Utilizing the Concept of Whole-Farm Planning to Educate Agricultural Professionals and Farm Families in Ohio about Sustainable Agriculture

Final Report for ENC96-013

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1996: $32,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Mike Hogan
OSU Extension
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Project Information


The concept of Whole Farm Planning is relatively new to Ohio. Extension and other agricultural professionals have had several "tools" they have used with farmers in individual and group settings, but very few would assist farmers in a comprehensive way in which whole farm planning is designed to do. The workshops were conducted to acquaint agriculture professionals with a wide range of tools, as well as introducing the idea that farmers could possibly be assisted more effectively if they began looking at their farming operation in a more holistic manner.

The three major components of this program were conducting a Whole Farm Planning Introductory Workshop held in four Ohio locations, statewide workshops as follow-up on specific whole farm planning tools, and development of a series of fact sheets relating to whole farm planning. We also put together a notebook of whole farm planning information from a variety of sources.

The introductory, or "gateway" meetings were held in November 1998. A total of 124 individuals learned about three goal setting models and six decision making tools at these workshops. Participants now have knowledge about whole farm planning and printed resources that they did not have prior to attending this program.

The follow-up meetings held in October 1999, focused on holistic management, Farm*A*Syst, and Ontario Environmental Farm Plan. More specific information was shared at this two-day workshop attended by 26 individuals from Extension, NRCS, Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources, and non-profit groups.

The Ohio Whole Farm Planning Guide, developed as a series of fact sheets, included information on Goal Setting, Organic Farm Planning, On-Farm Research, Holistic Management, and Monitoring Progress Toward Farm & Community Goals. These will be very useful as agency personnel assist farmers with specific questions concerning moving toward more sustainable farming operations.

Extension agents, NRCS personnel, farm organization representatives, and farmers are more aware of whole farm planning information available as a result of attending these workshops. The program fostered a better working relationship among agriculture professionals as they shared their expertise and needs with each other.

Project Objectives:

The Objectives of this training project included the following:

1. To provide agricultural professionals in Ohio with an understanding of the concept of whole farm planning, as well as sustainable practices which could be used to achieve such plans.

2. To create an awareness among agricultural professionals in Ohio about the various planning and assessment tools available to conduct whole farm planning.

3. To create an awareness about the need for whole farm planning and sustainable agricultural practices among Ohio farm families.

4. To promote the need for collaborative teams made up of farmers, Extension staff, NRCS personnel, and other agencies, where appropriate, to work with farm families on whole farm planning and sustainable practices which could be used to achieve such plans.

5. To engage farmers and statewide farm and commodity organizations in a dialogue to determine how whole farm planning and sustainable practices can help farm families address various economic environmental, and social issues.

6. To identify methods which would incorporate whole farm planning concepts and tools into educational programs for farm managers.

Education & Outreach Initiatives



The objectives of this project were accomplished through the following activities:

The initial planning for the development this program was accomplished by using two conference calls to determine an outline of what should be the program emphasis, who should be involved in planning and conducting the program, and when the programming should take place. It was determined from these meetings that a whole-farm planning introductory workshop would be taught in four locations in Ohio to provide easier access to these introductory sessions. Statewide workshops would be held following the introductory workshops to provide more in-depth information on specific whole-farm planning tools and topics of greatest interest as determined from evaluations completed by introductory workshop participants.

Another important part of the program was to develop a series of fact sheets and to make as much information available to participants concerning whole farm planning as practical without overwhelming them. It was decided to provide a packet of basic information at the introductory workshops that would include a listing of additional whole-farm planning resources available. Many of the additional resources would be displayed at the meetings so participants would be able to see what was available.

The planning committee, including representatives from NRCS, Extension, OARDC, and non-profit groups, decided to break the introductory workshops into overviews of three goal setting models, and overviews of decision making, monitoring, and assessment tools. The goal setting models included Holistic Management, Management Excel, and NRCS Conservation Planning. The "tools" included FINAN, Planetor, Farm*A*Syst, organic farm planning, and the Ontario Environmental Farm Plan.

