Information Delivery Systems for Use in Implementation of Lisa (SARE) Research and Technology

1989 Annual Report for LW89-021

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1989: $182,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1991
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $247,000.00
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Ronald E. Voss
University of California, Vegetable Research & Information Center

Information Delivery Systems for Use in Implementation of Lisa (SARE) Research and Technology


Many organizations have funded and/or developed research on low-input sustainable agriculture (e.g., USDA, Northwest Area Foundation, UC-SAREP, etc.). The large data bases of information that are being developed must be delivered to farmers, marketers and consumers in usable forms. To avoid duplication of effort and to assure that all research projects are being accessed, a multi-state, multi-organization and multi-discipline coordinating and dissemination effort was needed.


(1) Produce practical "how to" and other usable information based on sustainable production, marketing and food quality research.

(2) Disseminate information on sustainable agriculture principles, techniques and practices to farmers, marketers and extension workers.

(3) Determine the effectiveness of various education approaches in terms of adoption of LISA (SARE) practices and principles.

(4) Develop feedback mechanisms between farmers and researchers to fill their information needs.

(5) Determine the market potential for various types of sustainable farming practices.

Annual Progress Report for 1992
(and Final Report)


This was a broad based, multi-state, multi-discipline, multi-organizational education project. The funds greatly leveraged a wide array of other funding and people resources.

The project was oriented toward many activities that addressed farmers' education needs and toward development of "education products" that will assist others as they address the goals of achieving sustainable agriculture. Some of the specific major activities and products included: an Organic Farming Symposium, "Marketing Sustainable Agriculture - A Guidebook for Increasing the Adoption of LISA (SARE) Practices", pamphlets on "How to Conduct Whole Farm Cost Studies" and "How to Conduct Farmer/Scientist Focus Sessions", a videotape production called, "Pleasant Grove Farms, A Case Study", sustainable agriculture training and advanced training for extension advisors/agents/specialists, numerous conferences, numerous focus group studies, and a white paper on "What Works and What Doesn't in Sustainable Agriculture Education".

In the first two years of this three-year effort, the following was accomplished.

Nine conferences and training sessions were conducted that addressed sustainable agriculture issues.

Three newsletters on LISA (SARE) issues were published.

Three substantial publications, five articles in nationwide publications and many articles in smaller newsletters were published.

Arizona small farmers were introduced to the LISA (SARE) program.

A substantial research program that identified a range of farmer attitudes toward the adoption of LISA (SARE) practices and that identified educational techniques to help them change their farming practices was developed.

A nationwide survey of retailers, growers, distributors and six consumer focus groups were conducted to determine the Marketing Potential for Production Grown with LISA (SARE) Methods.

A working network of project cooperators in five states was formed to build on each others' work and experience.

The third and final year of the project included more research and an acceleration of efforts to disseminate information gathered throughout the project through publications, videotapes and audiotapes, statewide conferences, workshops and seminars. The topical emphasis of this project was farm diversification, specialty crops, marketing, alternative marketing, sustainable organic practices and educational methodologies.

Also, the effectiveness of the various education methods was measured to determine the sources and type of information that facilitated the greatest adoption of sustainable production and marketing principles and practices.

If any single conclusion and/or recommendation can be drawn from this project, it would be that participatory methods of information delivery have the highest probability of influencing the adoption and practice of sustainable farming.


Produce and Disseminate Information on Sustainable Agriculture Practices
Oregon State University

Extension and research faculty at Oregon State University and Oregon farmers continue to explore new ways of conducting and communicating research related to sustainable agriculture. Whole farm case studies, Farmer/Scientist Focus Sessions, and Coordinated On-Farm Research approaches have been tested and evaluated. Two major conferences, two workshops, and one field day on sustainable agriculture were designed to maximize farmer/scientist interaction as peers. Thirteen facilitated Farmer/Scientist Focus Sessions were held on subjects of concern to commercial scale farmers . A regional newsletter on sustainable agriculture has been established with a readership of 2000. A model for conducting Coordinated On-Farm Research was tested and 12 farms are currently working together to evaluate fall seeded cover cropping strategies for conservation of water quality.

Research on cover cropping strategies for water quality were featured at a regional park (Minto Brown Park near Salem, Oregon) where the community is demonstrating how commercial farming, wildlife management, and recreation can occur together with little interference. A whole day training session was held for extension and research faculty at Oregon State University on the subjects of: Whole Farm Case Studies, Farmer Scientist Focus Sessions, and Coordinated On-Farm Research. Also, two publications are being prepared which describe how to conduct farmer scientist focus sessions and whole farm case studies.

University of Arizona

The goal of the Arizona project was to concentrate sustainable agriculture education efforts on small farmers. Successes on small scale operations would then be translated for use in the larger, conventional systems.

