Sustainable Agriculture Learning Initiative

Final Report for SW00-00C

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2000: $29,200.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Jon Bailey
Learning Initiative/CRA; Center for Rural Affairs
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Project Information

Abstract:

This project surveyed agricultural lenders, crop insurance agents and farmers involved in sustainable agriculture on their perceptions of sustainable agriculture and crop insurance. Farmers expressed a significant level of discrimination in crop insurance based on their use of sustainable practices and systems, while lenders and insurance agents believe there is no discrimination. Lenders and insurance agents also demonstrated a significant lack of knowledge about sustainable agriculture, especially the economics of such practices and systems. Based on these survey results, an education curriculum was developed and presented at five educational seminars throughout Nebraska in February 2003.

Project Objectives:

I. Survey
A survey was developed that questioned three separate groups on their perceptions and knowledge of sustainable agriculture and how crop insurance treated those farmers employing sustainable agricultural practices and systems.
The groups surveyed included:
1. Agricultural Lenders – A mailing list of the members of the Agricultural section of the Nebraska Bankers Association was obtained. One hundred surveys were mailed to this group.
2. Crop Insurance Agents – A mailing list of those insurance agents specializing in crop insurance was obtained from the Nebraska Department of Insurance. One hundred surveys were mailed to this group.
3. Farmers – A mailing list of members of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society was obtained and combined with those names on the Center for Rural Affairs database that had provided a CFRA interest code pertaining to sustainable agriculture and participants in the Center’s Land Link Program and recipients of the Center’s former “Beginning Farmer Update” newsletter. This list was eventually narrowed to include active producers only and to represent all areas of the state. One hundred surveys were mailed to this group.
Specific surveys were mailed to each group. The surveys mailed to lenders and crop insurance agents asked about their experience in agriculture lending or crop insurance, and asked about their knowledge of sustainable agriculture. They were asked if they provided credit or insurance to farmers using sustainable agriculture practices, and whether they had ever requested a client not use sustainable agriculture practices. Finally, they were asked about discrimination in providing credit or crop insurance coverage or payments.
Farmers were asked about their farming operation, use of sustainable agricultural practices and discrimination they or other farmers had been subject to by lenders or crop insurance agents.
For purposes of reference, the following definition of sustainable agriculture was used in the surveys: “Sustainable agriculture has been described as having the goal of incorporating more ecologically-sound practices that preserve and renew the nation’s soil, water, plant and animal resources through the elimination or substantial reduction of dependence on energy, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.” Copies of each survey are attached.
Surveys were returned to the Center for Rural Affairs and tabulated. The results and finding are as follows:
A. Banker/Lender:
Responses to the banker/lender survey yielded 26 respondents. The majority of respondents had been in the lending business 10-19 years, representing 21 counties.
Of the banks that responded, all but one specialized in agricultural lending. Nearly 85 percent of their loan portfolios are agriculture. Respondents’ knowledge of sustainable agriculture is limited to “some knowledge” with a very small percentage with “a great deal” of knowledge. Of the respondents who replied with “some” knowledge of sustainable agriculture, 40 percent indicated that they did not provide loans or credit to farmers and ranchers practicing sustainable agriculture.
Most banks will lend to farmers and ranchers using sustainable practices, 68 percent said they do loan money to farmers using sustainable practices. Of the respondents who answered no, the reasons included:
a. lack of knowledge how the practices work (2),
b. the practice isn’t proven and producers aren’t willing to try it,
c. no requests for such funding (5),
d. practice is not generally an issue when deciding whether or not to finance (2).
A comment was made that there would be more concern about the financial trends, not the practice.
