July-August 1997 CSAS Newsletter
July-August 1997 CSAS Newsletter
The Center for Sustainable Agricultural Systems (CSAS) in the
Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR) at the
University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) is an interdisciplinary
center formed in 1991 for the purpose of bringing together people
and resources to promote an agriculture that is efficient,
competitive, profitable, environmentally and socially sustainable
for the indefinite future. The electronic version of this
bimonthly newsletter is sent to SANET and PENPages
10-14 days before those on our mailing list receive their hard
copy. The newsletters are also available along with other
sustainable ag information on our World Wide Web page:
Note: The electronic version is not sent to individual e-mail
addresses. To be added to the "hard copy" newsletter mailing list
beginning with the next bimonthly issue (not sent to overseas
addresses), or for questions or comments, contact the newsletter
editor, Pam Murray, Coordinator, Center for Sustainable
Agricultural Systems, PO Box 830949, University of Nebraska,
Lincoln, NE 68583-0949, 402-472-2056, fax -4104,
* * *
ECONOMIC, ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF
WHOLE-FARM PRODUCTION SYSTEMS IN EASTERN NEBRASKA
SARE ANNOUNCES TWO GRANT OPPORTUNITIES
A WOMAN'S PLACE ON THE FARM
NEBRASKA RESOURCES IDEAL FOR AQUACULTURE
GLICKMAN ANNOUNCES NATIONAL COMMISSION ON SMALL FARMS
DIVERSE STRATEGIES FOR DIVERSE CROPS
* * *
ECONOMIC, ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF WHOLE-FARM PRODUCTION
SYSTEMS IN EASTERN NEBRASKA
Fourth in a four-part series: Alternative Production Systems and Quality of Life
[With primary funding from an Agriculture in Concert with the Environment
(ACE) grant, a team of UNL researchers conducted one of six regional studies
that is being aggregated to assess the national impact of moving toward a
more sustainable agriculture. The goal of the Nebraska project was to study
existing whole-farm system groups along a continuum from "conventional" to
"alternative" and compare the economic, environmental, and sociological
performance/characteristics of each group. Team members of the 1993-1996
study were Glenn Helmers, Kevin Bernhardt, John Allen, Alice Jones, and
William Powers. Authors of the following are John Allen and his associate
As an extension of the ACE project, a quality of life component was added to
the study funded by the North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research
Program. Three farming systems were identified by a cluster analysis of a
statewide survey of cropping practices: continuous corn, no-till, and
integrated (see part one of this series in Jan-Feb 1997 issue). To assess
quality of life outcomes associated with these farming systems and their
adjacent communities, three objectives were identified: 1) analyze the
linkages of four whole farm systems in northeastern Nebraska to surrounding
communities; 2) analyze how these farm systems are perceived to influence
local community well-being; and 3) analyze probable structural impacts of
the four systems on farms and rural communities in northeastern Nebraska.
Sustainable agriculture proponents often argue in the literature that
smaller scale, more diversified farms will produce greater benefits for the
surrounding community than will continued growth of monocultural,
large-scale farming. Based on this literature, one would expect the three
agricultural systems to have differential impacts on local communities and
the farm households within each system if the size of operation, ownership
structure, or hired labor varied significantly. Researchers have focused
largely on how farm structure is related to quality of life in nearby
communities. Largely ignored is how the community itself may influence farm
structure. Of particular interest in this study were how community-level
factors, such as marketing structure, local farming heritage and information
networks, shaped farm household decisions regarding production practices.
How do local community social structures facilitate or constrain farmers'
ability to choose more sustainable farming systems?
Designing measures relevant to individuals living in rural areas has been
challenging. Using methods suggested by the National Sustainable Agriculture
Quality of Life Task Force, we compared of the quality of life associated
with each production system.
The study relied on in-depth interviews with farm household and community
members following an open-ended interview. Farm households were selected
from a statewide survey of farms carried out as part of the ACE-funded
project described in this article series. A group of 30 farm families
representing the three farming systems identified by cluster analysis
residing in a natural resources district (NRD) in the northeastern part of
the state agreed to participate in confidential in-depth interviews. Key
informants, community members with significant ties to local agriculture,
were identified in three communities in the watershed district region for
interviews. Case study communities were chosen based on factors presumed to
have sociological relevance to the type of farm system operating in the
area. Ideas generated in discussions with key community informants and the
farm panel were used to design a quantitative survey to measure quality of
life issues related to agriculture.
