Five farmers participating in the nutrient management exercise.

Interactive Nutrient Management Exercise gets Creative Juices Flowing in Nebraska and Beyond

Leslie Johnson’s childhood home is only 4 miles as the crow flies from her current office where she works as Animal Manure Management Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension, based at the Haskell Ag Lab.

“I like to joke – I didn’t make it very far in life,” quips Johnson. But for her, she couldn’t be happier. She is close to her family farm and her family while contributing to her husband’s family farm and teaching and helping producers and ag professionals through her work with Nebraska Extension.

“I love one-on-one learning. Sitting down with someone and working through a problem they’re having and then seeing the light switch flip on when they understand is so rewarding,” notes Johnson. “I love to teach using hands-on methods. There’s so much that you can learn from people when they work though exercises on their own and it gives me an opportunity to let my creative juices flow.”

Johnson is a member of the Nebraska Extension Animal Manure Management Team and a key aspect of the team’s work is providing training for CAFO producers and employees, state agency staff, manure applicators and other interested individuals.

“In Nebraska, we have a lot of livestock,” notes Johnson. “The folks we are reaching through training and educational programming are responsible for making the manure management decisions for over 700,000 cattle and over 250,000 pigs.”

While a lot of the attendees are required to attend trainings to ensure proper permitting for their operation and business moving forward, the Animal Manure Management Team is focused on making the training and interactive and engaging as possible.

Farmers and manure applicators seeing at tables with maps.
Training participants working through the Interactive Nutrient Management Decision-Making Exercise

Johnson and colleagues from both Nebraska and Minnesota developed the Interactive Nutrient Management Decision-Making Exercise throughout 2019 and piloted it in early 2020 to do just that. The exercise allows producers and ag professionals to make hypothetical manure land application decisions and discuss the real-time tradeoffs and risk balancing that takes place when making decisions on a field-by-field basis.

“Since we started using the exercise, participant discussion has increased dramatically. Because the exercise requires active participation, very few participants feel comfortable just passively observing the activities and discussion,” says Johnson. “Most notably, participants are surprised when the exercise is completed and how quickly the training has gone. Their engagement in discussion distracts them from watching the clock, which we feel is a complement to the program. Evaluations administered at the end trainings indicate that the favorite part of the program is engagement within groups and the ability to ‘visualize and understand nutrient application’.”

The exercise is being used at manure events across the state and revisions continue to be made based upon participant and facilitator feedback. Michigan State University adapted the curricula for their state in 2022 and Nebraska natural resource districts and water quality specialists worked with team members in 2022 to develop additional nitrogen management exercises to tailor the training to serve other crop producers. 

As for Johnson, she has added more exercises to better utilize the mapping exercise in other parts of the annual manure trainings and envisions future adaptations of the exercise focusing on the principles of soil health. “It has been really rewarding to see the exercise get through to folks – to teach without lecturing. It’s an effective learning tool and that’s what it’s all about in my opinion.”

Leslie Johnson, Nebraska Extension

Leslie standing in front of cows on her farm.

Leslie Johnson is an Animal Manure Management Extension Educator at the University of Nebraska. Her role includes facilitating article development for and manure-related articles in other publications. She manages the online manure course and annual manure trainings across the state of Nebraska, as well as other manure programming in the state. She also serves as the webinar coordinator for the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Community and am actively involved in the leadership team of the Soil Health Nexus.

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