Development of a Sustainable Agriculture Program for the University of Arkansas

Project Overview

MS09-004
Project Type: Matching Grants Program
Funds awarded in 2009: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Southern
State: Arkansas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Jennie Popp
University of Arkansas

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Education and Training: focus group, participatory research

    Abstract:

    Introduction

    Arkansas is rich in agriculture. Row crops, livestock, specialty crops, aquaculture and forestry operations help complete the landscape across the state. Corporate offices and manufacturing plants of major agricultural processors call Arkansas home. Both agricultural production and processing activities are supported by an extensive agricultural input industry. In 2010 alone (most recent data available), agriculture made substantial contributions to the Arkansas economy in terms of employment, labor income, wages, and value added. Arkansas’ agricultural production, processing and input support industries contributed to the generation of 256,244 jobs, that is 17% (or more than 1 in 6 jobs) of state employment. In that same year, agriculture paid $9.8B, or 16% of total state labor income. Additionally, the presence of agriculture resulted in the addition of $16.0B (or 17%) of value to the state economy. In short, Arkansas relies on agriculture.

    Arkansas producers contribute substantially to the production of many agricultural commodities in the nation. Arkansas leads the nation in rice production. It is second in the production of broiler chickens, and third in the production of catfish (food size) cotton and turkeys. Arkansas is in the top ten of six additional commodities and within the top 25 of 13 more. In short, the nation relies on Arkansas agriculture.

    Because of these far reaching contributions, there are many agriculturally related stakeholders in the state:
    • Farm and ranch owners
    • Farm and ranch operators
    • Agricultural business (both processors and input suppliers) owners
    • Agricultural business (both processors and input suppliers) owners
    • Agricultural instructors
    • Agricultural researchers
    • Agricultural extension
    • General farm organizations
    • Commodity specific organizations
    • Government agencies
    • Agriculturally-based non-profit organizations
    • Other non-profit organizations

    each of whom holds a mission to enhance the sustainability of agriculture within the state. The success of their initiatives is reflected in the strength of Arkansas’ agriculture today. But to date, there is no statewide program to address the teaching (curriculum) research and outreach/extension for sustainable agriculture in Arkansas.

    In 2008, University of Arkansas applied and was awarded a planning grant to develop a sustainable agriculture program for the University of Arkansas (UA). We listed three reasons why there was such a need at UA:

    • Arkansas is a leading producer of many agricultural commodities and agriculture plays a vital role in the economy.
    • A desire for sustainable agricultural intermediate and final products is a primary focus of consumers, industry and large retailers but few can agree on what sustainability means.
    • The UA 1862 and 1890 institutions have been heavily engaged in sustainable agricultural teaching, research and extension (TRE) initiatives with diverse stakeholders (not only producers) across the supply chain.

    Until 2008, many of the sustainable agriculture initiatives at University of Arkansas had been individual-faculty focused with little coordination across the teaching, research and outreach missions, the 1862-1890 institutions or the food supply chain. Therefore, we developed a proposal in order to:

    • engage expertise within/outside of UA to develop a sustainable agricultural program in its TRE missions that addresses sustainable agriculture across the food supply chain;
    • to identify the resource needs to execute the program;
    • develop a plan to secure the matching funds that could be used to support the program.

    In addition to reaching those goals, we hoped that the project would result in additional benefits: better integration of Arkansas 1862/1980 research and extension programs, enhanced communication across the food supply chain and an increase in the number of young professionals trained in the theory and tools of sustainable agriculture. Together these benefits could contribute to an economic revival in the struggling agricultural communities within the state.

    While this proposal was written as a UA project, the scope was broadened to include those beyond the UA system (other colleges and non-profits) in an effort to develop a program for the state of Arkansas. UA continued to lead the project to bring representatives from all colleges and universities within the state with an agricultural program as well as other entities with an agricultural interest (e.g, Farm Bureau, Arkansas Women in Agriculture, Department of Agriculture, Southern Sustainable Agricultural Working Group, ATTRA, Winrock International, Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, etc), farmers and ranchers, commodity specific organizations, and government agencies. The general goals of the project stayed the same, 1) develop a sustainable agriculture program framework, 2) identify resource needs 3) attract partners to provide matching funds.

