Chances are, if one producer is facing a perplexing problem in his operation, another producer has already faced that same problem. So where can producers go to find out what to do? He can hit the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (SARE) Web site. The site can offer producers new ideas for dealing with age-old problems.
Best known for its annual competitive grant program, producers should also be aware the SARE has a tremendous collection of research results and educational materials.
"What the SARE program does is provide competitive grant funding for research and outreach ideas. They have to have an outreach component to their project so they can get the information to the public, rather than having it sit in journals and notes on a shelf somewhere," said Stacie Clary. Clary is the communications specialist with the Western SARE office.
All those previous grants have produced results and those results can be found on their Web site, along with a lot of other information pertaining to agriculture in the West. For example, a quick search for sheep grazing pulls of 2,879 entries, including specifics about grazing sheep in a pumpkin field.
Another quick search of the SARE Web site showed they have 15,461 different articles, videos and research papers dealing with weeds and weed control.
There are articles on low-tillage weed control, organic weed control, and weed control in specific crops.
According to Clary, one of the big differences with SARE projects is that the projects have to look at finding solutions for problems in specific area. Another big differentiating aspect is the fact that all the programs must involve real producers.
"Even if the project uses research professionals from MSU, they still have to partner with producers on their project. We have producers involved in every single project. These projects are on the ground projects, taking real needs into account." One of the projects is designed specifically for real farmers and ranchers.
If they see a problem in their operation and have an idea about what might solve it, and if it meets SARE's definition of sustainable practice, they are encouraged to apply for funding.
This year, producer Jess Alger, a producer near Stanford, Mont., will partner with the NRCS and another area producer to investigate organic methods of controlling perennial range and cropland weeds. He will test vinegar and beneficial insects, looking spe-cifically at weeds common to Montana.
"White top, field bind-weed, Canada thistle and knapweed are all difficult to eradicate, and this project will look at different methods of control," Clary explained. The goal of this project is to look for a combined solution to control the non-native weeds with the least impact to the ecosystem.
Alger is hoping to provide sound alternatives to toxic chemicals while achieving cleaner fields and pastures. Results from the project will be provided at on-farm field days and on four websites.
That is one of the SARE requirements; those receiving grant funds from SARE must share the results of their research with the public. SARE wants others to be able to see the results. It is hoped that, by sharing the data other producers, researchers and graduate students can build on the good for their benefit and avoid the failures.
In addition to Alger's project this year, Nestor Soriano of Montana State University will also use some of the grant money to explore ways to develop and grow the oilseed industry in Montana. Again, like Alger's project, the results of Soriano's efforts could become very beneficial to local producers and communities.
"Despite the large growth in Montana's biodiesel use, there remains only one commercial biodiesel producer in the entire state, accompanied by a few other backyard producers," commented Clary.
The goal of Soriano's project is help develop a community-based oilseed industry that promotes local production and consumption of biodiesel fuel in Montana. This project will work with six local producers in Montana to demonstrate how community-based oilseed industries can thrive. They will model community-based oilseed pressing, for food and fuel. They will also show how biodiesel facilities can be owned by local producers through establishing cooperatives or by using other co-ownership schemes. Their outreach component includes farm and energy tours, demonstration projects, presentations, a website and pamphlets.
Another way the SARE grants will help farmers and ranchers is through studied sheep grazing. Hayes Goosey, of MSU, will work with farmers on ways they can use sheep grazing to prevent high pest insect populations before the growing season even begins. In addition, the team will investigate the influence strategic grazing has on ecosystem services. Through they study they hope to find ways to increase the sustainability of both livestock and crop production.
Additionally, Goosey has plans to use the research in a cooperative program with local k-12 public schools so young students can see the benefits of strategic sheep grazing.
Goosey will also develop a 'livestock in sustainable systems' college course based on the research and offer information through existing Extension services to benefit college students, producers and agriculture professionals.
Perry Miller, also from MSU, will use SARE monies this year to find ways of improving soil health even when rainfall is sparse. While summer fallow is used in dryland cropping systems to store water for subsequent crops, the practice degrades soil quality. Miller and a select group of on-the-ground producers will plant and record the growth of single functional group cover crops with mixtures of up to eight species including four plant functional groups will be compared.
Miller is planning on sharing the results of the study through field days, workshops with presentations by farmers and researchers, documents, radio, streaming video, and grain grower newsletters.
"If results warrant it, there is the potential for adoption of NRCS-sponsored soil conservation incentives," explained Clary, such as a cover crop seed mix that can be distributed. Finally, James E. Knight, with MSU, will explore new ways for producers to fight an old problem: wildlife damage.
"Since most farmers have challenges related to crop damage due to wildlife pests, this project will look at alternative pest control methods," Clary noted. They plan to research effective methods and techniques that can be used by organic farmers as well as traditional farmers.
For the outreach component, ag professionals in Montana and Idaho will be invited to trainings that include on-site demonstration of techniques used on organic farms. There will be one face-to-face workshop in each state and web-based trainings will be offered to all Extension and NRCS personnel in the western states. Videos, podcasts, DVDs, a handbook, and fact sheets will be developed. Outreach will include newspaper articles and Extension services.
SARE has been awarded research grants for over 20 years. They have also been compiling and distributing the results of those research projects for just as long.
"Anyone can go to our site and see what has already been funded and they can read up about it," said Clary. "Our site is also a great resource tool for people who are not looking for funding but just want information." To check out their site and learn about past projects that may help now, or to learn about applying for a competitive grant next year, producers should go to http://westernsare.org If producers have an idea they think SARE would be able to help them pursue, they can also find information on applying for funding at the Web site.