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.
Recommendation 1.1: Rebuild UMass Extension’s capacity to provide needed agricultural education and technical assistance.
Action 1.1.1: Develop UMass Extension advisory committees of stakeholder representatives to address topical issues, such as livestock, crops, nutrition, energy, pollinators, farm business planning, farm economics, and waste management. These committees would provide guidance on programming and budgets to help ensure that UMass Extension is responsive to the needs of community it serves.
Action 1.1.2: Identify, examine, and pursue a wide spectrum of potential and current revenue sources for UMass Extension that match the current and future needs of the food system in Massachusetts. Ensure that funds raised by UMass Extension from these sources does not result in a reduction in overall support from the University of Massachusetts.
Action 1.1.3: Fully fund the 2014 bond authorization that would support the UMass Center for Urban Sustainability in Waltham. Support the Center’s development as an Extension research and education resource for farmers of all types, as well as for homestead gardening and animal husbandry.
Action 1.1.4: Develop a plan to fully staff a revitalized UMass Extension service with community-based educational specialists, campus-based faculty, training specialists in specific topics, economic development practitioners, and research and laboratory services.
Recommendation 1.2: Focus UMass Extension’s agricultural resources on meeting the most immediate informational and technical assistance needs of farmers and the public.
Action 1.2.1: Provide on-farm technical assistance from UMass Extension agents.
Action 1.2.2: Develop UMass Extension’s capacity to help farmers understand and respond to demands of new or revised regulations in a timely manner.
Action 1.2.3: Provide education on topics that are relevant to Massachusetts farmers, with a focus on learning to use new technologies and management practices, and meeting food safety requirements.
Action 1.2.4: Develop educational materials about science that is relevant to a range of topical farm management and operations practices, such as organic certification, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), alternative fuels, and others. These materials should address impacts on the environment, public health, and the economy. Assist farmers, retailers, and retail food chain workers in using these materials to educate consumers about these topics.
Action 1.2.5: Encourage UMass Extension collaborations with complementary programs in New England, Massachusetts, and subregions of the State.
Action 1.2.6: Solicit public and stakeholder input to assist Extension in developing plans for management of crops and animals that may be necessary to adapt to the effects of climate change.
Action 1.2.7: Offer Extension trainings and technical assistance to urban farmers on relevant topics.
Action 1.2.8: Support Extension research and development for crops including grapes, hops, grain, fruits (cider apples, for example), and other ingredients for distilled beverage products and other high growth food categories.
Action 1.2.9: Develop Extension resources and assistance for home gardening, food seasonality, selection, preparation, and preserving.
Action 1.2.10: Encourage and coordinate collaboration among other State Extension services and UMass Extension to reduce overlap, fill gaps in demand for technical assistance and training for farmers, and improve interstate cooperation.
Recommendation 1.3: Develop and coordinate other educational, research, and technical assistance supports.
Action 1.3.1: Create a network of education and technical service providers that includes government agencies, nonprofits, the UMass system and Extension, the MACC, technical high schools, other private and public educational institutions, regulators, and others, to ensure that the work of these groups is relevant to the needs of the farming sector, and to reduce redundancies and improve communication across sectors.
Action 1.3.2: Facilitate coordination among nonprofit service providers so that education and technical assistance offered is relevant to the contemporary challenges farmers face, and presented in ways that are accessible to a broad range of farmers, including next generation farmers and New American farmers.
Action 1.3.3: Improve programs offered by MDAR and UMass Extension to aid farmers in understanding and addressing the demands of the federal FSMA, other food safety regulations, and third party audit systems, particularly as they relate to farmers’ ability to sell at farmers markets and access other retail and wholesale outlets.
Action 1.3.4: Promote and leverage UDSA-NRCS, and other federal grant and technical assistance programs to meet goals relating to increasing market share and production, and provide technical assistance for grant applications and compliance with program requirements.
Action 1.3.5: Increase funding and support for vocational and agricultural high school farmer training programs, as well as community college hands-on agricultural programs.
Action 1.3.6: Establish and support regional and local crop breeding programs and seed libraries to facilitate geographically strategic genetic preservation and to address impacts of climate change.