The process of creating a “user-friendly” agricultural manual and effective hands-on technical assistance package revealed that many smaller scale farmers and ranchers have worked out a particular system of production that is generally satisfactory. In most of these cases the market is weak or developing slowly. Closer examination reveals that business management and process control are usually the critical bottlenecks to improved economy of the operation. Improvements to these generally improve production and marketing. Development of the manual and technical assistance package was modified to include more material on assessments, business management, process control, and standards. Assessment tools are critical to effective management but are rarely employed by producers, and were resisted by many of the participants who were aware of their poor recordkeeping. Technical assistance and the marketing workshops emphasized the need for assessing one’s operation as well as the marketplace. Those who adopted assessment tools improved their operations and were better able to use the manual.
1) Produce a manual with regionally relevant information on agricultural commodities for smaller-scale operations utilizing sustainable agricultural techniques. 2) Develop a process of hands-on technical assistance that is most useful and accommodating to farmers’ and ranchers’ needs within a developing marketplace. 3) Work with farmers and ranchers to increase their awareness and understanding of market development and evolution through workshops and direct mail. 4) Completed manuals will be advertised and mailed to other agricultural professionals who are working on similar projects in marginal areas. For those that have e-mail, publications will be available over the internet.
After several years of working with farmers and ranchers in the lower front range area of New Mexico and Colorado, we decided that producers were experiencing difficulties with obtaining good information on the peculiarities of their region and understanding the information that was available. We also later learned that more of the bottlenecks to economic sustainability were related to management rather than being strictly agronomic issues. As a result we developed a set of assessment tools in addition to a “user-friendly” manual.
We have been working with the participants for many years and had already collected a large amount of data on their circumstances and operations. We conducted numerous interviews and contracted agricultural specialists to provide more detail and objectivity. Sources for the manual were gleaned from the interviews, books, magazines, and the Internet. Editing of the manual was by recurring feedback from the participants and third-party readers. The marketing workshops provided good feedback for the final editing. All work was accompanied by the development and implementation of technical assistance tools based on the interviews and manual contents.
All areas (resource assessment, production, marketing, testing, planning, etc.) are in the manual. The farmers expressed an interest in business management and cooperatives, and these have been added to the manual. The manual has been printed and disseminated. Dissemination included technical assistance in the form of going over the materials with the recipients and demonstrating how to use, maintain, and update the contents.
Full assessment instruments were developed. Dan Hobbs assisted with the work on the processing and distribution, the marketing and market development, and the production, harvesting, and marketing standards components.
We are working with two new cooperatives, Tres Ríos Agricultural Cooperative in Pueblo, CO, and Río Culebra Agricultural Cooperative in San Luis, CO, which served as the venues for the workshops on marketing. These cooperatives are proving to be excellent locations for the further development of the manual, technical assistance, and assessment tools.
In working with the participants we engaged in a productive process of discovering critical areas, which have often been hidden to the participant, that form bottlenecks to further development and productivity of their operations and home life. By working in dialogue with the participants, the instruments developed in this project increasingly reflected the concerns and interests of the participants. NewFarms continues to assist the formation and development of the two agricultural cooperatives mentioned above, which have become additional places to implement the project’s deliverables beyond the current participant list. An e-Plaza project may also create broader opportunities for dissemination of the deliverables.
Educational & Outreach Activities
The Agricultural Manual for smaller scale farmers and ranchers in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado is available from NewFarms in printed form. The manual is 800 pages and length and has not yet been posted on the web. To request a printed copy write to NewFarms, PO Box 1862, Pueblo CO 81002 or send an e-mail to Dan Hobbs, Executive Director at Bobosos@aol.com.
In three cases where we were able to thoroughly apply the assessment and technical assistance tools, the results led to the development of new business plans. The business plans were developed out of a series of economic analyses, review of past and current business practices, and close inspection of process control. Two of the operators adopted and implemented the new business plan with good results. The other operator did not follow through with the new plan and continues to experience difficulties.
All the materials created and work accomplished were generally well received by the participants. On the other hand, and in almost all cases, we were continually faced with the fierce independence of the producers and a seemingly inherent reluctance to enter into a frank, detailed assessment of their operations, even if they were having financial or other difficulties. If it weren’t for the fact that we had developed a generally positive relationship with the producers, we may have made little headway.
Areas needing additional study
A recurring theme arose during our project work. Many producers expressed that they are seeking ways to collaborate, informally or through the creation of cooperatives, in order to have more time with family, to sell more product, and to receive the various benefits of being organized. However, when it came to collaborating or forming a cooperative, many of these same producers became reluctant to participate in the necessary meetings and planning sessions, and to actually market through the cooperative or other organized marketing group. The tendency was to return to independent direct marketing. In addition, there are serious questions of scale and distance. Our producers tend to be smaller scale and geographically distant from one another and the market place. This makes organization difficult. Isolation is difficult, too. These dynamics could benefit from additional study.