    In 2010 and 2011, UA personnel hosted 4 meeting events (2 each year) across the state, inviting representatives of university agricultural programs, agricultural non-profits, other non-profits that work with agriculture, commodity and farm groups, agribusiness representatives, government personnel as well as farmers and ranchers. These meetings were well attended. But they did not result in the creation of a sustainable agriculture program framework for the state of Arkansas.

    The meetings however, were not without benefit.

    With each passing meeting it became clear that there were strong differences in opinions regarding what was the status of sustainable agriculture in the state including:
    1) a definition of sustainable agriculture
    2) identification of important goals of sustainable agriculture
    3) identification of best management practices that were sustainable
    4) the degree to which sustainable agricultural practices were being used in agricultural production across the state
    5) which row crops, specialty crop and livestock commodities were leaders in adopting sustainable agricultural practices
    6) what size of operations (in terms of gross sales)
    7) what factors are most important in encouraging the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices and the relative importance of each
    8) what factors are most influential in hindering the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices and the relative importance of each

    Differences also existed in opinions regarding the development of a state wide sustainable agriculture program including
    1) what parts (academic curriculum, research and outreach/extension) should be part of such a program
    2) who should be the recipients of such a program
    3) what are the most pressing needs to be addressed in the program
    4) who should take a leading role in developing different parts of the program
    5) how strong is current collaboration on sustainable agricultural curriculum, research and outreach
    6) what things may lead to better collaboration
    7) what things may hinder the development of a program in the state

    The face to face meeting highlighted the fact that, not only were there disagreements across the groups but there were also misperceptions about the opinions held by other groups.

    In the last meeting in 2012 the group came to consensus that before the group could develop a framework for sustainable agriculture for the state, there was a need for a better understanding of each group’s opinion on the fifteen items listed above. With the help of individuals from a number of agricultural organizations, primarily Arkansas Women in Agriculture UA personnel traveled the state to interview individuals in person or by email survey as to their opinions on the fifteen items above. These results were discussed at the 2013 Arkansas Women in Agriculture conference in Little Rock in March.

    The Survey

    A survey was developed with input from farmers and ranchers, as well as personnel from agricultural non-profit organizations, other non-profit organizations, commodity organizations universities. The purpose of the survey was to better understand stakeholders’ perceptions of 1) what defines sustainable agriculture and sustainable agricultural practices, 2) the roles that different stakeholder groups should play in developing/delivery/receiving a statewide program and 3) the importance of partnerships across stakeholder groups.

    Over 1000 individuals participated in discussions in person, over email and by phone regarding sustainable agriculture. These individuals were contacted again in 2013 and asked to provide their thoughts in this survey.

    Of the 1078 individuals contacted, 659 individuals responded for a 65% response rate.

    Part One: What is Sustainable Agriculture

    Early project meetings revealed that different stakeholders had different ideas about 1) what was meant by sustainable agriculture, 2) practices that qualified as sustainable, 3) the overall use of sustainable agriculture practices in the state, and 4) factors that encouraged and hindered adoption of sustainable practices. While some stakeholders recognized there were differences, there was no formal assessment of what the broad range of perceptions were and what kind of stakeholders held them. Therefore our project refocused on two pieces: 1) to better understand how individuals and stakeholder groups feel about sustainable agriculture in the state and 2) use this information to help explain the current opinions regarding the development of a statewide program for sustainable agriculture.

    Roles of Stakeholders in Agriculture

    Respondents were asked to indicate which of 13 roles they held in agriculture. Together these 659 individuals indicated 970 roles as many individuals were associated with multiple stakeholder groups (Table 1) . Of the primary roles listed, Farm/Rancher owner comprised the largest primary role with 27.2%. Combined with Farm/Ranch operators, the Farm/Ranch stakeholder group represented 43% of all respondents.

