Final Report for LNC94-070
In conjunction with farmers and extension, we initiated a whole farm analysis program to establish context for designing and interpreting on-farm component research. In addition to fulfilling this objective, during the course of the project, this effort evolved into a multi-disciplinary and multi-agency whole farm planning process. Our approach included an analysis of farmers’ goals and knowledge, whole farm nutrient cycles, farm cropping and rotation history, and basic farm economics. The project was initiated by conducting in-depth interviews with cooperating farm families representing a range of farm types and sizes to document their farm history, economic, environmental and quality of life goals, and farm related issues and changes that were being implemented on each farm. We then developed farm-level nutrient and economic budgets, which integrated crop and livestock enterprises for the farms, and helped farmers understand the connections between ecological processes and economics that result from their management and type of farm. These farm-level analyses provided context for developing specific questions and objectives and interpretation for state-wide on-farm experiments and demonstrations. Results from these activities have been presented at field days, workshops, focus group sessions, farmer-to-farmer mentoring and seminars. We have linked our activities in whole farm planning (WFP) and analyses to state (Ohio State University Extension, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, NRCS and Farm Bureau) and regional efforts (Great Lakes Basin) which are currently underway to produce whole farm planning tools for providing sustainable agriculture concepts and approaches to the mainstream farming community.
1. Develop a participatory on-farm research program to promote diversification in crop and livestock enterprises.
2. Conduct whole-farm ecological and economic analyses that combine scientific information and farmers’ experience in a whole farm research study.
3. Facilitate farmer-to-farmer information exchange focusing on principles of economic sustainability and environmental conservation.
This study was conducted using a farm and farmer perspective, i.e. a perspective that recognizes that farmers have different roles and experiences based on their farms’ unique attributes and their particular goals and management styles. Differences in farm attributes and farmer roles and experiences result in farmers having different opinions, needs and options in managing farm resources. A recognition that farmers have different and individual goals and needs in managing their farms is often not incorporated in research and educational program planning. Programs are typically developed by researchers and extension agents based on their assessments of what farmers need. Generally, these programs are focused on serving the needs of conventional farmers. Unfortunately, the subgroup of farmers outside the mainstream who are developing alternatives to conventional farming practices don’t generally benefit from research and education programs. Serving this subgroup of innovative farmers requires an alternative approach to understanding their different perspectives, experiences, interests and needs so they too can benefit from research and education programs.
This study utilized a qualitative research approach to gaining a better understanding of the issues and decision-making processes used by innovative farmers in the sustainable management of their farms. The farmers chosen to participate in farm case studies were selected because their farms represent a range of farm types and locations within Ohio, and because of their leadership and reputation in research and developing sustainable farming systems, i.e., farmers who were already or considering making changes on the farms in terms of reducing purchased inputs and diversifying farming practices. In addition, the farm families in the case studies had demonstrated a willingness to discuss their goals, opinions and needs as well as an openness in sharing information about their farming practices with anyone interested in learning about them. The case study farm families also were chosen to represent a range of farm type and size operations.
To develop a more comprehensive understanding of the interrelated economic, agronomic, ecological, social and psychological aspects governing the management of each sustainable farming system, a multi-disciplinary team of researchers, consisting of natural and social scientists, was assembled to work with farm families in creating a participatory learning process. A qualitative interview process was employed to encourage a natural conversational interchange between participants. Interview guides of an open-ended nature were designed to facilitate the exploration of various themes organized around a specific research question or concern. Multiple intensive interviews were conducted with each farm family in order to explore in depth the interrelated aspects of managing a sustainable farming system.
We began addressing our objectives in this project by selecting four diverse farm families to work with. These were the: (1) Bennetts, cash grain/cover crops, NW Ohio; (2) Logans, dairy, NE Ohio; (3) Eselgroths, cash grain/cover crops, beef and sheep, SC Ohio; and (4) Beck-Chenoweth and Lee, pasture poultry/vegetables, SE Ohio. We conducted an initial round of intensive interviews in which we established the goals of the families, how they were currently making decisions and evaluating ecological, economic and social aspects of their lives on the farms. A Holistic Resource Management approach was used implicitly (not explicitly) in these interviews. However, all four families were encouraged to learn about the HRM goal setting and decision making process (they were given copies of both the textbook, Holistic Resource Management by Allan Savory and the Holistic Resource Management Workbook by Sam Bingham and Allan Savory, and had all expenses paid to attend a three day introductory HRM workshop). The scientists on these participatory teams also were learning HRM principles along with the farmers. (Members of our research team had been through an introductory HRM workshop prior to beginning this project and had attended several workshops in the North Central region in the first year of the project to facilitate our work with this approach). Each interview was recorded and transcribed. Information from these initial interviews documented the farmers’ views and attitudes toward whole farm planning, short and long term economic and ecological goals, farm history, descriptions of the farm and objectives for on-farm research at the beginning of the project.
From the first series of interviews, we complied profiles of the farms that included economics, production levels, patterns of nutrient management and plans for management changes. These profiles were used to help design the specific research described above under Objective 1, to communicate results at Field Days (Objective 3) and to aid in helping the farmers view and manage their farm as a whole system (Objective 2). Follow-up interviews were conducted with the first four case study families in winter 1996 and 1997 to establish what changes had occurred as a result of our previous work together.
During the first year of this process, a couple of additional families (the Wellerts and the Baltzys) requested help and we had the opportunity to try a streamlined version of the in-depth process we were using with our core case-study families. Then, in 1995 members of OSU Extension’s Grazing team approached us to collaborate on a whole farm and nutrient cycling study of five grazing farms. This project also involved extension personnel working in natural resources and water quality. One of the families in this new project, the Logans, were one of our core case studies. We formally incorporated the four new grazing families (the Billmans, Beerys and Mangans who co-manage Byrne-Royal Farm, Hartzlers, and Swartzentrubers) into this study in 1995 using the streamlined process we had distilled from our learning experiences with the first four case study families. FINANs are required on the grazing project with Extension. While less participatory than the SARE project, working with these new families on the new project is giving us the opportunity to test and validate the process we have developed.
Qualitative Interviewing Methods
Qualitative interviewing methods were used in the study and were augmented by quantitative data. A qualitative approach to interviewing provided a particularly valuable method of inquiry for studying WFP because it allowed farm families to share what is happening on sustainable farms, how farmers understand and manage farming systems, why they use certain practices, and what process they use in developing plans to manage the farm as a whole. Qualitative interviewing proved useful both as a method of inquiry and as a device for facilitating empowerment in that it encouraged farm families to describe their farms and their lives in their own terms. By conducting an open and engaging inquiry with farm families an in depth exploration of the social, political, economic and ecological contexts of WFP was made possible. And the dialectic interaction that characterized the interviews facilitated the development of a rapport between researchers and farm families which has served as the basis for conducting participatory research and education projects on sustainable farms.
