Full Trucks for Higher Profits: Transportation Collaboration among Farmers and Food Hubs in the Midwest

Progress report for ONC20-070

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2020: $39,930.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Iowa Valley RC&D
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Jason Grimm
Iowa Valley RC&D
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Project Information

Summary:

Transportation is a major expenditure for small farmers in order to access markets. Farmers often transport goods in less-than-full truckloads and this inefficiency reduces farmer profitability and generates negative environmental externalities (asset underutilization). While shared transportation among farmers is one solution, accurately calculating marginal costs is too difficult for most farmers. Mainstream delivery companies do not calculate cost-sharing allocations or consider small farmers’ needs and vehicle requirements. The lack of scale-appropriate tools to measure and allocate transportation costs is a major barrier to collaboration and reduces farmer participation in shared transportation partnerships.

With participation from farmers and food hubs throughout Iowa and Minnesota, this project aims to develop an open-source, data-driven cost estimation tool to accurately estimate transportation costs and allocate those costs fairly among collaborators. Project partners will identify cost factors relevant to small farmers and the inputs necessary for accurate marginal cost calculation. A multicultural farmer collaboration will also identify potential barriers to tool implementation, accessibility and usability by non-native English speakers and farmers with little technology experience. Our goal is to encourage and increase farmer participation in shared transportation to reduce transportation-related costs and increase farmer profits.

Project Objectives:
  1. Conduct preliminary interviews with 4 farmers and 4 food hub managers in Iowa and Minnesota on cost factors of transportation and delivery.
  2. Develop a survey based on the initial interview feedback and partner with the food hub network to distribute the survey to at least 20 food hub farmer vendors. 
  3. Use a mobile application to collect real-time data from farmers on fuel usage, vehicle maintenance, and other costs.
  4. Design a cost estimation tool based on the inputs gathered and validate tool’s accuracy by conducting usability studies and follow-up discussions with food hubs and farmers regarding implementation barriers.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Swan Ray (Researcher)
  • Dr. Cameron MacKenzie (Researcher)
  • Dr. Anuj Mittal (Researcher)

Research

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

3 Webinars / talks / presentations
2 Other educational activities: Social media posts

Participation Summary:

28 Farmers
12 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

During the first year of the project we have conducted 8 interviews with our food hub and farm project partners about their shipping and transportation operations. We conducted a survey of 24 additional farms and food hubs in Iowa and Minnesota. During the survey University of Minnesota and Iowa Valley RC&D published social media posts about the project. In February 2021 we hosted a meeting with Dr. Caroline Krejci at the University of Texas in Arlington. Dr. Krejcki's research time shared their work on a Southern SARE Research and Education project. Our two projects exchanged information about our projects and committed to meeting quarterly and involving future food hub networks from other parts of  the Country. Dr. Mittal and Jason Grimm shared information about the project at the Great Plains Growers Conference in February 2021. Jason Grimm, shared information about the project and the survey with the Iowa Food Hub Managers Working Group.

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.