    Of those 344 Farm/Ranch owners and operators, most were involved in livestock and haying activities. (Table 2) . Smaller numbers were involved in row crop and specialty crop activities. No farmers and ranchers who responded to the survey were involved in aquaculture or biomass production activities on their operations. While nearly 15% were affiliated with a commodity specific organizations, one 1 individual listed working for those organizations as his primary role in agriculture. (Others were both members and employees of the commodity organizations but felt other roles better represented their primary role in agriculture).

    The remainder of the questionnaire was used to assess the similarities and differences among stakeholders in different roles in agriculture. Table 1 provides an indication of how many individuals were represented in each group. As 254 individuals indicated that they were part of more than one stakeholder group, it is likely that their views were influenced by more than just their Primary Role group. However, as those influences are not easily delineated from such a survey, all opinions and perceptions are associated with the primary role group only.

    Defining Sustainable Agriculture

    All respondents were asked to provide their definition of sustainable agriculture. Interestingly many chose not to, saying it was very difficult to put into words. Responses from Farm/Ranch owners and operators are presented in Tables 3 and 4. These definitions key on economic, environmental and social concerns. Agribusiness and Industry personnel focused more on environmental and social (feeding a growing population) needs. Not surprisingly university personnel echoed the triple bottom line goal. Agricultural commodity groups (most of whom have aligned themselves with sustainable agriculture for decades) cite SARE as their source for a definition while other Non-Profit personnel take a more general approach but they are similarly aligned.

    Goals of Sustainable Agriculture

    Respondents were asked about the relevance of 20 different actions to sustainable agriculture goals. The overwhelming majority of respondents found all activities to be in line with sustainable agriculture goals except for producing sources of alternative energy (Table 5). Stakeholders were divided on this issue. Some highlighted the benefits of providing production alternatives on marginal land that can increase farm income. Others highlighted the tensions that can arise when limited land is diverted away from tradition food and fiber production.

    Identifying Sustainable Agricultural Practices

    While groups were aligned on the goals, there were great differences in their perceptions of agricultural practices that met sustainable agriculture criteria (Table 6). Therefore, responses were then reviewed by stakeholder group. Tables A1 through A16 in Appendix A show the percentage of responses by category for all thirteen stakeholder groups and for all sixteen practices.
    A number of observations may be made from these tables. First, as compared to other stakeholder groups, farmers and ranchers, whether they are owners or operators, often indicate the highest percentage of lack of knowledge regarding the sustainability of each practice. Agribusiness and industry support groups, whether they are owners or operators show the next highest percentage of uncertainty across most practices. This suggests a need for education regarding likely what each practice entails and its expected economic, environmental and social consequences.

    On the other hand, university employees, general farm organizations, commodity specific organizations and agricultural nonprofit organizations show the least amount of uncertainty regarding the sustainability of each practice. In many cases, no stakeholders in those categories chose “don’t know” as a response. However the range of responses among those organizations differed, often substantially. Compared to the others, a greater percentage of agriculturally-based nonprofits believed that GMO practices were never sustainable; whereas university research and extension personnel looked more favorably on the sustainability of those practices. General farm organizations and commodity specific organizations generally fell somewhere in between.

    While the sample size is small, these results do indicated important differences among individuals in different stakeholder groups that left unaddressed could lead to complications for the development of a statewide sustainable agriculture program.

    Percentage of Production and Farm Size that Apply Sustainable Practices

    Respondents were also asked to indicate what percentage of agricultural production across Arkansas was sustainably produced. The average response across stakeholder groups was relatively similar, ranging from 43 to 60 percent. University instructors and researchers indicated the highest percentage while agribusiness employees, government and commodity specific organizations provided the lowest average response. When questioned about their answers, respondents revealed the criteria that influenced their determination. For example, university personnel often highlighted the great improvements in environmental management of agricultural operations that has increased the amount of sustainable production. Agricultural Commodity organizations, government employees and Agribusiness/Industry support personnel highlighted instead the financial difficulties faced by farmers and processors in recent years that have reduced the economic viability of farms.

