Evaluating Agroforestry Enterprise Opportunities for Specialty Forest Products: Decision Tools for Producers
Gathering, organizing, and extending a large amount of specialty forest product (SFP) cultivar performance, product, and financial and market data and information has considerably improved producer decision-making regarding on-farm SFP enterprise opportunities. This information, transferred to producers through comprehensive outreach and training efforts, has helped to increase producer adoption of more diverse, profitable and sustainable agricultural systems that integrate annual and woody perennial crops in Nebraska and the Midwest. Other impacts include enhancing the capacity of natural resource agencies and non-profits to support producer assessment of SFP enterprises, and a producer-led effort to organize a specialty woody crop processing and marketing cooperative for Nebraska and surrounding states.
1. Assemble existing SFP production, price & market data, & collect additional data as needed.
2. Develop an Internet-based Financial Analysis Tool that producers can use to assess returns from on-farm agroforestry investments using plants that produce SFPs.
3. Develop an Internet-based SFP Marketing Information System (MIS) that will provide producers with comprehensive information on SFP product characteristics, distribution channels, prices, markets, and financial, botanical and production information, by cultivar.
4. Integrate the data collected in step one above into both the Financial Analysis and MIS Tools.
5. Transfer this information and decision assistance tools to producers and resource professionals through workshops, a newly developed SFP Web site which will list the Financial Analysis Tool, the MIS and user guides, and other SFP publications.
Objective 1. Assemble existing specialty forest product (SPF) production, price, and market data, and collect additional data.
We have collected a large amount of specialty forest product (SFP) cultivar performance, product information, financial, and market data and information. These data were gleaned from five major field trials in Nebraska, and from a number of individual plantings by producers on their own lands. We have analyzed four SFP market assessments for hybrid hazelnuts, woody decorative florals and small fruits. We have been actively participating in the woody florals markets for the past two winters (Jan-March 2001 and Nov-Dec 2002), selling stems produced in our field trials at market prices. We have established and cultivated strong relationships with wholesale floral distributors, and have helped to build markets for woody florals via promotional activities and trainings to members of the Nebraska Floral Society, a professional organization for retail florists. Through contacts with florists, we have identified consumer and market requirements for quality, quantity, seasonality, and prices. We have also produced considerable quantities of elderberry fruit, have explored unique processing requirements, and have marketed this fruit to an ice cream store that conducted consumer trials, with considerable success. We are now in the process of interviewing businesses and other producers of SFPs to capture their knowledge of the production, processing and marketing of these woody crops and products. We will continue to acquire SFP data from a multitude of sources over the coming year, and integrate these data into the MIS and financial model.
We also took advantage of an unexpected opportunity to quantitatively and rigorously determine deer browse and rub preference of 30 trees and shrubs that produce woody crops, with results scheduled for 2003 publication. Further, the University of Minnesota is collaboratively establishing a major nutrient study in our hybrid hazelnut trial on East Campus (this trial is supported in part by this SARE project), signifying its regional importance. Finally, building on this project’s accomplishments and momentum, the University of Nebraska funded a study to assess the major hybrid hazelnut field trial at the Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, Nebraska, gathering parentage, morphology, production and quality data on more than 5,000 plants. These data will be integrated into our Internet-based database over the coming year.
Objective 2. Develop an Internet-based Financial Analysis Tool that producers can use to assess returns from on-farm agroforestry investments using plants that produce SFPs.
CINRAM is building on a producer-friendly financial analysis model developed at the University of Minnesota that determines financial returns from living snow fences that produce various combinations of SFPs. The financial analysis can be tailored specifically to the unique requirements, site conditions, soils, weather conditions, current prices, acreages, etc. for each producer’s situation. CINRAM is currently redesigning the software to enable the model to evaluate the profitability of any kind of linear agroforestry plantings (windbreaks, living snow fences, riparian forest buffers, alleycropping) that uses woody species to produce SFPs. Because this model utilizes pre-programmed yields, costs, and prices, fulfillment of this objective has been dependent on acquiring a significant amount of these data. We will engage a consultant to work on this component in early 2003, and expect to complete this aspect in the coming year.
Objective 3. Develop an Internet-based SFP Marketing Information System (MIS) that will provide producers with comprehensive information on SFP product characteristics, distribution channels, prices, markets, and financial, botanical, and production information, by cultivar.
