Statewide Initiatives

STEM Ambassadors…Sparking Student Interest in STEM Careers

4-H can encourage youth to higher education and successful careers, especially in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Of the 25,000 youth that Maine 4-H engages annually, 52% engage in a STEM program, 83% want to finish college, and 73% want science-related jobs. Nationally, girls involved in 4-H are twice as likely to pursue science careers. UMaine Extension trained college students to facilitate STEM activities across the state as STEM Ambassadors. The short-term pilot program increased student leaders’ comfort level with and knowledge of STEM teaching. To increase the future STEM workforce in Maine, we are now developing a statewide network of STEM Ambassadors.


Wild Blueberries…Allowing Maine to Remain Competitive in the Global Market

About 100 million pounds of wild blueberries are produced in Maine, contributing over $250 million to the state’s economy. Because they must remain competitive as production increases worldwide, research-based field management and yield information from UMaine Extension helps current blueberry growers define the risk and returns on investment and assists new growers in understanding what is needed for optimal production. Growers who sample to determine pollinator density in their fields can decide if they should change their investment in rented honeybees or if they should enhance native bee populations by planting pollinator pastures. Total net pollination income is $257/hectare for rented honeybees and $171/hectare for native bees. Our decision-making tools help growers determine how much to rely on rented honeybees versus native bees.


AgrAbility…Supporting Farmers of All Abilities To Remain Active on the Farm

The average U.S. farmer is 57 years old, and farming is the seventh most dangerous job. The Maine AgrAbility Project provides no-cost aid to farmers and their families and workers facing physical or cognitive challenges. Since 2010, UMaine Extension and its partners have conducted more than 70 on-farm assessments to suggest ways that farmers with disabilities could keep working. More than half of participants surveyed reported some increase in quality of life from their participation and remained productive in agriculture. The renewed grant allows Maine AgrAbility to work with forestry and fisheries workers, as well as farmers.


cows grazing in field, insect samples in test tube, bee on a flower

Barley Disease Control…Increasing Yields and Profits

Barley is grown on about 22,000 acres in Maine for livestock feed and malt production, and the acreage is increasing. Maine’s 2013 barley crop was worth $3.7 million, but fungal diseases can limit yield and malting quality. UMaine Extension ran trials aimed at improving grain yields and malting quality through disease control. Researchers sought to identify when and if fungicide was necessary. More than 75 growers deployed a disease control program on 16,000 acres of barley. They received over $200,000 in increased revenue from greater yields and grain quality with the disease control program, which they plan to continue.


Helping Farmers Optimize Forage Production and Quality

Recent USDA incentive programs encourage cover cropping after corn silage harvest. New England’s short growing season and commonly used longer-season hybrids have hampered adoption of cover crops. UMaine researchers organized field trials to determine the benefits of cover crops, no-till, and shorter-season silage varieties. Farmers planting with no-till reduced fuel use by about 5.7 gal/ac and time in the field by 2.75 hr./ac, for total savings of about $50/ac. At $30/ac, the cost of planting cover crops effectively replaced nitrogen fertilizer. Shorter-season corn had similar yields but higher quality than longer-season varieties. On one ME farm, researchers estimated that switching from a 94-day to an 85-day variety would increase income by $670/ac, because milk production/ac increased by 3,350 lbs.


Maine Grass Farmers Network…Increasing Profitability of Dairy Farms

More than 274,000 acres of hay/pasture are grown in Maine, which can improve profitability for livestock operations. Organic dairy farmers must pasture their animals during grazing season. The demand for grass-fed livestock products is rising, but these operations need to improve profitability. The Maine Grass Farmers Network, with UMaine Extension, ran cultivar trials to evaluate grazing and harvest management response in perennial rye grass. As plants mature, digestibility and the concentration of crude protein (CP) decline. Improving forage and pasture management to ensure high CP and digestibility improves animal performance and farm profitability. For example, if organic protein is valued at $1.10 per pound, an increase of 3% CP would yield about 60 additional pounds of protein per ton of feed. Assuming a yield of 4 tons per acre, that’s about $240 in protein from forage per acre, or $24,000 on a farm that harvests 100 acres of hay/pasture. Building efficiencies into grass-based feeding can greatly improve profitability and animal performance.


Preventing Greenhouse Pest Diseases

Many greenhouse managers want to use biological pest control, but hands-on experience is critical. UMaine Extension and partners offer a workshop featuring extensive hands-on activities related to greenhouse biocontrol systems. Of the 12 respondents to the post-workshop survey, all said they had instituted better pest monitoring and scouting methods; planted habitat to raise natural enemies of aphids; and cleaned their greenhouses better. Three-quarters of respondents also implemented better recordkeeping and planted habitat for other beneficial bugs. The total reported impact on the 11 businesses responding was $2,925. If just 10% of the approximately 550 commercial greenhouses in the state adopted these measures, it could save at least $14,625.


4-Her participating in STEM activity, people shoveling mulch, person picking blueberries

Low-Stress Cattle Handling Clinic a Success!

Curt Pate, a Stockmanship Trainer from Montana with Beef Quality Assurance did an outstanding job demonstrating low-stress cattle handling at the two live demonstration sessions before the Maine Beef Conference. Over 60 producers were able to watch Curt quietly put a small bunch of cattle through gates, chutes and pens. He talked about getting the cattle to see him, point of balance and training cattle to respond to your movements. One of the sessions was held in Charleston so Piscataquis County beef producers could attend.

Stockmanship is handling cattle with the intent of enhancing profitability through the following avenues:

  • Improve consumer confidence that cattlemen are good stewards of livestock
  • By working with the natural instincts of cattle during handling, safety of animals and handlers can be improved
  • Low-stress handling techniques enhance animal.


Summer of Science: Sparking an Interest in Science, and Reducing Summer Learning Loss

Improving student proficiency in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) can improve job opportunities and encourage youth to higher education. In Maine, testing showed that more than 33% of 5th graders and 45% of 11th graders lacked proficiency in science. The achievement gap widens in summer for low-income students, who often lack out-of-school learning opportunities.

UMaine Extension created and delivered 4-H Summer of Science curricula to underserved youth in grades 3–8. About a quarter of participants were minorities and more than half were girls. The experiments helped them return to school with reduced summer learning loss and increased interest in science.

UMaine Extension trained and supervised 18 teens to deliver the curriculum, fostering career development, leadership, and responsibility. A post-teaching survey found that:

  • 100% are now more likely to volunteer in their community and feel that they can make a difference through community service.
  • 92% would return to teach again.
  • 62% were born in Africa or the Middle East.


Using Social Media to Advance Sustainable Agriculture

More Americans, including farmers, are integrating online resources into their daily lives, so UMaine Extension must increase its use of social media tools to reach its audience. This project sought to provide agricultural educators the skills to effectively incorporate social media, including Facebook, Twitter, blogs, webinars, and YouTube, into their sustainable agriculture programming. Trainees increased their knowledge of social media tools, learned which tools are most effective for specific objectives, and implemented and evaluated at least one social media tool for their work. Because of the program, 30 of the 34 educators (88%) created and/or changed sustainable agriculture material for at least one social media tool, collectively reaching at least 228,790 farmers and others.