October 2006 // Volume 44 // Number 5 // Feature Articles // 5FEA4

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Integrated Farming Systems and Pollution Prevention Initiatives Stimulate Co-Learning Extension Strategies

Increasing environmental regulatory pressure on agriculture is stimulating increased attention to integrated farming systems and more participatory forms of Extension. Agro-environmental partnerships, which have become the primary strategy for agricultural pollution prevention strategies in California, demonstrate the potential of alternative pest management strategies. We argue that the organizational structure of these partnerships, which facilitates co-learning strategies and greater participation, has been key to their success. The shift from a "transfer of technology" model to participatory co-learning and decision-making making support could improve Extension's service delivery and serve as an important strategy for Extension to engage a broader client constituency.

Christy Getz
Assistant Cooperative Extension Specialist
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, California

Keith Douglass Warner
Environmental Studies Institute
Santa Clara University
Santa Clara, California


The 1996 Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) brought the most dramatic changes to pesticide regulation since the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), including the cancellation or partial ban of several economically important organophosphate (OP) insecticides (Van Steenwyk & Zalom, 2005). Numerous alternative pest management strategies have been advanced by researchers, some new and some pre-dating the invention of OPs. Pheromone mating disruption, novel and narrow-spectrum insecticides, and biological control (in its various forms) have been demonstrated for many crops (Grafton-Cardwell, Godfrey, Chaney, & Bentley, 2005; Mills & Daane, 2005; Welter et al., 2005).

In theory, the elimination of OP pesticides should not economically disrupt agriculture (Metcalfe et al., 2002), but these alternatives challenge conventional transfer-of-technology Extension pedagogies. Whereas OP insecticides are remarkably simple to use, alternative pest management strategies are more complicated and rely more heavily on expert, ecologically based knowledge. Inserting system-oriented, ecologically based practices into conventional transfer-of-technology Extension programs has a poor record of user adoption (Röling & Wagemakers, 1998).

In this article, we situate these alternative pest management strategies within the context of the extension of integrated farming systems while specifically analyzing Extension activities of agro-environmental partnerships in California. We argue that their organizational structure, which facilitates greater participation, has been key to their success. The shift from a "transfer of technology" model to one that includes more co-learning, facilitation, and emphasis on decision-making making can help all Extension stakeholders and improve Extension's service delivery.

This article draws from a major study of California's agro-environmental partnerships, based on 3 years of field work interviewing over 230 growers, consultants, Extensionists, scientists, regulators, and grower organization staff (Warner 2004), to highlight implications for University of California (UC) Extension practices as California agriculture moves "beyond organophosphates" (Van Steenwyk & Zalom, 2005).

Agricultural Pollution and Agro-Environmental Partnerships

Agriculture is the greatest source of non-point water pollution in the U.S. (U.S. Geological Survey, 1999), and it is under significant political pressure to address this problem, especially in highly urbanized states like California. In response, Extensionists are paying increased attention to helping growers reduce the environmental impacts of agricultural production.

In 1993, the National Research Council's Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture recommended that integrated farming system plans should become the basis of federal, state, and local soil and water quality programs. It argued that in "systems-level approaches to analyzing agricultural production systems . . . inherent links exist among soil quality conservation, improvements in input use efficiency, increases in resistance to erosion and runoff, and the wider use of buffer zones (107)." Alternative soil, water, and farmscape management strategies have the potential to reduce the need for and environmental impact of insecticides, but an integrated systems approach places greater demands on Extension practice and grower learning.

California uses about 25% of the nation's pesticides (Aspelin & Grube, 1999; California Department of Pesticide Regulation, 1999), so the FQPA posed a particularly serious threat to agricultural production here. In the immediate aftermath of its passage, federal, state, and private foundation dollars funded agro-environmental partnerships in California, defined as: a multi-year collaboration between scientists, growers, and a growers' organization to research and implement innovative, field-scale, agroecologically informed practices. These funding agencies created semi-privatized Extension projects to develop and extend alternative, integrated farming system practices.

Grower organizations (whether local, informal networks of growers, or statewide commodity boards) have had an active interest in Extension practice for decades, but the threat of OP loss stimulated many of them to become more active partners with Cooperative Extension to develop and promote alternatives to conventional pesticides. Over the past 15 years, 32 partnerships have emerged to develop alternative practices in 16 California commodities, engaging over 500 growers and 92 University of California scientists, Extension specialists, and farm advisors (Warner, 2006a).