No-till (largest farms). Because of the high percentage of highly erodible
land on their farms (56%), over half (60%) of these farmers had gone to
minimal tillage systems. They were most likely to do soil testing (82%) and
had the highest rate of computer usage in their operations (45%).
Continuous corn (middle-sized farms). These farms were primarily located on
flat land along the Platte River valley with easy access to irrigation,
hence the group's high percentage of irrigated cropland (71%). They were
most likely to rely on anhydrous as a nitrogen source. The group had the
least diversified operations, with corn the major source of income.
Integrated (smallest farms). In spite of the smallest average farm size and
nearly a third of their farms in highly erodible land, this group did not
suffer from lower incomes than the other two farming systems. They relied on
more intensive management (i.e., rotations) and livestock operations to
increase farm income. The group also shunned debt and had the highest rate
of land ownership of all farm systems (67% compared to 49% and 46% for the
other two systems). The group was highly reliant on livestock (46% of
Quality of Life Effects of Each Production System
- Farm households (i.e., husband and wife) are no longer the key decision
makers in many farm operations. New partnerships between fathers and sons or
between brothers provide the structure for decision making. Wives are
ambivalent about their dismissal from the decision making process.
- Farmers themselves saw few differences among the three production systems.
- Early innovators faced social ostracization, a process that hinders local
- Farmers in each group were considering different options: no-till were
considering expansion; continuous corn were considering rediversifying into
livestock; and integrated were considering moving out of livestock
production and further reducing chemical usage.
- Each production system faced different constraints: no-till and continuous
corn groups saw labor availability as the central limiting factor; the
integrated group was unwilling to take on new farm debt to move away from
livestock — a significant proportion (46%) of their household income.
- Different norms were apparent in the different groups. No-till and
continuous corn groups were primarily concerned about being seen as
progressive, timely in production tasks, and producing clean fields as
criteria to judge farmers and themselves. The integrated farmers were more
concerned about family and environmental issues in their definitions of good
farmers. The continuous corn and integrated groups were extremely critical
of the expansionism of the no-till group.
- Networks for local knowledge exchange were severely limited in the study
region, particularly for integrated farmers attempting to move into new
product lines such as fruits and vegetables.
- Adoption of new technologies and techniques is increasingly viewed by
farmers in all production systems as a "process" rather than as a one-time
event. Two major adoption styles were observed: experimentation and systemic.
- When asked about quality of life, most farmers echoed one common theme:
"family time" versus "standard of living." The expansion model of farming
pursued by the no-till and continuous corn groups is seen as limiting family
time in order to produce a high standard of living. While farmers in those
groups saw the tradeoff as necessary, their wives often reported household
conflict over the amount of time spent on farm operations. Integrated farms
with heavy time commitments to off-farm labor often experienced the same
Quality of Life Effects of Each Production System on the Community
- Farm household members rarely mentioned specific towns as their community;
rather, they often emphasized social relationships.
- Farm household members in all production systems played a variety of roles
in their communities such as employees, business owners, consumers and
- While farmers in all groups acknowledged that "large" farmers are
beginning to bypass local markets (for both marketing and purchases), only a
minority of those interviewed were marketing outside their local
communities. No-till and continuous corn farmers, who often ran seed
dealerships due to their volume purchases, were likely to make seed or
chemical purchases outside the region, but to sell to other local farmers.
- Unlike farm purchases, household purchases were more likely to be made in
surrounding regional centers.
- While net household income was the same in all three farming systems, the
integrated group did have higher rates of off-farm employment than the other
groups. The no-till and continuous corn groups were more likely to operate
other businesses from their homes.
- Few farmers reported local environmental quality issues related to
agricultural practices in the region. They typically saw the "environmental
problem" as a media issue, and argued that local residents' knowledge of
farm practices in the immediate area lessens their perception of risk, and
hence, these local residents were unlikely to be concerned about
environmental issues related to agriculture.
Quality of Life Effects of the Community on Each Production System
- A major issue facing these farmers is the high rate of land held by
elderly or retired farm households. No-till and continuous corn groups were
especially concerned about how that land will be disposed of by the families
involved. Despite the importance of the land issue, few households reported
concrete succession plans.