    Respondents were asked to further distinguish across commodities as to the sustainability of the production processes used. Results fell along expected lines. For example, a higher percentage of stakeholders involved in row crop production identified row crop commodities as being sustainably produced as compared to livestock and specialty crop producers. Similar results held for livestock and specialty crop producers (a higher percentage of those stakeholders listed their types of commodities as being sustainably produced as compared to other types of producers). University research and extension personnel, and agricultural commodity were more likely to identify commodities with which they worked as being sustainably produced compared to commodities with which they did not work. It is unclear from these results whether these responses are based on true knowledge or just familiarity with a given commodity.

    Stakeholders were then asked what farm size (as defined by gross income) was most likely to adopt sustainable agricultural practices (Table 8). The highest percentages of responses by any stakeholder group feel into the $50k or $50k-$249.99k group. Individual indicates characteristics of these groups that they thought were favorable to the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices:
    • Most of these farms were of small size in terms of acreage. Sustainable agricultural practices that are time consuming may be more manageable on smaller areas of land.
    • Many of these small producers in Arkansas are specialty crop producers and there was a perception among all stakeholder groups that specialty crop producers often incorporated sustainable agricultural practices.
    • Farms with low gross income may not be the primary income source for the farmer (hobby farms) and therefore these producers could experiment with agricultural practices that may reduce yield or yield quality.
    Interestingly most of these characteristics seems to indicate how small producers can overcome perceived negative impacts associated with sustainable practices (time, yield loss, quality loss). Positive impacts associated with sustainable practices were generally not mentioned.

    Factors that Influence Adoption of Sustainable Practices

    Additional questions allowed us to examine the perceived impacts of sustainable practices more carefully. Participants were give a list of 10 factors and were asked to state whether each of those potential positive impacts encouraged the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices. Table 9 reveals that overall, “improving farm profitability” and “increasing yields” were most often reported as encouraging adoption of sustainable agricultural practices. “Preparing for carbon trading programs” and “creating niche markets” were least often selected as factors that would encourage adoption of sustainable practices.
    The following observations were made from Tables B1 through B10.
    • Farm/ranch owners and operators were more likely than most others to suggest that financially- related factors (improving profitability, reduce dependency on inputs and increasing yields) would encourage adoption.
    • Farm/ranch owners and operators were less likely than most others to suggest that environmental benefits would encourage adoption of practices. However it must be noted that although the overall percentage was less than for other stakeholder groups at least two-thirds of farm/ranch owners and operators believed environmental factors would encourage adoption.

    Factors that Hinder Adoption of Sustainable Practices

    Participants were also asked their opinion regarding whether ten additional factors could negatively influence (hinder) the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices. Table 10 below shows that overall, opinions were more mixed for these negative factors than for the positive ones.

    Appendix C (Tables C1 through C10) provides more details regarding responses for each potentially negative factor by stakeholder group. From these tables, the following observations were made:
    • Even within any given stakeholder group, respondents were often split (almost evenly at times) in their opinion regarding most of the factors. This suggests that different individuals are motivated (or demotivated) by different things and more research is needed to better understand what factors cause these differences.

    PART TWO: Should/How do we Develop a Statewide Sustainable Agriculture Program (SSAP) in Arkansas

    Having a better understanding of the perceptions of different agriculture groups regarding sustainable agriculture, the survey instrument (and face to face meetings) moved the discussion towards the creation of a Statewide Sustainable Agriculture Program (SSAP) in Arkansas.

