Creation of sustainable marketing alternatives is an extremely important research and education topic, but extremely difficult to approach by traditional methods. However, policy change in some states has been successful in helping farmers create such alternatives. This project applied a method successful in creating consensus on environmental issues to provide training and information about policy alternatives in agricultural marketing. The key to this process is first, uncovering the basic assumptions which enable people to be absolutely convinced they are right no matter what the evidence, and then, establishing even more basic stabilizing assumptions which can be agreed to by both polarized groups. Then both previously polarized groups can participate in synthesizing a new approach on this common foundation. This project featured the application of this process to issues of sustainable rural development in three states.
A series of workshops were held which successfully recruited prominent local businessmen, farmers, USDA staff, legislators and others to work on policy change in diversification/value-added marketing. The project has also assisted specific enterprises which have joined the effort, including community enterprises based on organic cotton, high oil corn, biocontrol, organic poultry, meadowfoam and kenaf. The first event was a workshop in Memphis attended by policy makers and farmers from Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky. At this workshop, participants learned of the progress of a Minnesota non-profit and a North Dakota Commission established by their respective legislatures. In addition, each state exchanged information regarding their progress and thinking regarding sustainable value-added agriculture.
Out of this workshop came follow-up meetings throughout the Delta These meetings were attended by legislators, farmers and businessmen. At several of these meetings farmers on the boards of the North Dakota and Minnesota efforts participated.
The project brought people together from three states to exchange ideas about creation of value-added enterprises. Many of the participants had never before met one another, but have now already designed and even implemented policy change in their states.
As these workshops built on each other, a manual for collaborative policy development was refined, published and is being distributed by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. An eight page summary was distributed to throughout Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky and to many locations outside the three states targeted by the project. Copies of the manual are available free of charge from Bill Burnette, Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Room 701, Capitol Plaza Tower, 500 Mero Street, Frankfort, Kentucky, 40601.
As the project proceeded, however, we recognized the growing utility and cost-savings of internet based dissemination of results. Therefore we established a web site and results of the project are now available to anyone with access to a computer and modem. The address of our web site is http://www.deltanetwork.org.
Four key results were achieved during the project. These include:
1. establishment of the Delta Enterprise Network–dedicated to uniting and assisting community-oriented, environmentally-conscious entrepreneurs in development of locally-owned, value-added enterprises
2. state legislation and policy networks–education of state legislators about successful programs for sustainable rural development led to ground-breaking legislation in Kentucky and Missouri and progress through state networks in Arkansas and Tennessee
3. assistance to new enterprises–cooperative efforts to launch sustainable enterprises have been assisted in incorporating, feasibility analysis, business plan development and obtaining facilities and markets
4. creation of a national network to promote systems facilitation training–beginning with a pilot project for agricultural professionals in the northern portion of the Delta.
DEN members have used their training to undertake a major initiative involving all three states as well as others states in the Delta. This initiative focuses on enlisting agricultural research institutions in the cause of Delta rural development. A number of excellent agricultural research facilities exist in the Delta, but none of them have been involved in rural development. The research projects of these facilities’ scientists are chosen based on relevance to agricultural production not rural development. . The three major USDA/ARS labs in the region have now joined with DEN to implement research programs focused on the need for value-added diversification in the Delta. Key scientists recruited to DEN are: Dr. Neil Rutger of the USDA national rice laboratory, Dr. Harry Dupree of the USDA national aquaculture lab, and Dr. John Robinson of the University of Arkansas Rice Research Center. DEN members designed a project which has obtained bipartisan support nationally. Activities are continuing to build toward a regional network to combine the rural development expertise of the non-profit sector with the research expertise of government labs.
We have become convinced that creation of new cooperative, value-added enterprises and public policy change on a variety of agricultural and environmental issues, will occur much faster if we can multiply the systems facilitation skills which have worked for us.
To accomplish that end, we have begun forming a network of agricultural professionals in the Northern Delta to begin developing agents systems facilitation skills. USDA/Rural Development, Extension Service, and USDA/NRCS staff in the Delta regions of Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas have all signed on.
The final network created as a result of the project is the beginnings of a national network to explore systems facilitation. We have created this network to support our efforts in the Delta to develop systems facilitation skills. The group began to coalesce at the Agriculture and Human Values meetings and has established an email expansion list to explore one basic question: What skills are needed to help facilitate groups efforts to improve their agricultural systems? The email discussion explored basic components of systems facilitation such as: learning systems, social motivation, conceptual pluralism, team-building, nonverbal communication, case studies of innovation and feasibility analysis.
Participants in this network, in addition to participants from the region, included:
Randy Williams, Director of Economic Development, Extension Service, USDA, Washington, D.C.
Sam Alessi, USDA, ARS, Morris, Minnesota
Greg McIsaac, Univ Illinois, Dept of Agronomy
Mick Mayhew, Iowa State, Department of Psychology
Barbara Rusmore, Artemisia Institute
Ray Williams, Oregon State University
Dan McGrath, county agent, Willamette valley, Oregon
Cornelia Flora, Iowa State and North Central Rural Development Center.
The conclusions of this informal working group are being combined with the regional policy effort. The hope is that this effort or some similar effort in another region will lead to a regional or national center for systems facilitation. Ideally, this center would train agricultural professionals and others in the skills needed for facilitation of groups focused on a variety of sustainable policy, economic and environmental efforts.
1. Participants will design cost effective agricultural value-added marketing options tailored to their state and a policy education/research process to refine and implement the options.
