Assisting Farmers in Crisis to Adopt Sustainable Marketing Alternatives
Small scale and beginning farms in Illinois are in a crisis due to high input costs, low grain and animal prices, and lack of marketing opportunities. Furthermore, there is a bias in government farm programs, regulations, research, and extension toward large-scale corporate farms. The new technologies, such as site-specific agriculture and specialty grains, have also proven easier to adopt by corporate agriculture. The farm population is aging with many farmers approaching retirement. But it is very difficult for new people to enter agriculture because of the high costs of equipment and land. This is causing agriculture in Illinois to be concentrated in fewer, large corporate farms and the land to be controlled by absentee landlords. This structural change in Illinois agriculture is threatening sustainability.
The only way that these trends can be slowed is to educate farmers in crisis—small scale farmers and those wanting to begin farming—to develop niche marketing opportunities that overcome poor grain and animal prices. Our specific objectives:
1) To Provide producers with information on sustainable farming and marketing alternatives,
2) To develop an intensive workshop and mentoring program to assist farmers in crisis in adopting sustainable farming and marketing opportunities,
3) To evaluate the impact of these programs on farmers who participate.
We will concentrate on five enterprises that farmers and others involved with sustainable agriculture have identified as promising. These enterprise are wine grapes, organic produce, medicinal plants, humanely raised pork, and hormone-free beef. All of these enterprises have the potential to be marketed through community supported agriculture, farmer cooperatives, direct sales to consumers, or other alternative marketing techniques. In the first stage of our project, we will develop a web site and fact sheets on these enterprises and alternative marketing strategies.
In the second stage of the project we will conduct intensive workshops on each enterprise. The workshops will be taught at Community Colleges around the state. Participants will be limited. The workshops will focus on the problems and pitfalls of adopting an enterprise in a farming operation, and identifying alternative marketing approaches to alleviate these pitfalls. Community College faculty, farmers, university faculty, business leaders, and extension personnel, as appropriate, will teach the workshops. At these workshops, participating farmers will be matched with mentors who will assist the growers through the evaluation and adoption process. A notebook on each enterprise will assist will be developed for use by participating farmers. The intensive workshop will be followed by a ten-session program on developing business plans. This program will be modeled on the program developed by John Allen and colleagues in Nebraska. The aim is to have the participating farmers develop a business plan that includes the new enterprise.
The final stage of the project will be evaluation. We will work with the University of Illinois to survey the farmers and the mentors for the impact of the program. Specifically, we are interested to see if the workshops, notebooks, and mentors lead to further investigation and adoption of alternative/sustainable farming and marketing options. This information will be critical as we decide whether or not to continue or expand the program.
Director, Marketing Program
Illinois Stewardship Alliance
572 County Rd. 2100 E
Casey, IL 62420
Office Phone: 2179235190
Research/Extension Specialist in Agriculture
University of Illinois
204 Burnsides Lab
1208 West Pennsylvania Ave.
Urbana, IL 61801
Office Phone: 2173331588