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Tools for Organic Transition: Financial Data and Educational Resources for Farmers and Agricultural Professionals

Investigators
King, Rob
Institutions
University of Minnesota
Start date
2010
End date
2014
Objective
This integrated project has two goals that address the need for farm-based information about enterprise and whole-farm financial performance during the transition from conventional to organic production:
  1. Collect data on farm performance measures during the transition to organic production and develop resources such as an online database and analysis tools to generate benchmark reports for crop and livestock enterprises and whole farm performance during transition.
  2. Develop web-based and print materials to address the informational needs of farmers transitioning to organic production and the educational needs of agricultural professionals who advise them.
Expected outputs for the first goal are: a. Train 75 farm business management (FBM) instructors to deliver programming to producers transitioning to organic production. b. Educate 80 producers (50 transitioning and 30 newly certified) to understand and use farm financial records and benchmarking tools for their farming enterprise. c. Establish a repository of farm-level data on the financial performance of farms during and after organic transition that can be used by researchers, agricultural professionals, producers, lenders, policy makers, and others. d. Foster a group of transitioning farmers who have a deeper understanding of their own financial condition during the years of transition and have access to similar benchmarking information about a peer cohort. e. Build a community of prospective organic farmers better informed about the financial conditions they could expect during transition and the requirements for organic certification. f. Prepare and disseminate four summary reports about participant performance.

Expected outputs for the second goal are: a. Develop and disseminate training resources, survey results, and business plan examples to help more than 100 cooperative extension educators in the Upper Midwest and 75 FBM educators in Minnesota better serve the needs of their clients. b. Produce and disseminate articles, DVDs, and webinars to assist more than 300 Land Grant academics, other educators, organic interest groups, financial institutions, and government agencies already active in organic agriculture with the development of economic transition resources for their regions. c. Educate 350 + farmers, lenders, NRCS staff, educators and other agricultural professionals who attend break-out sessions at the annual Minnesota Organic Farming Conference. d. Distribute 2,000 printed copies of the Economic Planning Guide to Organic Transition to farmers and other stakeholders at annual conferences such as the Minnesota Organic Farming Conference and the Organic Farming Conference. e. Generate and disseminate resources to approximately 25 organic certifying agencies in the Upper Midwest who actively work with transitioning farmers. f. Train six farmers in the development of business plans and economic transition plans.

More information
Non-Technical Summary: As more farmers consider transition to organic production, the high cost of transition, coupled with uncertainty about those costs and subsequent returns, will be a significant impediment to growth in this promising market sector. There are few published studies on the economics of organic transition, and there is very limited access to actual farm data on costs and returns during and after transition. This integrated, long-term project has two inter-related goals that address the need for farm-based information on enterprise and whole-farm performance during the transition from conventional to organic production: 1. Collect data on farm performance measures during the transition to organic production and develop resources such as an online database and analysis tools to generate benchmark reports for crop and livestock enterprises and whole farm performance during transition. 2. Develop web-based and print materials to address the informational needs of farmers transitioning to organic production and the educational needs of agricultural professionals who advise them. Through on-farm research, data analysis, and a multifaceted outreach program that will involve direct interaction with producers and agricultural professionals as well as the development of web-based and print materials to reach a wider audience, this project will: produce data and information on farmer practices and experiences during organic transition and contribute to evaluation of potential economic benefits of organic production.

Approach: The following methods will be used to collect and analyze data on farm performance during transition. TRAINING: Project personnel will provide training on fundamentals of organic transition to all 75 Farm Business Management (FBM) instructors in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. ENROLLMENT: Project personnel will work with organic producer networks and other cooperating organizations to recruit participants, whom instructors will enroll at the local level. We plan to enroll 20 new transitioning farms during year 1, 10 in year 2, 10 in year 3, and 10 in year 4. Enrolling some new farms each year will provide important information on how random variation in weather, pest pressures, and market conditions affect farms in different stages of transition. DELIVERY: Instructors will meet one-on-one with participating farmers. Sessions will include instruction on farm management principles, organic requirements, and certification procedures. At year-end, instructors and participants will assemble accounting and production records into a detailed analysis of whole farm and enterprise performance. ANALYSIS: Farm-level data will be validated and aggregated by FBM and Center for Farm Financial Management staff for inclusion in the FINBIN database. Users will be able to obtain cost and return data associated with farms transitioning to organic production and to compare the financial performance for various types of enterprises. They will also be able to benchmark financial performance of transitioning farms against that of conventional and certified organic operations. Project personnel will also analyze multi-year performance for transitioning farms over the entire transition period. OUTREACH: Annual reports will be shared with academics, producers, lenders, public policy makers, state and federal agriculture agencies, organic interest groups, nonprofit farm organizations, and other interested communities. MONITORING: The advisory team will provide ongoing monitoring and feedback on the project. Project personnel will survey participating farmers annually to identify critical challenges during the transition process. Information will be shared nationally through articles and webinars delivered through eOrganic.info and eXtension.org. The following methods will be used to develop educational materials for transitioning farmers and the professionals who advise them. SURVEY: An annual survey will identify trends among transitioning farmers, ascertain financial management and marketing challenges during the transition process, and measure outcomes of participation in the FBM program. INTERVIEW: In-depth interviews with up to 15 transitioning farmers will be conducted in Years 1-3, as a basis for educational profiles. LEARNING GROUPS: Participating farmers will meet in small groups four times throughout winter of years 2 and 3 to develop business plans for their transitioning operations that will serve as educational examples. WORKSHOPS: An annual workshop for producers and FBM educators will be used to disseminate survey results, explain organic requirements, and encourage a two-way exchange of information between farmers and educators.

Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
Project source
View this project
Project number
MIN-14-G12
Accession number
222571
Categories
Education and Training
Risk Assessment, Management, and Communication
Policy and Planning