wet field

Introducing Climate Ready Midwest: Empowering Extension Professionals in Climate-Smart Agriculture

Hello! And welcome to the Climate Ready Midwest project blog. We are a multi-state partnership working with the USDA’s Midwest Climate Hub to increase the impact of climate-smart agriculture here in the Midwest. You can learn more about our project and team here

What is the purpose of this project?

Our stated goals are to: 

  • help define what climate-smart agriculture means to the midwestern Extension agricultural community, and 
  • to empower Extension professionals to lead climate-informed agricultural programming across the Midwest. 

These are lofty goals, so let’s dig in a little.

When we first started this project in fall 2022, we realized that “climate-smart agriculture” isn’t a term that people have a lot of mutual understanding around. Our project team assumed there would be agreement, especially considering some clear definitions from federal agencies (like the USDA). Once we examined that with each other, and especially with other Extension personnel, conflicts arose across our different understandings. We quickly realized that to do “climate-smart” work, it would be necessary to utilize a broad, working definition based on our audience’s understanding. This has become the first tenet of our project. 

Various members of our project team have been working on climate-smart agricultural products  and information for Extension educators for more than a decade (e.g., Sustainable Corn Cap, Useful to Usable, and North Central Climate Collaborative). Many of our project team members are leaders in utilizing these tools in their Extension work as climate-smart agriculture professionals. We originally went into this project assuming to find similar success stories across the region. However, when we started conversing with other Extension personnel, and even while probing into our own team member’s experiences, it became clear our proposal was rooted in some big assumptions.

Team members were quick to acknowledge large barriers to their own work, and we heard from a broader group of personnel about additional barriers; in few cases did we see personnel engaging with climate change in their agriculture work in the way we had originally anticipated. We sought to understand this better, and transitioned to asking questions like, “What are the barriers to Extension personnel in doing climate-smart programming? What should be Extension’s role in promoting climate-smart agricultural practices?”

How are we going to do that?

Purdue Extension educators talking with a poster in a field
Purdue Extension educators discussing the resilience of hemp crops at a field day.

The whole project is laid upon the groundwork of a Theory of Change (ToC), essentially a concept map of the current situation, where we want to go, and what we need to do to get there. UW-Madison Division of Extension is leading this work with personnel at Extension institutions across the region to develop a shared understanding of these ideas.

We seek to develop various scales of ToC to represent crucial contextual elements (for example, the differences surrounding programming for row cropping at a 1962 land grant university vs specialty crop programming at a 1994 land grant institution.) This approach will require different representations to give justice to the different contexts. At the same time, we hope to find lessons learned that can be lifted to a level that remains true across the region and for all land grant institutions. We will have more information about the ToC process and results in following blog posts!

Beyond the ToC, the project aims to formalize Extension’s relationship with the Midwest Climate Hub. The Hub provides information to producers to cope with climate change by linking research, education and extension partnerships across the following states: Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana and Illinois.

The project also seeks to further climate curricula and training for Extension personnel across the region, and consequently, Extension’s farmer audiences. This includes expanding Michigan State’ Climate Ready Farm Assessments, a climate-preparedness assessment tool for farmers, and creating training curriculum for Extension personnel in the topics of carbon management and sequestration, net-zero emissions agriculture, and engaging youth in climate-informed agriculture programming.

What is coming up next?

Each blog post will contain this section as a way to share what is coming up next for the project team. In the next quarter, we will:

  • Analyze data from initial ToC workshops with personnel at 1862 institutions
  • Start planning for winter ‘23-’24 ToC workshops with 1890 institutions
  • Continue working with all Extension institutions in preparation for the Climate, Water, Equity and Opportunity Workshop happening in conjunction with FALCON 2023
  • Piloting Climate Ready Farm Assessments for fruit, swine, livestock, specialty, and row cropping systems
  • Drafting a “train-the-trainer” curriculum for the carbon management and sequestration training for Extension educators

How can I stay updated?

We will post regular blog posts on this website to share progress and project deliverables, just like this post. Sign up to be notified about future blog posts here! 

If you are interested in learning more or collaborating on any of this work, please reach out to Alli Parrish, project manager, at alparrish@wisc.edu or Aaron Wilson, project director, at wilson.1010@osu.edu