Using farmer input to develop research projects and outreach activities for organic agriculture

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2005: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Grant Recipient: Purdue University
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Kevin Gibson
Purdue University

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: melons
  • Vegetables: cucurbits, sweet corn, tomatoes


  • Education and Training: extension, networking
  • Farm Business Management: cooperatives
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture


    A questionnaire distributed to Indiana vegetable growers suggested that concerns about pest management, particularly insects and weeds, were the primary barrier limiting the transition to organic production.

    Conventional growers also considered organic vegetable production to be too labor intensive. However, more than a third of respondents reported an interest in organic options for weed management.

    This suggests that Indiana growers are interested in organic vegetable production but desire additional evidence based on university research that pests can be successfully managed.


    Driven by the demand for organically produced food, the number of certified and non-certified organic farmers in the United States, estimated at 12,200 in 2001, is increasing at a rate of 12% per year (USDA 2002).

    An Organic Farming Research Foundation national survey in 2001 (Walz 2003) reported that 51% of current organic farmers had transitioned from conventional farming and 36% had mixed operations (some conventional and some organic), which agrees with a recent study conducted by Ohio State University (Rzewnicki, 2000). According to USDA estimates, U.S. certified organic cropland and pasture account for 0.3 % of the total production acres, with about 2% of all vegetable acres being certified organic (USDA 2002). Indiana ranks lowest among North Central states with approximately 4175 certified organic acres.

    Conventional farmers who transition to organic farming practices and organic farmers often rank weed management as their number one research priority followed by fertility management, particularly building and maintaining soil organic matter (Walz 1999). In addition, both sets of farmers cite “a lack of information and experience regarding organic production” and “uncooperative or uninformed extension agents” as particularly problematic (Penfold et al., 1995; Clark et al., 1998; Walz 1997; Rzewnicki, 2000). This situation has occurred despite the rapid growth of organic production and the unique opportunities this offers for research and interaction of university researchers and extension personnel with farmers in developing organic management systems (Barberi 2002). As a result, farmers in the United States have often been forced to evaluate the relative advantages and limitations organic production without the benefit of research-based information on pest and soil management. If university and extension personnel are to play a positive role in this rapidly growing agricultural sector, then substantial investments must be made in organic practices research and development of appropriate educational materials.

    For this grant, we proposed the use of detailed questionnaires to quantify conventional and organic farmer perceptions of organic agriculture in Indiana and identify the primary barriers to the adoption and optimization of organic vegetable production. Previous SARE projects have used grower surveys to identify production and marketing issues of organic horticulture commodities in the Southeast (SARE grant LS02-142) and to determine the research needs of organic vegetable growers in Kentucky (SARE grant LS99-098). Our project is designed to help identify similar information for Indiana growers and develop research projects and outreach activities that address these concerns.

    Project objectives:

    There were two major anticipated outputs for this planning grant.

    First we quantified conventional and organic farmer perceptions of organic agriculture in Indiana and identified the primary barriers to the adoption and optimization of organic vegetable production.

    Second, we used this information to develop and prioritize research and outreach goals for research on organic vegetable production at Purdue University.

    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.