Survey evidence from U.S. organic farmers is evaluated to identify the factors influencing effectiveness ratings of cooperative extension advisors by organic farmers. A nonlinear logit model is specified for the ratings provided by organic producers, and critical demographic and management factors that influence the ratings are identified. The impact of the organic farmers' status in transitioning to organic production is highlighted. The results indicate that part-time, newer adopters of organic farming methods are more likely to rate extension service providers as effective providers of information. Scenarios to predict extension effectiveness when interacting with specific groups of organic farmers are developed.
Key Words: cooperative extension, nonlinear logit model, organic fanning, performance ratings
JEL Classifications: C25, Q16, Q01
The organic food market, one of the most rapidly expanding food segments, faces significant challenges including new pest management and soil fertility problems, rapid changes in industry structure associated with the entry of large-scale corporate producers and processors in competition with small family farms, and an evolving regulatory environment associated with U.S. certification programs. Kotcon and Thilmany documented emerging support for organic systems with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), indicating recognition throughout the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) of the need for, and opportunities in, organic systems research.
Cooperative extension advisors will play a critical role in assisting organic farmers. The National Research Council report on publicly funded agricultural research noted that the extension service's primary role has been to communicate research results to farmers and other citizens through adult education, with an increasing emphasis on broader research including sustainable production systems, environmental issues, and rural development. Agricultural extension program leaders are acutely aware of the difficulties and limitations of the land grant system in adapting to changes in the agricultural and rural economy. Extension leaders face pressure to extend their roles in serving both farm and nonfarm clients while adapting to increasing competitive pressures from private advisors and consultants.
Proponents of organic production and marketing methods have voiced concerns about the performance of cooperative extension in promoting this growing market segment. In a nationwide survey of U.S. organic producers by the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), organic farmers were asked to indicate the degree to which 10 specified constraints inhibited their farm operations, using a scale from 1 to 5 (where 5 represents a "serious constraint or problem"). The percentage of fanners who rated extension advisors as critical constraints on organic production was uniformly high across all geographic regions. Over 41% of farmers nationwide identified "uncooperative or uninformed extension agents" as a significant constraint.
These survey results stand in sharp contrast with previous success stories documenting the efficacy of agricultural extension in promoting innovative programs in sustainable agriculture. Bhattacharyya et al. demonstrated that cooperative extension programs enhanced the rate of adoption of the Tritrichomonas foetus vaccine designed to reduce reproductive failure of cows. Postlewait, Parker, and Zilberman noted that extension advisors were the main promoters of integrated pest management and sustainable agriculture programs, and were especially effective in influencing adoption at the early stages before the tangible program benefits in terms of sellable commodities and products were documented.
Performance evaluation is an important component in improving and targeting the timely delivery of extension programs and technical information. Hanson confirmed that an important standard for evaluating excellence in extension programming is meeting the needs of the projected audience. …