- Most farmers reported constricted local grain and livestock markets due to
market consolidation. While farmers sold to the local co-op, they were often
required to haul the grain to the terminal themselves. In short, "all the
grain ends up at the terminal anyway." The integrated farmers, more reliant
on livestock income, were more likely to be concerned about the loss of
livestock markets, while grain producers were likely to report that enough
interoutlet competition remained to keep grain prices relatively similar
across larger and smaller outlets.
- Despite increasing ties outside the local community, farm households
continued to emphasize that local friendship ties were important to them.
They noted the loss of community "events" which helped foster dense linkages
to others in the local community.
Editor's Note: The first article in this series discussed how the
producers/production systems were classified into clusters; the second
article focused on economic analysis of whole farm systems; the third
addressed environmental-economic aspects of the study. For more information
about the quality of life study, contact John Allen at 402-472-8012,
SARE ANNOUNCES TWO GRANT OPPORTUNITIES
The North Central Region (NCR) Sustainable Agriculture Research and
Education (SARE) program is requesting applications from researchers,
educators, nonprofit organizations and others for competitive grants
addressing environmental, economic and social agricultural
improvements. The Region currently has two applications available:
1) Annual Call for Preproposals, due September 12, 1997;
2) Special Call for Proposals on Innovative Marketing Strategies, due
January 23, 1998.
Approximately $1.3 million will be available for funding projects in FY
1998, with $300,000 of that total earmarked for the special call.
Preproposals — Priority areas are: Emerging Issues; Integration and
Diversification of Farming Systems; Sustainable Livestock Systems;
Networking; and Environmentally Sound Management Practices.
Marketing Proposals — Proposals are requested that address issues of
developing and maintaining marketing infrastructure for sustainable products
of current and potential importance to the region and nation. Consumer
education should be a key consideration, emphasizing the importance of
supporting local food systems and associated benefits for the environment,
the local economy, the health of communities and small farms, nutritional
value, and enhanced quality of life. Cross-sector efforts including
producers, marketers, processors, retailers, wholesalers and consumers are
encouraged. Priority areas are: Improving producers marketing relationships
with local and regional consumers and businesses; Addressing farmer/rancher
barriers to developing and managing these relationships; Assisting with the
development of community markets and producer-owned cooperatives; Involving
farmers/ranchers in institutional policy development in marketing; Examining
consumer preferences of local and regional food; and Developing outreach to
train business owners and managers on linking to local producers of
sustainable agriculture products.
Applicants must reside in the North Central Region: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa,
Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South
Dakota, and Wisconsin.
For more information or to obtain application materials, contact NCR SARE,
13A Activities Bldg., UNL, Lincoln, NE 68583-0840, 402-472-7081;
A WOMAN'S PLACE ON THE FARM
South Dakota Extension Agent Deb Sundem says the face of women in
agriculture is changing. Once thought to be a complement to her husband's
business, the farm, women are now often heavy equipment operators, market
forecasters, pubic relation agents, financial planners, accountants,
mechanics, and animal husbandry specialists. They also continue to manage
the household and care for the children. A 1994 study indicated farm women
put in 68 domestic work hours, 22 farm chore hours, 5 volunteer hours, and
30 hours of off-farm work hours per week. The study valued farm wife work at
$27,500 compared to $23,700 for men in agriculture.
In the late 1970s and 1980s many farm wives took off-farm jobs to provide
health insurance and extra farm income. Once considered farm wives, these
women now think of themselves as farm partners. The Farm Research Institute
in Illinois found that 65% feel they are full partners with their husbands.
More women are full-time farmers; since 1982, according to the latest U.S.
Census, the number of women farmers has increased 8.2% and now numbers 145,156.
In a 1996 study conducted by Julia K. Rembert, present and former women
activists from Nebraska and Iowa were interviewed to learn why they were
involved in the farm crisis of the 1980s. Most women said they wanted the
public to understand the farmer's needs. They understood that the voice of
the family farmer would be better heard from a farm wife speaking before
legislators or the press than the farmer's voice from his tractor seat.
Also, it was easier for them to be away from the farm for short times. As
partners in the farm, they could address business concerns and raise the
human and family issues as well. These women could see that bad legislation
and public policy could threaten a farm as much as bad weather and poor markets.