One banker said that they had requested that a farm or ranch client not use sustainable agricultural practices. The reason given was that lower productivity from those practices leads to economic shortage in cash flow. Ninety percent of lenders require their clients to carry crop insurance.
According to the respondent bankers, there does not seem to be any discrimination against producers using sustainable agricultural practices. Agriculture lenders were not aware of other lenders or crop insurance agents speaking against sustainable agricultural practices, nor was there any knowledge of farmers and ranchers being denied crop insurance because of their practices.
Producers who direct market their products are not denied financing. Approximately 25 percent of the lenders require product liability insurance.
B. Crop Insurance Agent
Responses to the crop insurance agent survey yielded 41 respondents. The majority of respondents had been in the insurance business 10-29 years, representing 29 counties.
Over 77 percent of the crop insurance agents responding had “some” knowledge or were “aware” of sustainable agriculture. Half of the respondents do not offer policies to sustainable farmers and ranchers. Reasons that were offered include:
a. no requests (13),
b. no local market, clientele is too small,
c. agent does not make the final decision – would offer it if asked.
Those agents not offering insurance to sustainable agriculture clients were aware of sustainable practices (47 percent) or had some or no knowledge (47 percent). Agents do not feel that there is any discrimination among other agents. Comments include:
a. practice must be profitable,
b. won’t give credit for higher per unit price when figuring cash flows,
c. lack of knowledge, and
d. most insurance may be based on an average yield for a county that was primarily e. based upon conventional farming yields.
Agents are not requesting clients use practices that are not sustainable, nor are they aware of others speaking against it. A very small percentage, eight percent, knew of farmers being denied insurance because of sustainable practices. There was increasing awareness of farmers/ranchers receiving less in crop insurance payments because of their sustainable practice (16.22 percent).
There is affordable product liability insurance being offered to sustainable farming or ranching operations that direct market their products, but of those that responded, more agents did not offer the coverage (56 percent).
C. Farmer/Rancher
Of the 73 respondents, 74 percent considered themselves a diversified operation. Eighty-two percent of the respondents had been farming or ranching for more than 15 years. The respondents represented 41 counties.
Half of the respondents purchased crop insurance and obtained operating credit for their operation. Farmers and ranchers had at least some knowledge of sustainable practices while almost half were aware or had a great deal of knowledge. Half of all respondents indicated that their practice was both conventional and sustainable, while only 18 percent indicated that it was completely conventional. The reasons for conventional practices or a mixture of the two included:
a. their tenant won’t do it (3),
b. costs too much, and
c. the labor involved in weed control was too much.
Most respondents did not feel that they had been denied insurance because of their practices. Four respondents had been denied insurance, giving the following reasons:
a. grazing corn that was not mechanically harvested cannot be insured (1).
b. an agent that wanted a client to pay 5% more to cover any weed problem.
c. one responded that crop insurance doesn’t pay and
d. another had not sought out coverage.
Two respondents felt that their crop insurance agent was against sustainable practices. Both cited perception of lower productivity as the reason.
Our respondents did not feel they had been denied credit because of their practices. Three respondents had been denied credit. Reasons included:
a. bank said I was too small and
b. another said they were denied on a sheep plan because it was “different”.
Those respondents that believed bankers were against sustainable practices included an even mixture of perception of lower productivity, economic reasons, landlords won’t allow it, and the lack of knowledge or understanding of the practices.
Half of the respondents felt that there was discrimination against sustainable agriculture by insurance and banking, but did not offer solid defense. Comments included:
a. operations that are all row crop with no rotations help big agriculture and big insurance
b. bankers want the predictability of chemical agriculture
c. small farmers that practice sustainability can’t get big enough to compete
d. industries only look at yields
e. should organic producers be eligible for loans and LDPs since they already receive higher prices for their products?
