Tactical Agriculture Teams (TAg Teams): Intensive Training Program for Today's Economically and Environmentally Conscious Farmer
Authors: Phil Sutton & Jim VanKirk, Area Extension IPM Specialists, and J. Keith Waldron, Dairy and Field Crops IPM Coordinator, Cornell University.
A new approach in Integrated Crop Management (ICM) education, the TAg Team, was unveiled during the 1990 and 1991 growing seasons. TAg Teams are groups of farmers, agribusiness and extension personnel working together to tackle and understand ICM philosophy and techniques. This NYS IPM Program implementation effort, funded by Cornell University and the NYS Dept. of Agriculture & Markets, has proven to be a very effective means to share ICM & Integrated Pest Management (IPM) information and help farmers to better meet today's production challenges.
Small working groups, the TAg teams, are established to encourage an open exchange of information among participants. The original goal was to form teams consisting of 3 farmers, 1 agri-lender, 1 agrichemical person, and a local Extension representative. In 1991, team composition and size was less structured, however, the emphasis remains on establishing teams that would foster learning through constructive group interaction. This past season most teams consisted of 4 farmers, 1 agribusiness (agrichemical, crop management association, crop consultant) person and a local extension representative. Additional non-members are welcome and occaisionally "drop in" to participate in regular TAg meetings. These extra clients would come to be termed "TAg-alongs".
In 1990, 9 teams were formed with 40 participants in 7 counties. By 1997 nearly 720 (`97 TAg report) participants in 34 counties enjoyed and benefited from TAg Team involvement.
The TAg Process
Each member is an active contributor to their TAg Team. The TAg process begins with farmers enrolling 1 alfalfa field and 1 corn field which serve as TAg classrooms. Teams meet during key times of the cropping season and discuss current pest and crop production topics as they relate to the management of these fields. The two enrolled fields are only our classrooms; in fact, the lessons learned in TAg are applied to all acres managed by program participants. As of 1997 this program has improved crop and pest management on over 154,000 acres.
At every meeting the team takes a holistic look at a variety of crop production and crop protection topics (See Table 1). Discussions of crop management include soil fertility, plant populations, crop records, and timely harvest. Pest management topics focus on the major pest problems associated with alfalfa and corn production such as: alfalfa weevil, potato leafhopper, post emergence weed control, and western corn rootworm. TAg agendas are flexible to address topics of local interest and concern, such as water quality protection and management of dairy filth flies. TAg sessions can also seize timely educational opportunities during a given season, such as identifying unique pests or adjusting planting and harvest schedules. During the meetings team members learn to correctly identify the causes of problems encountered and to effectively manage these problems using economically and environmentally sound strategies. Teams also discuss how to minimize or avoid similar problems in the future.
Table 1: Typical TAg calendar
Meetings last approximately 2 hours, but are conducted at times that least interfere with farm operations. Meeting location is rotated among the member farms throughout the season to enable teams to address farm specific questions and to apply their problem solving skills to different field situations.
It is important to note that individual TAg Teams are only formally together for one season. This system enables participating extension field staff to reach a larger audience with new clients in the program over time.
A newsletter is available during the field season to inform readers of current ICM & IPM topics. "TAg Notes" is available to current TAg members and past Tag participants. Future "TAg Notes" will also be available on the World Wide Web.
Pre & Post Testing
The primary product the TAg Team program produces is an informed participant, one able to directly apply a variety of IPM and ICM skills to their farm enterprise or to better seek, identify, and critically evaluate these management aides from their local agri-service providers. To help develop an effective local program and prioritize topics to best assist members, TAg participants are given a pre- and post-test on potential topic material covered by the TAg program agenda. Six years of these evaluations have repeatedly show increases in participant knowedge and enhanced Integrated Pest Management and Integrated Crop Management skills.
At the end of each season a participant survey is conducted to assist with program evaluation and to determine acceptance of the program by the clients. The enthusiastic responses of participants indicate that TAg teams are a most effective means to convey ICM & IPM philosophies and techniques. Below are some of the key responses to the 1996 survey.
- 100% of respondents indicated that TAg Teams helped them to better understand their IPM role.
- 100% indicated that they are now more aware of pest events in a season.
- 96% indicated they would continue routine pest monitoring on their farms.
- 88% indicated that TAg helped them realize the need for better timing and selection of their management practices.
The chief goal of the TAg Team approach is to effectively transfer ICM & IPM philosophy to farmers and other agricultural professionals. The program concentrates on direct "hands on" training of participants to improve their ICM & IPM skills in a timely on-farm classroom format. If you are interested in becoming involved with a TAg Team contact your local Cooperative Extension agent for more details. Your involvement will be greatly rewarded.