    Major Components of a Statewide Sustainable Agriculture Program
    The first question regarding an SSAP was regarding which of three major components (teaching, research extension/outreach) should be included in such a program. Table 11 suggests that in general, survey participants were in favor of including teaching (academic curriculum), research and extension/outreach components into an SSAP. From table 12 the following can be observed:
    • The extension/outreach got the highest percentage of approval for inclusion in every stakeholder group.
    • Agribusiness/Industry support employees were most divided on the inclusion of each component into an SSAP. Those employees who worked at the agricultural production level were generally more in favor of adding each component than those employees who worked at the processing level.

    Users/Recipients of a Statewide Sustainable Agriculture Program

    Having identified the components of a statewide program, participants were asked whether certain stakeholder groups should be the targeted recipients of the SSAP. There was overwhelming agreement that farmers/ranchers should be targets for the program, but less favored targeting consumers or state policy makers. Appendix D reveals these perceptions from the individual stakeholder groups:
    • Nearly all stakeholder groups agreed similarly (by percentage) that farmers and ranchers should be targets of an SSAP
    • Agribusiness and industry support business owners and employees were more less likely to perceive they should be recipients of an SSAP while university personnel tended to believe they should be targets.
    • Larger percentages of non-profit (ag and other) and university employees believed that consumers should be targeted for programs more than other groups did
    • University research and Farm/ranch owners/operators tended to perceive that state policy makers should be targeted for the program. However, participating government employees (NRCS and FSA employees) tended to disagree. Comments from producers suggested that they believe some policy makers are not very knowledgeable about sustainable agriculture and should be the primary recipients of the program.
    • A few individuals indicated other potential targets of the program would be local and county policy makers and students.

    Addressing Teaching, Research and Outreach Needs in a Statewide Sustainable Agricultural Program

    Participants were asked what needs could be addressed through teaching, research and extension/outreach components of the program. While many different topics were mentioned, for each component a small number of topics was mentioned more often than others.

    Participants most often suggested (329 times) that the academic curriculum focus on the similarities and differences between organic production and conventional production practices. While respondents disagreed as to whether organic or convention production was “more sustainable” most agreed that education build on a scientific foundation was greatly needed. Information on emerging environmental issues in agriculture was the second most favored topic (141 times).

    When addressing research needs, science based study as to the causes (sources) of water quality degradation in the state and source appropriate means to address it was needed. Most respondents admitted that while agricultural practices could lead to water quality problems, water quality issues around the state are likely generated by a number of sources, both agriculturally and nonagricultural based (393 times) . Project participants would like to see on farm research experiments that can identify practices that both cause and mitigate water quality degradation from agriculture. These experiments need to be replicated across the different major plant and animal commodity systems, on different soils and across the varied regions of the state.

    Much of the extension/outreach suggestions focused on how to expand markets for agricultural products (206 times) and how to meet environmental regulations (188 times). But topics to be covered with extension outreach ranged from soil testing, to water quality management, to low input/high yield production strategies.

    Leadership Roles in the Development and Delivery of an SSAP

    Participants were also given an opportunity to share their perceptions regarding which group of stakeholders were best suited to lead the development of the teaching, research and extension/outreach components of a sustainable agriculture program (Table 14). Universities (University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, Arkansas State University, University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Arkansas Tech University) were identified as among the leaders by all groups in the development and delivery of an SSAP. Not surprisingly, universities were the clear leader for development of the academic curriculum. Government organizations such as USDA NRCS and agricultural non-profits were also identified as leaders in the development of research components. Non profits (both agricultural and non-agricultural) and general farm organizations (such as Farm Bureau and Arkansas women and agriculture) were also identified as potential leaders in extension/outreach programs.

