Identifying determinants and opportunities for expansion of organic small grain acreage in Wisconsin
Whether for human consumption or livestock feed, growing small grains benefits farmers, the land and communities. Cereal crops such as wheat, barley, rye and oats can diversify farmers’ financial risk, improve soil health and water quality, and support regional grain supply chains. While these grains have been missing from the local, organic foods available to consumers, a growing interest in high quality flours and emerging artisanal brewing and distilling sector are creating a niche market for local organic grains. According to data from the USDA, acreage of organic rye, oats, and wheat have increased in the region in the last decade, while conventional acreage has been stable or in decline. This growth underscores the promise for organic small grains production in the Upper Midwest. As sales of organic commodities grew 31% nationwide between 2016 – 2019 (USDA 2019), farmers should be considering the market potential for organic small grains.
The growing interest in the integration of small grains as part of a diversified organic cropping system is reflected in a substantial body of agronomic research focused at the field-level to find ways to raise small grains more efficiently and profitably. While use of improved genetics and production techniques are important, no existing work has examined the array of socio-economic factors determining whether a farmer grows organic small grains. Consequently, few resources exist detailing how to support the organic small grains industry.
This research proposes a combination of quantitative and qualitative participatory methods to provide a comprehensive understanding of how the use of organic small grains can be increased in the region. Through a farmer survey, we will examine a broad range of factors that may be associated with the use of small grains including individual, farm-level, geographic, institutional and market factors for a holistic assessment. We will focus on the state of Wisconsin– a state with significant potential for small grains production due to its agronomic conditions, prevalence of integrated livestock operations and growing artisan baking, distilling and brewing sectors– for targeted solutions on how to support organic small grains. We will then hold focus groups to identify institutional changes and strategies to increase support to organic small grain growers and increase acreage of small grains throughout the region for a more resilient and sustainable agriculture.
Project objectives from proposal:
Learning: Identify the barriers and drivers of adoption of organic small grains in Wisconsin, and the opportunities to increase their use. Agricultural educators and institutional influencers (agency, market, and education leaders) increase knowledge of these barriers, drivers and opportunities and recommended actions to expand adoption. Farmers gain knowledge of small grain benefits, and the factors associated with profitability on other organic small grains operations.
Action: Institutional influencers use project findings and recommendations to inform strategic investment and policy making. Upper Midwestern farmers adopt diverse rotations with organic small grains.
System-wide: On-farm economic and ecological resilience increases region-wide through greater adoption of small grains in organic cropping rotations, resulting in stronger regional small grain supply chains.