f. agriculture credit is based on high yield farm practices
g. mindset is on production only
h. big farmers plant fence row to fence row and look down their nose at sustainable practices
Of the respondents who direct market their products, about half, 72 percent do not have product liability coverage to manage their risk.
D. Conclusions
As would be expected, those that hand out the benefits, i.e. bankers and insurance agents, do not believe there is discrimination. Those that receive the benefits feel there is discrimination. There seems to be little knowledge of sustainable agriculture among insurance agents and bankers. Perhaps the reason why they feel there is no discrimination. More education in this arena is necessary. Many insurance agents claim there have not been many requests for coverage of sustainable agriculture, while there were responses from farmer/rancher surveys that suggest that it is better to not mention your type of practice. Most farmers and ranchers seem to conform to the system and comply when necessary.
E. Recommendations
An outline of recommendations resulting from the survey results and their analysis is included below in the “Recommendations” section.
A more extensive report on the survey and its results is attached to the written copy of this Final Report. In addition, a summary “Issue Brief” of the survey results was published.
II. Education
Survey results indicate a lack of clear definition and knowledge of sustainable practices by lenders, insurance agents and farmers. Educational seminars responded to the survey results by providing clarity and understanding among participants as to viable sustainable agriculture practices and systems, available risk management tools, and the economic benefits of sustainable agriculture systems and practices.
As a result of the survey, over 160 people including farmers, lenders, and insurance agents indicated a desire to attend educational seminars to learn more about risk management and its relationship to sustainable agriculture practices and systems. We used that information to engage the USDA Risk Management Agency in a partnership to deliver educational seminars on more common risk management tools such as crop insurance, revenue insurance, financial management, basis contracts, forward contracting and futures and options.
The seminars provided a full day divided between sessions devoted to information on sustainable practices and providing examples of how sustainable practices have actually provided higher economic and stewardship returns to the farmer and information related to common risk management tools and how they work with and complement sustainable agriculture and practices.
The curriculum for the seminars is explained in more detail in the next session.
Educational seminars entitled Exploring Your Risk Management Toolbox were delivered in Ogallala, Curtis, Scotia, Tecumseh, and Bloomfield, Nebraska, February 3, 4, 5, 10, and 11, 2003 respectively. Copies of promotional materials are attached to the written copy of this Final Report. The Center’s Communications Department was employed for local media and press to inform people of the seminars. Press releases were published in local newspapers (including newspapers in Colorado, Kansas, Iowa and South Dakota for seminars near such states), and announcements were provided for local radio stations and farm news programs.
Ninety-four (94) individuals attended the seminars. Of those attending, 40 were beginning farmers. Farm advisors in attendance included lenders, crop consultants, attorneys, and agricultural organization leadership. Members of the staffs of U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne, U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel and U.S. Senator Ben Nelson also attended.
Lenders expressed a need for additional copies of workshop materials to share with their clients. As a result, a packet of seminar materials were provided to every financial institution outside of Omaha and Lincoln. Agricultural organization leaders were also provided with additional materials to provide to their members as educational materials. An additional 200 copies of seminar materials were also provided to the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society for distribution at their Annual Meeting.
Each workshop included presenters from the University, CFRA, and area farmers. Area farmers shared information on techniques that they had employed and the fiscal advantages afforded them with their specific strategies. Each farmer presentation included detailed information on how participants could employ risk management strategies on their operations. Farmer presentations also offered area and regional applicability.

