Colorado State University is committed to research and Extension programs that address economic and environmental viability and sustainability issues related to agriculture, natural resources, families and consumers, youth and other community members. This executive summary highlights research and Extension outcomes, the scope of programs and their impact, the range of challenges and response to stakeholders and others, for 2009. It also highlights the collaborative, integrated and interactive efforts between University researchers and Extension campus and field staff.
Two of the seven program areas reported here are solely Extension programs (4-H Youth Development and Strong Families, Healthy Homes) that integrate research, planning and execution from CSU colleges in their development. Five of the seven program areas incorporate integrated Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) research and Extension in planning and execution.
The AES at Colorado State University employs 41 FTEs and Extension employs 170 on campus and throughout the state. Stakeholder input from local and industry advisory councils helps to inform and shape the research and Extension outreach efforts.
In mid-2009, Extension Family and Consumer Science (FCS) specialists and agents participated in a two-day focusing process which resulted in agreement to focus the majority of statewide Extension work related to FCS programming to Food Safety, Nutrition and Family Financial Stability. Based on stakeholder input and economic indicators, this programmatic focusing continued throughout the year in other program areas. In late 2009 we began evaluating the effectiveness of the current structure, which continued into early 2010, with the goal of providing more focus for Extension programming efforts statewide.
4-H Youth Development
With the guidance of an evaluation specialist, the 4-H Youth Development work team developed several survey instruments designed to capture and compile data about the 4-H experience in a consistent manner. The surveys include life skill development, volunteer leadership skills, perception of 4-H alumni, community service and attributes of the livestock projects in relation to life skill development.
4-H Youth Development programs have continued an emphasis on Science, Engineering, Technology and Math (STEM). One example of this increased focus was when 633 youth participated in a National Youth Science Day program, representing every school in the Grand County, including the high school levels and private schools. This program helped to open the door with many of the school teachers, administrators and students to showcase what CSU Extension and 4-H can offer to school enrichment programs. More than 90% of participants reported increased knowledge and gained an understanding of science concepts and science in everyday life. Recruitment in fall, 2009 for a STEM specialist resulted in the hiring in January, 2010. Additionally, recruitment for three regional STEM coordinator positions is planned for 2010.
Strong Families, Healthy Homes
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, behind smoking, in the US. According to EPA radon level maps, parts of Colorado may have some of the highest levels in the country. To educate the public and promote testing, CSU Extension delivered 43 air quality trainings and distributed 1977 radon kits. 91% of participants surveyed reported knowledge gained in potential radon problems in the home; radon testing; radon mitigation; and/or indoor air quality issues and solutions. 89% of participants surveyed reported they intended to test for radon and mitigate if/where necessary. 76% (1005/1324) of participants surveyed reported they tested their homes for radon and implemented mitigation if/where needed.
Nutrition and Food Safety
The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is designed to protect the national livestock and poultry health and maintain market access. An AES study aims to develop science-rooted strategies and technologies to reduce food borne illness and improve the effectiveness of policies related to food safety and trade and evaluate the cost/benefit of traceability and assess its value in market-based programs. Researchers have concluded that if not adopted, the U.S. will lose market access, and the beef industry will suffer losses of $18.25 per head and lose 25% of export market share. A 23% increase in beef export demand would completely pay for 70% adoption of full animal ID and tracing in the U.S. beef herd over a 10-20-year period.
AES recommendations are that NAIS (1) be a mandatory program; (2) operate with a single national database to avoid creating unnecessary and confusing database differences; (3) standardize radio frequency identification technology and establish specific requirements for tag manufacturers to meet in order to be eligible to sell official animal identification tags; (4) be implemented as a phase-in program; and, (5) be harmonized with the identification programs of trading partners to extend their potential value across borders.
Animal Production Systems
Anaerobic digestion is a promising technology for conversion of animal waste to methane biogas which can be utilized as a renewable source of energy. Waste generated by typical dairy operations in Colorado has very high solids content and is not suitable for classic anaerobic digestion technologies. The CSU AES is engaged in research with the objective to develop a two-stage anaerobic digestion process capable of generating methane from dairy and feedlot wastes.
In-depth feasibility studies for installation of anaerobic digesters were conducted at three dairies in Colorado. Where cattle are kept in barns with concrete floors which are scraped with machinery or flushed with water, installation of anaerobic digestion technology is technically feasible. A web based decision tool has been developed which provides the user with a very simple preliminary feasibility assessment for installation of anaerobic digestion technology based on management practices.
Tools are being provided to producers so that installations are successful and failures do not occur due to a site being a poor fit for anaerobic digestion. Increased installation of anaerobic digesters in Colorado will result in a new source of renewable energy, improved waste management, improved water and air quality, and decreased emission of greenhouse gases.