Project partners spent considerable time developing the framework for the SFP Marketing Information System (MIS) that includes product characteristics, place and distribution channels, prices, markets, and financial, botanical, and cultivation information by species or cultivar. This systematic approach organizes, analyzes and communicates via the Internet the massive amounts of information pertaining to a wide range of SFPs in a clear, concise and usable manner.
With the MIS framework in place, we are currently entering the data generated in Objective 1. We expect to be on-line by the end of the project. We also expect some gaps in data that will not be filled by this project. However, future efforts to collect and acquire data and information could be added to the database anytime in the future, making it increasingly useful over time to producers interested in exploring enterprise opportunities with specialty woody crops.
Objective 4. Integrate the data collected in Objective 1 into both the Financial Analysis and MIS Tools.
As stated in Objective 2 and Objective 3, we are currently inputting the data collected into both the financial analysis model and MIS.
Objective 5. Transfer this information and decision assistance tools to producers and resource professionals through workshops, a newly developed SFP Web site which will list the Financial Analysis Tool, the MIS, their user guides, and other SFP publications.
We have taken a comprehensive approach to communicate SFP knowledge and information generated by this project to producers and natural resource professionals, sometimes leveraging the assets of other projects to maximize impacts. Because of the nature of both partners’ positions–that of straddling extension and research–we have been particularly effective in the technology transfer of these approaches. For example, in collaboration with the National Arbor Day Foundation (NADF) under a separate SARE Professional Development Program project, we conducted a professional development program that transferred the findings from this SARE project on specialty woody crops to 75 attendees from 11 states. We digitally filmed all sessions and posted them on the Web. Being a train-the-trainer workshop, all NADF attendees were required to plan and conduct workshops in their own areas over the next year, expanding outreach to thousands of potential adopters. We also developed a training manual, a resource CD, and four full-color publications (Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals National Award Winners) on the production and marketing of specialty products. Tens of thousands of copies of these publications have been distributed nationally and internationally (to 13 countries) by the University of Nebraska, NADF, and the USDA National Agroforestry Center (NAC), and are among NADF and NAC’s most popular publications. NADF also ran several articles in their newsletter highlighting these programs, reaching nearly 1 million people with each issue.
We established a SFP Listserve for the Midwest, now with hundreds of members, to disseminate salient and timely information on SFPs. We also conducted 14 workshops in specialty products to 418 people in Nebraska, Minnesota, and Missouri in 2002. We organized and held a hands-on field day for 30 producers in December, 2002, training them in the field on how to harvest, process and prepare for market a wide array of woody florals. We participated in several radio and television programs focusing on SFPs that were broadcast statewide. Several news releases and articles covering work sponsored in part by SARE were picked up by state and Midwestern newspapers and magazines, as well as the national newspaper USA Today.
Based on invited presentations and feedback from other states, this SFP program is now recognized as a major and important effort regionwide. Further, due to project-supported efforts and our unique approach of “Productive Conservation,” we have been asked to participate in a major worldwide effort at the World Forestry Congress (2003) to address many issues of specialty forest products.
Approximately 15 landowners in Nebraska adopted these technologies in 2002 alone. The high rate of adoption so early in the project surprised us, and we are struggling to support these producers in their new enterprises.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
In a little more than a year, this project already has had a considerable impact. First, we believe producer adoption is the ultimate gauge of a technology’s value and sustainability. With approximately 15 producers (that we know of) adopting this technology just in the past year, the project is already enhancing the profitability, biodiversity and sustainability of these producers’ farming systems, exceeding original expectations listed in the project Workplan.
Second, by training natural resource professionals in the production, processing, markets and marketing of SFPs, and by collaborating with many agencies and non-profits, we have created a larger multiplier effect that is considerably expanding the impacts of this particular project far beyond the immediate funding period and the two original partner organizations. In essence, we have created and enhanced the long-term capacity of state and federal agencies and non-profits to better support producers with their SFP-related technology and information needs.
Third, by participating in the marketplace and selling our production, we have acquired an “inside” view of how the market works, and have collected detailed information essential to producer decision making which is not easily or commonly available. By making this available on the MIS website, producers will have much better information base upon which they can make their on-farm enterprise decisions.
Fourth, building on the production and market analyses conducted in this project, a producer-led effort is currently underway to develop a processing and marketing cooperative for a range of SFPs, primarily nuts and woody florals. Feasibility assessments are nearly complete, with organizational development the next step. This cooperative will dramatically enhance the ability of local producers of SFPs to collectively pool, process and market their production.
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