An important part of the program was inclusion of an actual farm case study to help participants learn about whole farm planning models and tools. After an overview of the three goal setting models, participants chose the model they wished to use to help the farm family determine his/her goals. Members of the farm family were available to present details of their farming operation and answer questions that would help in the process.

A similar format was used to assist participants learn about how the decision making, monitoring, and assessment tools could be used to help the farm family reach their goals. A brief overview was presented to the entire group about each tool, then participants were given the option of choosing which tool they wished to learn about by using it with the farm case study.

Instructors for the program included Ben Stinner, OARDC Entomologist; Deb Stinner, OARDC Research Scientist; Norm Widman, NRCS State Agronomist; Jeff Dickinson, Director of Stratford Ecological Center; Don Breece, OSU Extension Farm Management Specialist; Sylvia Upp, OEFFA Organic Certification Coordinator; Phil Rzewnicki, OSU On-Farm Research Coordinator; John Barker, County Extension Agent; Mike Hogan, County Extension Agent; Jim Polson, OSU Extension Farm Management Specialist, and case farm families.

In addition to OSU Extension and NRCS field staff, invitations to participate in the introductory workshops were sent to major commodity groups, crop consultants, state agencies working with agriculture issues including Ohio EPA and Ohio Department of Agriculture, non-profit groups, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Divisions of Forestry and Wildlife, Farm Business & Analysis Program instructors, Ohio Farm Bureau, Farmers Union, & National Farmers Organization.

Scholarships for up to 10 farmers at each introductory workshop were provided. It was believed that farm families also needed to learn about the whole farm planning process, and would also provide insight on how agricultural professionals might work with Ohio farm families to initiate whole-farm planning.

All introductory workshop participants were provided with a folder of information that included Minnesota Publications "Whole Farm Planning: Combining Family, Profit, and Environment" and "How to Establish Goals: A Group Project for Farmers and Their Families," as well as copies of the "Whole Farm Planning Wheel," paper titled "What is Holistic Management" by Larry Johnson, paper titled "The Decision Making Process," "Holistic Resource Management Model" by Crossroads & Company, "What Motivates Farmers to Engage in Whole Farm Planning?" by Jean-Luc Jannink, "Whole Farm Planning: A Comparison of Alternative Programs" from the Great Lakes Basin Network, "Testing Guidelines," copy of reprint titled "A Whole Better Way" by Gail Keck, copy of reprint titled "Whole-Farm Planning: A New Approach to Conservation" by Karl Kessler. Order forms for Planetor Software Program, the Land Stewardship Program's Monitoring Tool Box, "Michigan Field Crop Ecology," and Quality of Life Workshop Modules from the Consortium for Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education were also included in the folder.

The planning committee decided to use information from the introductory workshop evaluations to determine what additional training was needed by those who attended the introductory workshops. Participants indicated that the biggest need was to learn more about holistic management, Farm*A*Syst, and Ontario Environmental Farm Plan. As a result, a 2-day statewide workshop was planned to provide additional training in these areas.

This workshop was held approximately 11 months after the introductory workshops. Doug Warnock, retired Extension Agent from the State of Washington and certified educator in holistic management, was the primary presenter. Deb Stinner, also a certified educator in holistic management, assisted him in presenting information concerning holistic management.

The environmental assessment & planning portion of the program included presentations on Farm*A*Syst, Ontario Environmental Farm Plan, and Environmental Assurance Programs. Tim Lawrence, Project Director of the Farm*A*Syst Program from OSU Extension, and Jeff Dickinson, Director, Stratford Ecological Center, conducted those portions of the workshop.

