Evaluating Relative Impacts of Conventional and Sustainable Farming Systems on Rural Communities

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1992: $99,244.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1996
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $88,246.00
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
John Ikerd
University of Missouri Columbia

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Agronomic: corn, soybeans, wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animals: bovine, swine
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: manure management, grazing - rotational, watering systems, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: technical assistance, decision support system
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, whole farm planning
  • Pest Management: cultural control, integrated pest management, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Soil Management: soil analysis, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, public participation, urban/rural integration, community services, employment opportunities, social capital, sustainability measures, community development


    Farmers and community leaders from three communities, one each in Missouri, Nebraska and Minnesota, provided information for development, and validation of the conceptual and analytical models used for assessment of community impacts of alternative farming systems. Results of these studies focused on first-round or direct economic impacts associated with differences in resources, inputs, and outputs resulting from specialized, input intensive conventional systems compared with more diversified, alternative, or sustainable farming systems.

    A detailed study of expenditure patterns of 30 farmers in southwest Minnesota indicates little differences in spending impacts on local communities between farmers who classified themselves as sustainable versus those who classified themselves as conventional. However, significant differences were found between large and small farmers and between crop farmers and those who had both crops and livestock. Smaller farms and farms with livestock had significantly greater positive impacts on the local economy than did their larger, more specialized counterparts.

    A similar survey was carried out in the Hartington and Wynot communities in northeastern Nebraska. The Nebraska Study compares detailed economic data provided by 28 farmers, half of whom were classified as "conventional" and the other half as "sustainable" based on current farming methods. The sustainable farms were found to be only about one-half as large as the conventional farms in terms of acres farmed, head of livestock, and total sales of commodities. However, the sustainable farmers actually reported a higher average farm income, or return over direct costs per farm, in spite of their smaller size.

    The Missouri portion of the study was based on two alternative scenarios for returning land currently enrolled in the CRP program to agricultural production in Putnam County, Missouri. The conventional scenario was designed to reflect currently typical farming methods in north Missouri. The alternative or sustainable scenario assumed increased use of crop rotations, input management strategies, and reduced tillage methods for cropping system and utilized planned, or management intensive, rotational grazing systems for livestock production.

    Returning CRP land to crop and livestock production under either the conventional or alternative system would result in more than a two-fold increase in total direct, or first round, economic activity compared to current CRP payments. Total economic impacts under the alternative scenario were projected to total $7,860,000: $2,368,200 direct effects (excluding farm income), $925,700 indirect effects, and $4,565,000 induced effect (including farm income). This compares with $6,269,400 under the conventional farming scenario: $2,087,500 direct effects (excluding farm income), $776,000 indirect effects, and $3,406,000 induced effects (including farm income). Farm income could be expected to rise to $2.4 million and $3.4 million respectively for conventional and sustainable systems compared with $1.7 million in total CRP payments for the county.

    Project objectives:

    A. To facilitate community self-appraisal of the potential to increase local employment and income by supporting transitions of local farmers from conventional to more sustainable systems of farming.

    B. To facilitate practical, community-specific evaluation of potential impacts of more sustainable local agricultural sectors on the overall long run sustainability of rural communities.

    C. To promote an understanding and realization of potential positive linkages between sustainable systems of farming and sustainable rural communities; considering the economic, environmental, and social dimensions of sustainability.

    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.