Agro-environmental partnerships do not seek to eliminate agrochemical use, but rather to rationalize it according to ecological principles and help growers gain confidence in OP alternatives. Participating growers avoid ecologically disruptive pesticides to prevent pollution by using pheromone-based mating disruption; novel, narrow-spectrum insecticides; and biological control strategies to the extent economically possible. Farm advisors deploy some traditional Extension practices, such as field days and newsletters, but place additional emphasis on co-learning models, fostering social networks of innovation to do research on and exchange information about ecologically based alternative pest management strategies. Farm advisors educate growers about the rapidly developing regulatory requirements associated with pesticides and facilitate field-derived knowledge exchange about agroecological pest management techniques among growers and consultants (Table 1).

More important than individual alternative pest management techniques is the emphasis partnerships place on alternative decision-making rules. Partnerships engage growers and consultants in learning more about the ecological relationships in farming systems, how to integrate the components of their farming system (e.g., how irrigation management can influence pest pressure), and how to make decisions according to environmental as well as economic criteria. This strategy requires greater participation by growers and their consultants in the educational activities of Extension than is common with the transfer-of-technology model (Warner, 2006b).

Table 1.
Selected Agroecological Monitoring and Pest Management Techniques Extended by Agro-Environmental Partnerships, by Crops with Similar Production Practices


Pest Monitoring Techniques

Techniques to Reduce & Replace Pesticides

Biocontrol & Cultural Techniques

Walnuts & Pome Fruit

Pheromone-based pest (codling moth) traps; agroecological monitoring protocols; assess beneficial insects

Pheromone mating disruption; foster biocontrol by eliminating OPs from orchard; precise timing of pesticide applications; reduced rates of application

Orchard sanitation; beneficial insect releases; bird/bat boxes;

Grapes (wine, table & raisin)

Agroecological monitoring protocols; assess beneficial insects; insect ID sheets; computer monitoring data software

Decision rules and treatment thresholds; softer pesticides; precise timing of pesticide applications; reduced rates of application

Leaf pulling; beneficial insect releases; cover crops to moderate vigor

Almonds & Stone Fruit

Agroecological monitoring protocols; pheromone-based traps; assess beneficial insects; insect ID sheets; computer monitoring data software;

Develop specific economic thresholds; pesticide use decision rules; softer pesticides (Bt, pheromones, ant baits); precise timing of pesticide applications; reduced rates of application

Early harvest; orchard sanitation; beneficial insect releases; cover crops


Agroecological monitoring protocols; assess beneficial insects

Ecologically selective pesticides

Beneficial insect releases; irrigation management

Annual Crops

Agroecological monitoring protocols; assess beneficial insects

Avoiding early season pesticide application; softer pesticides

Insectary crops; releasing beneficials; optimizing plant nutrition; resistant varietals; trap crops


Leaders of these partnerships perceive that by participating in field-based research, growers and their consultants will receive more decision support and experience greater success with new technologies (e.g., pheromone-based codling moth mating disruption) and ecologically based pest management strategies (biological control).

Origins and Structure of Agro-Environmental Partnerships

The first efforts to develop partnership-based Extension practices took place in pears (the Randall Island Project), almonds (the Biologically Integrated Orchard System, or BIOS partnership), and winegrapes (the Lodi Woodbridge Winegrape Commission) (Calkins & Faust, 2003; Hendricks, 1995; Klonsky et al., 2004). When these early experimentations in agro-environmental partnerships indicated their potential for pollution prevention, the USEPA, the California Legislature, and the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) created programs and dedicated funding to expand the number of partnerships (Mitchell, 2001; Swezey & Broome, 2000).

The California legislature created the Biologically Integrated Farming System (BIFS) program, based at the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. DPR created the Pest Management Alliance (PMA). These are the best-known agro-environmental partnerships, with 10 and 8 funded respectively for more than one year. These programs provided different programmatic incentives for alternative Extension practices.

In general, BIFS funded local networks of UC farm advisors and growers (with their pest consultants) to conduct integrated farming system research on a field scale; the PMA program relies heavily on commodity organizations to engage growers. BIFS constitutes local, place-based communities of growers who learn about farming systems together, led by an Extensionist who can draw in contributions from outside providers of scientific knowledge (Mitchell, 2001).

This approach facilitates growers exercising leadership and the development of innovative practices to take advantage of managing the interaction between components of farming systems. It seeks to foster change by facilitating a local network of innovative growers that will develop and demonstrate a suite of integrated farming system practices.