Introduction:

Low commodity prices and increasingly erratic weather are exposing family farms in Nebraska and elsewhere to the risk of financial and environmental disaster. Crop insurance and other risk management tools have provided a buffer to the potential of farm financial risk in the past, but recent multi-year weather disasters in the Northern Great Plains and the total collapse of commodity markets everywhere have exposed the weaknesses and limitations of crop insurance. However, driven by 40 years or more of specialization, many farmers lack either the knowledge or skills to incorporate diversified, sustainable systems to reduce risk, or the cultural understanding of sustainable agricultural practices and systems. The systems that provide the financial underpinning of farming — credit and crop insurance — are naturally biased toward systems that reduce the risk of lenders, insurance companies and the government. Traditionally, those systems have been the dependable, traditional practices of production commodity agriculture.

As prices, weather and policy have conspired to place strains upon farm income, strains are also beginning to appear in the financial institutions that bolster American agriculture. Crop insurance is no longer a valid model of risk management or income protection in areas that experience unusual patterns of weather-related disasters; crop insurance is no longer a viable product for those areas where diversified farming operations are necessary for environmental and income purposes; and the cost of traditional production commodity agriculture places credit outside the reach of many farmers while increasing the risk of lending institutions. However, among the strains appear opportunities.

As a result of the 1996 Farm Bill, farmers are no longer shackled to strict cropping patterns by government programs. Generally, the only limitations placed upon farmers’ choices as to what to plant are their imaginations, their weather patterns, and their knowledge. Reforms to crop insurance adopted by Congress in 2000 are supposed to no longer discriminate against those farmers using sustainable or organic systems and practices while placing such practices on par with conventional farming practices in the definition of “good farming practices.” In addition, historic low commodity prices and declining incomes are forcing many farmers to re-evaluate their farming system and practices. Increasingly, lenders and policymakers are concerned about the long-term affects of rural economies being drained of their family farm economic base. These openings provide further opportunities for willing farmers to learn and teach their financial reinforcers — bankers, extension agents, crop insurance companies, and crop insurance policymakers — on the economic advantages of sustainable systems.

Research

Materials and methods:
  • The Sustainable Agriculture Learning Initiative consisted of testing our hypothesis that there is a bias toward those seeking to implement sustainable practices on their farm or ranch operations by lenders and insurance providers. The survey results provided a platform to work with others to deliver an educational opportunity for farm and ranch advisors to learn more and assist in dismissing notions that sustainable practices are neither profitable nor force lower production levels. Educational materials and speakers were assembled to share information with the farmers, particularly beginners and their advisors at workshops held across the state of Nebraska. Each session include pre- and post-evaluations to measure the information gained and changes farmers anticipated to change with their farm or ranch operations.The analysis of the survey findings aided in the development of a curriculum addressing issues identified from the surveys. Discussions focused around the survey analysis with extension educators, Nebraska Sustainable Ag Society leadership, Nebraska Drought Mitigation Center, Nebraska Department of Agriculture, USDA Farm Service Agency staff, Nebraska Farm Hotline, and individual farmers aided in the curriculum development, location selection, and sponsorship of educational workshops to be held.

    It was discovered that there were numerous workshops to be offered across the state to address a variety of risk management issues. In an attempt to draw a larger audience, the project teamed with another risk management program that included the University of Nebraska and Center for Rural Affairs staff targeting beginning farmers. The teamed effort used resources from this grant to engage participants in a half-day devoted to information on sustainable agriculture as a risk management strategy. Curriculum topics included:

     economics and steps to converting a farm operation to certified organic production
     rotational grazing efforts and findings based on drought conditions and economic advantages
     soil tilth and health when crop rotations include small grains with row crops and legume such as alfalfa
     information on the biological health of the soil and ability to retain larger amounts of moisture over longer periods of time
     economics of pastured poultry
     alternative enterprises that compliment crop and livestock production
     an exercise in measuring the feasibility of a niche market or value added enterprise.

    A series of case studies recently completed and published by the Center for Rural Affairs – Profitable Practices and Strategies for a New Generation – were provided participants and discussed during the sessions. These case studies were developed and published as part of the Farm Profitability Project funded by the USDA Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems program and jointly operated by the Center for Rural Affairs, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Iowa State University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Practical Farmers of Iowa, and the Michael Fields Institute.

    Center for Rural Affairs staff and at least two or three farmers served as presenters at each of five workshops. The second team presented a half-day of information on issues that complimented the sustainable agriculture program covering crop insurance, commodity marketing, and economic analysis of the farm including how to measure the contribution of off-farm income.

