Hoophouse and Organic Farming for Ag Lenders

2010 Annual Report for ENC09-112

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2009: $25,329.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Vicki Morrone
Michigan State University
Dr. Susan Smalley
Michigan State University

Hoophouse and Organic Farming for Ag Lenders



Our goal with this project was to provide education to Farming Service Agency Technicians and Crop Insurance with USDA in Michigan with a focus on organic production and hoophouse systems. Crop adjusters wanted to learn about organic and hoophouse so they had a perspective how the production systems work and differ from more traditional farming systems. FSA staff’s interest was primarily on the finances and profitability of these systems while Crop Insurance technicians were interested in the production systems and records that could help explain production plans and harvests. The demand for this type of information was triggered by the 2008 USDA Farm Bill programs created to promote these two farm production systems, which had not been included in the past by the USDA Farm Bill. The style of these educational sessions that were sponsored by SARE was to offer technicians with trainings that were co-presented by the farmers and educators on site to provide much needed background for these USDA service providers to better serve some new audiences; organic farmers and hoophouse farmers.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Educational Program

Staff from Michigan State University conducted training held at an organic field crop and grain farm in Snover, Michigan in 2010 and Hoophouse production and organic vegetable production in Owasso, Michigan, in 2011. The programs focused on crop production process, hoophouse vegetable production, transplant production, organic certification and “typical” markets. An agriculture economist who had just completed a 5-year study on hoohouses provided information of costs of construction and initiate production in hoophouses. His presentation (first one only) was complemented with a MSU extension publication that describes the practical lessons drawn from this research. Discussion of organic production and certification was presented by an organic production specialist, drawn from eight years of experience working with organic farmers, beginners and experienced. Her information was supported by a MSU extension bulletin that is a guide for farmers explaining how to certify to sell organic produce. The farmers also presented about their farm businesses and how they were developed and financed over the years. We visited their equipment barns and cleaning and packaging facilities at the field crop farm to further explain organic practices and markets used by the farm. The farmer at her vegetable farm provided a detailed field and hoophouse tour. Enterprise budgets and sample farm records were provided to the FSA technicians for background information for the technicians. Discussion was held and templates shared about hoophouse and organic farm planning and sample production records that are required for organic certification.


Program Results

The relevance of organic certification record keeping was evident to the technicians of both trainee audiences. Each group was very excited to learn of the record system that is built into organic certification, Additional PDFs of extension bulletins from several land grant sources, including Michigan State University, were provided to the FSA regional director and Crop Insurance Advisor to place on their training websites. The challenge with the FSA and many other programs at this time is there are tremendous budget constraints, thus layoffs or no rehiring so many of the technicians have little time to use the educational materials provided. The workshops did provide a sound background, which at least gave the technicians enough information to know what to ask an organic or hoophouse farmer that they may serve in the future. The second training was provided to technicians who inspect farms making insurance claims. These are farms that take crop insurance through USDA. Small farms and those that are diverse are complicated, and not just for the farmer or farm manager. Hightunnels have the challenge to understand how a system can grow year around (or nearly so) without power. So the questions lie, what disasters apply to hightunnels. Turns out that it is actually nearly the same as for field crops-the plants are grown typically in the soil, there is little or no electricity to fail (then if so you ask is it the fault of a storm or a faulty wire). So well managed hoophouses typically have good records since this space is at a premium and maximum production is needed to make it a profitable farm investment. If the house is organic then there are the records for certification. So the complementation of the hightunnel system and organic offer the crop insurance adjuster with quality information to access the possible profits of the hightunnel to compare against the insurance claim.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Evaluation and Last Step

A Qualtrix evaluation was distributed to the two offices, FSA and Crop Insurance and we are waiting for additional responses. The evaluation was sent out in August and especially the Crop Insurance adjusters are extremely busy given our droughty growing season of 2012. The evaluation is 15 questions asking the participants how many farmers did they speak to about organic and/or hoophouse production, number that qualified and were awarded a program or took insurance and if the information was adequate for the technician.
Last Step
A webinar that will be archived will be produced in a week to place and promote on relevant NRCS website. No reference to Farm Bill Programs will be made and efforts will be made to keep the webinar as timeless as possible. Links will be included of additional information on hoophouse and organic systems.


David Russ

Michigan Farm Loan Chier
Farm Service Agency
3001 Coolidge Road
Suite 100
East Lansing, MI 4882-6321
Office Phone: 5173245110
Eric Fischer

Program Specialist
3001 Coolidge Rd
Suite 350
East Lansing, MI 48823
Office Phone: 5173245107
Kelley Losey

Michigan Outreach Coordinator
Farm Service Agency
3001 Coolidge Road
Suite 100
East Lansing, MI 4882-6321
Office Phone: 5173245110
Vicki Morrone

Outreach Specialist, Organic Farming
Michigan State University
303 Natural Resources Building
East Lansing, MI 4882-1222
Office Phone: 5173533542
Website: www.michiganorganic.msu.edu
Dr. David Conner

Associate Professor
University of Vermont
205H Morrill Hall
Burlington, VT 05405
Office Phone: 8026561965