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Marketing Opportunities and Constraints Confronting Organic Farming Operations in the High Plains


First, we propose to facilitate the development of organic agriculture production methods by conducting a feasibility study of soil amendments that address specific challenges to organic production in this region. Soil productivity and fertility will be examined to gain a whole picture of the viability of each alternative. Outputs will include clearer extension recommendations for viable amendments for use in the High Plains region. <P>Second, we will evaluate the potential economic benefits to producers and processors who use organic methods. Our study will account for different economic returns for different amendment within an organic setting. As most studies classify returns that include returns to labor, the increased returns associated with organic systems may not be as desirable when accounting for the additional labor these intensive systems require. Our study will account for different economic returns for different amendments evaluating specific differences in both labor and machinery needs.<P> Third, we will identify some of the marketing and policy constraints on the expansion of organic agriculture. Primary and secondary data will be collected to assess and potentially resolve the following marketing and policy issues. a), some farmers may lack basic agronomic information about eco-zone appropriate production practices; b), some farmers may face high opportunity costs that limit their opportunities to create or look for new market opportunities; c), in this area of the country, farms are located far from major processing and consuming markets, which poses unique transportation and marketing challenges; and d), farmers may lack evaluative information, tools and technology for sensing input opportunities and demand signals in innovative or emerging organic and natural product markets, and thus have decreased ability to participate.<P> And fourth, we will conduct advanced on-farm research and development that emphasizes observation of, experimentation with, and innovation for working organic farms, including research relating to production and marketing and to socioeconomic conditions.

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Non-Technical Summary: This integrated project aims to assess the agronomic and economic viability and effectiveness of a variety of soil amendments for use on small and medium sized organic farms in the semiarid northern high plains and intermountain regions of Wyoming and Western Nebraska. Few previous studies have compared soil amendments within organic agriculture. An extension component ensures that information gleaned from this project is transferred to producers. This project addresses key priorities of the OREI program by focusing on both on-farm and experimental research that examines novel soil amendments. Soil productivity and fertility will be examined to assess the viability of each alternative. In addition, crop production, and economic and marketing opportunities and constraints up and down-stream from the farm will be assessed as part of the project. This three-year project assembles researchers in soil science, agricultural economics and marketing, educators, and producers to establish much-needed region-specific organic agricultural knowledge through research conducted in affiliation with the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC), as well as on site, at organic farms in the semiarid northern high plains and intermountain regions. SAREC boasts state-of-the-art laboratory, education, and dormitory facilities. This project will piggy-back on a preexisting USDA-NRI Agricultural Prosperity for Small and Medium Sized Farms program grant, "Economic and environmental sustainability of conventional, reduced-input, and organic approaches on western crop-range-livestock farms." This project will take advantage of existing plots in transition to certified organic production at SAREC, as well as information from organic farmers participating in the NRI grant. <P> Approach: First, we propose to field test the effects of organic-certified humate and P amendments in replicated plots embedded in an on-going agricultural systems experiment. Eight (or possibly more) treatments analyzing soil fertility renewal options will be replicated four times in 3 x 10 m plots in a complete randomized block design within the framework of a long-term agricultural systems project at SAREC. In addition, soil cores will be collected from 15 points and composited for each plot at three times during each growing season for analyses. The field test will provide data for evaluating economic parameters of using the amendments and for comparing their use to the economics of other organic, reduced-input, and conventional strategies. The results will inform decisions on improving availability of the products, possibly including development of humate sources related to eastern Wyoming's coal industry. Second, to compare alternative soil amendments, partial budget analysis will be employed. Partial budgeting is a technique used to evaluate changes in revenue and cost associated with a modification of a baseline farming system. Budgets analysis for this project will focus mainly on the availability, cost and labor/machinery requirements of each amendment within the given farming system. The analysis will compare economic returns for each of the amendments across years to account for variation in flows of revenue across time for the various farming systems approaches. This information will be useful for producers considering adoption of the soil amendments described above before drastic investment is made in machinery required to utilize a potentially unfeasible soil amendment. Third, we will investigate up- and downstream marketing issues and opportunities associated with organic farming in the High Plains region identified in the previous paragraphs. Upstream issues include information acquisition, feasibility of soil amendments, including viability, procurement storage, and application costs. Downstream issues and opportunities for organic producers include search costs for market outlets, learning new marketing procedures, and building channels relationships in a fairly new and small, but quickly-growing marketplace. These issues will be explored by collecting primary and secondary data. Secondary sources will include local USDA, CSREES CRIS Data Base, Wyoming Business Council, producer organizations, and other publications. Primary data will be collected by surveying an "extensive" sample of farmers about their market opportunities. Interviews will be recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using qualitative data analysis software employing recognized procedures to ensure trustworthiness and credibility. Little is known about the marketplace issues and opportunities organic producers in this area face. Learning about the market challenges, including supply chain challenges, that organic producers face in the High Plains region will benefit organic producers in the long-term. The information generated will be disseminated to local producers through direct engagement at field days, extension programs, and through extension bulletins.

Arnould, Eric
University of Wyoming
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