Source: The Beginning Farmer, June 1997, newsletter published by the Center
for Rural Affairs.
Editor's Note: The 1997 Women In Agriculture Conference on September 11-12
in Kearney, Nebraska, will feature a Sustainable Ag Panel assembled and
moderated by Cris Carusi. For more information, contact Deb Rood, 800-535-3456.
NEBRASKA RESOURCES IDEAL FOR AQUACULTURE
Fish or farm? With Nebraska's groundwater, electric power, and feedstuffs,
both are possible!
This country is the second largest importer of fisheries products in the
world. In 1994, U.S. consumers spent nearly $39.4 billion on fisheries
products. Imported fisheries products contribute more to the U.S. trade
deficit than any other food or agriculture commodity. Projections indicate
that U.S. demand for fisheries products could increase 30% by the year 2000
and that worldwide demand will expand 70% by 2025. If demands live up to
these expectations, there will be a great need to find new sites for
developing aquaculture industries, as most wild capture fisheries have been
This potential need for suitable aquaculture sites may represent an
opportunity knocking for Nebraska. Three assets that make this state an
ideal place to foster an aquaculture industry include: a great abundance of
groundwater; an ability to produce aquatic feedstuffs in large volume; and
the widespread availability of low-cost electric power.
Currently more than 85% of Nebraska's groundwater is used for crop
irrigation. Ultimately, any major aquaculture industry in Nebraska probably
would be integrated with agriculture, underscoring the "low-consumptive" use
aquaculture makes of water.
Most U.S. aquaculture employs groundwater pumped from wells. For continuous
pumping, access to three-phase electricity is best. Nebraska's commercial
electric rates are among the lowest in the nation.
Feedstuffs in many instances account for approximately 50% of aquaculture
operating costs. Nebraska has abundant supplies of low-cost feed
ingredients, ingredient processing plants and feed mills necessary to
manufacture aquaculture feeds.
Additional factors that make aquaculture ideal in Nebraska include the
- a tradition of cooperation between state and local government and private
enterprise regarding agriculture-related enterprises;
- a comparatively user-friendly regulatory environment;
- relatively low land and labor costs;
- an earnest, hard-working labor force;
- a location central to major markets and distribution points;
- an outstanding transportation system, including major railroads and a
trucking industry that can handle perishable products.
An examination of Nebraska's hydrogeology, soil types and power availability
will provide insight of those areas best suited to sustain an aquaculture
industry. For more information, contact Terry Kayes, UNL aquaculture
specialist, 402-472-8183, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's Note: There are five regional aquaculture centers established by
Congress and administered by USDA. You can learn about the North Central
Regional Aquaculture Center by visiting the following Web site:
GLICKMAN ANNOUNCES NATIONAL COMMISSION ON SMALL FARMS
On July 16, 1997 Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman announced the formation
of a national commission to study the problems of small and limited resource
farmers and recommend ways to help them. Glickman directed the commission
to look at a wide range of programs and issues, including credit, risk
management, education, and outreach, and to recommend improvements to better
serve small and beginning farmers. The commission will also look at ways in
which USDA can ensure that small farms are treated fairly and have an equal
opportunity to compete in vertically-integrated agricultural systems, and at
ways to encourage small farms to adopt farm operations and production
practices, such as value-added cooperatives or direct marketing, that can
help to improve their profitability.
Glickman said, "The average age of an American farmer today is 58. We need
to do more to encourage the younger generation to farm, and we must continue
to find ways to help small and disadvantaged producers find ways to make a
decent living, keep their land, and make their small farms economically viable."
Among Commission members is Chuck Hassebrook, who has worked for many years
for the Center for Rural Affairs in Walthill, Nebraska, and who is also a
member of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents. The commission's
report will be released this fall.
DIVERSE STRATEGIES FOR DIVERSE CROPS
York and Aurora area farmers shared successful marketing and soil management
strategies with participants in a recent field day which started at John
Ellis' Libby Creek Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Farm. From mid May
to late September 60 CSA members pick up their half-bushels of five or six
varieties of fresh vegetables and herbs once a week at convenient locations.
Libby Creek has been in operation three years and is one of the first CSAs
in Nebraska. The CSA structure helps consumer and grower develop a close
relationship. Members develop a feel for the management and risks of growing
vegetables. John adjusts his plantings to members' tastes and encourages
sampling of different items through recipes.