Plant Production Systems
CSU-bred wheat cultivars account for over 61% (or 72% of the accounted-for acreage) of Colorado's 2.4 million acres (2009 crop). Since program inception, average wheat grain yields in Colorado have more than doubled with at least 50% of this increase attributed to improved cultivars. Estimates of economic returns from two of the most widely grown releases (Hatcher and Ripper) are approximately $24 million (considering both yield and quality improvements) for the 2009 crop alone. Estimates from Colorado wheat industry leaders on CSU-developed quality improvements suggest that end-use quality enhancements from cultivars developed at CSU provide an average of $17.5 million per year increased income for Colorado wheat producers (70 million bushels average x $0.25 per bushel price increase; 2009 dollars). Development of improved wheat cultivars serves the wheat industry in Colorado by reducing wheat production costs, reducing pesticide use, and providing improved marketing options. During the past five years, Colorado wheat farmers have planted an average of 20% of their fields to newly released and improved wheat varieties. This is a faster adoption rate of improved wheat varieties than for growers from comparable states.
Natural Resources and Environment
Small acreage landowners have a significant impact on the conditions of soil, water, plants, animals, and other natural and man-made resources through their cumulative effects. Management of weeds, insect pests and plant diseases is one of the most costly inputs that clientele in agriculture, the green industry and consuming households must finance every year in Colorado. Invasive, non-native weeds are a concern in many communities and threaten native ecosystems. Fire mitigation and management of forest resources in response to mountain pine bark beetle infestation has increased many of these concerns.
Increasing urbanization and the resulting rural/urban interface presents challenges for landowners who are new to 'small acreage management." A Small Acreage Management website, with 13 areas of interest, provides information not previously available. The lack of reliable and comprehensive information sources prompted a collaborative effort between Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and CSU Extension to develop web-based multimedia educational tools to educate a greater number of small acreage landowners in the any-time/any-place modality that the Internet offers. In addition, a quarterly Sustainable Small Acreages e-newsletter reaches 1140 landowners in Colorado, 77 Conservation districts and NRCS field offices.
Sustainable Colorado farms and ranches are founded on principles of environmental health, economic profitability, and enhancing local communities. Farms must be profitable enough to provide an adequate return on the management, labor, and investment inputs as well as to provide investment capital for adapting to changing trends in markets and societal values. Sustainable agricultural business practices must also include enhancing the productivity of soils and the surrounding natural and social environment, as well as increasing biodiversity on the farm. The Building Farmers Program, which includes eight night classes and mentorship opportunities for participants, expanded to five counties. In addition to immediate benefit to participants (99% reported they had increased their knowledge), this program was used as a model to secure a Building Farmer and Rancher Development grant from USDA to CSU for a multi-state implementation. Farmer interest in both the dry land and limited irrigation research continues to be strong as demonstrated by their demand for cropping systems information and by practice adoption rates. The overall objective of this multidisciplinary research and outreach project is to advance understanding of biophysical processes in water-limited agro ecosystems and develop management practices that promote long term sustainability.
In 2009 AES research evaluated the biomass production potential of dry land systems for bioenergy. We are investigating the quantities of crop biomass needed for maintaining water storage and soil carbon levels to determine if biomass removal for feed stocks can be sustained. A major challenge is the annual variability in biomass production. In 2009 a crop simulation model was calibrated and validated to evaluate water use of limited irrigation cropping systems. This conversion increased net return by $22,275,000 per year under normal precipitation conditions. Overall summer crop acreage has increased by about 500,000 acres in Colorado since 1986. Assuming that summer crops are grown in a 3 year rotation, there are about 1,500,000 acres under more intensive cropping systems compared to 75,000 in 1986.
Community development is intrinsic in Extension work. As this Core Competency Area changed leadership and direction, new indicators are being determined. Internal training for Extension personnel was held on the topics of community mobilization, facilitation and economic development. As a result, 60 community capacity-building meetings were held, in addition to over 60 trainings, consultations, workshops, etc. Sixty-six percent of participants evaluated reported increasing their knowledge related to one of the following: individuals' roles in community capacity building; built environment community capital development; natural environment capacity building as related to community vibrancy; building community political capacity; and understanding the role of cultural capacity in community development.
A knowledge gap exists for people interested in renewable energy and energy efficiency which has been proven to slow the implementation of energy efficient measures and installation of renewable energy projects. The Clean Energy Strategic Initiative Team (CESIT) was convened in fall, 2008. In their 18 months of existence, they have documented the need for their work and have engaged team members within Extension, across campus, and from other state agencies and organizations. Extension is partnering with Energy Outreach Colorado and the Governor's Energy Office to hire regional clean energy coordinators and compile evaluation components.