Integrating Quality of Life, Economic, and Environmental Issues: Agroecosystem Analysis of Amish Farming

Project Overview

LNC95-091
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1995: $40,800.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1999
Matching Federal Funds: $10,800.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $15,600.00
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Deborah Stinner
Dept. of Entomology, OARDC, Ohio State University

Annual Reports

Information Products

Commodities

  • Agronomic: barley, corn, oats, spelt, sorghum (milo), wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Vegetables: beans, broccoli, peppers, sweet corn, tomatoes
  • Additional Plants: native plants, trees
  • Animals: bovine, poultry, swine, sheep
  • Animal Products: dairy

Practices

  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: nutrient cycling, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Soil Management: organic matter, nutrient mineralization
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, community services, social capital, social networks, sustainability measures

    Abstract:

    [Note to online version: The report for this project includes tables, figures, and supplementary data 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.]

    Many Amish communities are thriving in the same market economy that is driving out so many other farm families. Our goal was to learn more about the basic principles that contribute to Amish sustainability and to use these findings to stimulate discussion in the larger society.

    Objectives

    1. Determine quality of life and community values for case study Amish families
    2. Analyze the economic efficiency of Amish agriculture with particular emphasis on quantifying economic benefits of community
    3. Develop whole farm nutrient budgets of select Amish farms in Ohio to evaluate nutrient cycling efficiency of Amish agriculture
    4. Facilitate discussion on how what we learn from the Amish can help other farm families balance quality of life, economic and environmental goals and become more sustainable.

    Methods

    The approach we used in this study is based on methods of agroecosystem assessment, which strongly incorporate a human ecology perspective and the influence of social factors, such as values and culture of farmers and their society on the structure and function of agroecosystems. Our results are based on intensive work with three case study Amish families and their farms in three different Amish church communities in Holmes County, OH.

    Results

    Two of the families were Old Order Amish and one was New Order. A 4-5 year rotation of hay, corn, corn silage (on 2 of the farms), small grains/hay was used on the 82, 86 and 120 acre farms with 7-27 dairy cows. Important quality of life values included: (1) integrity of families and church communities, (2) living a simple Christian life, with minimal materialism, (3) small scale family farming, (4) shared labor with neighbors, (5) love of creation, and (6) living and working in a pastoral landscape rich in biodiversity. The Amish farms kept an average of 54% of their gross income as cash profit compared to 17% for 4 non-Amish dairy farms. In some years, the New Order Amish farm netted as much cash profit from 27 cows as a non-Amish dairy farm with 68 cows (not including labor for either). The Amish farms had very little hired labor costs compared to 13% on non-Amish dairy farms. Machinery costs on the Amish farms were 50% lower than non-Amish dairy farms. On the two Old Order Amish farms, having several income generating enterprises from a diversity of crops and livestock was important. On all three farms, shared labor within families and neighborhood work groups was a critical factor in sustainability in addition to being an important quality of life value. In studies of nutrient cycling efficiencies, ratios of nutrient inputs over outputs at the whole farm level averaged across the farms were: 2.4 for nitrogen, 2.3 for phosphorus, and 0.88 for potassium. The N ratios indicated a high level of nitrogen efficiency, derived primarily from N-fixation in legume hay crops. Two of the farms had corn yields in 1996 of 187 and 178 compared to a county average of 116 bu/ac.

    Impacts and Potential Contributions

    Discussions about this project played a key role in the development of the OSU Agroecosystems Management Program, particularly with respect to an appreciation of quality of life values and the importance of integrating them with economic and environmental considerations. We consider the most important lesson learned from our studies of direct relevance to non-Amish farmers to be the economic and social value of community cooperation.

    Introduction:

    Our goal in this study was to learn about the basic principles that contribute to Amish sustainability. The specific objectives were: (1) determine quality of life and community values for case study Amish families, (2) analyze the economic efficiency of Amish agriculture with particular emphasis on quantifying economic benefits of community, (3) develop whole farm nutrient budgets of select Amish farms in Ohio to evaluate nutrient cycling efficiency of Amish agriculture, and (4) facilitate discussion on how what we learn from the Amish can help mainstream farm families better balance quality of life, economic and environmental goals and become more sustainable. We used methods of ethnography and agroecosystem assessment, which strongly incorporates a human ecology perspective, with three case study Amish families and their farms in three different Amish church communities in Holmes County, OH. Two of the families were Old Order Amish and one was New Order. The New Order family had a milking machine and the largest herd of dairy cows (50 Jerseys) and 120 acres. A 5- year rotation of hay, corn, corn silage, oats/wheat, hay was used with rotational grazing. One of the Old Order families purchased a milking machine and expanded their herd from 10 to 17 Holstein cows. This farm had 82 acres with a 5-year rotation of hay, corn, corn silage, oats/spelts, and rotational grazing. The remaining Old Order family milked their herd of 7 Holstein cows by hand. This farm has 86 acres with a 4-year rotation of hay corn, oats/barley, hay and rotational grazing of pastures. This farm was highly diversified with multiple livestock enterprises and 5 acres of market vegetables. Important quality of life values included: (1) integrity of families and church communities, (2) minimal materialism and living a simple life of faithfulness to Christian teachings, (3) small scale family farming in which family members work together, (4) shared labor with neighbors, (5) love of creation, and (6) living and working in a tranquil pastoral landscape which is aesthetically attractive and contains a diversity of fields, croplands, woodlands and rich biodiversity of flora and fauna. For 1995-1996 the three farms kept an average of 54% of their gross income as cash profit compared to about 17% for 4 non-Amish dairy farms. In some years the New Order Amish farm netted as much cash profit from 27 cows as a non-Amish dairy farm with 68 cows (not including labor for either). There were very little hired labor costs on the Amish farms, a result of shared labor within families and neighborhood work groups. Machinery costs on the Amish farms were about 50% lower than 3 non-Amish dairy farms. On the two Old Order Amish farms, having several income-generating enterprises from a diversity of crops and livestock was important. On all three farms, shared labor within families and neighborhood work groups appeared to be a critical factor in sustainability in addition to being an important quality of life value. Nutrient inputs over outputs at the whole farm level were: 2.4 for nitrogen (this was 1.35 on the most profitable New Order Farm, compared to 3.5 on non-Amish dairy farms), 2.3 for phosphorus, and 0.9 for potassium. The nitrogen ratios indicate a high level of N cycling efficiency derived primarily from N-fixation in legume hay crops. Two of the farms had exceptional corn yields in 1996, 187 and 178 compared to a county average of 116 bu/ac. The most important lesson learned from our studies of direct relevance to non-Amish farmers was the economic and social value of community cooperation.

    Project objectives:

    1. Determine quality of life and community values for case study Amish families.

    2. Analyze the economic efficiency of Amish agriculture with particular emphasis on quantifying economic benefits of community.

    3. Develop whole farm nutrient budgets of select Amish farms in Ohio to evaluate nutrient cycling efficiency of Amish agriculture.

    4. Facilitate discussion on how what we learn from the Amish can help mainstream farm families better balance quality of life, economic and environmental goals and become more sustainable.

    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.