) in 2007.  

Results and Impacts

Attendance
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
First Day Attendance
425
480
511
520
536
604
681
751
Second Day Attendance
400
471
439
557
597
654
680
820
Total Attendance
550
560
620
656
697
768
896
966

 
Most CTTC participants attend both days but some attend only one. In a typical year, about 50-75% are consultants/agency personnel and 30-50% farmers. About 15% are from other states. In 2010, 40% were consultants, and 55% were farmers. Attendance has increased every year since 2003. 
 

CTTC Survey
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
Number of Survey Responses
 138
139
147
108
187
149
104
147
Response Rate
25%
25%
24%
16%
27%
19%
12%
15%
Speakers well prepared/
Presented Useful Information *
4.39
4.51
4.58
4.44
4.39
4.46
4.17
4.38
Registration costs in line with the program *
4.70
4.71
4.72
4.60
4.50
4.64
4.65
4.51

 
Separate evaluations are collected after the first day, second day, and participants who attend both days. The evaluation committee typically collects 100 to 150 evaluations (15-25% of the participants). Using a Likert scale (1=Disagree, 3=Neutral, 5=Agree) several questions are asked of participants about the conference. Evaluations show that “Speakers presenting useful information and being well prepared” has ranged between 4.17 and 4.58. Any negative evaluation comments about the program and speakers tend to be related to the large crowds, tight schedule, limited time for Q&A, and controversial topics. The registration fee has increased by $5 yearly since 2006, but attendance continues to grow. Evaluation scores for registration cost continues to rank high (4.50 to 4.72) with only a slight decline as registration costs have increased.
 

Farmer Responses
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
Number of Farmers
185
200
300
340
330
491
531
Average Age of Participants
46
50
54
46
47
47
47
Value to Farmers of CTTC ($ per Acre)
$8.30
$7.50
$9.60
$11.10
$16.25
$16.80
$13.00

 The number of farmers participating in the program has increased yearly. Our program is set up to appeal to CCA’s but farmers also appreciate the in-depth education. In addition, many CCA’s are also farmers or agency personnel so there is no clear cut distinction among these groups. The average age of participants has been holding steady at around 46 to 54 years of age. 
 
Farmers have been asked to "Estimate the value of the CTTC to their operation on a per acre basis." The value has ranged from $7.50 per acre to $16.80 per acre. The two highest values ($16.25, and $16.80) occurred in 2008 and 2009 when fertilizer prices were at historically high levels and farmers were searching for solid information on reducing rates.  
 

Consultant Responses
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
Number of Certified Crop Advisors (CCA)
276
322
275
297
425
370
425
Number of CCA’s in training sessions
5,171
4,337
4,050
4,951
5534
5,504
5,875
Average Number of Acres per Consultant
23,200
37,500
27,500
47,900
37,900
49,400
53,300
Value of CTTC to CCA’s ($/Acre)
$4
$5
$15
$14
$15.65
$16.80
$14.50
   

The number of CCA’s has gradually increased in seven years from about 275 to 425 with emphasis on SW and Nm topics. CCA’s prefer more in-depth (60 minute) sessions over shorter (30 minute) talks.  Similar to farm size, the number of acres per consultant has doubled in seven years to over 50,000 acres. Consultants estimated the educational value of CTTC from $4 per acre to $16.80 per acre. As with farmers, the high point ($16.80) occurred when fertilizer and input prices peaked in 2009.  

Evaluation of Program Content

The CTTC committee has used evaluations to measure participant’s knowledge gain. A one- page evaluation asks participants to rate their knowledge of general topics before and after sessions. Results from 2009-2010 are shown in the following tables.   

Level of Knowledge (2009)
Before
After
Gain in Knowledge
Nutrient Management (NM)
3.7
4.1
0.4
Cover Crops (CC)
3.3
4.0
0.7
Conservation Tillage (CT)
3.9
4.2
0.3
Soil and Water Conservation
3.7
4.0
0.3
Manure Management
3.7
4.1
0.4
Precision Agriculture (PA)
3.5
3.8
0.3
Corn University
4.3
4.5
0.2
* Likert Scale: 1=Low, 3=Medium, 5=High

 
A pre-conference on Cover Crops was added in 2009, plus about 8 hours on CC during CTTC. The pre-level of knowledge was low but after the conference, the post-level was similar to other topics. The overall gain in knowledge was 0.7. In 2009, relatively modest gains in knowledge were obtained (.2 to .4) in all other categories.
 

Level of Knowledge (2010)            
Before
After
Gain in Knowledge
Nutrient Management
3.8
4.2
0.5
Biofuels/Cover Crops (Bf, CC)
3.4
4.0
0.6
Conservation Tillage (CT)
3.7
4.2
0.5
Advanced Scouting Techniques (AST)
3.9
4.2
0.3
Corn University (CU)
3.9
4.3
0.4
* Likert Scale: 1=Low, 3=Medium, 5=High

In 2010, Biofuels and Cover Crops had a low pre-level and had the biggest gains (0.6) in knowledge, followed by NM and CT (.5). The CU and AST sessions scored lower gains in knowledge although the individual speakers from both rated very high on the evaluations. 
 
CTTC has accumulated funds and began offering small grants ($2000-$5000) to fund OSU and SWCD research and educational activities related to conservation tillage. Grants totaling $65,000 since 2005 have been awarded. Successful grant applicants are required to present their findings at CTTC. 

Conclusions

Since 1984, CTTC has strived to increase the adoption of conservation practices. The program presents a mix of research based information along with farmer, consultant, and agency expertise to increase adoption of conservation tillage and continuous no-till farming. In the long run, these BMPs decrease soil erosion, improve nutrient recycling, improve water quality, and increase farmer profitability. The program and audience have both grown to make this conference a major source of information for farmers, crop consultants and agency personnel. Because CTTC has good attendance, high evaluations and financial stability it will continue into the foreseeable future. 

References 

Barao, S. (1992). Behavioral aspects of technology adoption. Journal of Extension [On-line], 30(2). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1992summer/a4.html

Conservation Tillage & Technology Conference website http://ctc.osu.edu
 
Foster, J., Norton, G., & Brough, E. (1995). The role of problem specification workshops in Extension: an IPM example. Journal of Extension [On-line], 33(4). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1995august/a1.html
 
King, R.N., & Rollins, T.J. (1999). An evaluation of an agricultural innovation: Justification for participatory assistance. Journal of Extension [On-line], 37(4). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1999august/rb2.html
 
Miller, R.L. and Cox, L. (2006) Technology Transfer Preferences of Researchers and Producers in Sustainable AgricultureJournal of Extension [On-line], 44(3). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2006june/rb2p.shtml