A qualitative research approach was used in this study because this approach is considered especially appropriate for exploring the viewpoints of persons or groups whose assumptions differ from those of the mainstream culture, and who, therefore, have a particular need to speak, and to be heard. The study purposefully chose to work with four farm families who are considered influential in the sustainable agriculture community because of innovative sustainable practices they’ve developed and shared with others. While our selection of farm families for this case study considered similar characteristics such as membership and leadership in a sustainable agriculture organization as important distinctions, we also considered dissimilar characteristics such as farming background, type of farming system and geographic region of the state as important distinctions. We based this reasoning on the premise that by interviewing farm families from the same cultural arena in different contexts and settings we could explore both the similarity and diversity of knowledge that exists in the sustainable farming community. The strategy of selecting informants using similarity and dissimilarity sampling can serve in extending or generalizing the results of qualitative research. Using this reasoning, four different farms were selected from different geographical regions of the state because of the distinctly different types of crop and livestock farming systems they represent. Additional considerations made in selecting particular cases for this study included:
• willingness of the family to contribute time and knowledge in a study of WFP,
• membership in the sustainable agriculture organization, Innovative Farmers of Ohio, and
• experience in conducting and sharing on-farm research .
Interviews were conducted as group interviews with a farm couple and a team of multi- disciplinary researchers sitting around talking at the farm family’s kitchen table. Unlike standard survey research interviews, the interview was conducted as naturally as possible to a conversationl. The natural conversational flow of the interviews allowed researchers and farmers to engage in a dialogue with the focus to better understand of the complexities of WFP. Interviews were conducted with conversational partners taking turns asking and answering questions as well as pursue new topics based on the natural flow of the conversation. By applying this natural conversational approach to interviewing researchers and farm families, we were able to learn from each other and work as a team in a process of collaborative inquiry. Our goals in conducting the interviews in a conversational manner were:
• To listen carefully enough to hear the underlying reasons, values and knowledge that give rise to specific goals, plans and actions developed by farm families in the WFP process.
• To stimulate discussion and explore opportunities for collaboration with farm families in developing the foundation for a participatory action research project.
The interviews with farm families followed two broad avenues of inquiry. On one level the interviews explored the cultural arena, i.e. the values, norms, beliefs, etc., that farm families operate under in their communities and on another level the interviews focused on more narrowly defined topics related to particular farm practices or management processes. The design of the interviews allowed for an exploration of both cultural and topical concerns during the same interview.
Because the interviews were designed with the intent of enhancing an inquiry process that would be open, flexible, continuous, and participatory a set of questions was developed that invited the farm family to describe their farm, typical farming activities and what their roles are in doing them. As previously indicated, qualitative interviewing differs from survey research methods. The questioning process does not follow a script of structured questions that are asked in standard fashion of everybody in the same form and order. Rather a series of open questions were prepared to guide the interview along major themes of interest. The initial interview was designed to create a relaxed atmosphere for the farm family by inviting them to share examples of everyday life and practices used on the farm. The effect of placing the researcher in an active listening rather than an aggressive questioning mode early in the interview served to create an atmosphere of openness and a conversational tone for the interview. The set of questions developed for the initial interview with the farm family included questions centered on description of the farm, the roles played by farm family members, and the farm family’s farming history. A sampling of questions asked and discussed with each family in the interviews is shown in Table 1. Please note that questions were not asked of every respondents and were not necessarily asked either in the same order or form listed below.
Farm Family History
1. What is the farming history on this farm, and how long have you been farming here?
2. What crops and livestock are currently raised on the farm? How different is this system from what was farmed here in the past?
3. What production system and practices were introduced by you on this farm? And why did you change your production system?
4. What would be some of the factors you’d consider in changing current practices?
5. Have you ever made changes in your production system that you later found a need to abandon? If so, what were some of the reasons why you did so?
6. What is your family’s farming background?
Farm Family Roles
1.What roles and responsibilities do individual family members play on the farm?
2. Have there been changes over time in the roles and responsibilities that family members play? How has your family adjusted to the changes?
3. What are your plans for passing down the farm?
Description of the Farm
1. What is the extent of the land acreage farmed or otherwise managed? (Categorize by acreage owned and rented, field size, topography, etc.)
2. What are the farm’s main characteristics, e.g. soils, water sources, woods, slopes, etc.? What are some of it’s unique natural features?
3. What are the buildings on the farm used for?
With the initial interview having established a rapport between researchers and the farm family, the questions for the second and subsequent follow up interviews (Table 2) were designed for in depth probing of themes that emerged during the initial interview as well as for getting more detailed descriptions and explanations of processes and events and specific economic and nutrient budget data (described below). The researchers played a more active role in directing questioning on specific topics during the follow up interviews. The set of questions developed for the second interview were designed to probe specific themes encompassed by the topic of WFP. The set of questions developed for the follow up interviews included questions centered on the major themes of goals guiding production, economic, environmental and quality of life aspects of the whole farm plan; the planning process; farmer research and information exchange; decision making and farm management; and community dimensions of the change process.
Goals Guiding Production
1. Has soil fertility been maintained and improved over the years? How?
2. What is the farm’s crop rotation pattern and what is its impact on fertility, and pest management?
3. What is the crop acreage and number of livestock? What determines the diversity and mix?
Goals Guiding Environmental Management
1. What is the farm’s conservation plan?
2. How are special problems like soil drainage, manure disposal, and soil and water erosion handled?
Goals Guiding Farm Family Quality of Life
1. What are the stressors on family life presented by farming, and how does the family cope?
2. What makes farming important to you?
3. What special qualities are needed to be a farmer?
4. Do you feel the family has spends quality time together?
Goals Guiding the Farm Economics
1. What is the farm business record keeping system?
2. How important is off farm employment to family income?
1. Do you have plans for passing down the farm?
2. How is the farm’s soil health monitored? How is this indicator used in production plans?
3. How is the farm’s nutrient budget calculated? How is this information used in the farm economic plan?
4. What considerations are given to government policy and regulations in developing farm plans?
Farmer research and information exchange
1. What have been the major sources of information you’ve used in making decisions regarding production, economics, environmental management and family?
2. What has been your experience dealing with organizations, like Extension, with a service mission in agriculture?
3. How did you learn to develop a farm business plan?
4. What motivates you in conducting your own on-farm research?
5. What motivates you to host a farm tour? What have other farmers told you they found most interesting about your farm tours?
