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 have considerably improved producer decision making on on-farm SFP enterprise opportunities. This information, transferred to producers through comprehensive outreach and training efforts, has helped to substantially increase producer adoption of more diverse, profitable and sustainable agricultural systems that integrate annual and woody perennial crops in Nebraska and the Midwest. Impacts include enhancing the capacity of natural resource agencies and non-profits to support producer assessment of SFP enterprises, and the organization of a specialty woody crop processing and marketing cooperative in Nebraska.
1)assemble existing SFP production, price & market data, & collect additional data as needed
2) develop a web-based Financial Analysis Tool that producers can use to assess the returns from on-farm agroforestry investments using plants that produce SFPs
3) develop a web-based SFP Marketing Information System (MIS) that will provide producers with comprehensive information on SFP product characteristics, distribution channels, prices, markets, & financial, botanical & production information, by cultivar
4)integrate the data collected in (1) into both the Financial Analysis & MIS Tools
5) transfer this information and decision assistance tools to producers and resource professionals through workshops, a newly developed SFP website that will list the Financial Analysis Tool, the MIS and their user guides, as well as other SFP publications.
Objective 1. Assemble existing SFP production, price and market data, and collect additional data.
We collected during 2003 a large amount of specialty forest product (SFP) cultivar performance, product information, financial and market data and information. These data have been gleaned from five major field trials in Nebraska, and from interviewing over 60 individual producers. Three trials are now being harvested annually for woody florals, with all material being sold in the marketplace. To encourage rapid and permanent transfer of technologies to producers, we collaboratively harvested this years’ crop with a group of woody floral producers. Building on our strong relationships with wholesale floral distributors and new growers developed during this project, we then arranged with these producers to process and market the stems. We helped by providing them with all processing, market and contact information we had. These producers are currently organizing a woody floral growers association to collectively process and market florals.
We are also evaluating the financial potential of producing elderberry flowers for the tea and medicinal products, deriving excellent data from our field trials. It appears that elderflower petals can be harvested from the plant by shaking, yet not harm the fruit-bearing capacity of the elderberry plant, generating two financially valuable products the same season. We continue to acquire SFP data from a multitude of sources, and are incorporating these data into the MIS and financial model.
Several other studies occurred as a result of this project. We are in the final stages of producing a scientific paper on deer browse and rub preference of 30 trees and shrubs that produce woody crops. A scientist from the School of Natural Resources used one of the hazelnut trials to conduct a rigorous assessment of water use requirements for eight cultivars of hybrid hazelnuts, providing insights into irrigation requirements. A UNL graduate student is currently conducting a study of optimal harvest times (based on color intensity) for woody florals, as well as optimal storage regimes – two questions frequently asked by producers. The UNL Dept. of Biological Systems Engineering developed a hybrid hazelnut husking machine, a major and critically important development in mechanization. Finally, building on this project’s accomplishments and momentum, the University of Nebraska and USDA 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 over 5,000 plants. These data are being integrated into our web-based database. These efforts have identified approximately 10 superior cultivars of hybrid hazelnuts that produce heavy yields of high quality nuts.
Objective 2. Develop a web-based Financial Analysis Tool that producers can use to assess the returns from on-farm agroforestry investments using plants that produce SFPs;
CINRAM (University of Minnesota) has developed a producer-friendly financial analysis model 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. We will be using yield, cost, and price data in the final form of this model, to be completed by June 2004.
Objective 3. Develop a web-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 develop 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 web 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 continue to enter the data generated in Objective 1, and are currently in the process of integrating this searchable database into a UNL-based website currently under development. We expect there will be data gaps within the database that will not be filled by this project. However, any 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 (1) into both the Financial Analysis and MIS Tools.
As stated in 2 and 3, we are currently inputting the data collected into both the financial analysis model and MIS, as well as continue to collect new production and market data, particularly with woody florals.
Objective 5. Transfer this information and decision assistance tools to producers and resource professionals through workshops, a newly developed SFP website that will list the Financial Analysis Tool, the MIS and their user guides, as well as other SFP publications.
We used 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 transferring these technologies. Thousands of copies of four full-color publications on the production and marketing of specialty products that were developed under a separate SARE-funded project headed by the National Arbor Day Foundation have been distributed to over 40 states and 21 countries. The National Agroforestry Center has provided financial support to continue the work started by this SARE project through the end of 2004 to maintain and monitor field trials and to collect and analyze data. Attendees to a 2002 SARE-funded train-the trainer-workshop on specialty forest products conducted 33 workshops across 12 states, reaching 905 people with the latest information on producing and marketing SFPs. Two NRCS Deputy Directors highlighted the “Productive Conservation” concept in a 2-page article in their nationally distributed newsletter NRCS Technology (August 29, 2003).
Several Nebraska-based institutional developments have occurred in large part due to this project. As mentioned earlier, woody floral growers in Nebraska and nearby states are currently assessing organizational models to jointly process and market woody florals. And in 2003, nut growers, with technical assistance from this project’s PI, organized Heartland Nuts n’ More, a Nebraska-based specialty woody crop processing and marketing cooperative for walnuts, pecans and other specialty forest products.
We also maintained and significantly enlarged our specialty forest product listserve for the Midwest, which is used to disseminate salient and timely information on SFPs. In 2003, we conducted 15 workshops on specialty products to 902 people in Nebraska, Missouri and Iowa. We organized and held two hands-on field days for 65 producers in September and December 2003, training them in the field on plant and product characteristics, harvesting, processing and marketing procedures for woody florals. 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,” the project PI participated in deliberations at the 2003 World Forestry Congress, integrating the productive conservation concept into a major Congress Declaration on non-wood forest products.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
This project has had a considerable impact in 2003:
Using producer adoption as the ultimate gauge of a technology’s value and sustainability, this project has stimulated at least 25 producers (that we know of) to adopt these technologies. This project is enhancing the profitability, biodiversity and sustainability of these producers’ farming systems, exceeding original expectations listed in the project Workplan.
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 considerably expanded 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. Highlighting the productive conservation concept by NRCS Deputy Directors is an encouraging development. We have also expanded this concept to tribal lands in ND, SD and NE via educational programming through another project.
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.
Building on the production and market analyses conducted in this project, a processing and marketing cooperative for a range of SFPs, primarily nuts and woody florals has been legally established, dramatically enhancing the ability of local SFP producers to collectively pool, process and market their production.
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