Table 2.
Programmatic Incentives for Extension Practice by BIFS and PMA Partnerships




UC Farm Advisors

Farm advisors created local networks of on-farm experimentation and innovation; received technical support from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program

Commodity board worked with Farm Advisors to coordinate their efforts and progress toward pesticide reduction goals

UC AES Scientists

Used as consultants and resources for local networks of experimentation and innovation

Commodity boards draw from their research, and seek to accelerate the diffusion of its practical implications


Created opportunities for growers to share their field-based experimentation; co-learning from Farm Advisors and other growers

Assumes growers' leadership is through commodity board

Growers' Consultants

Most management teams included roles for them

Often targeted for outreach

Grower Organizations

Auxiliary role

Greatest programmatic emphasis on building commodity board capacity for promoting alternative practices

Scale of Extension Activities

Local; working intensively with local growers and consultants to develop innovative farming practices

Statewide; sharing research findings with all growers

Extension Goals

Helping growers integrate their farming systems to achieve multi-media pollution prevention

Pesticide pollution prevention and avoiding regulatory conflict


PMA partnerships have strengthened the ties between commodity board leaders and Extensionists to promote eco-rational pesticide use. PMA partnerships have only been effective among perennial crop commodity organizations. This strategy has effectively stimulated interest on the part of these organizations in environmental regulatory issues and they have recruited prominent growers to demonstrate alternative practices. In commodities where less hazardous pest management techniques already exist, PMA grants accelerate the extension of knowledge more broadly. This overall strategy does not appear to be able to capture benefits from local grower leadership in mentoring other growers, nor to assist growers in the integration of their farming systems.

In addition, the Pew Charitable Trust funded partnerships in California and elsewhere, and later established the Center for Agricultural Partnerships that funded projects in California and many other states (Warner, 2006a). Yet growers or growers' organizations (informal associations or non-profit organizations) initiated 12 partnerships, independent of these major funding programs, indicating the degree of grower interest in alternative practices.

Strategies and Impacts

The most successful agro-environmental partnerships have differed qualitatively from conventional Extension practice by: 1) incorporating greater participation of the full range of people shaping farm management decisions and 2) focusing less on transfer of technology and more on learning about the integration of farming system components. Extension strategies to prevent pollution require a different approach to pest management as well as an alternative pedagogy.

Three quarters of all partnerships have been in perennial crops, and only perennial crops have been targeted by multiple partnerships. Several factors favor partnership development in permanent crops: a farming system more amenable to agroecological strategies, greater reliance on OPs, a history of social relations within these commodities favoring collaboration, and the economic advantage of perennial crops relative to other commodities (Warner, 2006b). Through informal local networks and statewide organizations, growers have actively shaped agro-environmental partnerships to help them develop and exchange pollution prevention practices. These partnerships have been most active--and had greatest impact--on three crops with highly organized growers.

The California almond industry has documented the greatest volume reduction of OP use, from almost 500,000 pounds in 1992 to just over 100,000 pounds in 2000. Much of this reduction is attributed to growers switching to pyrethroids pesticides (less hazardous to mammals and somewhat less disruptive of beneficial insects, but acutely toxic to aquatic organisms); however, partnership activities have also played an important role (Elliott, Wilhoit, Brattesani, & Gorder, 2004; Warner, 2006a).

Pear growers reduced OP use faster than any other commodity in the history of California agriculture by substituting pheromone mating disruption products, from over 110,000 pounds in 1998 to 25,000 pounds in 2002 (Pesticide Use Reports, various years, cited in Warner 2006a). When codling moth resistance to OPs began to appear in the Sacramento region in the early 1990s, it gave a strong impetus to develop the ecological knowledge necessary to make this new pest management strategy effective. Partnerships fostered networks of expert scientific knowledge critical to the successful use of pheromones necessary to support this OP reduction. These networks also allowed participating growers to take advantage of biocontrol opportunities in less disrupted farming systems (Welter et al. 2005).

Winegrape partnerships have been very active in some regions of California, especially those of premium winegrape production, and these have shown declines in FQPA priority pesticides (Campos & Zhang, 2004). A statewide winegrape organization has developed partnerships to further help extend these practices (Dlott, 2004).