6. What constraints are preventing more farmers from trying WFP?
1. How important is farming to this community?
2. How does your community support your farm and others?
3. What do you think is farming’s future in your community?
4. What expectations does your community have of you as a farm manager?
Economic Analysis Methods
In 1994 we collected detailed financial and management information using the data sheets from the Wisconsin Whole Farm Economic Model, developed by Dr. Rick Klemme and others at the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, University of Wisconsin, Madison. This information not only provided researchers with important economic data and data that was used to develop nutrient budgets (see below), but equally importantly, helped us understand details of the farms’ management. In addition, the families provided us with IRS data for the years of the study. We searched in the beginning of the project to find a financial analysis program that would be helpful to the farm families and sufficiently rigorous for sharing with scientists. While programs like FINAN are excellent, it was far too intensive for most of our initial families and because of the participatory nature of our study, we did not feel we could impose this level of detail on them. While the Wisconsin model had served us well in previous work, full scale contract analysis was too costly.
In desperation and while working with a family in a state of crisis (the Wellerts) where there was not the time or luxury to conduct extensive economic analysis, we developed a very simple model, we call the “Leaky Bucket Model”, which the farmers ended up relating to strongly. In this model, expenses across the whole farm are represented as % of the gross income as “leaks” and it allows farm families to see very quickly where the biggest leaks in there operation are. Another simple, but well received indicator of whole farm economic health we used is obtained by dividing whole farm net cash profit by the number of acres farmed and/or number of livestock. Through consultation with John Ikerd, we heard about the analysis developed by Dick Levins specifically for financially monitoring sustainable agriculture (Levins 1996) and began incorporating it into our analyses. In 1995, four new families were added to this study who were part of another study being done in conjunction with Ohio State University Extension and were required to do FINANS as part of that study. We used the FINAN analyses for these families.
Nutrient Budget Methods
We developed nutrient budgets for N, P, and K and ratios of nutrient inputs over outputs to assess efficiency of these important nutrient cycles on the farms. This required farm records of cropping and livestock enterprises, and all purchased inputs containing N, P, and K. In order to evaluate nutrient (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium) flow through entire farms, we calculated the amount of each nutrient entering the farms as either fertilizer, feed or nitrogen fixed by leguminous crops. Output of nutrients from the farms was determined through the amounts of nutrients leaving in either crop or animal (including milk) sales. Data for these calculations were obtained as a combination of farmer records and analyses of plant and manure samples. The calculations do not include estimates of environmental losses through erosion, leaching or volatilization. The data are expressed as total pounds of nutrients per farm on an annual basis. These nutrient budget calculations led to the development by Dr. Robin Taylor of a computer based program which can be used to more rapidly estimate nutrient budgets on a larger number of farms by Extension and NCRCS personnel.
As a group of researchers dedicated to participatory research with farmers, we learned many things during the course of this project, not the least of which is a methodology of whole farm assessment which works with a wide array of farm types. The participatory process we now use is still too time intensive to use with a large number of farmers, but we are developing a self-guided workbook that consolodates what we have learned, which we envision being used by study circles and with various extension and other agency personnel with a interest in whole farm planning. A summary list of lessons we have learned from our experiences in this project is shown in Table 3. Following is a discussion of results by individual objective.
1. Whole Farm Planning is a difficult concept for most farmers to start with. On-farm-research or a specific issue is a better entry point. WFP can then be used to set the context to help solve the immediate question or challenge.
2. Language can get in the way of communication, eg., if people cannot relate to the words holistic or sustainable, don’t use them.
3. Meet people where they are.
4. Be site and family specific.
5. Involve spouses and children if at all possible, everyone will benefit.
6. Keep it simple, minimize detail.
7. Scientific paradigm may get in the way, keep an open mind, be flexible and learn to truly listen. Be willing to balance scientia and praxis approaches. Humility is essential.
8. This is a long-term and dialectic process, it requires multiple interations and commitment from all involved.
9. Involve diverse partners and disciplines, build coalitions with NRCS, extension, other farmers and groups.
10. Be willing to trust your “gut” and just do it.
1. Develop participatory on-farm research (OFR) to promote diversification in crop and livestock enterprises.
One of the key lessons we learned in this project is that most farmers relate much better to a specific issue, challenge or question than they do to whole farm planning. However, we found that on-farm research can be an excellent entry point for some farmers to whole farm assessment and planning. Our original goal in this grant was to create a whole farm context for on-farm research and this was achieved with our case study families. As a result of our experience with the case study families in this project, all on-farm research cooperators we come into contact with are encouraged to think about setting a goal for their farm and to determine where the weakest link in their operation is before deciding what OFR project to do. They are strongly encouraged to use the marginal reaction principle in HRM in order to get the biggest return for their efforts, i.e. to be as sure as possible that the research they did would move them closest to their goal.
Putting the farmer perspective up front was critical to grounding a participatory on-farm research and educational program that corresponded to farm-level contexts and responded to farmers’ needs. Starting from where farmers’ see a need for improvement is the key to enabling a participatory on-farm research process that can promote diversification in crop and livestock enterprises. More importantly, the participatory process creates a learning environment that has the potential for transforming relationships and the learning process – for both researchers and farmers. We found that our farmers are interested in participating in agricultural research that is “exploratory” in nature and they are very open to social science research methods that are more qualitative in nature, e.g. informal interviews. There is limited knowledge and experience in participatory research methods within the agricultural research community. The team approach we used to on-farm research has served to improve client/service provider interaction among researchers, farmers and extension agents, and has facilitated the acceptance of participatory action research methods in our land grant university institution.
Developing an effective on-farm project requires a collaborative spirit built on a foundation of trust. Developing a climate of trust to support effective teamwork requires commitment, frequent communication, genuine involvement, and a sense of shared purpose among all the partners in the team effort. Everyone on the team must invest time and effort in establishing good communications and a spirit of reciprocity for sharing knowledge. Careful attention must be given to sharing credit and the benefits of team work with all those involved in the team.
During 1994-1996 on-farm research was conducted throughout Ohio on a wide range of farm types. This research was focused on management practices that are currently being changed to achieve greater profitability and increase biological diversity on the farms. The specific research objectives were jointly addressed by the researchers, farmers and extension. The research was carried out in concert with the whole farm analyses and planning activities described under Objective 2 and the outreach activities described under Objective 3.
Following is a summary of on-farm research done under the auspices of this grant.