    Appendix E sheds some light on the views of the different stakeholder groups. These results echo our experiences in smaller stakeholder meeting discussions around the state in 2010-2012 regarding this topic. Specifically, most stakeholders (except for farmers) more often stated that their own stakeholder group should hold a prominent role in the development and/or delivery of SSAP components but at the same time would fail to recognize potential contributions by other stakeholder groups. During those meetings the following reasons were given:

    • Sometimes potential contributions were not recognized because one stakeholder was unaware of the skill set(s) held by another group.
    • Second, sometimes one stakeholder group believed (based on previous experiences or hunches) that the other stakeholder group did not truly hold the skill set required or would be biased towards one curriculum/outreach topic or research outcome.
    • Sometimes reasons of competition were given for the omission

    The significance of this result cannot be overstated. While earlier survey results suggested that there was often a good level of agreement as to definitions and goals of sustainable agriculture an inability or unwillingness to collaborate will greatly reduce the ability to develop a true state-wide sustainable agriculture program.

    Degree of Current Collaborative Efforts to Address Sustainable Agriculture Issues in the State
    While this result is significant, it is also well known by agricultural stakeholders and as the next paragraph will show, stakeholders are aware that the degree of collaboration towards sustainable agricultural curriculum, research, and extension/outreach could be greatly improved (Table 15) . No more than 7% of respondents suggested that effective collaboration took place at least 75% of the time, whereas at least 22% of respondents believe that effective collaboration took place 25% of the time or less. The largest percentage of respondents believed that effective collaboration took place 25-50% of the time.
    ?

    Other Factors that May Hinder a United Effort to Develop a SSAP

    Collaboration is currently an obstacle to the development of a sustainable agricultural program, but there could be other factors that contribute to collaboration problems or work independently to hinder program development (Table 16). Based on earlier meeting discussions, nine potential factors were proposed. Two factors, “lack of funding” and “differences in how stakeholder groups and/or organizations define sustainable agriculture” were listed by at least 75% of all respondents. Collaboration ranked third at 60%. These results too were expected. Differences in sustainability definitions and competition for limited funding can lead to reduced collaboration. Interestingly, significant differences did not exist across individual stakeholder groups.

    ?

    Factors that May Encourage a United Effort to Develop a SSAP

    So what can be done to encourage the development of a program.? Focus group meetings over the years suggested three factors that could be useful in fostering effective collaborative efforts in SSAP development and delivery. Survey respondents were asked their opinion regarding each of these factors (Table 17).

    The first factor was publically acknowledging each other’s contributions – in other words, giving credit where credit is due. Focus group meetings had revealed that there was a perception among some groups that their contributions to teaching, research and or extension where not always acknowledged by other groups. Survey results showed that among the project participants, this was still the belief by most (83%).

    When asked in focus group meetings how this could better be achieved many respondents (91%) actually listed the second factor as a first step. When collaborating groups work together on a project using competitive grant funding, stakeholder budgets should be assigned according to task responsibility – those with the expensive and extensive workloads should receive a greater percentage of the funds than those with lesser workloads, regardless of which organization serves as lead investigator. As many agricultural stakeholder groups depend more and more on competitive grant funding, less and less organizations state they can afford to undercut their own budgeting needs. Therefore if funding levels can’t cover tasks, organizations say they have no choice but to decline participation in a project.

    While there are many organizations and stakeholder groups that work in the agricultural sustainability arena, there is still a lack of understanding of each other’s missions/goals. Over 90% of the respondents believe they still have something to learn about the members of at least one other stakeholder group. Respondents suggest better understanding of each other’s missions, goals and skill sets can help lead to better partnerships where there is complementarity of skill sets and goals.

    The last potential factor was the development of an SSAP coordination group that would include representation from appropriate organizations within the relevant stakeholder groups. Only 45% of respondents felt this was a good idea. Many respondents called this “just another committee assignment” with “nebulous objectives” that could actually exacerbate collaboration. Instead, at least for now, respondents favored a more informal approach – reaching across groups independently to build stronger collaborative teams.

