Training in Size Appropriate Technology for Hill Farmers

Final Report for ES00-048

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2000: $84,686.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Region: Southern
State: Kentucky
Principal Investigator:
Betty King
University of Kentucky
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Project Information

Abstract:

The Size Appropriate Technology Project determined that small scale farm equipment is a practical alternative to conventional equipment for farmers operating on small acreages and hill or other marginal land. The project revealed that farmers, extension agents, and small farm assistants were mostly either unaware of the existence or skeptical of the usefulness of equipment such as 2-wheel tractors and their attachments before seeing our demonstrations. Although there have been some reservations about “walking” equipment, most of the response has been very positive, and a significant number of farmers have purchased equipment similar to our demonstration units. Probably our most significant achievement is the propagation of the idea of appropriate technology, of fitting the equipment to the farm and/or the farmer.

Project Objectives:

(1) Extension agents, small farm assistants, and farmers will experience hands-on training in assessing size-appropriate technology needs and utilization for a farm (analysis), identifying and utilizing equipment appropriate for a range of farm enterprises (problem-solving), and creating whole farm or integrated farming systems for hill farms (management and implementation).
(2) Working teams (Extension agents, farmers, etc.) will develop a case study of hill farm enterprises for their geographic region utilizing and evaluating size appropriate technology to help farmers succeed with this approach.
(3) Extension agents, small farm assistants and farmers will feel more comfortable working (in a hands-on setting) with size appropriate technology and farming systems using a low cost, limited resource approach.

Introduction:

The premise underlying this project was that many farms are over-equipped or mechanized in terms of economies of scale and the capabilities and/or limitations of the farm or the farm operators, and that decisions about equipment selection have in the past been made without thorough consideration of these factors. We began with these ideas: (1) Small scale farm operations can and should be profitable, if that is the goal of the operator; (2) Conventional farm equipment is often not appropriate for small farms; (3) A range of size-appropriate technology/equipment is needed for a range of farm landscapes, enterprises, and farm operators; and(4) Many farmers, university educators, and Extension agents are not familiar with size appropriate technology and equipment, that is, with alternatives to conventional or “traditional” farm equipment.
Our goal was not only to present this audience with viable alternatives from which to select and decide, but to introduce the idea of “appropriateness” into many decisions related to farming and farm management. While the 2-wheel tractor and its related attachments, particularly the small round baler, were the focal point of the project, the real centerpiece was the mode of thinking suggested by the idea of appropriate technology.

Cooperators

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  • Larry Swartz

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

The basic design premise in this project was for (quoting from the proposal): “…..the training to have Extension agents and farmers to actually experience the use of the equipment and participate in a learning experience that is a farmer-need driven and led training activity. This training is NOT about describing or defining a system and then trying to sell it to Extension agents. The training IS about developing a working model. In order to succeed, the training will have to demonstrate its usefulness as a simple, low-cost, effective working tool.”
While this staement was used to describe our conception of the training model, it proved to be accurate as well in describing both the equipment we selected and demonstrated and the idea of “appropriate technology” the equipment represented.
The centerpiece of the training was a 12 HP BCS 2-wheel tractor, manufactured in Italy (there are no comparable tractors of U.S. manufacture as of this writing) and a selection of equipment that makes it feasible to farm on a small scale without any additional farm equipment (i.e., a conventional 4-wheel farm tractor and implements). A wide range of equipment (sickle-bar mower, rotary mower, rototiller, hay rake, small round hay baler) was procured by purchase and lease.
Two other assumptions drove the project design. First, since the project title focused attention on “hill” farms (which we characterized loosely as those farms located on the marginal land found in parts of Kentucky and most other Southeastern states), we assumed that livestock would be a part of the enterprise mix on the typical farm in this classification. We looked at various barriers to success in livestock operations (adequate fencing, watering systems,etc.) from an appropriate technology perspective, and part of the project design included low cost, portable, and (in some cases) solar powered fence energizers and pumps. Second, since small farms are not suited to monocultures, we assumed that diversification was desirable to achieve profitability. We added a leased portable bandsaw mill to the demonstration capability of the project.
The sites selected for demonstrations were very diverse. The “home base” of the project became, almost by default, the “Third Thursday Thing” meetings at Kentucky State University. The staff there was very supportive, and the clientele and attendees were very representative of our target audience. We did a number of dedicated programs there, and the annual September field day, usually the largest gathering of the year, was a natural venue for us to demonsatrate all the facets of our project.
We also staged demonstrations and presentations at several Kentucky Extension county field days. These annual events are held on private farms, and attended by a broad cross-section of farmers – full time, part time, hobby farmers, large and small scale farmers – and our demonstrations at these events generated a lot of interest (and some skepticism). Several of these field days were in counties where we had previously enlisted the county agent staff in the project, and we were the main attraction. At others we were a side event, but still attracted considerable interest.
We attended several events where our project ( or the underlying premise) was the organizing principle of the event. An incomplete list of these includes: the Alternative Agriculture Workshop in McCreary County, the Living on a Few Acres program at Berea College, the National Small Farm Conference and Trade Show, Columbia, Missouri, (2000 and 2001), the semi-annual University of Kentucky field day at the Quicksand Experiment Station in Jackson, Kentucky, and a forestry field day at the Sustainable Forestry Center at Campbellsville University.

