Relevance: Livestock and forage production is a 3.96-billion-dollar industry in the Central Region. Livestock and forage enterprises are affected by climate and market variability. Hopkins County currently has more than 100,000 head of beef cattle with 27,000 head of dairy cattle. Due to environmental requirements of federal and state authorities, Hopkins County dairy operators must maintain environmental requirements for operation. This plan will collaborate with diary (Dairy Farmers of America, Southwest Dairy Museum) and beef organizations (NETBIO) to determine and conduct educational efforts needed for the successful operation of livestock farms and ranches. Texas livestock and forage producers and related agribusinesses effectively evaluate and adopt research-based technology applications and best management practices for sustainable and profitable livestock management systems. Livestock producers improve knowledge of production and management systems to improve quality, profitability, and sustainability. This plan had the goal of providing educational experiences to 350 beef producers, 150 private applicators, 60 dairy producers and 60 landowner seeking private applicator accreditation.
Response: During 2020, the world responded to a human viral disease denominated COVID-19. Several response mechanisms were developed to mitigate the disease impact in the human population. The term business essential was coined to determine business operations during the response of the early onset of the disease. The Hopkins County Extension office was determined as business essential by county officials and continued normal operation, supporting cattle sales and financial emergency support to farmers and ranchers. A dairy-producers task force was created statewide by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension to determine emergency response priorities to dairy producers, support to workforce and financial aid to dairy farmers. A series of online meetings were conducted during this period with several outcomes (reported in result section). Texas A&M Agrilife Extension response to the emerging situation during COVID-19 included the participation of County Extension Agents to aid with the securing of funding during the implementation of the CARES Act. A series of trainings in coordination with local municipal officials and city managers were planned and conducted. As pandemic conditions due to COVID-19 evolved, Hopkins County relaxed face to face meeting requirements and three face to face programs were conducted: 1) Homeowners Septic System Training (September, 2020), 2) North East Texas Fall Dairy Conference (October 2020) and Private Applicator CEU session (November 2020).
Results: A series of educational trainings directed to dairy producers was determined to be essential during the COVID -19 response in 2020. Three major components were determined as a priority: A short-term reduction of milk production strategies were developed and promoted due to the challenges in the food distribution chain of liquid milk during the first stage of COVID-19 response strategy. Three mass media press releases were created and distributed during this phase. The strategy included nutritional, management and animal husbandry protocols directed to reduce milk production with minimal animal well-being impact. An online training with 350 participants nation-wide was planned and implement by Texas A&M AgriLife Diary specialists (J. Pineido and J. Spencer) in March 2020 using an online platform (zoom). A second component was the creation of a COVID-19 response campaign to provide education to the Hispanic workforce training directed to communicate the Center of Disease Control (CDC) strategies to prevent COVID-19 adapted to dairy environments. Three factsheets were developed and distributed to dairy producers to re-distribute and post at their facilities. A series of monthly podcasts were developed to provide educational material to the Hispanic workforce (Manejo Lechero). A third component was the dissemination of financial resources available to dairy and beef producers under the CARES Act from federal and state authorities. Weekly meetings with county and city officials during 24 consecutive weeks were conducted with county and city personnel to facilitate the utilization of federal and state funding to mitigate expenses in the cities and county due to COVID-19 during the implementation of CARES Act. The results of the retrospective post evaluations of the Homeowner Septic System, Private Applicators CEU and North East Texas Fall Dairy Conference were as follows:
- 88% (14/16) of respondents were mostly or completely satisfied with the activity (Homeowner Septic System Training).
- 94% (15/16) of respondents were mostly or completely satisfied with the physical setting’s contribution to ease of listening and participation (Homeowner Septic System Training).
- 81% (13/16) of respondents anticipate benefiting economically as a direct result of what they learned from this Extension activity (Homeowner Septic System Training).
- 100% (16/16) of respondents would recommend this activity to others. (Homeowner Septic System Training).
- 100% (60/60) of respondents plan to take actions or make changes based on the information from this Extension activity (Private Applicators CEU training).
- 88% (53/60) of respondents anticipate benefiting economically as a direct result of what they learned from this Extension activity (Private Applicators CEU training).
- 98% (59/100) of respondents would recommend this activity to others (Private Applicators CEU training).
- 98% (59/100) of respondents would attend another subject offered by Extension if it addressed a specific need or interest of theirs (Private Applicators CEU Training).
- 87% (53/100) of respondents said that the information and programs provided by Extension were quite or extremely valuable to them (Private Applicators CEU Training).
- 100% (10/10) of respondents plan to take actions or make changes based on the information from this Extension activity (Northeast Texas Dairy Fall Conference).
Acknowledgements: The Hopkins County Agricultural and Natural Resources Program recognize the support of Master Gardener volunteers, county officials and episodic volunteers during the development of programs, creating training materials and maintaining programmatic activities during 2020.