and conventional farming practices learning curve assessed
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While it may be fairly easy to
count the number of hours a farmer spends in the field, it's more
difficult to calculate how many hours a farmer spends learning about
farming. Now, add to that the fact that farmers transitioning from
conventional practices to organic farming are on a much steeper
learning curve. If time is money, then what is it costing these
farmers as they transition from conventional to organic farming?
Maria Boerngen, a doctoral student in
the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the
University of Illinois, wanted to find out more about this time
investment. "Farmers transitioning from conventional to organic have
to build a new set of skills," she said. "A measure of the time
spent learning about organic practices could be useful in
calculating conversion subsidies that could be offered to encourage
farmers to make the transition."
Boerngen developed a survey that was
mailed to 1,000 farmers. She received 109 completed surveys from
reduced-chemical and organic farmers and 101 from conventional
farmers. She presented a summary of the responses at a recent
organic production workshop at the Extension Center on the Illinois
State Fairgrounds in Springfield.
"We learned that the transition to
organic management requires a total learning investment of 260 to
520 hours before organic practices are adopted," said Boerngen.
"Once transition is complete, the difference in 'everyday' learning
time is small but statistically significant."
The survey responses showed that the
learning time investment during the transition to reduced-chemical
farming was 2.9 hours per week, while during the transition to
organic farming it was 5.2 hours per week. This transition period
lasted one to two years.
After that transition time was past,
Boerngen refers to "everyday learning time" -- that is, the ongoing
learning that takes place for all producers. "The survey revealed
that conventional farmers spend 3.3 hours per week in continuing
education about farming, while reduced-chemical and organic farmers
spend 3.9 hours per week," she said.
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"A lot of past studies have concluded
that reduced-chemical farming is just as profitable as conventional
farming," said David Bullock, an associate professor in the
Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics and Boerngen's
adviser. "But that leaves us with the question of why it seems so
difficult to convince farmers to lower their chemical input levels.
Our results show that there's a significant cost to learning how to
be a profitable low-chemical-input farmer. Studies that don't
account for that cost may be missing an important part of the
Boerngen's survey also demonstrated
significant differences when demographics were factored in. "When
there was an incremental increase in the level of education, the
probability that a farmer adopted reduced-chemical or organic
practices increased by 29 percent," Boerngen said. "And a 10-year
increase in the age of the farmer decreased the farmer's total
weekly 'everyday' learning time by 1.25 hours."
She concluded that it is important to
place a wage value on farmers' time in order to measure the actual
costs of learning and that these learning costs should be included
in research studies that look at profitability.
this project was provided by the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
of Illinois news release]