Evaluating N fertilizer requirements for corn following winter rye/hairy vetch cover crops
1. Optimizing N fertilizer rates in no-till corn following a hairy vetch cover crop
2. Effectiveness of winter rye cover crop for broadleaf weed control in no-till soybeans
Nitrogen rates in second year corn after alfalfa
Optimizing N fertilizer rates following soybeans
Response of soybeans to a soil microbiological amendment
Optimizing N fertilizer rates in ridge-tilled corn following soybeans
Composting poultry waste for vegetable production
1. Long-term evaluation of cover crops in a corn-soybean-wheat crop rotation
2. Annual medic for weed control in corn
3. Corn yields in narrow strips alternating with oats: corn yield in edge rows
Mineral N levels in MIG pastures vs. corn fields; pasture production
1. Optimizing N fertilizer rates in corn following a red clover hay crop
Monitoring mineral N levels and plant biomass and species composition in newly converted MIG pastures
Response of soybeans to calcium nitrate fertilizer
Optimization of N fertilizer levels on corn grain and silage
1. Staked vs. Unstaked tomatoes
2. Non-chemical weed control in broccoli
1. Composting poultry wastes for vegetable production
1. Contribution of N from hairy vetch cover crop
2. Evaluation of a nitrate test kit
3. Long tern cover crop, incorporation of cover vs. no-till
4. High Ca low Mg lime vs. standard dolomite
5. Shredder chopping of rye and incorporation with tillage vs. no-till with Round-up
Mineral N levels in MIG pastures vs. corn fields, productivity of MIG pastures
1. Mineral N levels in MIG pastures vs. corn fields, productivity of MIG pastures
Mineral N levels in MIG pastures vs. corn fields, productivity of MIG pastures
Mineral N levels in MIG pastures vs. corn fields, productivity of MIG pastures
Mineral N levels in MIG pastures vs. corn fields, productivity of MIG pastures
2. Develop a process for whole farm analysis to provide context for on-farm experimentation and long-term planning.
Experience in farming systems research has shown that interdisciplinary research teams of farmers and scientists from the natural and social sciences can work together to advance understanding of farming systems. This SARE project has demonstrated that a comprehensive understanding of farms requires the integration of various knowledge systems from the social and natural sciences as well as from experiential and farmer-based knowledge systems.
Developing an integrated knowledge system for WFP will depend on creating opportunities for cooperation among various researchers, extension agents, and farmers interested in advancing WFP. This SARE project has found that participatory on-farm research projects provide an ideal learning environment for developing both the capacity to conduct participatory research and integrate the various knowledge systems that guide WFP.
Development of a Whole Farm Planning Workbook
Using information gained from farmers through the on-farm interviews and research, we have developed a whole farm planning document in a workbook format that consolidates our experience with our case study farm families and requires only thought, writing materials and
a calculator to use (See Appendix). The process starts with an initial assessment of a farm in terms of an economic profile, nutrient balance and quality of life evaluation. Initial economic assessments are made using Schedule Fs from US Tax Returns. From these we calculate whole farm net cash profit/acre and per animal unit and an overall picture of expense allocation as a percent of gross income (the Leaky Bucket): two very simple exercises but very valuable to farmers, we have found. We also use the Schedule Fs to calculate Richard Levin’s four Farm Financial Indicators for Sustainability (Levins 1995). These include: (1) degree of dependence on federal subsidies, (2) degree of dependence on non-renewable resources, (3) degree of support of the local community through hired labor and (4) indication of feed production and use balance. In addition, we have used FINAN in conjunction with Extension with farmers who wish this degree of economic analysis.
Assessments of nutrient balance cycling efficiencies are based on farm records of cropping and livestock enterprises and are calculated with a spreadsheet program that records and processes nutrient information by field and enterprise level on individual farms. Quality of life evaluations are based on Extension’s Management EXEL Program protocol and Holistic Management. This initial assessment is then used to help identify weak links and areas of the farming operation where changes need to occur. This process typically results in questions by the farmers which often can best be answered with on-farm research projects, the results of which feed back into the farm analysis and planning in an interative process
Devlopement of a Computer-Based Whole Farm Planning Program
In addition to the WFP workbook, we have developed a computer based tool called HARPO (Holistic Agricultural Research Program Outreach) which uses as input data information collected on the WFP workbook to support whole farm planning and systems agriculture at the farm level. This tool has two components: a graphical shell, to enter and display whole farm data, and interconnecting modules, including farm management practices, economic analysis, nutrient analysis, environmental impact and a prediction module. A graphical shell based on a farm map has been developed. A utility for creating a farm map comprising the several fields has been developed. It saves a flat file containing the coordinates of the field vertices. This file is found by the shell program and displays the farm on a map of Ohio. Selecting among several farms so far mapped is done by clicking on the farm icon. This presents the user with the farm map. Clicking on the individual fields makes available data for the selected field. The data available are covered in the following section.
The preliminary module for the economic analysis is the “The Leaky Bucket.” This model consists of a ledger page and graphic presentation of the whole farm economic data. Economic data consist of the credits and debits corresponding to 20 categories of expense. These data, summed together give the fiscal year end balance of the selected farm. At present, the data are of the whole farm budget, but the capability exists to extend this to either an enterprise or field basis.
The field specific nutrient analysis module is a simplified spreadsheet model enabling field by field analysis of the nutrient input and output of selected nutrients (NPK). Inputs may be in the form of fertilizer, legume, or manure. Outputs, supported are: soybeans, corn, legumes, cattle, dairy, pigs, wheat, and rye. The model creates a field year specific database of inputs and outputs, and calculates nutrient balances for the farm on a field and enterprise basis. This model can be used to analyze the existing system or examine alternative scenarios. Plans exist to link nutrient and economic modules so that the cost/benefit of different nutrient scenarios can be assessed. This is a necessary prerequisite for the prediction and management modules.
Nutrient budgets for the case study farms in this project were calculated at the whole farm level as input/output for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Results from these calculations are shown in the Appendix, and illustrate that the case study farms different widely in some instances in terms of whole nutrient use efficiency. For example, in farms that were primarily cash grain, the input/output ratios of nitrogen were between 1 and 2, indicating that similar amounts of nitrogen were being exported from the farms compared to the amounts of nitrogen that were brought onto the farms via fertilizer or N-fixation by legumes. In contrast, with the farms that had major livestock enterprises, especially with the dairy farms in the study, there was, in some cases, 3 to 4 times more nitrogen entering the farms than leaving via animal or crop products. Although nutrient losses through leaching, erosion or volatilization were not quantified in this study, it is a reasonable assumption that those farms with excess nutrients, especially nitrogen, have the greatest potential for substantial environmental losses of nutrients.
Within the context of the dairy farms in the study, it should be emphasized that nutrients imported to the farms through purchased feed materials as a major component of the nutrient budgets, in large part, determined the degree of excess nutrients flowing through the farms. This latter point is particularly important for two reasons. First, nutrients in imported via feeds are not typically considered when developing nutrient management strategies. Secondly, our economic analyses show that feed purchases are a major expense for the farms, so that the feed purchases are a critical component for understanding both economic and ecological functioning of these dairy farms.