    Concluding Summary

    Arkansas is blessed with a robust agriculture base. Agriculture contributes to the financial strength of the economy, the diversity of the environment and the quality of life for rural communities. Over a dozen different agricultural stakeholder organizations and industries contribute daily to help ensure production and processing practices adopted are sustainable. Some collaborations across stakeholder groups do exist, but to date, Arkansas has not developed a statewide teaching, research and outreach program for sustainable agriculture.

    In 2009 with assistance from this SARE grant, University of Arkansas researchers set out to build a team among the stakeholder groups for the purpose of creating a statewide program for sustainable agriculture. Efforts in 2009 and 2010 were unsuccessful in achieving the goal. So the purpose of our project changed to study first how stakeholder groups define sustainable agriculture and who they believe are best qualified to develop and deliver a sustainable agriculture program for the state.

    From 2010-2013 stakeholder meetings were held across the state to better understand how stakeholder groups define sustainability and what their perceptions were regarding a statewide program. In 2013, over 1100 individuals who had been part of the sustainability discussions were sent a survey questionnaire. The purpose of the survey was to summarize the perceptions of individuals contacted across the project period. These individuals are our project participants. There were 1078 project participants contacted to complete the survey. Of those, 659 individuals (or 65%) did.

    Regarding what is sustainable agriculture, major findings include:

    • When asked to define sustainable agriculture, most offered definitions of sustainability included economic, social and environmental aspects. However not all aspects were created equal. Farm/ranch owners/employees generally emphasized the financial while agricultural and other non-profits emphasized the environmental or social. University employees focused on all three.
    • Most participants believed that the goals of sustainable agriculture included production, environmental, quality of life and financial areas. However project participants were split as to whether “proving sources of alternative energy” is a goal of sustainable agriculture
    • Many project participants (particularly farmers and ranchers) stated they did not know whether some agricultural practices – particularly those related to GMO use – were sustainable. Even for stakeholders who held perceptions the opinions were often divided (university employees feel stated more often that GMO was sometimes or always sustainable compared to nonprofit organizations). This indicates education regarding the positive negative impacts of GMO use is needed by Arkansas’ agricultural stakeholders.
    • Farm/ranch owners and operators were more likely than most others to suggest that financially- related factors (improving profitability, reduce dependency on inputs and increasing yields) would encourage adoption. Farm/ranch owners and operators were less likely than most others to suggest that environmental benefits would encourage adoption of practices. However it must be noted that although the overall percentage was less than for other stakeholder groups at least two-thirds of farm/ranch owners and operators believed environmental factors would encourage adoption.
    Regarding what is a statewide sustainable agriculture program in Arkansas, major findings include

    • Most participants agreed that a statewide program should include teaching (academic curriculum), research and extension/outreach components.
    • When asked who should have a major role in the development of these teaching, research and extension/outreach programs, most stakeholder groups (except farm/ranch owners/operators) identified themselves as having a critical role in one or more of those components but failed to recognize some others. Sometimes potential contributions were not recognized because one stakeholder was unaware of the skill set(s) held by another group. Sometimes one stakeholder group believed (based on previous experiences or hunches) that the other stakeholder group did not truly hold the skill set required or would be biased towards one curriculum/outreach topic or research outcome. Sometimes reasons of competition were given for the omission.
    • While all acknowledge Arkansas has many strengths in teaching, research and outreach activities, most participants believed that those activities are achieved through effective collaboration across stakeholder groups less than 50% of the time.
    • Reasons most commonly noted for collaborative struggles were differences in ideals regarding what is sustainable agriculture and competition for limited funding.
    • Ways that groups may overcome these issues and collaborate more fully in the future include better understanding of the mission, scope and skill sets of different stakeholder groups, better recognition of each other’s contributions, and more equitable allocation of awarded grant funds (based on contributions – tasks – to the project).
    • As of early 2013, more than half of our project participants stated that Arkansas’ agricultural stakeholders are not ready to form a meaningful coordination group for a statewide program in sustainable agriculture. Instead they favor a less structured approach of one-on-one efforts to build trust and collaboration across groups.

    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.