    Speakers and presenters included the following people:

    • Dennis Demmel, farmer, Ogallala, NE
    • Keith Roberts, farmer and small business owner, Orleans, NE
    • Larry Glassburn, organic farmer, Sidney, NE
    • Clem Wagner, farmer/rancher, Center, NE
    • Tom Larson, organic farmer, St. Edward, NE
    • Vicky Koch, farmer and small business owner, Wynot, NE
    • Mary Rose Pinkelman, farmer and small business owner, Wynot, NE
    • Steve Grudzinski, rancher, Loup City, NE
    • Rod Christen, farmer, Steinauer, NE
    • Eldon Snoke, farmer, Humboldt, NE
    • Dave Goeller, UNL Cooperative Extension
    • Wyatt Fraas, Center for Rural Affairs

    Pre- and post-evaluations at each seminar of participants provided a tool to identify knowledge gained and anticipated practices and strategies that farmers would change based on the information grained from the workshop. Copies of the evaluation documents are attached to the written version of this Final Report. Informal conversations with lenders, crop consultants, educators, and other non-farmer participants provided a qualitative measure of how the information would be used and shared with their farmer clients. The pre-evaluation tool also served as a guide for presenters to adjust each workshop to fit the local audience’s interests.

    Locations were selected to provide broad coverage of the state and at select sites that farmers tend to attend educational offerings on a variety of topics. Site selection also tended to include smaller rural communities that varied in population size from 5,000 to 200. The Curtis location was specifically selected in an effort to build a new relationship with the college located there and focus on their beginning farmer student population.

Research results and discussion:
  • The following demonstrable impacts occurred or future demonstrable impacts are expected to occur:
    • Nearly 1,000 farmers, ranchers, lenders, crop insurance agents and other agricultural advisors were provide information on sustainable agriculture practices and systems and the beneficial aspects (environmental, economic and social) of such practices and systems.
    • 93 percent of seminar attendees indicated they obtained a better understanding of all aspects of risk and how much risk their farm and rancher operation could afford.
    • Numerous seminar attendees indicated they would begin using new and different risk management strategies and sustainable agriculture practices and systems. Examples include crop revenue insurance, forward pricing, seasonal marketing opportunities, soil management, organic farming, crops for dry times and livestock management and alternative enterprises.
    • Many seminar attendees expressed an interest in converting to or incorporating organic practices. The economics of such practices and systems were of particular interest. We would expect, therefore, that several seminar attendees will convert to organic farming in the future.
    • Many seminar attendees expressed an interest in converting to or incorporating rotational grazing practices. We would expect, therefore, that several seminar attendees will convert to rotational grazing systems in the future.
    • The materials and presentations provided offered new systems and practices amenable to an area prone to long periods of drought. The seminars were offered during a period of the worst drought in most areas of Nebraska since the 1930s. The need for farm and ranch planning in anticipation of long periods of drought and how sustainable agriculture can contribute to that planning was among the most appreciated aspects of the seminars. It is expected attendees and their networks will be more aware of the need for such planning for future drought periods.
    • Information on the benefits of sustainable agriculture systems and practices was made more available to lenders and other agricultural advisors, and it is expected that information will allow farmers and rancher employing such practices and systems and their advisors to be more open and honest with each other. It is also expected that in the future, agricultural advisors will have the information to pass on to those farmers and ranchers interested in sustainable agriculture.
    • Greater partnerships and relationships were formed between those who advocate for sustainable agriculture practices and systems and those in a position to influence the behavior of farmers and ranchers. Nebraska is a small state, and much of what is done in rural Nebraska is based on personal relationships and partnerships. We expect these relationships to continue and be strengthened in the future.
    • The survey results provide some measure of proof that a bias does exist toward sustainable farmers by credit and crop insurance programs. Such proof also allows groups such as the Center for Rural Affairs to argue for policy responses to such bias so as to remove barriers to sustainable systems and practices.
Research conclusions:

The program delivery design – a partnership with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and including local farmer-speakers at each seminar – worked well for developing new relationships. We exchanged ideas and examples with UNL staff, and presentations were able to be modified to be more thorough and to address local issues. The farmer-speakers are willing to work on future activities with us and to initiate similar activities on their own. Several farmers represented the state sustainable agriculture organization and wish to partner on future activities.

