Comparative Economic and Ecological Analyses of Lower Chemical Input Fruit Farms and Other Fruit Farming Systems

Project Overview

LNC91-037
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1991: $110,610.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1994
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $146,698.00
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Jeff Dickinson
Stratford Ecological Society

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Fruits: berries (blueberries), berries (strawberries)
  • Animals: poultry, goats, sheep

Practices

  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, agricultural finance, whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, soil stabilization, wildlife
  • Pest Management: biological control

    Abstract:

    [Note to online version: The report for this project includes tables, figures, and appendices that could not be included here. The regional SARE office will mail a hard copy of the entire report at your request. Just contact North Central SARE at (402) 472-7081 or ncrsare@unl.edu.]

    A considerable amount of case study information has been gathered and processed on the economic and ecological functioning of three lower chemical input (organic) and three higher chemical input fruit farming systems, growing strawberries, brambles (raspberries and blackberries) and blueberries. These small fruit farms were paired-up (one lower chemical and one higher chemical input grower) representing three different regions in the state of Ohio.

    Economic analyses involved detailed accounting of all inputs and outputs on a whole-farm basis and on an enterprise (fruit crop) basis. This was done by conventional bookkeeping means and through taped interviews of each farmer to get details on cultural practices, management and labor activities that may not have been accounted for otherwise.

    From our studies we found that two of the three lower chemical input fruit farms have been able to successfully reduce chemical inputs without significantly reducing yields. However, observed trends that extended beyond the two year scope of this study indicated that there were inconsistencies in these lower chemical input fruit farms in terms of their ability to produce, which can be explained by other management decisions and ecosystem functions that went beyond the influence of chemical inputs.

    This reduction in chemical inputs in general reduced production costs, but not in all cases, as the inputs had to be replaced with labor (eg. the substitution of herbicides with labor for weed control). Higher levels of chemical fertilizer inputs did not always translate into higher production; however, the highest yields were seen on one of the higher chemical input fruit farms.

    There were major differences in scale and diversity, and related debt loads and subsequent infrastructure maintenance of buildings and equipment. This debt and infrastructure maintenance related to the availability of capital, which presented differences in the overall economic character of each fruit farm, including how, what, and why certain management decisions were made.

    We were able to document significant differences in ecosystem function as they related to different management systems for different fruit farms. We examined nitrogen cycling and monitored overall soil nutrient activity and organic matter accumulation. We examined soil microbiological activity and surface invertebrate and soil nematode activity. Along all parameters of measurement, we were able to detect differences in ecosystem function as they related to lower and higher chemical input fruit farming systems. However, these differences were not consistent, statistically verifiable, or always consistent with one fruit farming system or other. These inconsistencies occurred while looking at specific parameters, including specific nutrients or specific orders of invertebrates.

    Regardless, it was clear that the lower chemical input fruit farmers were gaining significant advantages in nutrients with higher throughput of organic matter through additions of mulches and general applications of manures and other biomass.

    The impact of this study in terms of its educational and research benefits was enhanced significantly through a series of on farm workshops and tours in additional to workshops on lower chemical input fruit production in more formal settings, including conferences and seminars. This was backed-up with demonstration and economic research of at the ODA/OSU Demonstration Farm in Reynoldsburg, Ohio.

    Project objectives:

    • Make detailed whole-farm economic analyses of low chemical input fruit farms growing small fruits, for economic comparison with conventional and other fruit farming systems with similar crops in the same region.

    • Make detailed ecological analyses of the same low chemical input fruit farms for ecological comparisons with other fruit farming systems.

    • Disseminate information from these on-farm studies through Field Days, Demonstrations/Workshops, a Farmer-to-Farmer Mentorship Program, and printed information.

    • Develop long-term demonstrations of lower chemical input fruit farming systems for continued economic and ecological evaluation and for on-going display and education for fruit farmers and the general public.

    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.