Outreach and Publications

Our project or some facet of it has been featured in several farm-related publications. Below is a list of publications and the nature of the article.

Small Farm Today magazine. September 2000. This Missouri-based national magazine has an audience of small scale farmers. We wrote two articles for the magazine early in the project. These articles described the size-appropriate technology approach and some of the equipment we used in our demonstrations. We also were invited (in 2000 and again in 2001) to demonstrate the equipment at the annual conference and trade show the magazine conducts each November in Columbia, Missouri. We received many letters, Phone calls, and E-mail requests for information as a result of this exposure.

Farm Show. This monthly tabloid size publication features farmer-fabricated equipment and devices. It is directed at farmers who have an interest in unconventional and home-built machines, and could be said to represent editorially the idea of appropriate technology. The article featured the 2-wheel tractor and the mini-baler. We also got a number of contacts from this article.

Small Farm Digest, Fall/Winter 2002/2003, Volume 6, No.1. This USDA publication printed an article titled “The Thought Process in Selecting Equipment for the Small Farm” and used a picture of our 2-wheel tractor and mini-baler in operation.

The Farmer’s Pride, June 13, 2001. This Kentucky-based regional farm newspaper carried an article headlined “Size appropriate technology project highlights mini-hay balers.”

Economic and Policy Update, June 8, 2001. Printed monthly by the Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Kentucky. This issue carried an article titled “Size Appropriate Technology Project Highlights Low-cost, Multiple function Equipment for Small Farmers”.

Lexington Herald-Leader, April 21, 2001. Home & Garden section – This article was written about the “Living on a few Acres” program at Berea College, where we demonstrated the equipment. The article was accompanied by a picture of the 2-wheel tractor raking hay.

WKYT television, Noon News, April 20,2001. We did a live shot on the grounds of the TV station during the weather part of the telecast to promote the “Living on a Few Acres ” program the next day.

Kentucky Educational Television network, various dates in August, 2001. The “Extension Today” series produced by the Ag Communications Department was broadcast on KET statewide. One segment of the August edition featured footage of the small equipment shot at the state UKCES field day at the Robinson Experiment Station in Quicksand, Ky.

Outcomes and impacts:

The demonstrable impacts of this project are mostly anecdotal at this point, but they are significant. For example, the BCS dealer we acquired the project equipment from was previously servicing and selling primarily to a lawn and garden clientele, and had never seen the mini-hay baler prior to our initial inquiries about it. The baler he imported for us was (we believe) the first one in the U.S. He has since sold four balers and has several more on order. His business has grown to the extent that he has moved to a new and larger location and taken on a business partner. (To be fair, the former location was very small and somewhat remote.) Also, he has developed a website to advertise and to service the new, more farmer-oriented clientele. While we are reluctant to discuss his proprietary business matters, we feel secure in saying that a large part of his new business resulted directly from the interest in small scale (and in particular, 2-wheel tractors) farm equipment generated by our project. That interest came from a wide variety of sources, including our field days and demonstrations, magazine articles and a videotaped appearance on Kentucky Educational Television (PBS). Since this dealer is the only (as far as we know) dealer for this type of equipment in our state, we were not concerned about conflicts of interest in referring callers, E-mailers, and written requests for information to him.
The degree of acceptance and utilization of the equipment by farmers is harder to gauge. We know from the great amount of interest in seeing the equipment demonstrated and from the number of E-mails, letters, and phone calls we have received that many small and beginning farmers were and are looking for alternatives to conventional equipment. Nearly three years after the inception of the project (and six months since our last field day), we continue to get requests for information.
As far as future outcomes are concerned, we would like to once again stress that the intent of our project has not been to promote a particular type or brand of equipment but rather to offer viable choices and alternatives and to introduce to farmers the concept of making equipment and other farm management decisions based on the idea of appropriate technology.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Future Recommendations

We think the amount of interest we experienced demonstrates the need for more funding in this area. While the quality of the Italian-made equipment is very good, we are disappointed that no American manufacturer has yet sensed that a market exists for this equipment. The dealer we worked closely with, Earth Tools, has sold equipment well outside his normal service area, indicating that there is a shortage of outlets for the equipment. Most of the small scale, American made equipment we found was directed toward the lawn and garden market, and frankly, not up to the rigors of “real” farm needs, whatever the scale. Quality and durability are critical components of appropriate technology, and we caution farmers looking at equipment to do their own research. In particular, we found some equipment promoted for use with ATV’s to be substandard, and in some cases, dangerous.
What really is needed, in our opinion, is publicity. We still find farmers and agents who are unaware of the existence of this equipment and its potential. When we began the project, we did a search to find information and found very little. We aren’t seing much more today. The relative low cost of this equipment can make the difference in planning and budgeting for a beginning farm operation.

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.