Prompting a discussion on Whole Farm Planning (WFP) proved to be a good strategy for understanding how farmers look at farm sustainability because both farm planning and consideration about sustainability are fundamentally future-oriented processes. We found the following concepts helpful in initiating a dialogue about WFP.
• Describe why a farm-level perspective is important in understanding the research and educational needs of farms and farm families.
In trying to understand the planning process that farmers actually use in guiding their farm management decisions it’s important to ask questions that are aimed at discovering various aspects of the farm planning process. Questions that should be asked of the farmer include:
• What would you describe as your process in developing a farm plan?
• When do you develop your plan?
• Who is involved in making the farm management, household, business decisions?
• How do you develop a plan? Is it written? What tools if any do you use?
• What are you hoping for with your plans?
• What constraints do you anticipate in applying your farm plan? Time, management skills, tools, training, etc.?
The cornerstone of the WFP process is a decision making process. Management decisions are made based on a critical assessment of any planned change vis-a-vis its compatibility with overall farm goals. This is fundamentally a different decision making process than the conventional practice of accommodating new production technology or management practices into a farm operation based on its potential for increasing production. With WFP any planned change in the farm operation is first assessed on the basis of how it affects the economic, environmental and quality of life goals of the overall plan for the farm.
Developing an understanding of the interrelationships between a farm’s ecological, economic and quality of life goals helped generate a capacity for thinking holistically about the farm system. Developing a capacity to think holistically is fundamental to undertaking a whole farm planning process.
Labor inputs in sustainable cash grain farming operations appear to be more labor-intensive, but our farrmers reported that the work is less stressful and more manageable than conventional farming. The work schedule on sustainable farming operations is spread out during the cropping season rather than being bunched up into high stress “crunch periods” typical of conventional farming operations. Farmers report having more free time for family, etc. when work schedules become more manageable.
Whole Farm Planning can be viewed as an ongoing, future-oriented process for integrating information about the ecological, economic, agronomic and human dimensions of a farm into a management plan that considers alternatives, evaluates decisions, and generates actions that are intended to create a preferred future for the farm.
3. Develop outreach activities to facilitate group learning on whole farm planning.
See section V. Outreach below.
A. Farm level
As a result of this SARE project and the collaborative efforts of the Ohio WFP Working
group, five whole farm plans have been developed and are being carried out by farmers in Ohio. These farms represent an innovative group of master farmers who have both developed exemplary whole farm plans and demonstrated a willingness to share their experiences and knowledge with other interested farmers, educators and scientists. As a result of these individuals efforts another fifteen farms are developing whole farm plans.
Some examples of specific environmental and economic changes that have been noted on these farms as a result of WFP include:
- A dairy farmer has transitioned from a conventional confinement operation to a rotational pasture grazing system. This change has dramatically improved the farm’s economic status from what was a net loss enterprise to a now profitable farming operation. Other improvements attributed to the WFP are better time management and a resulting improvement in the farm family’s quality of life.
A farm family has diversified its livestock enterprises to include dairy and sheep. They have also included a sizeable woodlot in their whole farm plan, and plan to manage it using sustainable forestry practices.
A group of farmers have formed a vegetable growers cooperative and formed a study circle to learn how they might utilize WFP and HRM tools in their operations.
A farmer and food processor with a sizable organically certified acreage is using HRM as a WFP tool to develop farm goals that are in harmony with a long term vision of a sustainable community, dedicated workforce, and legacy of stewardship for the land.
A diversified cash grain farmer has converted part of his farm to organic production as a result of utilizing WFP. This change was prompted by the use of HRM testing guidelines.
A farmer considering the purchase of some land utilized HRM methods to calculate what land resources and production plans were needed to justify the purchase. This land was purchased with production plans developed that will take advantage of sustainable management practices.
These accomplishments represent some of the tangible results which have been generated by sustainable farmers and scientists using participatory research and education techniques to promote WFP. Beyond these concrete examples of accomplishments using participatory research and education there has developed an increased empathy between farmers and scientists. This has allowed a dialogue to develop that includes sensitive issues, e.g. family & gender farm roles, which are not usually discussed between farmers and scientists. The question now is how a better understanding of sustainable farming systems and farm family needs generated by participatory research can be extended to design research and educational programs for additional farm families that need to move towards sustainable farming.
B. Watershed level
Developing a whole farm planning model for guiding farm-level management decisions can play an important role in advancing “systems thinking” in natural resource management. The bigger challenge will be the extension of whole farm “systems thinking” beyond individual farmers and into the surrounding communities where collective action must be exercised to solve the problems affecting natural resources and watersheds that are shared by farms and surrounding communities.
C. Institutional level
The increased collaboration which is generated between sustainable farmers and scientists using participatory research and education techniques has allowed participants to begin a dialogue about sensitive issues at the institutional level, e.g. farmer/university research and education roles, which are not usually discussed between farmers and scientists. The question now is how this new understanding of sustainable farming systems and farm family needs revealed in participatory research can be incorporated into the design and delivery of the university’s overall agricultural research and extension programs. Indirectly, this project has had and continues to have major impact on institutions associated with agriculture in Ohio, including the Ohio State University, Ohio EPA and the NRCS through ongoing Whole Farm Planning initiatives and through the newly established Program in Agroecosystem Management supported by the Ohio Agriculture Research and Development Center and the Kellogg Foundation. In addition, some of the case study farmers in this project have become members of key committtees and advisory boards within OSU that are setting future policy for the College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.
