While consumers’ demand for organic food is booming, organic grain shortages present a particular bottleneck to the expansion of the organic industry. A USDA case study has shown that the largest challenge for organic livestock producers is the lack of a steady source of organic feed, and its affordability. Unsuccessfully, organic food companies appeal to farmers to increase domestic supply of domestic organic grain. Agricultural organizations also encourage more grain producers convert to organic farming. The response is underwhelming. To increase the number of organic grain producers, a crucial question needs to be asked, “Why do farmers convert from conventional farming to organic farming?” The second question is, “Why are more farmers not converting to organic farming?” Although organic agricultural extension specialists may have some answers, few studies in the U.S. have made a systematic inquiry. In Europe, Austria and Asia, several relevant studies have been conducted. However, none of them focuses on organic grain. Moreover, the structure of the agricultural industry is very different from in the U.S. This project targets grain producers in Iowa, an important grain production state. This project will (1) ) identify factors that facilitate farmers’ decisions on organic conversion; (2) identify barriers and challenges farmers have encountered before and after organic conversion; (3) model how the factors and barriers affect the decision-making process in regard to organic farming; (4) identify strategies that farmers have implemented to overcome the barriers and challenges in the process of organic conversion; and (5) identify educational needs of farmers who express different levels of interest in organic farming. This project uses a social science approach, with a mixed-method research design. The first phase will be a qualitative study through in-depth interviews. The second phase will be a quantitative survey. By sharing this project’s findings with educators in extension and agricultural organizations, more effective educational programs will serve both organic and potential organic farmers. This study will further help to increase the number of organic grain producers, and eventually provide the basis for an increase the domestic supply of organic grain. This study will help organic livestock producers with a steady and affordable organic feed supply. Organic food processors will be able to expand their product lines with a stable source of ingredients. In addition, more organic farming acreage means fewer synthesized chemicals will contaminate water or other natural resources.
There are five objectives for this project:
- To identify factors that facilitate farmers’ decisions on organic conversion.
- To identify barriers and challenges farmers have encountered before and after organic conversion.
- To model how the factors and barriers affect the decision-making process regarding organic farming.
- To identify strategies that farmers have implemented to overcome the barriers and challenges in the process of organic conversion.
- To identify educational needs of farmers who express different levels of interest in organic farming.
To achieve the research objectives, this project employed a mixed method research design- Sequential Explanatory Design. This research project is implemented in three phases. The first phase will be a qualitative study through in-depth interviews. The second phase will be a quantitative survey (questionnaire). The third phase is integration and outreach. Here are the benchmarks to keep track this project.
- By March 31st, 2018, finish the interviews (18 interviews).
- By May 31st, 2018, finish the primary analysis of interviews and develop survey questionnaire.
- By Sep 30th, 2018, finish data collection of questionnaires (Expect to send out about 1,200 questionnaires).
- By Nov 31st, 2018, finish the analysis of questionnaires.
- By Jan 31st, 2019, integrate findings from both interviews and questionnaire. Develop educational materials for agriculture organization.
- By Feb 28th, 2019, publish educational materials to the collaborating organizations.
- By March 31st, 2019, finish the program evaluation and final reports.
To achieve the research objectives, this project employed a mixed method research design- Sequential Explanatory Design. Phase I: a qualitative study. Phase II: a quantitative study. Phase III: integration and outreach.
During the Phase I, a grounded theory study will be conducted. Grounded theory is a systematic approach to generate substantive theories from a qualitative data set (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Grounded theory brings a new point of reference to existing assumptions and helps explain the “real world” (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). The data collection method is the individual semi-structured interview. Interviews will be conducted of certified organic grain farmers and organic transitional farmers. Participants will be reached through the mailing list of the Iowa Organic Association, Practical Farmers of Iowa, and Iowa State University Organic Agriculture Program. The USDA Organic Integrity Database also provides a complete list of organic operators. Interview protocols will be developed and revised by a panel of experts. The interview questions will address the decision to convert to organic farming, challenges encountered, strategies implemented, personal and family experience in farming, production methods, farming philosophy, personal value, and educational needs. The investigator will partially transcribe the interview, develop the grounded-theory focused codebook, and analyze data by using qualitative data analysis software NVIVO.
In Phase II, generalizable conclusions will be drawn from quantitative survey’s results. A survey instrument will be developed based on the grounded theory. The theory will show how the factors and barriers that influence farmers’ decision making on organic conversion. Specific measurements and constructs variables will be finalized based on findings from the qualitative study. Because of the qualitative study, validation of the survey instrument will be in an advantage. Based on the literature review, dependent variable will be organic farming adoption status. Other constructs may include intentions of organic conversion, environmental ethics, personal and family health concern, economic incentives, information availability, perceived risks and so on (Canavari, Cantore, & Lombardi, 2008; Karki, Schleenbecker & Hamm, 2012; Stofferahn, 2009; Wiegel, 2009). The survey will ask participants to list and rank their educational needs regarding organic grain production and conversion. Participants will be asked to submit their additional concerns or needs related to organic farming adoption. A random sample will be drawn from Iowa grain producers. The sample’s mail list will be purchased from a marking research company, US FARM DATA. Mailing surveys will be delivered with follow-up postcard reminders. Gift card drawing will be an incentive to increase response rate. Both descriptive and inferential statistics will be used to present findings. A Multinomial Regression Model will be built to explain how the factors and barriers influence farmers’ decisions on organic conversion.
In Phase III, the investigator will integrate findings from qualitative and quantitative studies. Several conferences and academic journal article publications will be written. Presentations and blog articles will be made for supporting organizations including Iowa State University Organic Agriculture Program, Iowa State Extension’s Beginning Farmer Center, Practical Farmers of Iowa, and Iowa Organic Association.
