Ag Diversification on the Airwaves – Diversification Broadcasts to Inform and Inspire

Project Overview

LNC05-263
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2005: $124,535.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Meg Moynihan
Minnesota Department of Agriculture

Annual Reports

Information Products

Commodities

  • Agronomic: barley
  • Fruits: grapes
  • Additional Plants: trees
  • Animals: bees, goats, sheep, poultry
  • Animal Products: dairy

Practices

  • Education and Training: networking
  • Farm Business Management: agritourism, new enterprise development, community-supported agriculture, marketing management, value added
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, sustainability measures

    Abstract:

    During this two year effort, our project team developed and broadcast 52 minute-long radio features profiling innovative Minnesota farmers and their enterprises. The project team met quarterly by conference call to discuss progress, and to develop story lineups and publicity strategies. Program themes were selected by a collaborative process including all team members. They included alternative crops, livestock, on-farm processing and value-added enterprises, conservation, and marketing and were seasonal when possible. We estimate each program reached more than 302,000 rural Minnesota Farm Network listeners. A compilation CD containing 40 of the programs was also made and distributed to all rural radio stations in Minnesota and to interested individuals. The shows were posted to and remain available on-line for those who don’t live in a broadcast area. Story transcripts and links to additional information for each of the story topics are also provided.

    (note: for a full color report that includes graphics, call 651-201-6012)

    Introduction:

    The goal of this project was to reach traditional commodity farmers—in a respectful and nonjudgmental way—with the message that farm enterprise diversification can be an important strategy for those looking to balance environmental performance, economic performance and quality of life/satisfaction on their farms.

    This two-year project used paid messages on a commercial agricultural radio network to tell the stories of Minnesota farmers who are doing innovative things on their operations. We were not aware of other efforts that used radio as an outreach tool to reach mainstream agricultural audiences with sustainable agriculture-oriented messages. The project featured the voices of farmers who are growing new or non-traditional crops, integrating livestock, adding value to commodities, trying new marketing strategies, cooperating in unique business ventures, or managing their farmscapes and landscapes with special conservation or production method.

    We predicated the project on a number of assumptions, which had led us to believe that radio would be an effective and compelling medium for profiling individuals who have bucked conventional wisdom and are trying something a little different than agricultural professionals have typically recommended or neighbors typically do.

    * Farmers like to learn from other farmers.
    * Farmer-to-farmer networking is effective and can lead to bigger things
    * Examples of diversification already exist, although awareness of them may be low.
    * Diversity is an important strategy for risk reduction and sustainability.
    * Diversified operations can be profitable.
    * The corn-soybean rotation is dominant in many parts of Minnesota and the Upper Midwest.
    * The corn-soybean rotation may be ecologically and economically unsustainable over the long term.
    * Consumer interest in locally grown products has been growing, spelling an opportunity to interest them in where and how these local products are grown.
    * Portions of Minnesota are currently underserved by agricultural services and agriculture options. In Northeast Minnesota, for example, farmers receive comparatively little support from public agricultural institutions because the conventional wisdom is “it’s not farm country.” Nevertheless, nontraditional farms are finding ways to thrive in this region.
    * Radio has not been tested as a medium to deliver sustainable agriculture messages.

    Project objectives:

    Objective/Progress
    Short–term expected outcomes:
    S-1. Increased experimentation and awareness of farmers and rural citizens about the range and viability of agricultural diversification options.

    Minute-long programs on 52 crop, livestock, fruit and vegetable, conservation, and value added topics aired on a 33-member network of radio stations that reaches 302,000 rural listeners each week.

    S-2. Increased appreciation of the importance of sustainable agriculture and diversification to urban/consumer audiences.

    Difficult to quantify progress. Media monitoring did not work as well as expected.

    S-3. Increased knowledge about NCR-SARE and MDA producer grant programs, projects, and recipients.
    One program profiled Carol Ford, a SARE farmer/rancher grantee, and provided links to information about the SARE Farmer Rancher and MDA Sustainable Agriculture Grant Programs.

    Intermediate expected outcomes:

    I-1. More farmers seek information about and experiment with diversification options.

    Web counts provide an indication that at least 3,200 people sought additional information about one or more topics. We believe that these shows planted the seed of an enterprise idea between the ears of more than one farmer, but realize that we would have to be very lucky to ever be able to quantify a direct impact.

    I-2. Closer working relationships among partners.

    Since starting the project, some partners have worked together on other efforts.

    I-3. New friendships, collegiality among farmer team members.

    Team member reflections at the end of the project, especially those of the farmers, indicated they found this a valuable activity and appreciated getting to know and work with each other, even across distance.

    Long term expected outcomes:

    L-1. Increased programs and resources committed to ag diversification.

    L-2. Wider array of agricultural enterprises on MN farms.

    L-3. More infrastructure for farming alternatives.

    L4. More successful farms on landscape.

    L-5. Increased ag business opportunities in rural communities.

    We are optimistic that agriculture will continue to diversify; we hear conversations about the merits of diversification continuing and see examples of it in rural (and urban) areas. We hope our project contributed to the complex context that is constantly shifting and is shaped by: funding (or lack thereof) available for research, farm program policies, high commodity and land prices, interest in local and regional food and energy production, conservation and climate concerns, and the uncertain stability and existence of programs like SARE and the USDA Value Added Producer Grant Program, among other things.

    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.