Sustainable Agriculture Marketing through Collaborative Policy Development

1996 Annual Report for LST96-013

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1996: $40,900.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1998
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $39,000.00
Region: Southern
State: Arkansas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. James Worstell
Delta Land & Community

Sustainable Agriculture Marketing through Collaborative Policy Development


1.) Participants will design cost effective agricultural value-added marketing options tailored to their state and a policy education/research process to refine and implement the options.

2.) A hands-on manual based on these methods and tailored to local policy education/research on diversification/value-added marketing will be created and field-tested in multiple states including Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas.

Creation of sustainable marketing alternatives is an extremely important research and education topic, but extremely difficult to approach by traditional methods. However, policy change in some states has been successful in helping farmers create such alternatives. This project applied a method successful in creating consensus on environmental issues to provide training and information about policy alternatives in agricultural marketing. The key to this process is first, uncovering the basic assumptions which enable people to be absolutely convinced they are right no matter what the evidence, and then, establishing even more basic stabilizing assumptions which can be agreed to by both polarized groups. Then both previously polarized groups can participate in synthesizing a new approach on this common foundation. This project featured the application of this process to issues of sustainable rural development in three states.

A series of workshops were held which successfully recruited prominent local businessmen, farmers, USDA staff, legislators and others to work on policy change in diversification/value-added marketing. The project has also assisted specific enterprises which have joined the effort, including community enterprises based on organic cotton, high oil corn, biocontrol, organic poultry, meadowfoam and kenaf. The first event was a workshop in Memphis attended by policy makers and farmers from Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky. At this workshop, participants learned of the progress of a Minnesota non-profit and a North Dakota Commission established by their respective legislatures. In addition, each state exchanged information regarding their progress and thinking regarding sustainable value-added agriculture.

Out of this workshop came follow-up meetings throughout the Delta. These meetings were attended by legislators, farmers and businessmen. At several of these meetings farmers on the boards of the North Dakota and Minnesota efforts participated

The project brought people together from three states to exchange ideas about creation of value-added enterprises. Many of the participants had never before met one another, but have now already designed and even implemented policy change in their states.

As these workshops built on each other, a manual for collaborative policy development was refined, published and is being distributed by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. An eight page summary was distributed throughout Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky and to many locations outside the three states targeted by the project. Copies of the manual are available free of charge from Bill Burnette, Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Room 701, Capitol Plaza Tower, 500 Mero Street, Frankfort, Kentucky, 40601.

As the project proceeded, however, we recognized the growing utility and cost-savings of internet based dissemination of results. Therefore we established a web site and results of the project are now available to anyone with access to a computer and modem. The address of our web site is

Four key results were achieved during the project. These include:

1. establishment of the Delta Enterprise Network—dedicated to uniting and assisting community-oriented, environmentally-conscious entrepreneurs in development of locally-owned, value-added enterprises;

2. state legislation and policy networks—education of state legislators about successful programs for sustainable rural development led to ground-breaking legislation in Kentucky and Missouri and progress through state networks in Arkansas and Tennessee.

3. assistance to new enterprises—cooperative efforts to launch sustainable enterprises have been assisted in incorporating, feasibility analysis, business plan development and obtaining facilities and markets.

4. creation of a national network to promote systems facilitation training—beginning with a pilot project for agricultural professionals in the northern portion of the Delta

DEN members have used their training to undertake a major initiative involving all three states as well as others states in the Delta. This initiative focuses on enlisting agricultural research institutions in the cause of Delta rural development. A number of excellent agricultural research facilities exist in the Delta, but none of them have been involved in rural development. The research projects of these facilities’ scientists are chosen based on relevance to agricultural production not rural development. The three major USDA/ARS labs in the region have now joined with DEN to implement research programs focused on the need for value-added diversification in the Delta. Key scientists recruited to DEN are: Dr. Neil Rutger of the USDA national rice laboratory, Dr. Harry Dupree of the USDA national aquaculture lab, and Dr. John Robinson of the University of Arkansas Rice Research Center. DEN members designed a project which has obtained bipartisan support nationally. Activities are continuing to build toward a regional network to combine the rural development expertise of the non-profit sector with the research expertise of government labs.

We have become convinced that creation of new cooperative, value-added enterprises and public policy change on a variety of agricultural and environmental issues, will occur much faster if we can multiply the systems facilitation skills which have worked for us.

To accomplish that end, we have begun forming a network of agricultural professionals in the Northern Delta to begin developing agents systems facilitation skills. USDA/Rural Development, Extension Service, and USDA/NRCS staff in the Delta regions of Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas have all signed on.

The final network created as a result of the project is the beginnings of a national network to explore systems facilitation. We have created this network to support our efforts in the Delta to develop systems facilitation skills. The group began to coalesce at the Agriculture and Human Values meetings and has established an email expansion list to explore one basic question: What skills are needed to help facilitate groups efforts to improve their agricultural systems? The email discussion explored basic components of systems facilitation such as: learning systems, social motivation, conceptual pluralism, team-building, nonverbal communication, case studies of innovation and feasibility analysis.

Participants in this network, in addition to participants from the region, included:
Barbara Meister, consultant to USDA and various foundations
Randy Williams, Director of Economic Development, Extension Service, USDA, Washington, D.C.
Sam Alessi, USDA, ARS, Morris, Minnesota
Greg McIsaac, Univ Illinois, Dept of Agronomy
Mick Mayhew, Iowa State, Department of Psychology
Barbara Rusmore, Artemisia Institute
Ray Williams, Oregon State University
Dan McGrath, county agent, Willamette valley, Oregon
Cornelia Flora, Iowa State and North Central Rural Development Center.

The conclusions of this informal working group are being combined with the regional policy effort. The hope is that this effort or some similar effort in another region will lead to a regional or national center for systems facilitation. Ideally, this center would train agricultural professionals and others in the skills needed for facilitation of groups focused on a variety of sustainable policy, economic and environmental efforts.

December 1998.


Lorna McMahon

Mid-South Organic Cotton Producers
Office Phone: 9012538028
Van Ayers

University of Missouri
Office Phone: 5737485531
Dr. Robert Jenkins

University of Tennessee
Office Phone: 4239747271