Furthermore, partnerships have facilitated the development of farm management plans that are helping growers both recognize the value of monitoring data and incorporate it into decision making (Warner, 2006b). Eleven partnerships have developed manuals to help growers assess their farming systems and optimize the relationships between farming components. Examples of manuals with decision rules that emerge from partnership activities include The Integrated Prune Farming Practices Decision Guide (Olson et al., 2003), The Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices Self-Assessment Workbook (California Association of Winegrape Growers & The Wine Institute, 2003), and A Seasonal Guide to Environmentally Responsible Pest Management in Almonds (Pickel, Bentley, Connell, Duncan, & Viveros, 2004).

Even though these partnerships have been among the most active and highly publicized Extension initiatives in the state, it is not possible to claim that they alone caused these declines in pesticide use. Nevertheless, they have played critical roles in demonstrating the value of more participatory Extension practice as well as integrated farming systems for pollution prevention.

Implications for Practice: New roles to Address the Crisis in Extension?

While co-learning strategies provide additional resources for Extensionists, they require them to share the agenda for Extension activities with other participants eager to agricultural prevent pollution. By shifting Extensionists' roles from industry wide-leadership to facilitating grower learning and providing technical support, partnerships have enabled Extensionists to reach more growers more efficiently and help them negotiate new environmental regulatory pressures.

As Extension budgets continue to decline, agro-environmental partnerships present Extensionists with a trade-off. Partnerships require Extensionists to assume a diminished leadership role, but provide them with new strategies and resources for expanding their professional impact. In fact, research into European Extension practice suggests that facilitation and technical support may be the most effective strategies for extending agroecological strategies (Röling & Wagemakers, 1998).

PMA Partnerships have allowed Extensionists to reach all the growers in the state through the commodity board, to increase their contact hours without having to organize additional events, and to receive positive coverage in local media (because commodity boards received funding and assumed responsibility for these activities). Grower participants in winegrape partnerships persuade their reluctant neighbor growers to attend field days, and they do so because in counties with significant opposition to agriculture, they recognize that growers must work together to improve their public image.

In spite of these demonstrated successes and results, many farm advisors report ambivalent views toward partnerships (Pence & Grieshop, 2001; Warner, 2006a). While they appreciate the extra resources partnership funding provides, they are wary of any further intrusion into their Extension education priorities when the professional incentive structures within Cooperative Extension do not explicitly reward such activities. Extensionists are already being called upon to do increasingly more with fewer staff and shrinking budgets, and partnerships require them to develop co-learning facilitation skills as an alternative to conventional transfer of technology pedagogies.

Extension services nationwide are in crisis (McDowell, 2004). On the surface these are the result of state budget shortfalls, but a more complete analysis reveals that the taxpaying public does not recognize the value Extension offers society. George McDowell (2001) argues that for Extension services to survive, they must be able to deliver a product that no other institution can and then cultivate more political support from their client base.

Technology transfer to private parties only cannot engender sufficient political support, but conservation of environmental resources, because they represent action on behalf of the common good, might. The goals and activities of agro-environmental partnerships clearly benefit society as a whole and, as such, could be the basis for engaging a broader base of clientele. Especially in highly urbanized states like California and other coastal states, environmental resource protection initiatives by Extension could result in greater programmatic support.


Agricultural pollution challenges both agriculture and Extension practices. Viable alternative pest management practices, using integrated farming systems approaches, will not be realized without greater participation in Extension activities and the development of appropriate decision-making support for growers. Thirty-two agro-environmental partnerships in California over the past 15 years have conducted farming systems research and Extension to prevent agricultural pollution. These partnerships explicitly help growers develop ecologically based understanding of their farming systems and optimize the relationships between components.

Through agro-environmental partnerships, farm advisors have demonstrated alternative Extension practices, such as co-learning, collaborative decision-making, and facilitation of farming system integration, yet the transfer-of-technology model continues to be the dominant operative Extension paradigm. The dearth of incentives within the professional reward structure of Extension services for co-learning strategies has meant that Extensionists participate without receiving adequate recognition for this form of service. Creating appropriate professional incentives for participating in partnerships will be critical to capturing the full potential of this emerging model of Extension. Such partnerships are an Extension strategy that deserves continued and increased programmatic and financial support within Cooperative Extension.


The second author acknowledges with gratitude support from the National Science Foundation (award BCS-0302393), the Biologically Integrated Farming Systems Work Group, the UC Santa Cruz Department of Environmental Studies, and the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.


Aspelin, A. L., & Grube, A. H. (1999). Pesticides industry sales and usage: 1996 and 1997 market estimates. Washington DC: USEPA, Document #733-R-99-001. Retrieved September 22, 2002 from http://www.epa.gov/oppbead1/pestsales/

California Association of Winegrape Growers, & The Wine Institute. (2003). Code of sustainable winegrowing practices self-assessment workbook. San Francisco: CAWG & TWI.

