The Fruit and Nut Compass: Developing a Tool and Guiding Principles for Diversified Farms

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2016: $199,246.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2019
Grant Recipient: U. of Wisconsin-Madison
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Michael Bell
Dept. of Community and Environmental Sociology, U. of Wisconsin-Madison
Leah Potter-Weight
Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, UW Madison

Information Products

The Fruit and Nut Compass (Decision-making Tool)


  • Fruits: apples, apricots, berries (other), berries (blueberries), berries (brambles), cherries, berries (cranberries), grapes, peaches, pears, plums, quinces, berries (strawberries), general tree fruits
  • Nuts: chestnuts, hazelnuts, walnuts


  • Crop Production: agroforestry, intercropping
  • Education and Training: decision support system, participatory research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study, agricultural finance, labor/employment, risk management, value added, whole farm planning
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Fruit, nut, and berry farmers across the North Central Region utilize biodiversity in their farming systems for a number of reasons. Diverse crops and varieties can spread labor needs across the growing season and increase profitability by spreading risk. Diversification can also intensify productivity by utilizing biological niches, and diversified farms can enhance ecosystem benefits by mimicking natural systems. At the same time, however, poorly planned farm diversification could lead to diseconomies of scale and scope as well as other inefficiencies, management challenges, and barriers to competitiveness. This project, “The Fruit and Nut Compass: Developing a Tool and Guiding Principles for Diversified Farms” will help farmers take advantage of the positive aspects of diversification while avoiding its potential pitfalls. To do this, we will achieve the following two research objectives: 1.Develop a decision support tool that integrates options for different fruit, nut, and berry crops as well asalternative marketing channels2.Identify common principles that underlie success in perennial diversification for whole farm enterprises To achieve the first objective, we will build on the success of the Veggie Compass ( developed by members of our project team, and we will extend it to fruit and nuts through developing a new tool, field testing it with growers, and vetting it with University and Extension collaborators with expertise in fruit and nut crop production and economics. To achieve the second objective, we will employ a participatory approach that draws from the knowledge, experience, and lessons learned of farmers themselves. We will then work with two professional videographers to develop a series of case study videos that highlight the findings of the research in rich, engaging, and accessible ways. A robust outreach approach will then combine in-person trainings, field days, and individualized technical support with targeted online content featuring a downloadable tool, how-to videos, training videos, and a user’s manual. Further outreach will include publication of 3 peer-reviewed journal articles, distribution of printed research briefs, conference presentations, and a public screening of case study videos. The idea for the project came from farmers who saw a need for more informed decision-making in diversified perennial systems. By meeting this need, the combined outputs of the project will strengthen grassroots enterprise development. Our goal is to provide farmers with a “Fruit and Nut Compass” that will point in a general direction for making diversified farms more socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The project includes learning, action, and system outcomes.

    Learning outcomes:

    • Farmers and agricultural professionals trained in the use of a new decision support tool to assess profitability of diversified crops and marketing channels
    • Enhanced knowledge among farmers, researchers, and agricultural professionals about common principles, management practices, and compatible enterprises that underlie successful farm diversification


    Action outcomes:

    • Increased use of a decision support tool to choose more profitable crops and marketing channels
    • More informed farm planning and management decisions for perennial crop growers


    System outcomes:

    • More productive and profitable perennial farms across the North Central Region
    • Increased agricultural sustainability through enhanced use of farm diversification

    To achieve these learning, action, and system outcomes, the project includes both research and outreach outputs.

    Research outputs include:

    An interactive and user-friendly Fruit and Nut Compass Spreadsheet, with
    -12 information sheets that contain key cost, production, and marketing ranges for perennial crops
    -A user’s manual
    -4 “How-to” videos

    3 case study videos highlighting principles that underlie successful perennial farm diversification
    1 Printed research brief describing the overall project with links to more information – 500 copies to be distributed
    at conferences and workshops by CIAS

    3 published research papers, including one on each of the following:
    -Principles underlying successful diversified perennial farms
    -The use and utility of the Fruit and Nut Compass Spreadsheet
    -Case study videos as a method of qualitative research

    Outreach outputs include:

    A comprehensive project website, including:
    -A downloadable Fruit and Nut Compass Spreadsheet
    -Perennial crop information sheets
    -How-to” videos
    -A users manual
    -Videos of a training event
    -Integration of the Veggie Compass and Livestock Compass
    -Case study videos
    -Links to all publications and to external resources

    2 daylong trainings on use of the Fruit and Nut Compass Spreadsheet and strategies for success (50 participants
    each) including:
    -5 videos capturing key moments from the training
    2 follow up field days on farms using the Fruit and Nut Compass Spreadsheet (50 participants each) including:
    -Grower presentations
    -Case study video screening and discussion

    Follow up individualized technical support (25 individuals)
    2 conference presentations, including MOSES and the Wisconsin Fruit and Vegetable Growers Conference (100
    1 public screening of the case study videos (100 participants)
    2 press releases to increase project visibility

    To monitor progress towards our outputs and outcomes, 19 indicators were chosen to meet SARE Research & Education Grantee reporting and evaluation expectations. For indicators only requiring a straightforward, numerical count we will track:

    1.Farmers participating in research – Target of 24
    2.New tools developed – Target of 1
    3.Information sheets created – Target of 12
    4.Educational videos produced (how-to videos, videos of training events, and case study videos)– Target of 12
    5.New collaborations formed as a result of the project – Target of 2
    6.Presentations conducted to share project results – Target of 3
    7.Journal articles published – Target of 3
    8.Citations of project results (based on journal reporting of citations) – Target of 150
    9.New grants received based on project results – Target of 1
    10.Educational programs delivered (disaggregated by type) – Target of 5
    11.Research briefs disseminated – Target of 500

    12.Press releases submitted – Target of 2
    13.Farmers reached through individual technical support – Target of 25

    Learning outcomes will be tracked using a survey of participants during each educational activity (training events, field days, presentations) for the following indicators:

    14.Farmers reached through educational activities – Target of 300
    15.Ag Educators reached through educational activities – Target of 50
    16.Farmers that report changes in KASAs (Knowledge, Attitude, Skills, and Awareness) – Target of 300
    (Note that participant lists will be crosschecked to avoid double-counting participants who attend more than one educational activity)

    To track action outcomes, an additional survey will be conducted 3 months after each educational activity to assess the following two indicators:

    17.Farmers reporting a change in practice (disaggregated by farmers using the Fruit and Nut Compass spreadsheet, farmers altering choices about cropping choices or marketing channels, and other types of changes) – Target of 250
    18.Benefits of making a change (farmers who report a change in practice will be asked to qualitatively describe the social, economic, and/or environmental benefits of the changes they made) – Target of 250 reporting benefits of a change

    We will also track online outreach through one additional indicator:

    19.Number of individual users of the project website (measured through Google Analytics and disaggregated by downloads of the Fruit and Nut Compass spreadsheet, viewers of “how-to” videos, viewers of training videos, viewers of case study videos, viewers of crop information sheets, and viewers of project publications) – Target of 10,000

    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.