2. A hands-on manual based on these methods and tailored to local policy education/research on diversification/value-added marketing will be created and field-tested in multiple states including Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas.
Creation of sustainable marketing alternatives is an extremely important research and education topic, but extremely difficult to approach by traditional methods. However, policy change in some states has been successful in helping farmers create such alternatives.
The funding which states can make available to create new marketing alternatives makes the funding from SARE pale in comparison. Texas alone has a $225 million fund for agricultural value-added enterprises, created by citizen initiative.
Outside the South, Minnesota and Kansas have created independent non-profit corporations (Agricultural Research Utilization Institute–AURI and Kansas Value-Added Center—KVAC) to provide research for businesses and farmers in product development, organizing new enterprises and feasibility analysis. (AURI has helped develop 190 new products and over 100 successful businesses. Due to these efforts, millions more dollars every year are invested in applied agricultural research in those states.
One of the most successful programs for helping farmers create their own new value-added enterprises is the Agricultural Products Utilization Commission (APUC) in North Dakota. Over 30 new cooperatives are creating new marketing opportunities for farmers thanks to start-up support from APUC. The first was the Dakota Growers Pasta Cooperative which has over a thousand members, a $41 million facility, and has returned millions of dollars in profits to the farmer-owners. Iowa in 1994 established a program based on APUC and AURI which is supported by $4 million a year from the state road tax.
Creating the New Wave of state alternative marketing policies
Working for policy change is often difficult and frustrating. A method successful in environmental issues and in APUC’s development is being applied by this project in value-added/diversification efforts in the South.
The method is illustrated by an environmental example. Two polarized positions had developed in the environmental and agricultural communities regarding non point source pollution of groundwater in Kentucky. The controversy came to a head when The Kentucky Environmental Protection’s Division of Water proposed new groundwater protection rules which would require every farmer to prove he is not a polluter at a cost estimated of $30,000 per farm. This led to a state-wide protest by farmers. The power of farm organizations led environmentalists to fear that all efforts to protect the environment would be damaged.
To resolve the situation, a group was convened with both farmer and environmentalist representatives along with other industries affecting groundwater. Employing our “construct group” method enabled environmentalists to agree that family farms should be preserved while farm representatives agreed that no willful polluter of groundwater should be defended by the agricultural community.
Continuing application of our method created a policy environment which enabled passage of nationally innovative legislation which established the Kentucky Agricultural Water Quality Authority where farmers and environmentalists jointly develop and improve all surface and groundwater regulations and practices.
The key to this successful process is first, uncovering the basic assumptions which enable people to be absolutely convinced they are right no matter what the evidence, and then, establishing even more basic stabilizing assumptions which can be agreed to by both polarized groups. Then both previously polarized groups can participate in synthesizing a new approach on this common foundation. This project featured the application of this process to issues of sustainable rural development in three states.
To create more environmentally and economically sound agricultural systems, the crucial need is for facilitators who can help groups integrate production, policy and marketing systems and, from this knowledge, synthesize innovative systems. The preceding is our tentative conclusion and hypothesis. Our recommendation is that agriculture and rural development professionals be trained in facilitation skills and their work be evaluated to assess the value of such skills. Our hypothesis is that such training, if properly conducted and followed up, will result in stimulation of a number of sustainable agriculture enterprises. We have become convinced that creation of new cooperative, value-added enterprises and public policy change on a variety of agricultural and environmental issues, will occur much faster if we can multiply the systems facilitation skills which have worked for us.
One key question is, who can best fill this role? USDA staff in Rural Development, Extension and NRCS are the most logical source for such facilitators. What sort of program will attract their interest? What training will develop their skills best in this area? As stated earlier, we have developed two networks to accomplish these tasks and we recommend support for these networks.
First is a network of agricultural professionals in the Northern Delta. We recommend a variety of approaches be tried to attract interest in this network. We have concentrated on the Delta regions of Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas. One question is whether similar such networks can be created in other multi-state rural areas. There is probably more fertile ground for such a network in other regions of the country where training in “systems facilitation” skills has more of a history. We predict that acceptance in the Delta will be slow, but will speed up as we recruit folks who both understand the region and the process of systems facilitation.
The second network created as a result of the project is the beginnings of a national network to explore systems facilitation. We are exploring one basic question: What skills are needed to help facilitate groups’ efforts to improve their agricultural systems? The tentative conclusion and hypothesis is that the basic components of systems facilitation are: learning systems, social motivation, conceptual pluralism, team-building, communication (esp. nonverbal communication), case studies of innovation and feasibility analysis. Any training program in systems facilitation should incorporate and test these elements.
Another recommendation would be to find a better term than facilitation or at least be extremely careful in use of the term. For many, facilitation has come to mean helping advance a particular agenda with a group or just enabling better information flow between groups. As noted above, we are recommending a particular type of integrating facilitation, where the process uses the raw data of differing information and perspectives to create a consensus conceptualization of a particular problem space by encouraging group “leaders” (who emerge as adept at integrating).
For the longer term, a foremost task of agricultural colleges should be to create those facilitators. This project has made a step toward a curriculum for such facilitators. The website mentioned above is being used as a vehicle for coordinating and distributing expertise and information regarding systems facilitation in the Delta region of the South.
Another key question is how the website and other distance learning technologies can be used to improve training of staff in our region, which is far in miles and attitudes from the vortices of value-added diversification.