There is a need for more informational and educational services for farmers. For farms to be financially sustainable, farm business operators need the latest information about farming techniques – for vegetable and fruit crops, livestock, and seafood – as well as the topics of post-harvest processing, whole farm management, waste management, energy, land use, nutrition, food safety, soil and water resources, community development and preservation, and municipal, State, and federal regulations. Improved educational assistance is also needed to strengthen the important connections between production agriculture and other food-producing activities, including home gardening, community agriculture, and urban agriculture.
UMass Extension has a long history of outreach to bring research-based, unbiased information derived from research at UMass and other land-grant universities to a broad range of audiences in Massachusetts. Further, the Massachusetts Agricultural Experiment Station at UMass Amherst coordinates funding to advance science in disciplines related to agriculture, food and natural resources. At one time, the UMass Extension program was the primary source of information for farmers in Massachusetts, with agents in every county who visited farms and provided direct assistance. Given its background, UMass Extension is a natural candidate to be the primary provider of the education and technical assistance that is needed by Massachusetts farms to be competitive today.
At the same time, Massachusetts has an extensive set of additional agricultural education and technical assistance providers, which include nonprofits, public and private educational institutions, trade associations, and others, that have developed excellent curricula and tools for specific sectors. Yet there are some duplications and gaps among the resources offered by these providers. Therefore, a facilitated network of education and service provider organizations could help strengthen their collective resources.
Going forward, as the needs of the agricultural community change, Massachusetts’ educational and technical assistance capacity must change and develop along with them. Accomplishing this will require the active engagement of farmers and others who are seeking the services.