Outreach and Publications

Educational Materials Developed

A packet of whole-farm planning educational materials titled Ohio Whole Farm Planning Guide was developed through this project. The guide consists of a packet of seven fact sheets on various whole-farm topics including:

-Whole Farm Planning - An Introduction
-Whole Farm Planning Resources
-Goal-Setting for Farm Families
-Holistic Management
-Monitoring Progress Toward Farm & Community Goals
-Organic Farm Planning
-On-Farm Research

These fact sheets were authored by various members of the project team. The packet is designed to allow for additional whole-farm planning resources to be added over time. The packets will be distributed to farm families and agricultural professionals and groups such as: OSU Extension Offices, NRCS field offices, Innovative Farmers of Ohio, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, and others. A total of 2,500 copies of the packets will be distributed.

Workshops and Conferences

In addition to the five professional development workshops noted in Section 4 of this report, a two-day on-farm workshop on the topic of holistic management was conducted for farm families. This workshop was a joint effort of Innovative Farmers of Ohio, OSU Extension, and OARDC (experiment station).


Through this project, whole-farm planning topics have also been incorporated into a summer farm tour series which has been sponsored by OSU Extension, Innovative Farmers of Ohio, and Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. Whole-farm planning topics were taught as part of the following tours:

1999: Stratford Ecological Center, August 15, 1999
1998: Fox Hollow Farm, July 18, 1998
Logan Brothers Farm, August 27, 1998
1997: Locust Grove Farm, August 12, 1997

Resources Provided To Professionals

As part of this comprehensive professional development project, relevant resource and teaching materials were identified and provided to agricultural professionals who work with farm families in Ohio. Resources were provided not only to workshop participants, but also to additional agricultural professionals and farmers who requested them. Examples of these resources include:

-Ontario Environmental Farm Planning Resource Notebook, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
-Whole Farm Nutrient Management Planning Workbook, University of Wisconsin
-What It Takes To Get to Yes for Whole Farm Planning Policy, Wallace Institute
-How To Establish Goals, Minnesota Project
-Whole Farm Planning at WorkBSuccess Stories of Ten Farms, Minnesota Project
-Successful Whole Farm Planning, Minnesota Project
-Whole Farm Planning: Combining Family, Profit, and Environment, University of Minnesota
-Holistic Resource Management, Allan Savory
-Holistic Financial Planning Guide, Center for Holistic Management
-Aide Memoire for Holistic Grazing Planning, Center for Holistic Management
-Early Warning Monitoring for Croplands, Center for Holistic Management
-Early Warning Biological Monitoring for Grasslands, Center for Holistic Management

News Articles

Keck, Gail, December 1998, Whole Farm Planning: A Whole Better Way, Ohio Farmer.

Linkage to SARE Projects

This professional development project built upon the expertise, results, and educational materials generated by several SARE funded projects including:

LNC 95-091 Integrating Quality of Life, Economic, and Environmental Issues, D. Stinner
LNC 91-012.2 Whole-Farm Economic Analyses of Medium-Sized, Single Family Dairy Farms, J. Ennis
LNC 90-026 Economic, Ecological, and Environmental Analyses of Farms Under Long- Term Lower Chemical Input Management, B. Stinner
LNC 97-106 Whole-Farm Planning With Decision Cases and Evaluation, R. Janke

Outcomes and impacts:

Whole Farm Planning - A Workshop for Agriculture Professionals and Farmers
November 16, 1998
23 individuals were trained representing OSU Extension, NRCS, SWCD, Farm Bureau, and FBPA.
2 farmers assisted with training, 5 other farmers participated.

Whole Farm Planning - A Workshop for Agriculture Professionals and Farmers
November 17, 1998
21 individuals were trained representing OSU Extension, NRCS, and SWCD.
1 farmer assisted with training.

Whole Farm Planning - A Workshop for Agriculture Professionals and Farmers
November 18, 1998
27 individuals were trained representing OSU Extension, NRCS, SWCD, Ohio Farmer Magazine, and Audubon Society.
2 farmers assisted with training, 3 other farmers participated.

