Jo Ann Warner – Associate Director, Western Extension Risk Management Education Center
Shannon Neibergs – Director, Western Extension Risk Management Education Center
Extension Risk Management Education (ERME) is delivered through four regional Centers that provide grant funding and leadership within their regions for furthering the knowledge of farmers and ranchers, with risk management strategies and tools that can improve their profitability or increase their opportunities for equity growth over time.
2021 Funding Opportunities
Two funding opportunities are currently available: 1) the 2021 ERME RFA focuses on educational projects designed to help agricultural producers improve their economic viability through targeted risk management strategies; and 2) the 2021 Producers Underserved by Crop Insurance RFA is specifically designated for the delivery of risk management education to agricultural producers who are underserved by the Federal crop insurance program. The following link describes these two opportunities in further detail; as well as instructions for applying to the appropriate regional Center.
Extension Risk Management Education in the Western Region
The projects that ERME funds address five primary areas of agricultural risk, (production, marketing, financial, human and legal) to fill critical knowledge gaps for farm and ranch families related to current and emerging risks.
This past year has not only seen a downturn in the economy, it has also experienced disrupted supply chains as a result of COVID-19 and volatile weather events that have negatively impacted agricultural production – which in turn has escalated human and financial risk. Helping farmers and ranchers address these risks in the face of uncertainty heightens the importance of their ability to implement the most advantageous risk responses.
With funding from ERME, agricultural educators have met this challenge year after year, with education and training that has reached thousands of small to mid-sized farms and ranches; and that has resulted in successes not only at the farm level, but has rippled out to their communities – strengthening social, economic and environmental wellbeing.
Whether you have been a recipient of ERME funding or are exploring our funding opportunities for the first time, the following vignettes highlight some of the extraordinary work being done by projects across the Western U.S., along with essential program elements, that when coupled with producer engagement, result in success for both the program and its participants.
As educators evaluate the spectrum of agricultural risks that producers face, they also are charged with exploring avenues of delivery that can best meet the needs of their audience – including virtual learning and other technology platforms that have emerged over the past decade. A highly successful Washington state project used a series of podcasts to deliver education on grazing management principles. These episodes – originally slated for ranchers and rangeland professionals in a few western states, resulted in thousands of listeners tuning in from across the country. The podcast turned out to be a learning modality that was especially well suited to ranchers who spend a lot of time driving or who are away from their desks for long periods. The following link provides a more in depth look at this project (pdf) along with a link to access the series.
Another example of mobile technology application was through a web-based record keeping project in Nevada with producers piloting mobile software for implementing a record keeping system. Women producers in Hawaii utilized farmer-to-farmer networks via social media platforms to build awareness and understanding of value-added production. A California project developed a pedagogical model for online education (pdf) that incorporated on-farm videos on agroecology and climate change.
COVID-19 has thrust innovation into the spotlight as more projects are making a transition from in person delivery to virtual platforms. The ability to incorporate new learning modalities is due in large part to the relationship building that educator organizations engage in with their farm and ranch family audiences. Obtaining their input as both the primary stakeholders and as recipients of risk mitigation strategies, is a determining factor in their ability and desire to incorporate practices that will ensure farm/ranch success and longevity. Producer input has the potential to influence the direction of agricultural policy, as educators help producers make sense of changes in risk management and how best to navigate through the uncertainties posed by the various sources of risk.
Evaluation and Presenting Real Evidence of Change
Data that verifies participants’ changes in behavior and practice – through a commitment by project directors to measure these changes, is one of the most significant contributions of ERME (and other) funded projects – as it demonstrates the effectiveness of the training through real-life application by farmers and ranchers to improve their economic and overall wellbeing. Evaluation can be challenging due to audience demographics, geography, and other factors; however, a project team’s willingness to engage in effective measurement of participant change allows them to elevate their findings to a diverse group of stakeholders; which in turn results in stronger programs. This is reflected in the benefits accrued directly to producers, i.e. their ability to utilize tools and implement risk strategies and practices that will provide them and their families with long term economic viability.
Why Risk Management Education?
The wide array of risk management education and training provided to farm and ranch families through hundreds of ERME funded projects has undoubtedly helped to strengthen the farm safety net. As farmers and ranchers are exposed to new challenges daily – and especially with the many challenges presented by COVID-19, there will be an ongoing and urgent need for projects to address these risks. Additionally, the US Census data shows that the average age of farmers has increased, at the same time that a new group of young beginning farmers and ranchers are pursuing ag as a business – including women, veterans and minorities. Production efficiencies and financial resiliency will be critical for new farmers especially. Record keeping and financial literacy will continue to play an important role in the success of farms and ranches. Crop insurance is another tool within the portfolio of risk management. ERME is working to extend the reach of crop insurance programs to a broader audience of undeserved farmers and ranchers. Small to mid-sized growers may be at a disadvantage and without the resources to pay for higher premiums. The farm safety net hinges collectively on programs with education that can provide tools and methods for farm and ranch families to adequately address these risks.