Cluster use of Whole-Farm Planning with Decision Cases and Evaluation

Final Report for LNC97-106

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1997: $106,400.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $90,580.00
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Rhonda Janke
Kansas State University
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Project Information


[Note to online version: The report for this project includes appendices that could not be included here. The regional SARE office will mail a hard copy of the entire report at your request. Just contact North Central SARE at (402) 472-7081 or [email protected].]

Whole farm planning was presented in a large group working, using the Holistic Resource Management (HRM) curriculum, and then adapted to small group cluster, or management club meetings. Five official clusters met as part of this project, and training materials were also used for KSU Borrower’s Training workshops, and also incorporated into the new Kansas River Friendly Farms assessment tool. While the HRM curriculum, specifically identified as HRM, continues in Kansas in a small way, some of the concepts have been incorporated into other programs, which are on-going. Lessons learned from this project now inform both the River Friendly Farms program and the Nx Level business trainings, which were developed subsequent to, but grew out of this project.

Project Objectives:

• Farmers and ranchers will be empowered through training in whole-farm planning to manage site-specific farming and ranching methods in a holistic manner.

• Component farm planning tools will be evaluated for planning and monitoring effectiveness in different whole-farm planning situation.

• Decision cases will be developed by cluster participants for classroom and extension education.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Stan Freyenberger
  • Jerry Jost
  • Roland Kroos


Materials and methods:

Roland Kroos, a certified educator of Holistic Management, was contracted to conduct 2 training sessions in Kansas, which were held Nov. 17-19, 1997, and Jan. 19-22, 1998. Thirty-one participants came to the first training, and 25 to the second. Feedback from previous HRM trainings in Kansas were that participants would like more follow-up, especially in small groups, and so Stan Freyenberger and Jerry Jost established new “management clusters” following this training, to take the materials to new farmers, and to allow the original participants to begin to apply the principles to their farms and report back. Jerry Jost began working with three clusters of farmers; the Whitewater cluster, Sundog cluster, and Mattfield Green cluster. The Mattfield Green cluster moved on from the HRM curriculum, and also began working with Ranching for Profit materials and a local trainer. Stan Freyenberger began working with two clusters; in Carlton and Bennington. Attendence in the cluster meetings varied between 6 and 18, and all clusters met at least 3 times, and some met 5 times. Stan Freyenberger also became a certified HRM instructor through the time-frame of this grant. Rhonda Janke was not taking a lead role with individual clusters, but attended Roland Kroos trainings, and began to incorporate some of the concepts of whole farm planning, quality of life and goal setting into the “River Friendly Farm Planning Tool,” in collaboration with Dan Nagengast, at the Kansas Rural Center. She began pilot testing this planning tool, including the goal setting portion, with 3 groups of farmers in a small group setting, for a total of about 15 people. This was not an original part of this grant, but was a natural outgrowth of responding to the farmers interest in combining goal setting with other whole farm planning tools.

To meet the second objective, whole farm planning tools were evaluated in the Telenet class taught in the spring of 1997, and a two-hour whole farm planning presentation at the Ag Agents annual conference in the fall of 1998. We found that there was some interest in planning tools, but most farmers don’t have time to work with a tool unless they derive some immediate, as well as long term benefit. For example, financial planning can provide both short-term and long term rewards, where-as coming up with a nutrient budget for a farm may provide long-term savings, but not much in the short term except for a big investment of time (from the farmers’ point of view). None of the clusters meeting with Jerry or Stan expressed interest in continuing beyond the HRM material, for example to do nutrient management plans, and so much of the material covered in the “component tools” related to whole farm planning was incorporated into the River Friendly Farm plan, and presented to farmers, not as a management tool, but as a natural resource stewardship approach to enhancing water quality, and separate grants were used to provide incentive payments for farmers to work through this planning too.

The third objective began with a workshop led by Helene Murray and Tammy Dunrud, to train our project team on the fundamentals of developing decision cases, for use in the farmer trainings, and also for future classroom use at KSU. This was held on August 18-20, 1997, and was well received by all who participated. Both Stan and Jerry used the information from this training to develop 3 case studies (each), for a total of 6 case studies that were incorporated into their cluster trainings. Shawn Hornung began studies for an MS degree in rural sociology as part of this project, and attended this training.

To determine the success or lack of success, and to get farmer feed-back on this whole project, the Austin Peters Group (led by Beth Tatarko) was contracted in November, 1999, to conduct a phone-survey of a sample of at least 6 participants from each of the types of trainings (formal HRM with Kroos, clusters with Stan and Jerry, and the Ranching for Profit group). Their report provided valuable feedback for future work, and is attached as Appendix C.

Research results and discussion:

The results of the trainings, our first objective, were excellent. Feedback from the farmers was positive, and many clusters, though they didn’t continue to meet as management clubs, morphed into marketing groups, or continued to meet in a slightly different configuration as part of Jerry Jost’s next project, the Nx Level Business Planning training (also SARE funded). The hands-on aspect of business planning was missing from the HRM curriculum, though many of the materials in HRM were helpful in understanding the farm decision making process.