The program delivery at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture gained new relationships with college instructors, who built the program into their curriculum and are now presenting similar material to a new generation of farmers and ranchers. This relationship bodes well for the future and engaging the graduates of this program and the networks they will eventually develop in issues concerning sustainable agriculture.

Location and program curriculum discussions with the various agencies and organizations revealed new departments within the university system and extension that Center staff had not worked with before. These conversations not only provided an opportunity to build new relationships and sharing of information, but planning that avoided conflicts of attendance for audiences throughout the farmer education season. These collaborations have opened new avenues for future partnership opportunities.

The survey and seminars also opened doors to the lender and crop insurance community. While these groups did not attend the educational seminars in large numbers, many lenders and crop insurance agents throughout the state are now more aware of these issues and have indicated a willingness to provide input and information on how credit and risk management programs are working for farmers and ranchers employing sustainable agriculture systems and practices. There now exists the potential for future presentations to professional gatherings of lenders and crop insurance agents on these topics.

Finally, this project resulted in stronger relationships and partnerships with federal policymakers and administrative officials. Members of Nebraska congressional staff attended portions of some of the educational seminars and became more familiar with the issues and topics discussed. At least one congressional office is now working with Center policy staff on federal legislation that would provide more and better crop insurance coverage for those farmers growing alternative crops. The relationships established with the federal Risk Management Agency will also assist in future efforts to provide better risk management protections and products for farmers and ranchers employing sustainable agriculture systems and practices.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:
  • Copies of all publications listed below are included with the written version of this Final Report.
    1. Report of the survey results and an analysis thereof.
    2. A Center for Rural Affairs ¡§Issue Brief¡¨ summarizing the surveys and the analysis.
    3. Exploring Your Risk Management Toolbox includes a variety of materials primarily collected from existing sources that were used as supplemental information to what was presented at workshops. Each source was examined for its relevance to the target audience, subject matter, its perspective of both long and short-term outcomes and its relevance to an enterprise approach or whole farm approach.
    Outreach efforts included five day-long workshops which were part of a teamed effort. The teamed effort used resources from this grant to engage participants in a half-day of interactive information devoted to sustainable agriculture methods as a risk management strategy. Center staff and at least two or three area farmers served as presenters at each of five locations across the state. Area farmers presented information on practices they had employed, the findings they found as they implemented such practices and the economic impacts that the practices provided. Center staff provided information on the following topics and farmer information when a farmer speaker was not available for a specific subject.„c soil tilth and health considerations in crop rotations
    „c information on the biological health of soil and its ability to retain larger amounts of moisture over longer periods of time, particularly during drought conditions
    „c economics and steps to converting a farm operation to certified organic production
    „c rotational grazing efforts and findings based on drought conditions and economic advantages
    „c methods and economics relating to pastured poultry
    „c alternative enterprises that compliment crop and livestock production
    „c an exercise in measuring the feasibility of a niche market or value added enterprise

    The remaining half-day of each seminar consisted of information on risk management topics as they complimented the sustainable agriculture program including discussions concerning crop insurance, commodity marketing, and economic analysis of the farm (including how to measure the contribution of off-farm income).

    Educational program evaluation results were not collected from students and not all adult participants completed the post-evaluation. Below is a tabulation of 42 of the participants and the responses they provide with the post-evaluation form.

