Transportation is a major expenditure for small farmers in order to access markets. Farmers often transport goods in less-than-full truckloads and this inefficiency reduces farmer profitability and generates negative environmental externalities (asset underutilization). While shared transportation among farmers is one solution, accurately calculating marginal costs is too difficult for most farmers. Mainstream delivery companies do not calculate cost-sharing allocations or consider small farmers’ needs and vehicle requirements. The lack of scale-appropriate tools to measure and allocate transportation costs is a major barrier to collaboration and reduces farmer participation in shared transportation partnerships.
With participation from farmers and food hubs throughout Iowa and Minnesota, this project aims to develop an open-source, data-driven cost estimation tool to accurately estimate transportation costs and allocate those costs fairly among collaborators. Project partners will identify cost factors relevant to small farmers and the inputs necessary for accurate marginal cost calculation. A multicultural farmer collaboration will also identify potential barriers to tool implementation, accessibility and usability by non-native English speakers and farmers with little technology experience. Our goal is to encourage and increase farmer participation in shared transportation to reduce transportation-related costs and increase farmer profits.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Conduct preliminary interviews with 4 farmers and 4 food hub managers in Iowa and Minnesota on cost factors of transportation and delivery.
- Develop a survey based on the initial interview feedback and partner with the food hub network to distribute the survey to at least 20 food hub farmer vendors.
- Use a mobile application to collect real-time data from farmers on fuel usage, vehicle maintenance, and other costs.
- Design a cost estimation tool based on the inputs gathered and validate tool’s accuracy by conducting usability studies and follow-up discussions with food hubs and farmers regarding implementation barriers.