Multi-State Bridging the GAPs Program Partners with eXtension Through USDA-NIFA Cooperative Agreement

As part of eXtension’s New Technologies for Agricultural Extension (NTAE) Cooperative Agreement with USDA-NIFA, the eXtension Foundation is partnering with four existing programs aligned with USDA strategic goals across Cooperative Extension in Year 1 to explore new methods and models for program scale and implementation. These initiatives are being documented in a series of eFieldbooks to inform the system of the models, learnings, and outcomes. Professional development opportunities will be created and delivered centered upon these learnings and offered to the entire system beginning in 2020. 

One initiative identified for partnership is an on-farm water treatment education effort led by a multi-state team from North Carolina State University, Virginia Tech, the University of Tennessee, and the University of Florida. This program is titled Bridging the GAPs: Approaches for Treating Water On-Farm. GAPS refers to Good Agricultural Practice(s)

Dr. Chris Gunter, Vegetable Production Specialist for NC State Cooperative Extension, is serving as an eXtension Fellow funded to produce an eFieldbook focused on providing end users (producers) the information needed to determine viable options to meet current water quality standards and methods to ensure compliance. In addition, the eFieldbook will be a model for Cooperative Extension to use as a learning resource. An eFieldbook is a digital, curated, peer-reviewed collection of program resources that provide multimedia communication and interaction between and among experts, individuals, teams, partners, and other content contributors. Professional development opportunities will be delivered to the entire system through eXtension’s new FlexLearn platform to provide information and support for replicating this model across the system. FlexLearn will be available for the entire system in Spring, 2020. 

Through funding by eXtension’s NTAE Cooperative Agreement, Bridging the GAPs will receive direct support from a third-party marketing firm specializing in agriculture that will conduct market research and an audience engagement initiative that establishes baseline measures for reach and utilization of Extension information, measures growth in reach and utilization of Extension resources and information, and determines best practices for using technology to engage target markets. 

Topic areas and programs were identified by a three-member Catalyst team consisting of former  senior Extension leaders that address USDA strategic goals. The Catalyst Team includes:

  • Scott Reed, Former Vice Provost University Outreach & Engagement, and Director of Extension at Oregon State University
  • Fred Schlutt, Former Director of Cooperative Extension at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks
  • Jimmy Henning, Faculty, Plant & Soil Sciences Department, and Former Director, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Kentucky

About the Bridging the GAPS Program

A multi-state, interdisciplinary team of public and private sector experts have partnered together to create a curriculum designed to help producers: 

  • Understand the regulatory requirements for ag water treatment in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)
  • Find the right water treatment system for their farm
  • Developing standard operating procedures that will be effective in treating water on their farm and to monitor its implementation
  • Ensuring that the proper system is implemented correctly and that employees are trained in its use, maintenance and repair.

The team includes members from North Carolina State University, Virginia Tech, the University of Tennessee, and the University of Florida. 

This curriculum, Bridging the GAPS – Approaches for treating water on-farm, is a four-module curriculum designed for a producer audience. This curriculum has been piloted on a limited basis to make initial improvements to improve its effectiveness. This curriculum is ready for a broader implementation.

Being part of the current NTAE  federal grant will bring the additional resources of the NTAE team to work alongside the Bridging the GAPS team to expand its scope and refine its effectiveness to impact the safety of the national food supply, specifically irrigated produce. Dr. Gunter and the action team will develop documentation to create an eFieldbook to support the curriculum and and possibly seek expansion opportunities through assisted market research.

About the eXtension Foundation

The eXtension Foundation is a membership-based non-profit designed to be the engine fueling U.S. Cooperative Extension’s advancement in making a more visible and measurable impact in support of education outreach from land-grant universities/colleges located in every state and territory. eXtension provides an array of opportunities for Extension professionals that foster innovation creation, the adoption of innovations at member institutions, and increased impact of Extension programs.