Through a survey approach, research revealed that small farm operators are under capitalized, without equipment, and struggling to find markets for their products. Small farm operations in Arizona typically do not have a long life expectancy.

Effectiveness of Information-Sharing Methods
Applied Behavioral Sciences UCD

Efforts here were focused on evaluating the effectiveness of various education methods used to "advocate" the adoption of LISA (SARE) practices and encourage information sharing. Over the course of the three years, we carried out a large array of efforts to evaluate the utility of different types of conferences, print materials, and the use of electronic media. In particular, we focused on the production and evaluation of audio tapes on sustainable agricultural topics. Year three was dedicated to production activities. In addition to the development of the audio tapes, we attempted to utilize the findings from evaluation efforts in California and in cooperating states to produce a guidebook entitled "Marketing Sustainable Agriculture". This book is intended to be a practical guide for a mix of persons concerned with the promotion and adoption of sustainable agriculture (e.g., extension personnel, teachers, farmers, etc.).

Market Potential

Department of Agricultural Economics, UCD

In the first phase of the project the research identified the size of the U.S. retail market for organically grown fresh produce, and tested retailer and consumer response to food safety-oriented marketing labels. Results were summarized and presented in numerous presentations and written outlets.

Consumer focus groups were carried out in Davis, Sacramento, Berkeley, Chicago, Washington DC., and Bangor, Maine. Consumer were found to be skeptical of food safety-oriented labels, often inquiring, "Where's the guarantee?" Most consumers seemed satisfied with government testing of fresh produce, but the research identified a health and food safety conscious segment highly skeptical of government testing, food safety standards and food safety assurances. Independent research indicates this food safety conscious segment probably represents about 20 percent of potential buyers. However, this sizable segment does not translate into actual purchases of food safety-oriented labels. This is because these highly educated, food safety conscious consumers are skeptical of all food safety-oriented claims, be they public or private sector claims. The research indicated that mere labeling of fresh produce, without additional consumer education, is insufficient to significantly modify consumer behavior.

The research also showed that improved marketing strategies for alternatively grown fruits and vegetables might emphasize potential benefits to the environment of consuming this type of fresh produce. Finally, the research found that those consumers who routinely act on their food safety concerns by actually modifying their buying behavior, prefer organically grown produce to other types of food safety-oriented labels.

Washington State University

The Washington research focused on buyers and "would be" buyers of organically grown produce to determine what motivates them to consider purchases of organically grown produce. The connection between produce purchases and environmental issues was examined.

The research activities revealed that food safety is no longer a major factor in purchasing fresh produce as it was immediately following the "Alar scare". Price, appearance and freshness are the important decision factors in produce purchases. Inferior merchandising practices used with organically-grown produce have contributed to the decline in sales of these products in conventional supermarkets. An unclear understanding of "low input" labels (and terms) makes them ineffective merchandising tools.

Relative to food safety, environmental protection is a much larger concern of the public at this time. Environmental issues draw an emotional response from many people. Compared to "pesticide scares", environmental issues may be a more consistent base on which to launch a marketing program for "low input" grown produce. Consumers, however, would have to be educated on the tie between food production and environmental safety. Right now it appears that this tie does not exist for most consumers.

University of Arizona

A marketing study for evaluating the demand for organic and near-organic produce was conducted in chain stores and other outlets in Tucson. Most chain store consumers will purchase organic produce if quality and price do not vary greatly from conventionally grown produce.

Producer Involvement

Because the main focus of the project was dissemination, it is very hard to state the exact number of farmers reached by the events, publications, and other outreach efforts. The number is in the thousands. Further, most dissemination events were executed in cooperation with farmers at various levels.

Potential Contributions and Practical Applications

The most significant potential contribution of the behavioral sciences component of this project is the likely impact of the guidebook. This book contains materials and advice that have been garnered from the on-going evaluation efforts to help producers adopt and practice sustainable agriculture.

If the findings of this study are adopted, grower-shippers will have a better idea of how to market their products from a food safety standpoint. The more effective approaches involve an actual change in farming practices to reduce synthetic pesticide usage (as opposed to merely labeling a product as tested to meet government or other standards), and communicating the benefits.

Prior to this research it was thought that consumer concern over food safety would translate into a sizable market for products identified with food safety labels. This research has demonstrated that consumer surveys are not an effective indicator of consumer purchasing behavior. Instead, we found that surveys by growers, shippers, and retailers estimating actual sales of products with food safety labels, combined with consumer focus group testing of food safety labels, were much more effective methods of identifying consumer behavior. This knowledge can help producers respond effectively to a changing market in the future.

The subject matter and the format of agricultural research and education in Oregon has changed as a result of the activities associated with this grant. There has been a marked increase in farmer-managed and scientist-managed research related to soil conservation, soil and water quality, reduced pesticide use, reduced nitrogen use, enhanced use of biological control strategies, and other activities which reflect concerns about sustainability.