At Paul Huenefeld's farm near Aurora we learned about his composting method.
Paul produces a high-quality compost to improve soil tilth and microbially
active organic matter for better soil health. He operates a six-year
rotation of corn-soybeans-corn-soybeans-oats-alfalfa on his section, three
quarters of which are certified organic. The compost is combined in a
mixture of 50% manure, 30% straw, 10% subsoil clay, and 10% finished
compost. The clay helps tie up nitrogen usually lost to volatilization from
the process. Paunch manure from a Grand Island packing plant is added to
manure from his livestock to supply added nutrients. A micronutrient package
solution is added to aid in decomposition and improve the microbial biomass
of the compost. Paul uses machinery specially designed to turn compost to
make a usually cumbersome job easy. The four-foot high windrow of compost is
monitored with temperature and carbon dioxide gauges to measure the level of
microbial activity in the pile. The pile is turned often to keep
decomposition aerobic and below 160o F to maintain the microbial
population. Paul usually turns his pile 20-25 times for a finished product
in two months of beautiful coffee-ground textured compost. Finished compost
is usually added at the rate of 5-7 tons/acre after the first rotation of
soybeans in the fall to help supply nutrients for the next rotation of corn.
The final stop was The Grain Place, operated by David Vetter and family in
Marquette. They process a wide range of products including popcorn, hot
cereals, bird diets, soybeans, and corn for national distribution, with
primary emphasis on the organic food market. Since their start in 1980, the
Vetter family has engineered and developed much of the operation's
components themselves. With the increasing demand for organic foods,
business has been growing by at least 14% per year. David relates the
importance of supporting similar activities and developing long-term
relationships with growers. With the fast growth of organic products, he
fears the organic network will lose these important connections and parallel
mainstream production practices as more private investors move into the field.
The farm operation at The Grain Place has 250 acres of certified organic
production in a unique five-year rotation of
corn-soybeans-popcorn-forage-small grains. Rotational grazing complements
the cropping system, which increases the management options. Livestock run
on corn stalks and oats after harvest and cycle nutrients. Rotations that
include crops with different rooting depths increase the efficiency of
nutrient capture and cycling. The farm operation has reduced inputs by
one-third over the last 20 years, with a yield increase of nearly 40%. David
says they could get a higher yield out of the system for some crops, but
other parts in the system would be disrupted. Their strategy is to take a
"system average" to determine the best rate of production.
Submitted by Larry Cutforth and Chuck Francis
Contact CSAS office for more information.
Jul-Sep — Many field days throughout Iowa demonstrating sustainable
practices on farms. For schedule, contact Rick Exner, Practical Farmers of
Iowa Farming Systems Coordinator,
515- 294-1923, email@example.com
Aug. 9, 16 — Specialty Crop Field Days, Lincoln, NE
Aug. 28 — Manure Distribution Field Day, Concord, NE
Sep. 11-12 — Women In Agriculture annual conference, Kearney, NE
Oct. 6-7 — Agricultural Research Institute 46th Annual Meeting -
Agricultural Research: Funding Now to Ensure Food for the Future, Rockville, MD
Oct. 9-13 — Heartland Center for Leadership Development - Helping Small
Towns Succeed, Jackson Hole, WY
Oct. 24-26 — Community Food Security Conference, Los Angeles, CA
Oct. 28-31 — Regenerative Agriculture for the 21st Century: Rodale
Institute's Natural Resource Mgt Professional Training Series, Kutztown, PA.
Nov. 2-6 — 3rd North American Workshop of Farming Systems Research &
Extension Association - Food & Natural Resource Systems: Integrating
Diversity, Inquiry, & Action, Mt. Hood, OR
Dec. 1-4 — 3rd IFOAM-Asia Scientific Conference - Food Security in Harmony
with Nature, Bangalore, India
Jan. 9-10 — Great Plains Vegetable Conference, St. Joseph, MO
Mar. 5-6 — National SARE Conference - Building on a Decade of Sustainable
Agriculture Research & Education: Sharing Experiences to Improve Our
Agriculture, Austin, TX
Did You Know...
According to a recent USDA report, "Estimating and Addressing America's Food
Losses," 91 billion pounds of food were lost by consumers and foodservice in
1995. See highlights at http://www.econ.ag.gov/whatsnew/feature/.