Helping farmers increase the percentage of their gross income that they keep as profit is one way to help family farming be sustainable. Results of our cash basis analyses on the farms where the families shared financial data are shown below. The goal of this work was not so much for us as researchers to evaluate the relative economic performance of different strategies, but to help the farmers see for themselves where they might cut their costs and improve their profitability. (The grazers, however, are part of a larger study being done by Cooperative Extension in Ohio of the profitability of dairy farms in the state, all of which have FINANS done annually). Looking at the farms as a group representing a range of sustainable strategies from: cash grain farming with cover crops (Bennett), grain/beef/sheep with cover crops and grazing (Eselgroth), confinement dairy transitioning to grazing (Logan), organic confinement dairy transitioning to grazing (Hartzler), established grazing/crops dairies (Billman and Byrne-Royal) to all grass-based dairy (Swartzentruber), we see some interesting patterns. When we look at net cash return per acre as an indicator of profitability of different farm types at the whole farm level, the dairy farms were more profitable than the grain-based farms in this non-random sample. However, on a total net cash profit basis, the parameter which means the most to the farm families, Bennett’s cash grain cover crop farm returned the highest profit on average of all the farms. The biggest “leaks” (and therefore the areas we encouraged the farmers to consider cutting) were: chemicals, fertilizers and lime, land rent and seeds and plants for the grain farmers. For the dairy farmers it was, by far, purchased feed, followed by hired labor on the farms with the larger herds. Interest on land and/or capital investments were also significant leaks for some of the dairy farms (Table 7). The high economic leaks in imported feed to the farms correlated with high nutrient balance budgets (see discussion on nutrient budgets in Results section), which indicates a potential for environmental leaks. This presents a major dilemna from our perspective: dairy farmers (and other farmers) are often encouraged to increase their herd size to at least 300 cows if not 1000 (the largest herd farm we worked with was Billman at 185 cows in 1996) to sustain their profitability in a declining price market. However, this approach could increase the potential for environmental problems. We observed some evidence that less costly (economically and ecologically) smaller herds produced as much profit as the larger herds in some years (see individual farm tables in Appendix).
With respect to the Dick Levins Analyses, we see that our group of farmers do not depend to any large degree on government program payments, particularly the dairy farmers (Table 7 cont.). This same subgroup showed less dependence on chemicals and non-renewable resources than the cash grain operations (Energy and Machinery indicator, Table 7 cont.). In the third indicator developed by Levins, the amount of support the farm provided for the immediate farm family and any community labor is analyzed. In our group of farms, we see that for those farms which hired little outside labor, this number is very close to the percent return of gross income presented in section I of Table 7. However, for the Logans, Billmans, and Byrn/Royal, all of whom are milking large enough herds that hired labor is required, this number is higher than their percent return of gross, indicating a sharing of profits with other people in the community. Finally, we looked at Levin’s Indicator of Feed Production and Use Balance (Table 7) which determines the balance between livestock and feed on a farm. According to Levins, a percent value of zero indicates a perfect balance. In our group of farms, we see high percentages for the cash grain farms, 94% and 81% (Table 7 cont., indicating that most of the grains raised were sold as feed to be used on other farms. All the dairy farms had negative percentages, indicating none of these farms were able to meet the feed demands of their livestock. Hartzler, with his small herd, was closest to balance (-12.7%, Table 7 cont.), with Logan and his large land base not far behind (14.2%, Table 7 cont.).
In conclusion, we suggest that it is important for researchers and farmers to begin thinking about how economic efficiency relates to ecological efficiency. As a step in this direction, we have combined two important whole farm indicators from our economic and nutrient budget analyses to see what patterns emerge in Table 8, in which we show percent return of gross and the nitrogen input/output ratios for this set of farms. Interestingly, what we see is that those farms with the highest ecological efficiencies, as indicated by N budget ratios, also had the highest economic efficiencies.
FARM__ % RETURN OF GROSS__NITROGEN INPUT/OUTPUT RATIO
A. Changes in Practice
This research effort focuses on the process of integrating farm family quality of life goals and farm resource management to maximize economic and community viability, while maintaining or enhancing environmental quality. Through our in depth interviews, we have documented how each of the farmer collaborators have been or are currently under transition, for multiple reasons. As seen in the list below, all are attempting to diversify their operations. Our role in their transition has been to provide participatory assistance, based on their expressed needs.
In addition to the following farm specific changes in practices, see section VI. Potential Contributions, A. Farm Level.
Management Changes/Research: Rich will continue to introduce cover crops into the farm, to help him reduce his purchased nitrogen inputs. Because he is integrating hogs back in to his operation, he also would like to optimize the nutrient management between the livestock and cropping aspects of the farm.
Management Changes/Research: Doug wants to move toward a balanced nutrient budget on the whole farm. He hopes to minimize purchased nutrient inputs to the farm. He also will continue to develop the rotational grazing system.
Management Changes/Research: Charlie will be reducing chemical inputs by introducing more diversity to the farm, through crop rotations and cover crops. His latest on-farm trials with cover crops and organic corn/soybean production has left him committed to integrating these two practices into his whole farm management.
Linda Lee and Herman Beck-Chenoweth
Management Changes/Research: After having been introduced to HRM concepts, Linda and Herman are reconsidering their plans for expansion of their poultry processing operation, based on concerns for the environment around the farm. Instead, they want to introduce more diversity on the farm and are considering moving towards intensive vegetable production, with other livestock. They want to maximize nutrient recycling on the farm through composting and crop rotations. They also want to utilize more of the whole farm for profit generating activities. that generates income.
Management Changes/Research: At the start of this project, Joe began a transition into a rotational grazing system for his diary. He wants to develop the pastures to their maximum capability to sustain the cattle, and help him decrease his purchased feed costs. He also wants to work to improve his labor management on the farm. Through on-farm research, Joe has seen the benefit of crop rotations and cover crops to help reduce chemical inputs to the field crops. He hopes to improve the crop rotation on his whole farm, and better manage nutrients with improved manure management and more intense use of cover crops.
Management Changes/Research: Through the Leaky Bucket economic analysis, Rick recognized the need to focus his efforts in management to reduce purchased feed inputs to the farm. He is now considering a rotational grazing system for his dairy. He also would like to minimize nitrogen fertilizer requirements through crop rotation and cover crops.
B. Changes in Extension and Farmer Collaborations
The individuals participating in this project have been directly involved with the development of the OSU Extension Sustainable Agriculture Team. The input of farmers has been facilitated from the initial meetings of the extension planning committee. This represents a fundamental shift in the design of OSU Extension programming efforts. Members of IFO contribute monthly articles to the Team’s Extension Newsletter. In addition, local extension agents have been involved in this project’s activities and these agents seek to improve their own skills in on-farm research and whole farm analysis. They understand the importance of a participatory process and for establishing the context for on-farm research.
C. Operational Recommendations
Because this project emphasizes developing a process of whole farm assessment and research within a whole farm context, our recommendations at this time are focused on procedures for conducting whole farm plans and research rather than on specific practices.
1. When conducting initial farm assessments, it is important to document what farmers have been using as economic and environmental indicators first, so that subsequent farm plans can be constructed around the farmers’ value systems.
2. For initial whole farm analyses, emphasis should be placed upon describing the farm in broad terms, before detail on any one aspect of the farm is brought into the process. Detail can be added after identifying major problem areas in farm operations where the farmers are considering significant changes in their operations.
3. It is essential to view the importance of any component research topic within the overall economic and ecological context of the farm. For example, a considerable effort could be spent designing and carrying out an effort to change a component practice when that practice contributes very little to the overall economics of the farm in consideration. Our case studies illustrated this latter point.
