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Competencies and training needs in water resource conservation for southeastern extension agents
Proceedings of the 2020 Mississippi Water Resources Conference
Year: 2020 Authors: McCrary A., Baker B., Burger L., Downey L.
Awareness and knowledge of conservation practices and programs play a major role in conservation practice adoption. The Extension Service is one of many agencies charged with increasing awareness and knowledge of research-based conservation practices, such as those designed to reduce water pollution and impairment. A regional survey of Cooperative Extension Service agents with agriculture and natural resource (ANR) responsibilities was conducted to assess the need for in-service training on water resource conservation topics. The survey was developed based on the Borich model of needs assessment. Landowner's expressed need, agent's perceived importance rating, and agent's perceived ability rating of eleven water resource conservation topics were collected from ANR Extension agents (N = 244) in seven southeastern states. Additional demographic data, including education and experience levels, were collected for comparison of competency ratings between groups. Overall, agents rated the perceived importance of all conservation topics greater than their perceived ability to educate landowners on the same topics, which indicates further need for professional development. Agents rated their perceived abilities highest for explaining fertilizer application and nutrient management, and lowest for pathogen pollution in waterways, soil loss from agricultural fields, and water quality in streams or ponds. Borich mean weighted discrepancy scores, calculated from the average difference between importance and ability ratings, were used to prioritize training needs of all topics for application in professional development initiatives. The highest priority training needs were for topics related to complex interactions and drivers of nonpoint source pollution, such as pathogen pollution in waterways and soil loss from agricultural fields.