The component tools evaluation was revealing, in finding that farmers really don’t have much time to spend on whole farm planning, and thus the amalgam of putting many tools together in a new tool, the River Friendly Farms notebook, was a way to get the best of each tool in a new package. Grant funds (from several sources) are used as incentive payments, but the response to this tool during our pilot testing was also positive, and NRCS is considering basing some of their cost-share dollars in future programs on action plans that farmers develop from their River Friendly Farms notebooks. One benefit of waiting two years to submit a final report, is that we get to see what the true impact of the grant really is. One long-term impact of this SARE grant is that the River Friendly Farm tools was developed, and is now being implemented as a state-wide program in Kansas, endorsed by Cooperative Extension. Additional SARE grants (a PDP grant in 2000, for example) helped to fund state-wide trainings for both Extension and NRCS, but the seeds of the ideas in this tool were planted through the course of this original, 1997 whole farm planning grant.

The third objective, to develop case studies for use in farmer trainings, and subsequent use in classrooms, was only partially met. Six case studies were developed and used with Stan and Jerry’s cluster groups, but as far as we know, not used beyond those contexts. Farmer profiles, begun with another project, but continuing into this project (Appendix G) have been published through the KSU Kansas Center for Sustainable Ag and Alternative Crops, and are used. Shawn Hornung, the graduate student, completed two years of course-work, but failed to complete a thesis. We had hoped that his thesis and subsequent publications would but these case studies into wider circulation, and be our link to the teaching faculty. Shawn’s dropping out of school was beyond the control of the project team and his major professor, and is another learning experience for PI’s writing grants with graduate students with major roles.

In reality, another aspect of case studies vs. other forms of learning, is that in the cluster setting, farmers really prefer to learn from one another, and not from a written story, whether it is factual or fictionalized. Many of the clusters began meeting on farms, and enjoyed the farm tours that were part of each meeting as much as the material presented at the meeting. These are LIVE case studies, not preserved samples. I personally participated in Jerry Jost’s 8-week Nx Level business plan training in the spring of 2001, and that group has also continued to meet as a cluster, moving from farm to farm, and helping each other out with problem solving, decision making, and new marketing ideas. I partly regret that we didn’t do more with the case study portion of this grant, and I suppose we could have found another student at some point, but I also feel that case studies have their place, and are useful in some contexts, but for whole farm planning with farmers, their usefullness is limited, as compared to the real farm.

Research conclusions:

See description in above sections about the River Friendly Farms program, and Jerry Jost’s Nx Level trainings. These programs are now reaching dozens, approaching 100 or more people. In this initial grant the numbers are: Florence training #1 31 people, Florence training #2 25 people, Whitewater cluster 8 people, Sundog cluster 10 people, Bennington cluster 10 people, Carlton cluster 6 people, Mattefield Green cluster 18 people, River Friendly Farm pilot tests 15 people. In addition, the PI, Rhonda Janke was asked to make similar presentations (goal setting, quality of life, etc) to several classes in the KSU Borrower’s Training Program, reaching about 3 groups of 10 to 15 farmers each.

Economic Analysis

None were included in this project, though PLANETOR was originally considered as a potential financial planning tool. What has happened since this grant has ended is that we are combining FINPAK analysis with the River Friendly Farm assessments, both in training sessions for agents, and also offering it to farmers who participate in the program in general. FINPAK, and especially FINLRP, allows farmers to enter their current financial profile, and then generate “what if” scenarios based on various environmentally motivated choices. For example, a farm stream can improve through (a) more fencing, (b) moving the cattle, (c) selling the cattle, etc.

Farmer Adoption

We see farmers and agents in KS more open to whole farm planning, not because of the general concept and having lot of time on their hands, but because they see practical application to their farms of tools like the Nx Level business planning, River Friendly Farms program (with cost share), and FINPAK.

Involvement of Other Audiences

Other audiences included agency representatives (NRCS, KDHE, Dept. of Ag) at the trainings, in addition to KSU Extension.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

A. Curriculum Guide - Stan Freyenberger
B. Curriculum Guide - Jerry Jost
C. SARE Evaluation Report - what the farmers thought about the training
D. Individual Farm Profiles
E. Indicators of Sustainability - Literature Review, and Whole Farm Planning Tools
F. Misc. Reports from each of the trainings.
G. Whole Farm Planing Fact Sheet
H. River Friendly Farm Plan - not originally part of this project, but a subsequent project that resulted from the integration of HRM philosophy with Farm-A-Syst, and other whole farm planning/evaluation tools. (see quality of life section).

Project Outcomes


Areas needing additional study

The future of whole-farm planning will require answering the most critical question: what’s in it for me. There has to be something of benefit to the farmers who participate, or go through a planning exercise, other than to say they’ve done it. Future work in Kansas will focus on designing water and soil quality test kits, so that farmers can monitor the results of their environmental planning efforts, and changes they make on the farm. In other states, areas of further study might be how to adapt planning tools to their state. There is no “one size fits all” planning tool out there, but environmental planning, business planning, and financial planning are all gaps that need to be filled in most states.

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.