    Have the top 2 risks to your operation changed based on this seminar? Yes - 13 No - 29
    Will you use insurance or any other means to minimize these 2 risks? Yes - 31 No - 11
    Do you have a better understanding of how much risk you can afford? Yes - 39 No - 3

    Will begin use or practice Need more information Gained knowledge Will discontinue use or practice
    Crop Revenue Coverage Insurance 10 3 23 2
    Forward pricing 7 4 21 3
    Seasonal marketing opportunities 11 2 23 0
    Options 0 7 21 4
    Soil Management 8 5 20 0
    Strategies for Crops and Rotations 0 2 25 0
    Organic Farming for Soils and Profits 7 3 23 0
    Crops for Dry Times 5 3 18 0
    Livestock Management and Alternative Enterprises 4 4 22 1

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Farmer Adoption

Our program at a community college provided specialized information on risk management and sustainable practices that had not been available to those instructors before. The use of certified organic farming methods as an example was widely received as new and useful information by farmers.

All lenders and non-farmer participants requested extra hand-out to be shared with clients and peers. Nearly 200 extra hand-outs were presented at the sustainable agriculture organization annual meeting based on participation in the workshop by their leadership.

Pre- and post-evaluation materials document that nearly every participant gained knowledge in several areas and particularly in regard to strategies for crops and rotations followed by organic farming for soils and profits. A significant number responding indicated that they will begin at least one or more new practices or will use a strategy presented at the workshops.
The seminars were offered during a period of the worst drought in most areas of Nebraska since the 1930s. The need for farm and ranch planning in anticipation of long periods of drought and how sustainable agriculture can contribute to that planning was among the most appreciated aspects of the seminars. The seminars and materials provided added to the attendees knowledge and understanding of how sustainable agriculture can contribute to farm and ranch health (both economically and environmentally) during periods of drought and how sustainable agriculture can play a role in planning for periods of extended drought.
The survey results and analysis provide data and information from the population of one state as to the perceptions of credit and crop insurance practices related to those employing sustainable agriculture practices and systems. Further data and research is likely needed to determine the depth of perceptions and the reality of perceived discrimination against farmers involved in sustainable agriculture. However, this project does provide some basis for perceived discrimination by certain farmers and a glimpse of the perception gulf between farmers and lenders and crop insurance agents.