The project is currently in the Phase I stage quantitative research through in-depth interviews.
This stage’s research is to provide a qualitative answer to the research questions. To achieve this goal, we took/ will take the following steps:
- Developed a semi-structured interview protocol.
The interview protocol was developed based on previous organic adoption research literature (Wiegel, 2009; Parker & Lillard, 2013; Koesling, M., Flaten, O., & Lien, G. (2008) and Diffusion of Innovation theory (Rogers, 2003). A panel of experts including organic agronomist, rural sociologists, and agricultural extension educators have carefully reviewed the protocol and make revisions with their expertise. The finalized interview protocol is built with twelve major questions. Under each major question, probes and sub-questions were given based on respondent’s answer to the major question. Twelve major questions cover 1) organic farming motivation, 2) personal beliefs related to adaptation of organic farming, 3) barriers, challenges, and difficulties of transition to organic, 4) strategies to overcome the challenges and difficulties, 5) trialability of organic farming 6) benefits of organic farming, 7) governmental programs supporting organic conversion, 8) marketing strategy of organic grain, 9) educational programs for organic farming, 10) educational needs for organic farming, 11) improvements of educational programs for organic farming, and 12) other comments.
2. Acquired Internal Review Board (IRB) approval for human subject research.
We have acquired Iowa State University IRB approval for this research project on March 27th, 2017, the IRB ID is 16-191.
3. Identified interview participants.
Working with project cooperators from different organizations and individual farmers, we have formed a pool of potential interview participants that contains 27 farmers in the state of Iowa. We targeted to conduct 18 interviews in total. The pool provided a good frame to proceed data collection step which is conducting interviews.
4. Conduct interviews.
We have conducted 15 out of 18 interviews up to the present. We have interviewed 14 organic certified grain farmers with different operation size (from100 acres to nearly 2,000 acres). We also interviewed one landowner who leased her land only to organic farmers, because other organic farmers have indicated landowner is a factor influences organic adoption. For the rest three interviews, we will interview transitional farmers. We have sent interview invitations and received responses from the farmers. The last three interviews will be finished in March 2018. The interview participants (farmers) are located across the state of Iowa. Figure 1 shows interview participants’ locations. Green markers represent farmers have been visited and interviewed, and yellow markers represent the last three transitional farmers who will be interviewed in March 2018.
5. Transcriptions of interviews.
We will adopt intelligent verbatim transcription after all interviews are finished.
6. Qualitative data analysis.
We will utilize ground theory method to analyze qualitative data after transcriptions are completed.
Canavari, M., Cantore, N., & Lombardi, P. (2008). Factors explaining farmers’ behaviours and intentions about agricultural methods of production. Organic vs. conventional comparison. Proceedings from 16th IFOAM Organic World Congress, Modena, Italy.
Glaser, B G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine/Atherton.
Karki, L., Schleenbecker, R., & Hamm, U. (2012). Factors influencing a conversion to organic farming in Nepalese tea farms. Journal of Agriculture and Rural Development in the Tropics and Subtropics 112(2), 113-123.
Koesling, M., Flaten, O., & Lien, G. (2008). Factors influencing the conversion to organic farming in Norway. International Journal of Agricultural Resources, Governance and Ecology, 7(1-2), 78-95.
Parker, J. & Lillard, P. (2013). Initiating and Sustaining Conversations Between Organic Farmers and Extension. Journal of Extension,51 (6). Retrieved from https://www.joe.org/joe/2013december/comm2.php
Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations (5th ed.). New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
Stofferahn, C. W. (2009). Personal, farm and value orientations in conversion to organic farming. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture, 33(8), 862-884.
Wiegel, W. J. (2009). Adoption of organic farming systems in Missouri. (Master degree thesis). Retrieved from ProQuest (Order No. 1504730).
This research project is still in data collection stage, so there is no result available at this point.
Educational & Outreach Activities
To date, the project has not implemented any educational activity yet because we are still at data collection stage.
It is too early to assess the projects’ actual outcomes. But we listed the expected outputs and outcomes from this project.
- Technical reports for both interview and survey results.
- Blogs and popular communication pieces with agricultural non-profit organizations.
- Presentations to supporting organizations and academic seminars.
- A Ph.D. degree dissertation.
- Scholarly article manuscripts
- Agricultural extension educators and organic agriculture specialists can understand better farmers motivations to convert to organic farming.
- Agricultural extension educators and organic agriculture specialists can understand what concerns and challenges farmers to have for organic conversion.
- Agricultural extension educators and organic agriculture specialists can recognize farmers’ educational needs for organic farming.
- Education programs on organic farming will be updated to become more effective.
- Farmers gain more knowledge about benefits and risks of organic farming
- Farmers possess improved perception of organic farming
- More farmers intend to try organic farming
- An increased number of organic grain producers.
- Higher domestic organic grain supply.
- Steady and affordable organic feed and food ingredients.
- More people have access to organic food.
- More job opportunities from organic agriculture.
- Less chemical pollution.
- Improve biodiversity.
Because we have not analyzed our data yet, we cannot conclude a solidified knowledge gained. But based on the existing interview experience, we realize that organic farming adoption is a complex issue. Organic farming adoption involves farmers’ personal beliefs, life experience, market opportunities, social trends, ecological returns, and more. By adopting organic farming, organic farmers were able to keep their farms’ viability, improve soil health and productivity, increase biodiversity, expand their social circle, and increase the comfort level in farming. Meanwhile, however, farmers have to make considerable efforts to become a successful organic farmer. First, farmers need to change their conventional simplified farming mindset to complex systemic farming approaches. Second, farmers need to constantly learn and tests new farming techniques. Third, farmers need to spend longer time for their farm operations and give strategic timely operations in response to weather and climate change.