Participatory assessment of progress, barriers and opportunities for sustainability in Southern agricultural systems

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2013: $100,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Southern
State: Arkansas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. James Worstell
Delta Land & Community

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: sorghum (milo), grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Fruits: apples, avocados, berries (cranberries), citrus, olives, pineapples
  • Vegetables: asparagus, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, garlic, peas (culinary), radishes (culinary), brussel sprouts
  • Additional Plants: herbs, native plants
  • Animals: bovine, poultry, goats, sheep
  • Animal Products: dairy
  • Miscellaneous: mushrooms


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, livestock breeding, manure management, grazing - multispecies, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, preventive practices, range improvement
  • Crop Production: agroforestry, biological inoculants, cover crops, crop rotation, double cropping, intercropping, multiple cropping, nutrient cycling, application rate management, ridge tillage
  • Education and Training: decision support system, extension, focus group
  • Energy: bioenergy and biofuels, solar energy
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, agricultural finance, whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: afforestation, habitat enhancement, soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: biological control, field monitoring/scouting, genetic resistance, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: transitioning to organic, agroecosystems, holistic management, organic agriculture, permaculture
  • Soil Management: composting, organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: community planning, new business opportunities, social capital, social psychological indicators, sustainability measures


    Constraints and changes across twenty years in Southern agricultural sustainability were explored in a survey of Southern Extension agents and farmers.  Combining these results with case studies of nine resilient local food systems and recent research in ecological resilience, we developed a sustainability/resilience index (SRI) which quantitatively measures sustainability at the county level.  Preliminary work with quality of life indicators (e.g., health, poverty) show high correlations with SRI.  Researchers, educators and farmers have a new tool to predict and improve sustainability of food and agricultural systems.  Refining the model and index is required to incorporate anomalous results in certain regions.

    Project objectives:

    The following Objectives and Activities are as listed in the approved proposal.  

    Objective 1. Qualitative exploration of constraints to sustainable agricultural systems through a rolling workshop/tour and case studies of farmers who have established locally-owned integration of sustainable production, processing, marketing (also known as locally-owned value added or LOVA enterprises) in regions where integration is scarce.

    Activity 1.1 Recruit stakeholders and engage them in participatory exploration of whole system integration from production to processing and marketing with other successful integrators in a rolling workshop.

    Time: March-April 2014

    Deliverables: At least eleven stakeholders participate in KY event. Stakeholders recommend additions to survey. Stakeholders compare their enterprise development process to other participants.

    Activity 1.2 Conduct series of interviews with case study participants to both prepare for development of formal case studies detailing decisions and strategies for overcoming barriers and a draft model incorporating findings from all case studies and Activity 1.1.

    Time: March-April 2014

    Deliverables: Case study interviews complete in four states. Draft model of LOVA development complete.

    Activity 1.3 Prepare Decision Case studies from information collected in Activity 1.2.

    Time: April-August 2014

    Deliverables: Case studies complete, published and available online.

    Objective 2. Assemble quantitative data on constraints and opportunities through surveys of stakeholders. This survey will include all questions in the original SOS survey plus questions exploring emergent issues as informed by key stakeholders.

    Activity 2.1 Pretest survey with participants in Activity 1.1 and finalize survey 1; pretest survey 2 with participants in Activity 4.1 and finalize survey 2.

    Time: March-June 2014 and March-June 2015

    Deliverables: Robust surveys finished.

    Activity 2.2 Conduct two online surveys, one after case studies interviews/rolling workshops and a second after first set of regional workshops.

    Time: July-Oct 2014 and July-Oct 2015

    Deliverables: At least 2000 surveys complete for each of two surveys. Results analyzed and used to modify model developed in 1.2. Final survey results published and available online.

    Objective 3. Detail major characteristics and identify potential challenges and opportunities in Southern agricultural systems by integrating secondary databases of indicators of sustainable agricultural systems with survey data from Objective 2.

    Activity 3.1 Select, access and analyze secondary data bases based on conclusions from Objective 1 and comparison to SOS 1995.

    Time: May-Oct 2014

    Deliverables: Relevant data chosen based on input from Objective 1, analyzed by county, and compared to data of SOS 1995.

    Activity 3.2 Integrate survey data with secondary data to explore draft model developed in previous Activities.

    Time: Nov 2014-Feb 2015

    Deliverables: Survey and secondary data integrated to develop indices to test model.

    Activity 3.3 Integrate survey and secondary data with Opportunity Conference results

    Time: Feb-Oct 2015

    Deliverables: Analysis by stakeholders in 4.1 used to select and integrate new databases and develop second survey. All data integrated from all sources, published and available online.

    Objective 4. Identify and lay foundation for removing constraints identified in Objectives 1, 2 and 3 by developing farmer/entrepreneur-researcher networks with Opportunity Conferences.

    Activity 4.1 Conduct two Exploring Opportunity Conferences which analyze survey 1 in context of case studies and database analysis to determine barriers to sustainable whole system integration.

    Time: Nov 2014-Feb 2015

    Deliverables: Two meetings develop consensus on barriers to sustainable agricultural systems and draft model of LOVA development.

    Activity 4.2 Conduct two Designing Opportunity Conferences to integrate results from case studies, surveys and databases.

    Time: Nov-Dec 2015

    Deliverables: Two final conferences design prototype research and education projects to remove barriers identified in previous Objectives.

    Activity 4.3 Design and implement interactive SOS website to support all Objectives.

    Time: Jan 2015-Jan 2016

    Deliverables: Project website presents project data, conference proceedings, LOVA development model and continuing training in ecological resilience approach to sustainable agricultural systems.

    Objective 5. Achieve widespread activities to remove constraints through presentations and publications to recruit participation based on analysis of all data from the first four Objectives.

    Activity 5.1 Publicize and discuss results at regional conferences, elicit questions for survey 2 and recruit participation in Activity 4.2 and model development.

    Time: Jan-Feb 2015

    Deliverables: Two regional conferences explore implications of results and recruit participants for 4.2.

    Activity 5.2 Publish Southern Futures 2015 papers and recruit continued participation in model development.

    Time: Nov 2015-Feb 2016.

    Deliverables: Results available in comprehensive final report, peer-reviewed articles and online. Model will be available for interactive discussion online and in post-project workshops to stimulate further testing.

    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.