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

Recommendations

Based on the activities of the project, we provide the following dozen recommendations:
1. Discussion of the wide range of risk exposure areas and risk management tools is important to farmers/ranchers. Not all are interested in crop insurance and commodity exchanges; other tools may be more valuable to them and their circumstances. However, resources that discuss the range of risk management tools are lacking; the only resource we found was the out-of-print 1997 RMA booklet “Introduction to Risk Management.”
2. It is beneficial to have several or a variety of speakers on the agenda. This provides variety during the day, gives differing opinions and perspectives, and allows special topics to be addressed in-depth. Inclusion of experienced farmers/ranchers/advisors adds credibility and practicality to the program.
3. Scheduling times and locations to accommodate high school and college students can increase the audience and reach an overlooked audience.
4. Use of various production systems as examples can make the program more valuable to a wider range of farmer/ranchers. They can learn about applicability to their own system, as well as learn about benefits of other systems. Despite their seeming independence, peer pressure among farmers and ranchers is great. If it can be shown that other, local farmers and ranchers employ certain systems or practices – especially well-known and well-respected local farmers or ranchers – the chances that others will positively view non-conventional systems and practices is enhanced.
5. In areas prone to extreme or prolonged drought, advocates of sustainable agriculture should be on the forefront demonstrating that sustainable agriculture systems and practices provide beneficial environmental and economic responses to drought conditions. Materials demonstrating such benefits and how farmers and ranchers can plan for periods of drought through sustainable agriculture should be developed and made more available.
6. Topics that received high interest and little discussion time were production practices to reduce expenses and diversifying farm enterprises.
7. Publicity of programs is very important to ensure attendance. It may be appropriate to identify a variety of local contacts or sponsors to assist with recruiting participants. We found that educators that were currently involved with participants in some way played a greater role in assistance with the recruitment of participants versus lenders or other farm advisors. Radio promotion seemed to have as great or greater impact when included as a part of an upcoming events program announcement.
8. While pre-registration is helpful in the preparation of materials, the ability of participants to be able to attend regardless of pre-registration was important.
9. The insurance industry seems to providing little coverage to those who direct market their products. Half of the respondents do not offer this type of coverage. A significant segment of those farmers and ranchers engaging in sustainable agriculture in the future will involve niche or direct marketing of agricultural products. A definite barrier to growth of that segment will be liability insurance. For the future of this segment of sustainable agriculture, it is necessary to develop more products in this regard that are available and affordable to a broad range of farmers and ranchers who need such coverage.
10. The survey results suggest an on-going program of education on sustainable agriculture needs to be undertaken for lenders and crop insurance agents. Seminars and workshops at forums or events where lenders and crop insurance agents congregate is an example of how such a program could reach large numbers of both groups. Examples would include annual banker association conventions and annual, local crop insurance information meetings. The results also suggest that an education effort should focus on the economics of sustainable agriculture (i.e., profitability, yields and like issues). Other topics of focus could include new crop insurance laws (particularly laws and regulations concerning sustainable and organic practices as acceptable farming practices) and the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). The CRA requires banks with federal charters to undertake lending practices that benefit the community and underserved populations in a community. Local lending practices under the CRA could be developed in a way to provide enhanced lending and credit to small-scale farmers and ranchers, beginning farmers and ranchers and those employing practices that benefit the natural environment of the community. Ideas and models of how financial institutions could develop such lending practices to meet their CRA requirement should be developed and provide to lenders at educational forums.
Many of the 2002 Farm Bill conservation provisions are potentially tailored to producers employing sustainable practices and, if implemented as intended, could enhance the profitability of such producers. Introducing lenders and crop insurance agents to those provisions, how they can be used and the impact for producers should also be a focus of educational efforts.
Producers should also not be forgotten in any educational effort. Sixty-eight (68) percent of producer respondents indicated they either did not use sustainable practices in their operation or used a combination of sustainable and conventional practices. The primary reasons for not using sustainable practices among responding producers were either economic (lower productivity or higher costs) or educational (lack of knowledge how to use or landlords not allowing). Education targeted to producers and focusing on productivity, “how to” case studies and research, and how to persuade landlords, lenders and crop insurance of the viability of sustainable agriculture should be undertaken.
11. The vast disparities in views and perceptions suggested by the survey results point to the need for an on-going communications and outreach effort. As discussed above, the three groups surveyed appear to believe that no bias against sustainable agriculture exists, some bias against sustainable agriculture exists but is justified, or there is a widespread bias against sustainable agriculture. Obviously, not all three opinions can co-exist, but according to these results they exist and affect behavior of the group holding them. From the answers provide by survey respondents, a lack of honest communication among the groups may be to at least partially to blame for these perception and opinion discrepancies. While the educational forums and events will provide an arena for discussion, they are unlikely to bring about immediate communication sufficient to provide benefits to those producers employing sustainable agriculture practices. For that reason, a more formalized communication and outreach effort would be in order. For example, a task force composed of producers, lenders and crop insurance agents could be formed under the facilitation of an organization such as the Center for Rural Affairs or the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society to periodically meet and discuss issues related to credit, crop insurance and sustainable agriculture. A sharing of concerns, research, new law and regulations, and other items of interest would be among the benefits of such a task force. A “feedback loop” of items discussed by the task force should also be created to disseminate information to a broader number of each group. E-mail list servs, written and electronic updates and short newsletters are examples of dissemination tools.
12. Resources outlining the economic, environmental and social benefits of sustainable agriculture and its practices should be more available, particularly to lenders and crop insurance agents. A packet of research, case studies and other basic information on sustainable agriculture and its practices should be prepared and disseminated widely to agricultural lenders and crop insurance agents throughout the state. As new items and research concerning sustainable agriculture becomes available, it would be disseminated to lenders and crop insurance agents across the state.

 

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.