Farmer standing in corn field

Introducing Tap Your Potential, A Curriculum to Help Build Farmer Leadership in Watershed Management

Human Capital Blog Series

By Jenny Seifert

Anyone who works in watershed management in the Mississippi River Basin knows that farmers are an important part of the solution for reducing nutrient loss and improving water quality. But something many watershed professionals are grappling with is how to get more farmers involved – not just getting them to implement conservation practices on their operations but also empowering them to help their peer farmers to do the same.

A new curriculum, developed by a team of Extension professionals from universities in the Mississippi River Basin, is now available to help watershed professionals build farmer leadership in watershed management.

Tap Your Potential: A Training to Grow Farmer Leadership in Watershed Management takes farmers on a journey to unleash their own leadership potential. It is designed for use by watershed coordinators, outreach professionals, and educators from nonprofits, Extension, and government agencies who are seeking to recruit the involvement of farmers in watershed efforts, whether they want to jumpstart a new effort or reinvigorate an existing project.

With a “plug and play” format, the curriculum is customizable to accommodate the unique circumstances of its users and target audiences. The content is divided into three modules and consists of a mixture of instruction about watershed management and farmers’ roles in it and discussions and activities that can help trainees apply what they’re learning.

The curriculum creates a space for farmers to explore what it means to them to be a leader among their peers and to discover pathways to exercise their leadership – whether it’s embracing the “lead by example” philosophy, hosting a field day, acting as a peer mentor, serving on an advisory group, or even taking on a more formal leadership role.

The science that inspired this curriculum is the growing evidence showing the power of social norms and peer learning on influencing farmers’ decisions and behavior. Simply put, farmers often prefer to learn from each other, and what the neighboring farmer does and says matters.

By encouraging and enabling more peer-to-peer learning among farmers, the curriculum could be a helpful tool to cultivate a culture of conservation in agricultural watersheds across the Mississippi River Basin.

While farmers are the training’s primary target audience, it is also appropriate for farm advisors, who also play an important role in influencing farmers’ decisions to adopt conservation practices.

Included with the curriculum is a Facilitator’s Guide, which includes tips for both in-person and virtual delivery, and other materials that help organizers prepare for the training. No formal experience or training in leadership theory is necessary to conduct the training.

The curriculum development team included Extension professionals from University of Arkansas, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Iowa State University, Ohio State University, and University of Kentucky. Funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency enabled its creation.

Watch this video about how to incorporate Tap Your Potential into your programming

This recording of a live Lunch & Learn covers how you can incorporate Tap Your Potential into your programming to engage farmers and farm advisors in watershed efforts. You’ll hear from the curriculum’s creators and from their collaborators from Beaver Watershed Alliance and American Farmland Trust who helped pilot the training with farmers and farm advisors in Arkansas and Ohio, respectively.


The Human Capital series features insights and stories to help tap the true human potential for achieving clean water in the Midwest.

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