Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

"Small" Farmers, Big Challenges: A Needs Assessment of Florida Small-Scale Farmers' Production Challenges and Training Needs*

Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

"Small" Farmers, Big Challenges: A Needs Assessment of Florida Small-Scale Farmers' Production Challenges and Training Needs*

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Small-scale farmers are faced with many challenges on a daily basis. In addition, they have several needs that, if fulfilled, could help reduce some of their challenges. The small-scale farmer remains an ideal target audience for Extension staff due to the increasing number of these farms combined with the limited impact that they can have with the current set of resources. However, without an adequate understanding of the challenges and needs they face, Extension staff cannot provide ideal service to the small farm audience. The purpose of this research was to discover the challenges and needs of small-scale farmers in Florida. Six focus groups were conducted throughout the state of Florida to identify perceived challenges that small-scale farmers believe affect their operations, as well as their current needs. The data collected suggest that the small farmer population in Florida represents a diverse array of individuals with varying needs. Extension programmers need to consider formatting their programming and information into different media to comply with the cultural, geographical, and agricultural needs of different parts of the state.

The U.S. National Institute of Food and Agriculture [NIFA] (2010) has contended that Cooperative Extension1 programming still has a place in empowering "people and communities to solve problems and improve their lives on the local level" (NIFA 2010). Agricultural Extension has been recognized as "an essential mechanism for delivering information and advice" in modern farming (Jones and Garforth 1998:9). Though Cooperative Extension has successfully addressed numerous challenges throughout its existence, the need for agents to develop deeper understandings of an ever-changing clientele has persistently been a critique of the Extension system (e.g., Oliver 1977). To enhance the impact that programming has within a targeted community, agents should diligently work to identify: potential audiences, existing needs, and delivery mechanisms that will best serve the interactions between the program and the participants. While Extension has always had some audience, one audience that would benefit from increased attention of land-grant extension services is the small-scale farmer (Hazell 2011; Manganyi et al. 2006; Stephenson 2003). This study seeks to provide agents within the Florida Cooperative Extension System with insights to the barriers and needs of small-farm clientele as they work to better understand this clientele group.

LITERATURE REVIEW

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (2010), small farms are those farms with gross sales of less than $250,000. According to Newton and Hope (2005), small farms in America account for 91 percent of the farm count and 71 percent of farm assets, but only 27 percent of agricultural production. Furthermore, 93 percent of farms in Florida are considered "small farms" (Gaul et al. 2009), but those only account for 15 percent of all farm product sales in Florida (Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences pFAS] 2006). However, these numbers from the 2007 Small Farm Survey do indicate an 8-percent increase in the number of small farms in Florida from 2002 to 2007. This increase in small farm growth in Florida may be due to several factors, including: a desire by consumers to buy locally grown and produced food products, an interest in buying organic and "farm fresh" products, and increased community support for agriculture (Bronson 2011; Dougherty and Green 2011). Therefore, small-scale farmers become an ideal target audience for Extension staff in Florida due to the increasing number of these farms combined with the limited impact that they can have with their current set of resources.

Many researchers acknowledge that a farmer's performance is affected by human capital (Anderson and Feder 2003). Farmers possess a set of both innate and learned skills that affect the manner in which they engage in their farming practices (Anderson and Feder 2003; Jamison and Lau 1982). …

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