Using farmer input to develop research projects and outreach activities for 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 listed organic options for weed management as an area in which they would like to see more research.
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.
There are two major anticipated outputs for this planning grant. First we will 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. Second, we will use this information to develop and prioritize research and outreach goals for research on organic vegetable production at Purdue University.
An eight page questionnaire was developed during summer 2005 and mailed to over 600 vegetable growers in late fall 2005. Growers were asked to provide information about their cultural practices, particularly those involved in weed management and to list common and problematic weeds. Growers were also asked to identify the primary barriers to transitioning to organic agriculture. Eighty-five completed surveys were returned and analyzed during spring and summer 2006.
A majority of respondents (82%) raised conventional fresh market vegetables; the remainder raised tomatoes or cucumbers for processing. Most fresh market growers produced sweet corn, tomatoes, or both. Organic growers responded to the survey. Growers were given a list of thirteen potential barriers to transitioning to organic and asked select the three largest obstacles. Most growers considered insect and weed management – 78% and 73%, respectively – to be a major obstacle and 61% considered disease to be a major obstacle. Nearly a fourth of growers (23%) considered organic farming to be too labor intensive. Growers were asked to list the top three areas in which they would like to see more research. Herbicides were listed by 62% of respondents, cultivation by 49%, and insecticides by 42%. This suggests that concerns about pest management and the need for better tools not only prevents growers from adopting organic practices but is also a major concern for conventional growers. This concern is reflected in the number of acres planted with sweet corn relative to tomatoes or other vegetables. The average fresh market grower planted 8 acres of sweet corn and 0.7 acres of tomatoes. Growers reported fewer tillage and cultivation passes and less hand-weeding for sweet corn than for tomatoes suggesting that pest management is less problematic in sweet corn than in tomatoes. This likely reflects better herbicide options for sweet corn than for tomatoes.
Despite their concerns about pest management, 35% of respondents listed organic agriculture among their top three areas for research. 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. They appear willing to consider transitioning to organic production but need greater assurance that effective production tools are available.
We are currently analyzing the sections of the survey that address grower perceptions of problematic weeds and current management practices.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The results of this project have not been made public yet and our analyses are not complete enough for us to clearly identify the most pressing areas for research on organic vegetable production.
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