Listen to Farmers – Shop Talks and Field Days

by Teresa Matteson

Over the past five years Oregon’s soil health educators have reached over one thousand farmers, agency staff and students through workshops, field days and classroom settings. Consistently, evaluations from the events indicate that the audiences most appreciate hearing directly from farmers about their real world experiences, what works, and lessons learned. This spring, to address those needs Benton and Linn SWCDs each hosted cover crop SHOP TALKS on local farms and collectively attracted over 60 attendees to hear growers’ experiences and visit farm fields. Participants’ raving reviews begged more hands-on, farmer-hosted education.

The SHOP TALKS were complimented by a NRCS Corvallis Plant Materials Center (PMC) Cover Crop Field Day. NRCS, Oregon State University, and Benton SWCD teamed up to deliver presentations and field demonstrations. To begin, NRCS staff reviewed soil health history and introduced a new NRCS cover crop selection tool slated for public availability later this year. A field tour encouraged participants to identify plots of cover crop species and compare termination methods. Field stations included: a roller-crimper demo, no-till cover crop study, hands-on soil health demo, and cover crop biomass sampling/nutrient assessment. Visit the Oregon NRCS website to see the Field Day video.

You don’t have to be an expert to host a great workshop! These simple steps will help you plan your own SHOP TALK, an informal gathering to showcase local agricultural knowledge.

  1. We all have a network of partners, including researchers, extension agents and agency staff, whose brains are packed with facts and their computers have premade PowerPoint presentations. Make a list of those confident public speakers and their topics of choice. That becomes your moderator list for SHOP TALKS. They invigorate the audience with applicable local facts and research.
  2. We all work with stellar landowners, those champions of conservation, who each for their own personal reasons, mindfully protect water, enhance habitats and build soil. Make a list of those early adopters and identify the conservation topics they implement. For example, cover crops, residue management, or no-till management. These folks likely have a warehouse or barn where folks can gather or fields to serve as real-world classrooms. That is your host list of SHOP TALKS. They serve up endearing farm wisdom.
  3. Pair up a moderator with a host. Six months before you want to offer the event, draft an agenda, make some calls and soon you will be receiving RSVPs for the SHOP TALKS related to your topic of choice.
  4. Consider the season. If we want farmers to participate in our programs, we must respect their work schedule. In Oregon, depending on the crop, they can be busy 12-20 hours on just about any day of the year. Your chances of engaging most farmers increase during the winter months, after January 1 and before March 15. Of course, weather is a big attendance factor and, again it’s Oregon, so I suggest you plan your event and hope for the best.
  5. Once you have an agenda for your event with date, location, presenter topics and timeline, apply for Certified Crop Advisor Continuing Education Units (CEUs). These extra incentives appeal to a broad range of audience categories, from farmers to field reps to researchers. See the Certified Crop Advisor website to set up an account and be sure to submit the CEU application 30 days before your event.
  6. Invite the county Farm Bureau members, Master Gardeners, realtors and equipment representatives. They may be willing to provide refreshments. Coffee and pumpkin bread are always a hit. Along with your local OSU Extension agent, these groups likely have email addresses for your target audience. They may be willing to forward your SHOP TALKS announcement