4. In developing a process or specific formats for whole farm data presentation, it is best to keep the structure very straight forward with minimal complexity.
5. We found that often the barriers to making changes on a farm are psychological and interpersonal rather than technological. Therefore, it is important to address these issues very early on in the planning process through identification of short and long term goals. A modified Holistic Resource Management approach has been helpful in this process.
D. Farmer Evaluations/Testimonials
All of the workshops included in Tables 4 and 5 above were evaluated by the participants.
Examples of the evaluation forms are included in the Appendix. Completed evaluations were
either handed in after the workshop, sent in by mail, or communicated verbally by phone a few days after the workshop. Overall, the workshops were rated by the participant between
“moderately effective” to “very effective”.
Much of the feedback received from farmer participants in WFP activities related to the
applicability of WFP to decision making and goal setting on their farms. One farmer said that
“becoming reacquainted with decision making tools can be valuable in making changes on my
farm”. Another farmer saw HRM’s “strengths are simplicity and ability to test decisions”, while another saw HRM’s strengths are from its ability to broadly connect “environmental, social and financial considerations”, but its weakness is “the complexity of the model”. Many of the individuals who reported having problems with the complexity of the various WFP models as they were presented in the classroom setting, reported developing greater clarity and comfort with WFP tools after working with and applying these concepts on their own farms. Finally, one farmer stated after studying HRM for two days: “There is hope”.
Holistic Resource Management Workshop, September 11-13, 1995
Approximately 30 farmers and 20 agency personnel attended the Holistic Resource Management Workshop which was sponsored through this project. The majority of the agency personnel attended only the first day of the training, during which an overview of the model was presented. Over the three day workshop, farmers gained basic information on the components of the HRM decision making model, and an introduction to HRM financial planning. A post-workshop evaluation was sent to participants, and a summary of the responses is provided.
Farmers attended the workshop for a variety of reasons; self-enrichment, curiosity about HRM, looking for alternatives to conventional management and decision making, mediocre success with conventional management, looking for success stories from other farmers using HRM, and wanting to put HRM into practice on their own farms. As a result of the training, about half the respondents felt that their own view of their own farm had changed. Many felt that HRM formalized the way they already viewed their farms.
As far as actually implementing HRM on their farms, several respondents expressed some concerns or barriers to using HRM. These included a concern that HRM was biased against crop farming, in favor of grass farming, a lack of other HRM practitioners in their local area, and easy reversion to old management habits. For those interested in implementing HRM, farmers expressed a need for more information on financial planning and biological monitoring, a list of other local HRM practitioners to share ideas, and some more HRM success stories from a diversity of size and type operations.
The perceived strengths of HRM as a decision making tool for farmers included the strong goal setting process, the ecological integration of the model, the emphasis on low capital expenditures, the monitoring process to keep farmers working towards their own goals, and that the model truly integrates the ‘whole’ of the farm. Some of the weakness, as evaluated by the participants, included the complexity of HRM- both to learn and apply it, need to learn whole new list of testing guidelines, bias towards grass-based farming, and the need for the management team/couple to embrace the process, because HRM upsets the status quo.
All participants requested further training in HRM programs titled “Generating Wealth and Financial Planning,” and “Biological Planning and Monitoring.”
E. Number of growers/producers in attendance workshops, conferences field days and other gatherings.
See Tables 5 and 6.
Involvement of Other Audiences
The involvement of state and federal agency personnel, university researchers and
educators, and sustainable agriculture organizations as partners in the development of
collaborative research and outreach activities for this SARE project has been fundamental to its
success. Besides providing a larger network for encouraging good participation in our programs our collaborative efforts to multiply our outreach activities have created a level of awareness of WFP activities statewide that is serving to inform agency regulatory and monitoring efforts. By getting agency “experts” in WFP involved in training and outreach activities along with farmers experienced in WFP a dialogue has been facilitated in which agency and university service providers can listen to the farmer perspective in making WFP approaches more relevant to the farmers’ needs.
Several opportunities for agricultural students’ involvement in project activities were developed. Four senior level undergraduate students in the Agricultural Communications Program at Ohio State University were recruited to develop press releases, program flyers, and public information campaigns used to promote the education activities sponsored by the project’s nonprofit organization partners, i.e. OEFFA, Stratford Ecological Center, and IFO.
Educational & Outreach Activities
During the course of this SARE project collaborative activities were developed and coordinated with the Innovative Farmers of Ohio (IFO) and Stratford Ecological Center. Working in collaboration with these partners the SARE project research team organized a working group of farmers, researchers, educators, extension agents, NRCS and state government agency people into the Ohio Whole Farm Plan Working Group with the purpose of creating a network of partners interested in promoting WFP. With project funds coming from the Great Lakes Basin Comprehensive Farm Planning Network and this SARE project, the Ohio WFP Working Group organized a series of workshops, field days, and meetings to examine and apply a variety of concepts and tools available for whole farm planning. The main focus of attention centered on two WFP models; Holistic Resource Management (HRM) and the Ontario Environmental Farm Plan (OEFP). Other WFP tools were examined including: PLANETOR, Farm-A-Syst, CROPS, SWAPA+H, and EQIP.
During the past two years, The Ohio WFP Working Group has developed a broad based network of over 80 individuals committed to promoting WFP through the efforts of sustainable agriculture organizations, individual farmers, state agencies, and the Ohio State University. To their accomplishment, the network has presented the concepts and tools of WFP to hundreds of farmers state-wide. The major activities of the working group and network partners are summarized in Table 5 below.
Ohio WFP Working Group Meeting – Norwalk
Ohio WFP Working Group Meeting – Norwalk
HRM Workshop – Malabar Farm State Park
Ohio WFP Working Group Meeting – Logan Brothers Farm, Kinsman
Ohio WFP Working Group Meeting – Stratford
Ontario Farm Plan Training – Defiance
Ontario Farm Plan Training – Norwalk
Interagency (NRCS & SWCD)WFP Workshop and Planning Meeting -Lima
OEFP Training – Silver Creek Farm, Hiram
Conservation Tillage Conference, WFP Workshops – Ada
HRM Workshop – Milan
3/2 & 3/96
On-Farm Research Cooperator’s Meeting – Stratford Ecological Center, Delaware
Enterprise Planning – Hirzel Farms, Pemberville
HRM/MIG Field Day – Fox Hollow Farm, Fredericktown
HRM/OEFP Field Day – Silver Creek Farm, Hiram
Logan Brothers Field Day & Grazing School, HRM – Kinsman
WFP/Cover Crops Field Day – Bennett Family Farm, Napoleon
Farm Science Review WFP/GLBCFPN/HRM/OEFP Posters – London
9/17, 18, 19/96
Ohio Partnership Conservation Planning Training Workshop & Field Day – Stratford Ecological Center,Delaware
10/15, 16, 17/96
The Ohio WFP Working Group continues to function formally and informally through interagency, farmer, and sustainable agriculture organization collaboration in research and educational programs that advance WFP efforts. The Innovative Farmers of Ohio in collaboaration with Stratford Ecological Center has received additional funding from the Great Lakes Protection Fund and anticipates continuing research and educational activities in WFP through the Great Lakes Basin Comprehensive Farm Planning Network.
