Economic Based Decision Support for Sustainable Horse Drawn Farming Enterprises

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2014: $9,538.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Grant Recipient: Purdue University
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Nicole Olynk Widmar
Purdue University

Information Products


  • Agronomic: corn, oats, grass (misc. perennial), hay


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Education and Training: decision support system, extension, farmer to farmer, networking, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study, new enterprise development
  • Production Systems: holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Sustainable Communities: social capital, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    The project, “Economic Based Decision Support for Sustainable Horse Drawn Farming Enterprises” is a farmer-centered applied research and Extension project which was conceived through a partnership between Purdue University and The Farm at Prophetstown. Horse drawn farming enterprises can be profitable ventures that are economically and environmentally sustainable as well as beneficial to rural communities. Individuals looking to begin farming with horses, or existing farmers and ranchers looking to convert partially or fully to horse traction, can find value in this form of power for agricultural production and/or agri-tourism. This analysis will involve quantitative and qualitative measures of horse drawn farm enterprises such as purchase costs of draft animals, expenses needed to maintain horses, acreage, labor, and expertise needed. The research will assist people looking to begin or transition to horse drawn farming make an informed financial decision best suited for their needs, thereby increasing the likelihood of a successful and sustainable venture. Informing decision making surrounding the use of horse-powered farming improves sustainability three distinct ways, by improving the probability of success and profitability of farmers, incorporating factors such as environmental quality and the preservation of natural resources, and by improving and strengthening rural communities and agricultural economies. This project will not only look at the profitability of horse drawn farming utilized in different production and/or cropping scenarios, but will also aid in decision making through the development of a Comparative Decision Support Matrix which is based on the resources available to the individual to ensure sustainability of the enterprise. Farmers and ranchers looking to employ horse drawn farming in addition to tractors can apply the findings to determine if horse drawn farming complements their unique circumstances, thereby enhancing rural livelihoods through improved decision making and better profitability. Expected outcomes include improved ability for decision making by farmers, thereby strengthening rural agricultural communities. Further, improved decision making will facilitate improved success and the portrayal of horse farming to the general public and the rest of the agricultural community in better light. The unique formation of this project, as a partnership between Purdue University, Extension, and The Farm at Prophetstown facilitates meaningful and timely evaluation of the project. The decision support tool developed will be employed in Extension programming as well as the extremely popular hands-on trainings taking place on The Farm at Prophetstown; participants of these programs will be surveyed and invited to evaluate the tool and supporting materials.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project will assist farmers and ranchers considering beginning or transitioning to horse drawn farming make sound financial decisions about adopting horse drawn farming. Farmers currently employing horse power on their farming operations may also benefit by having sound economic-based decision tools to facilitate continued farm planning and decision making. Through the products of this project, farmers and ranchers will recognize and consider the operational choices available to them and make educated choices about their production practices. Farmers and ranchers will gain knowledge of the costs of horse drawn farming and apply those costs to their own situations through the comparative decision support tool. They will gain skills in financially analyzing production choices and awareness of the costs associated with horse drawn farming. This project will also support action outcomes of utilizing financial tools to make farm management and production decisions. Farmers and ranchers will understand, customize, and utilize enterprise budgets and decision support tools to make decisions for their own operations to maximize profits and improve sustainability of the operation. Specifically, while attending training and workshop events farmers and ranchers will have facilitated sessions in working through the enterprise budgets developed through this project and adapting them to fit their own situations. This facilitated learning is expected to lead to changes in behavior in their own farming operations in addition to improved knowledge and skills surrounding farm financial planning.




    The proposed project is expected to result in several Extension publications guiding individuals through the horse drawn farming decision process for both full and partial horse power as well as discussing the enterprise budgets. A website featuring the Comparative Decision Support tool with supporting materials will be provided to the public via the Purdue University, Department of Agricultural Economics. Additionally, this project is expected to be presented in Extension presentations where Audience Response Systems (clickers) draw attention to the interactive portions of the decision matrix. Finally, the student will submit the work to an appropriate conference, directed at farmers and ranchers and those interested in small-scale farming, for presentation.


    Evaluation Plan


    The evaluation of this project will include monitoring the work according to the proposed timeline, completing milestone work at the appointed time and receiving farmer feedback at each stage to ensure accuracy and relevance to producers. Furthermore, through the vast number of visitors to The Farm at Prophetstown the project can elicit feedback from end users through the use of surveys and evaluations. Results from surveys and evaluations will be incorporated into the further development of materials to ensure the highest quality products with best usability for producers. The evaluation will proceed as outlined in the Summary Table.




    Summary Table of Outcomes, Outputs, Activities, Inputs, and Evaluation



    Expected Outcomes







    Evaluation/Monitoring Plan, Measurement Methods

    Short Term:

    Initiation Meeting


    Full Farmer Panel


    Identification of additional farmer participants; approval by IRB


    Literature Review; Knowledge from Elizabeth’s participation in clinic



    - Completed by 10/1

    Team meeting on campus to develop budgets

    Budget frameworks

    Identify data required for budgets

    Budget frameworks; past budgets

    - Completed by 10/15

    In-depth knowledge of horse farming

    Preliminary budgets

    Identify questions for farmer participants

    Farmer data collection survey

    - Completed by 11/1

    Productive Field Visits

    Data for budgets

    Collect information on enterprises

    Field surveys; preliminary budgets

    - Completed by 11/15

    Intermediate Term:

    Develop decision support tool


    Interactive decision support tool


    Create a tool that is interactive


    Enterprise budgets developed with farmers


    - Completed between 11/15 and 2/15

    Provide insight for decision based on what resources are needed/already have

    Resource Needs Summaries

    Create summaries that detail resources

    Field Surveys; Literature Review; Enterprise Budgets

    -Complete over time period 2/15 through 4/15.

    -Verify accuracy from farmer participants.

    Assist in decision support surrounding horse powered farming enterprise selection

    Comparative Decision Support Matrix

    Create matrix that assists in the decision

    Field Surveys; Literature Review; Enterprise Budgets

    -Complete over time period 2/15 through 5/15.

    -Verify ease of use from farmer participants.

    -Share the tools with the public

    -Extension awareness of tools


    Web presentation

    Provide information on materials generated

    Enterprise Budgets; Comparative Decision Support Matrix

    -Complete by 5/15


    Report findings


    Present publishable material through horse drawn farming clinics



    Materials for workshop teaching at horse drawn farming clinics



    Develop materials; collect participant feedback



    Enterprise Budgets; Comparative Decision Support Matrix



    - Complete by 5/15 to allow inclusion in summer programming at horse drawn farming clinics.








    A website featuring the Comparative Decision Support tool with supporting materials will be provided to the public. The project is also expected to result in several Extension publications guiding individuals through the horse drawn farming decision process for both full and partial horse power as well as discussing the enterprise budgets for full and partial horse powered farming. Additionally, this project is expected be presented in Extension presentations where immediate audience response systems to draw attention to the interactive portions of the decision matrix. In addition to written materials and educational materials suitable for web-based delivery, materials for integration into courses taught at The Farm at Prophetstown will also be developed. Those who are considering beginning or transitioning to horse drawn farming will benefit by being able to use the budgets developed for horse drawn farming and decision support tool to tailor the program to their own enterprise to make wise and informed financial decisions.

    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.