Whole Farm Planning - A Workshop for Agriculture Professionals and Farmers
November 19, 1998
28 individuals were trained representing OSU Extension, NRCS, and SWCD.
2 farmer assisted with training, 10 other farmers participated.

Whole Farm Planning: Utilizing Planning Tools to Help Farm Families Achieve Their Goals - A Workshop for Extension Agents and NRCS Staff
October 6 & 7, 1999
26 individuals were trained representing OSU Extension, NRCS, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, ag consultants, and non-profit groups.
1 farmer assisted with the training, 2 other farmers participated.

The experience of planning and conducting these workshops greatly enhanced the working relationships of OSU Extension, NRCS, and the non-profit organizations involved, including Innovative Farmers of Ohio, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, and the Stratford Ecological Center. Organizers also became more aware of the efforts of many of our farmers to become more sustainable as they expressed their concerns and ideas in relation to the environment, farm profitability, and their communities.

Project Outcomes


Future Recommendations

Our experience with this project has demonstrated that agricultural professional and farm families in Ohio view whole-farm planning as a concept which is of value. Because whole-farm planning tools and models are not yet widely utilized by most farm families in Ohio, farm families and agricultural processionals will need much more training on these tools and models.

Investigations into which types of tools and models work best under various circumstances would be useful.

Potential Contributions

Education Transfer and Evaluation

Participants of the introductory workshops were very positive in their anticipated use of the information presented. Seventy-two percent of those who responded to a post workshop survey indicated that they would use information presented at the workshop as they work with farmers. Another ten percent would possibly use the information. Some of the ways they planned to use the information included; incorporating in newsletters, incorporating into winter meetings and on-farm consultations, as part of existing programs, and advising clients on financial planning tools available.

Other comments included that the workshop "provided some legitimacy for discussing a broader range of issues in planning - quality of life" and that they would use this information to "broaden my background in agriculture & conservation planning." One professional was working with a producer who is organic certified. They felt that the information presented on certification requirements was particularly helpful as he continued to work with that grower.

Some additional information that participants indicated they need are more ideas about how these topics can be used and applied with farmers, providing an example how a case study was actually used on a farm using these concepts, job sheets to go through the whole farming process with a landowner, how to organize a "Farm Clinic Team," and more specific information about several of the planning tools.

Some of the ideas and other resources suggested that could contribute to whole farm planning include: "Ohio-ize" the Ontario Environmental Farm Plan, utilize soil quality assessment/ enhancement associated with crop production alternatives using various tillage and cover crops, train four to eight holistic management specialists from a multi-agency background to work across the state, and honor an Ohio farm family for their holistic planning success as a way of publicizing the process and motivating other farmers.

When participants were asked how to get farmer involvement in these programs, responses varied. Some expressed concern about the time farmers would to commit to go through a planning process, as well as professional time involved. Others approached the challenge more enthusiastically with ideas such as having crop and livestock organizations promote the program, impress upon farmers the economic advantage to planning, using teams of agriculture professionals to work with farmers on various aspects of the plan, and lobby for cost sharing, tax, or other incentives for planning.

There is a great need and much opportunity for farmers to be involved in whole farm planning. The greatest challenge is to convince farmers that it is something that can have long term positive effects on their farming operation. As a farmer participant stated, "I am holistic minded from the perspective of personal health and believe this is a good approach & hope the time is right for the process to be active in farm planning & the direction of agriculture. I found the information on the variety of resources very interesting & helpful. As an example, my husband uses many conservation techniques in his farming, but he doesn't like to project a plan or take time to put it on paper, or even discuss. I believe this is an area you'll have trouble, selling the process."

Whole Farm Planning tools need to be incorporated into existing programs and methods currently being used by professionals working with farmers. The programs presented as a result of this grant and the printed information provided will be useful only if the time is taken to explore how whole farm planning can become an important part of our everyday work with our clientele.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.