Evaluating yields and profitability of small-scale organic and biointensive vegetable production in Washington

CSANR Project 094

Status: Complete

Project Summary

This proposal addresses the priority area of assessing economic sustainability of agriculture and food systems. As a tool for self evaluation, a yield data bank will be provided to small-scale organic/biointensive vegetable farms and to organic research sites. We will develop manual and electronic worksheets to assist small-scale organic/biointensive farmers in evaluating their per crop and/or whole-farm costs and profitability. These worksheets will be tested by the PI among a sample of small-scale organic vegetable growers. The PI will glean knowledge on innovative cost management from these interviews . The worksheets will also be taught in a new economics section developed by the PI for WSU’s Soils 480 course, Practicum in Organic Agriculture. A student working under the supervision of the PI and cooperator Jaeckel will systematize yield and cost record keeping at the WSU organic farm. The PI’s economic evaluations permitted by these records will broaden research results at the learning site. The yields data bank and economic worksheets will be disseminated to organic growers, extension agents, and others in a Cultivating Success distance education lecture. These materials will also be disseminated in the Soils 480 classroom and in an electronic extension bulletin. The effectiveness of the data bank and worksheets will be evaluated by measuring the number of “hits” for these items in the electronic extension bulletin, by assessing student evaluations of the materials in Soils 480, and evaluations of the Cultivating Success lecture. Evaluation results and innovative cost management results will be summarized in a journal submission.

Annual Entries

2012

Principal Investigator: Doug Young
Progress Report: http://www.tfrec.wsu.edu/pdfs/P2782.pdf
Grant Amount: $38,388

2013

Principal Investigator: Doug Young
Progress Report: http://csanr.wsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/id94-Young.pdf

Publications

Galinato, S. and Young. 2012. Average  Yields from  Multiple Sources of 87 Vegetables and 34 Grains. CSANR‐BioAg Economics Project Paper 2012‐1. Available from  dlyoung@wsu.edu.

Young, D. 2012. Whole‐Farm and per Vegetable Questionnaire and Economic Performance
Report for Small‐Scale  Organic Vegetable Farmers. Excel Spreadsheet. Available from
dlyoung@wsu.edu and here http://www.tfrec.wsu.edu/pdfs/P2813.xls.

Young, D. 2012. Record Keeping Form for Koppel Farm Gardeners, Excel Spreadsheet.

Hannak, M. 2012. Summary of Prices by Date for 48 WSU Organic Farm Vegetables and Fruit
Sold at Pullman Farmers Market During Summer 2012.

Impacts and Outcomes

 Short‐Term:
Some participants at the Center for Civic Engagement meeting, at the WSU Organic Farm Field
Day,  and  at  CSANR’s  30’th  Anniversary  Symposium  told  the  P.I.  that  it  was  high  time  to
incorporate more business and economics training for organic farmers and organic agriculture
students.  Some  argued  that  many  organic  farming  enthusiasts  enter  the  industry  for
environmental, food safety, and political/philosophical reasons. These organic enthusiasts later
recognize that business and economics skills are necessary if they are to survive. The importance
of  business  skills  was  strongly  seconded  by  the  organic  farmers  who  pretested  our
questionnaire. Given the dearth of economics and business analysis in previous CSANR BIOAg
research grants, a short‐term impact of this grant has been to raise the visibility of economics
and record keeping in the organic agriculture industry in WA and at WSU’s organic farm.

Teaching economics to some of the 105 Pullman Community Gardeners at Koppel Farm during
2012 was not a formal objective of this project, but the P.I. attempted it. This effort failed. Only
one gardener committed to keep the extensive labor input, cost, and harvest records required.
The vast majority considered record keeping overly tedious. It was clear that hobbyist vegetable
gardeners  at  Koppel  grow  vegetables  primarily  for  non‐economic  reasons.  These  include
obtaining  outdoor  exercise,  enjoying  watching  plants  grow,  exposing  children to  gardening,
keeping their sanity after a day’s office work, becoming better and more efficient gardeners
over time, and increasing their knowledge of the science of horticulture. Several gardeners felt
they were providing their families safer and fresher produce. Some desired to save money on
their household food bill, but they apparently were not interested in rigorously quantifying this
saving.

 Intermediate‐Term:
Cooperator Carol Miles will use the questionnaire and economic performance report in a two‐
year research  program  with  MS student  Charlene  Grahn  on  leafy  green  vegetables  in  NW
Washington . Other intermediate‐term impacts will be better measured in a couple years.

 Long‐Term:
These impacts will be better perceived a few years following the completion of the project. It is
expected  that  impacts  will    include  fewer  business  failures  from  undercapitalized  and
inexperienced small scale  organic  farmers  who  lack  business skills.  It  is  also  expected that
existing small scale organic farmers will increase their profits by dropping less profitable crops, 5

making more efficient use of their labor, and cutting fixed costs by selling unneeded machinery.
Others may boost labor productivity by purchasing needed power or manual machinery.