Other outreach activites are summarized in the following table.
ACTIVITY – LOCATION
Third Annual Conference of Innovative Farmers of Ohio – Delaware Hotel, Delaware
On-Farm Cooperator’s Workshop – Stratford Ecological Center, Delaware
Hartzler Family Dairy Open House for Agricultural Leaders – Smithville
Hartzler Farm & Dairy Tour – Smithville
Logan Brothers Field Day & Grazing School – Kinsman
Locust Grove Farm & Community Food Systems Field Day – Creola
Fourth Annual Conference of Innovative Farmers of Ohio – Proctor Conference Center, London
IFO Visioning Retreat – Mohican River Inn, Loudonville
2/21 & 22/97
On-Farm Cooperator’s Workshop for Extension Agents & Farmers – Stratford Ecological Center, Delaware
Scientific and News Articles
Coté, M. (1996, Summer). Shared leadership, shared responsibility: IFO’s new partnership challenge. IFO News, 3 (2), 9-10. Innovative Farmers of Ohio, Stratford Ecological Center, 3083 Liberty Rd. Delaware, Ohio.
Dix, K. (1997, January). Research opportunities for IFO members. IFO News, 3. Innovative Farmers of Ohio, Stratford Ecological Center, 3083 Liberty Rd. Delaware, Ohio.
IFO News (1997, March). Highlights of the 1997 IFO annual conference. IFO News, 2-3. Innovative Farmers of Ohio, Stratford Ecological Center, 3083 Liberty Rd. Delaware, Ohio.
Lonsinger, N.L. (1996). Ohio grassroots group encourages direct marketing of ag products. Farmweek, 3.
Rangarajan, A. (1994, Fouth Quarter). IFO to evaluate whole farm planning tools. IFO News, 1 (2), 7. Innovative Farmers of Ohio, Stratford Ecological Center, 3083 Liberty Rd. Delaware, Ohio.
Rangarajan, A. (1995, Spring/Summer). News from the great basin ‘comprehensive farm planning network”. IFO News, 2 (1), 3-4. Innovative Farmers of Ohio, Stratford Ecological Center, 3083 Liberty Rd. Delaware, Ohio.
Rangarajan, A. (1995, Fouth Quarter). Research and Education efforts recognized and funded at Locust Grove Farms, a diversified family farm. IFO News, 2 (3), 11. Innovative Farmers of Ohio, Stratford Ecological Center, 3083 Liberty Rd. Delaware, Ohio.
Rangarajan, A. (1996, Summer). The basic whole farm plan. IFO News, 3 (2), 3. Innovative Farmers of Ohio, Stratford Ecological Center, 3083 Liberty Rd. Delaware, Ohio.
Stinner, D. (1996, November). IFO summer field days a success. IFO News, 4. Innovative Farmers of Ohio, Stratford Ecological Center, 3083 Liberty Rd. Delaware, Ohio.
Zaborski, E. (1996, Summer). IFO holds first annual cooperators meeting. IFO News, 3 (2), 7. Innovative Farmers of Ohio, Stratford Ecological Center, 3083 Liberty Rd. Delaware, Ohio.
Areas needing additional study
There is a need to develop a farmer friendly WFP handbook. And it will be necessary to determine how best to market it to farmers. Farm management is fundamentally a farm-based activity. Little is known about the community’s impact on farm management decisions and vice-versa. A better understanding of the relationship between farm and community decision making is needed before the impact of whole farm planning can be effectively measured and integrated into local community development and watershed management efforts.
Issues of WFP impact on the farm, landscape, watershed and regional levels need to be considered in WFP. This raises several questions. Should WFP research and education efforts focus on assisting farmers in managing change one farm at a time or on assisting groups of farmers in affecting overall changes on the farm, landscape, watershed and regional scales? What are the advantages and disadvantages of using either approach?
There are limits and constraints to applying WFP to watershed and natural resources management. While whole farm planning can serve to guide individual producers in farm-level management the need for addressing issues surrounding management at the watershed and landscape levels requires cooperation and mutual compatibility of individual farm plans among farmers living in the same watershed and landscape. There is a need to identify the opportunities and constraints to effective cooperation between and among farmers and communities living in the same watershed and landscape.
Given the expense of time and team effort needed to gather information about whole farm systems can a cost effective planning model be developed that processes complex, yet incomplete data, into a framework that can guide whole farm management decisions? How can various data, i.e. ecological, economic, agronomic, and quality of life, etc. be analyzed, integrated and presented visually in a whole model of the farm that farmers can use to envision alternative plans for future farms?
What are the farmer criteria for developing WFP tools that farmers can use to develop WFP either independently, cooperatively or in collaboration with service proviers? Taking sustainable farming to the next systems level, e.g. watershed, will require that more farmers develop the capacity to adapt sustainable farming practices to their particular farming conditions and goals. Helping farmers develop the research and collaborative skills needed for testing, evaluation, adaptation and generation of sustainable farming technology will require the design and delivery of farmer education programs that support greater farmer participation in on-farm research and educational programs. Developing participatory on-farm research and educational programs will also require a broad-based team approach involving extension, researchers and other service providers. There is a growing need to design and deliver training programs in participatory research and education methods that create teams of farmers, researchers, extension agents and students preparing for careers in research and extension that have the ability to generate both new knowledge and fresh ways of working together in research and agricultural education. Ideally, team-based training should be carried out on farms with the aim of expanding and improving existing on-farm research and education programs. Expanding the institutional capacity to support farmer education and train-the-trainer programs in participatory on-farm research and education will require the development of instructional materials.
There is a need to develop more effective mechanisms of information exchange on sustainable farming technology if greater adoption is to be achieved. The sharing of information about sustainable agriculture is taking place mostly at the informal farmer-to-farmer level, and is rarely given access to the information systems that have the capacity to disseminate information to a larger community of farmers and institutional players charged with agricultural research and extension. If the collaborative networks that have been developed by farmers, researchers and extension partners working on this project are to be maintained and expanded, there will need to be formal communication channels created at the institutional level that support information exchange, program development, generation of integrated knowledge systems, and the production of instructional materials.