The Fruit and Nut Compass: Developing a Tool and Guiding Principles for Diversified Farms

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2016: $199,246.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2019
Grant Recipient: U. of Wisconsin-Madison
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Michael Bell
Dept. of Community and Environmental Sociology, U. of Wisconsin-Madison
Leah Potter-Weight
Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, UW Madison

Information Products


  • Fruits: apples, apricots, berries (other), berries (blueberries), berries (brambles), cherries, berries (cranberries), grapes, peaches, pears, plums, quinces, berries (strawberries), general tree fruits
  • Nuts: chestnuts, hazelnuts, walnuts


  • Crop Production: agroforestry, intercropping
  • Education and Training: decision support system, participatory research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study, agricultural finance, labor/employment, risk management, value added, whole farm planning
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, sustainability measures


    Fruit, nut, and berry farmers across the North Central Region utilize biodiversity in their farming systems for a number of reasons. Diverse crops and varieties can spread labor needs across the growing season and increase profitability by spreading risk. Diversification can also intensify productivity by utilizing biological niches, and diversified farms can enhance ecosystem benefits by mimicking natural systems. At the same time, however, poorly planned farm diversification could lead to diseconomies of scale and scope as well as other inefficiencies, management challenges, and barriers to competitiveness.

    This project, “The Fruit and Nut Compass: Developing a Tool and Guiding Principles for Diversified Farms” was designed to help farmers take advantage of the positive aspects of diversification while avoiding its potential pitfalls. To do this, we had two main objectives: 1. Develop a decision support tool that integrates options for different fruit, nut, and berry crops as well as alternative marketing channels 2. Identify common principles that underlie success in perennial diversification for whole farm enterprises.

    To achieve the first objective, we built on the success of Veggie Compass (, a spreadsheet tool developed by members of our project team, and and developed the Fruit and Nut Compass. The tool guides growers to project enterprise expenses and income over fifteen years for multiple crops and multiple markets.

    To achieve the second objective, we used a participatory approach that draws from the knowledge, experience, and lessons learned from experienced farmers. We worked with a professional videographer, Windborne Media, to develop a series of case studies presented in a mini-documentary, called "Persistence." The video highlights our research findings on the "principles of success" in a rich, engaging, and accessible way.

    Our robust outreach approach combined in-person trainings and field days with targeted online content featuring the downloadable spreadsheet tool (including a user manual), perennial crop fact sheets to support the use of the tool, videos, and more. Additional outreach will include the publication of a peer-reviewed journal article, distribution of printed research briefs, conference presentations, and a public screenings of the case study documentary video.

    Project objectives:

    The project included learning, action, and system outcomes.

    Learning outcomes:

    • Farmers and agricultural professionals trained in the use of a new decision support tool to assess profitability of diversified crops and marketing channels
    • Enhanced knowledge among farmers, researchers, and agricultural professionals about common principles, management practices, and compatible enterprises that underlie successful farm diversification

    Action outcomes:

    • Increased use of a decision support tool to choose more profitable crops and marketing channels
    • More informed farm planning and management decisions for perennial crop growers

    System outcomes:

    • More productive and profitable perennial farms across the North Central Region
    • More pathways to success for a diversity of people interested in pursuing diversified perennial enterprises
    • Increased agricultural sustainability through enhanced use of farm diversification
    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.