Whole Farm Planning for Sustainable Systems

2001 Annual Report for ENC00-053

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2000: $67,378.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $67,378.00
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Paul Swanson
University of Nebraska

Whole Farm Planning for Sustainable Systems


The seven workshop portions of the Whole Farm Planning for Sustainable Systems exposed 72 Extension, NRCS, Vocational Agriculture teachers and Natural Resource District staff and directors to principles, strategies, and ideas associated with sustainable systems and holistic management in Whole Farm Planning. The majority have been more favorably disposed towards these concepts following the training. Some have become enthusiastic.

Seven Extension and NRCS staff have completed the apprentice phase of this training. It was reported as a positive learning experience by all who have completed it. At least one Extension educator has determined to make these concepts a major part of his educational programing. Others are beginning to give consideration to these ideas. Several persons are now enrolled in the second round of the mentor/apprentice phase.

Objectives/Performance Targets

  • Provide training for Extension, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Vocational Agriculture, Community Resource Development, and Natural Resources District, staff with information from sustainable farm operators, especially concerning profitability and decision-making processes.

    Provide in-depth apprenticeship exeriences for selected Extension, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Vocational Agriculture, and Natural Resources District staff with successful sustainable farmers/ranchers across Nebraska.

    Develop case studies of the farms in the apprentice program for use in other educational settings.


To date seven training meetings have been completed that have included Extension, NRCS, Vocational Agriculture teachers and Natural Resources District Staff or board members. In 2000, the participants were primarily Extension staff and some NRCS staff. Their response to the following questions is as follows:

1. What do you believe are the major barriers to wider adoption of sustainable farming techniques by farmers/ranchers?

A. Farm program subsidies
B. Tradition/fear of change
C. Peer pressure
D. Lack of information/knowledge
E. Long term benefits are not usually considered, the short term benefit is not always apparent.
F. Perception of higher labor requirement
G. Ag business has nothing to gain therefore do not support it
H. Research driven by corporations
I. Unwillingness to increase the complexity of the operation
J. Banker won’t let them change their operation

2. What do you believe are the major barriers to wider adoption of support for Sustainable farm or ranching techniques by Extension or NRCS personnel?

A. Lack of directives from administration
B. It is not politically correct to do this kind of work
C. They have too much on their plates already and can’t take time to focus on new ideas
D. Fewer resource materials readily available
E. NRCS is “farm program” driven
F. Staff desire to work with majority or perceived majority of operations
G. Tradition

In 2001 the audience for these meetings was predominantly FFA instructors and Natural Resources District personnel however a few Extension and NRCS staff also attended. Their responses to the following question are as follows:

1. What do you believe are the major barriers to wider adoption of sustainable farming techniques by farmers/ranchers?

A. Peer pressure/fear of change/tradition
B. Can’t be done/apathy/risk
C. Lack of markets or perceived so/Financial returns/Costs
D. Education & Knowledge source
E. No real support from existing input providers for sustainability
F. Government programs
G. Belief that getting bigger is the only way to survive/maximum production
H. Lack of support by financial institutions
I. Higher labor requirements

2. What do you believe are the major barriers to wider adoption of support for sustainable farming or ranching techniques by the organization you are associated with?
FFA NRD Extension NRCS

A. Funding from agribusiness for traditional-not sustainable agriculture
B. Risk
C. Education
D. Tradition
E. Government program
F. Too close affiliation to constituents

At the conclusion of the Whole Farm Planning training participants in 2001 answered the following question:

Rate your post meeting enthusiasm for sustainable farming/ranching concepts
Total rejection 1 2 3 4 5 Very enthusiastic
The average participant rating was 4.55 with a range of 3.5 to 5.0

Seven apprentices have now completed the mentor/apprentice portion of this professional development program. Their exit comments on what they learned are as follows:

Peer pressures need to be dealt with when operating a sustainable farm
GMO’s are a serious threat to organic farmers because of cross pollenation
Gained new insight into farming with decreased inputs of pesticides and fertilizers
Gained knowledge on rotations used in organic farming techniques
Learned more about the organic certification process
Exposed to Holistic Management
Observed June calving
Learned benefits of grass fattened beef
Value of field windbreaks
Importance of viewing the farm as a system
Exposure to the Kinsey soil fertility system
Exposure to the Pastured Poultry system
Walnut Creek organic cattle are not vaccinated – Health and condition of the cattle are excellent
Winter grazing without hay for cattle
Livestock is almost a necessity in an organic operation
Target your direct marketed product to a specific audience
Economic Goal is for most profit not most yield

All of the completing participants were grateful for this learning opportunity. In addition to the evaluation, each team of apprentices completed a case study of the farm or ranch on which they participated. These will be used to help educate others in Sustainable and Whole Farm Planning concepts and ideas.

Three case studies have been completed by the first class of apprentices. One other case study is in progress.

The final class of apprentices is in progress. They consist of primarily FFA instructors and NRD persons this year.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Several Extension participants have noticeably increased sustainable programming in their part of the state. Both Extension and NRCS participants have formed closer relationships with farmers/ranchers who utilize Whole Farm Planning and sustainable ideas. Some are continuing these close working relationships with their mentors.

Their “comfort level” in dealing with sustainable ideas has been raised. The opportunity for more teamwork towards sustainability has begun.

One spinoff of this project is the creation of a “list serve” to share information by all of those who have participated in this PDP.