California Department of Pesticide Regulation. (1999). Summary of pesticide use report data, 1997. Sacramento: CDPR. Retrieved September 22, 2002 from http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/pur/pur97rep/97_pur.htm

Calkins, C. O., & Faust, R. J. (2003). Overview of area wide programs and the program for suppression of codling moth in the western USA directed by the USDA-ARS. Pest Management Science, 59(6-7), 601-604.

Campos, J., & Zhang, M. (2004). Progress toward reduced-risk pest management. Practical Winery & Vineyard, March/April, 1-6.

Dlott, J. (2004). California wine community sustainability report: Executive summary. California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. Retrieved May 28, 2005 from http://www.sustainablewinegrowing.org/pdfs/04_ExecSummDoc_vFinal.pdf

Elliott, B., Wilhoit, L., Brattesani, M., & Gorder, N. (2004). Pest management assessment for almonds reduced-risk alternatives to dormant organophosphate insecticides. Sacramento: CDPR. Retrieved November 20, 2003 from http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/pmap/pubs/pm0401asmnt.pdf

Grafton-Cardwell, E., Godfrey, L., Chaney, W., & Bentley, W. J. (2005). Various novel insecticides are less toxic to humans, more specific to key pests. California Agriculture, 59(1), 29-34.

Hendricks, L. (1995). Almond growers reduce pesticides in Merced county field trials. California Agriculture, 49(1), 5-10.

Klonsky, K., Brodt, S., Tourte, L., Duncan, R., Hendricks, L., Ohmart, C., et al. (2004). Influence of farm management style on adoption of biologically integrated farming practices in California. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 19(4), 237-247.

McDowell, G. R. (2001). Land-grant universities and Extension into the 21st century: Re-negotiating or abandoning a social contract. Ames: Iowa State University Press.

McDowell, G. R. (2004). Is Extension an idea whose time and come--and gone? Journal of Extension [On-line], 42(6). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2004december/comm1.shtml

Metcalfe, M., McWilliams, B., Hueth, B., Van Steenwyk, R., Sunding, D., Swoboda, A., et al. (2002). The economic importance of organophosphates in California agriculture. Retrieved October 7, 2003 from http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/publications.htm

Mills, N., & Daane, K. M. (2005). Nonpesticide alternatives can suppress crop pests. California Agriculture, 59(1), 23-28.

Mitchell, J. (2001). Innovative agricultural Extension partnerships in California's central San Joaquin valley. Journal of Extension [On-line], 39(6). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2001december/rb7.html

Olson, W., Pickel, C., Buchner, R., Krueger, W., Niederholzer, F., Norton, M., et al. (2003). Integrated prune farming practices decision guide. Oakland, California: UC ANR.

Pence, R. A., & Grieshop, J. I. (2001). Mapping the road for voluntary change: Partnerships in agricultural Extension. Agriculture and Human Values, 18, 209-217.

Pickel, C., Bentley, W. J., Connell, J. H., Duncan, R., & Viveros, M. (2004). A seasonal guide to environmentally responsible pest management in almonds. Oakland, California: UC DANR.

Röling, N., & Wagemakers, A. (1998). Facilitating sustainable agriculture: Participatory learning and adaptive management in times of environmental uncertainty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Swezey, S. L., & Broome, J. C. (2000). Growth predicted in biologically integrated and organic farming. California Agriculture, 54(4), 26-36.

U.S. Geological Survey. (1999). The quality of our nation's waters: Nutrients and pesticides. Reston, Virginia: USGS Circular 1225.

Van Steenwyk, R., & Zalom, F. (2005). Food quality protection act launches search for pest management alternatives. California Agriculture, 59(1), 7-12.

Warner, K. D. (2004). Agroecology in action: How the science of alternative agriculture circulates through social networks. A dissertation in the Department of Environmental Studies: UC Santa Cruz.

Warner, K. D. (2006a). Agroecology in action: Social Networks extending alternative agriculture Cambridge: MIT Press.

Warner, K. D. (2006b). Extending agroecology: Grower participation in partnerships is key to social learning. Renewable Food and Agriculture Systems, in press.

Welter, S. C., Pickel, C., Millar, J., Cave, F., Van Steenwyk, R., & Dunley, J. (2005). Pheromone mating disruption offers selective management options for key pests. California Agriculture, 59(1), 16-22.