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Making changes to your farming operation: How likely are you to follow through?

Like many of you, I spent the winter months attending as many conferences and trade shows as possible, soaking up all the new ideas and proven best practices offered up by industry leaders. I also had the privilege of speaking with many of you about the challenges your farms are facing and the tools and strategies you hope to apply to overcome those challenges in the years ahead.


June 8, 2017
By Brandi Cowen

Many of the producers I spoke with indicated they were walking away from these events energized and eager to put their new knowledge to use in their operations. The question is, now that crops are in the ground and the to-do list that must be accomplished prior to harvest is seemingly growing longer everyday, how likely are you to follow through and make those changes to your operation?

The answer, according to researchers at the University of Illinois’ College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, depends largely on what motivates you.

The researchers surveyed farmers in Illinois’ Upper Sangamon River Watershed to determine their attitudes about growing multifunctional perennial crops (MPCs) including trees, shrubs or grasses that deliver environmental benefits on marginal land and can also be harvested for profit. They then used each respondent’s answers to assign him or her to one of six categories, segmenting the respondents by what motivates them. The idea, according to University of Illinois agroecologist Sarah Taylor Lovell, was to enable the researchers to establish groups of like-minded farmers and provide them with tailored strategies touting the benefits of MPCs. This way, more time and resources could be allocated to promoting this cropping system to the groups most likely to adopt the practice.

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Statistical analysis revealed those assigned to the “educated networker” and “young innovator” groups were most likely to adopt MPCs. According to the researchers, these high-likelihood adopters tend to be driven by environmental considerations and are interested in converting their marginal land to bio-energy crop, hay or nut production – provided an existing market is already in place for MPC products.

On the other hand, those in the “money motivated” and “hands-off” groups were least likely to give the MPC cropping system a try. Lovell reported those in the “money motivated” group were interested in using GPS in their yield monitoring, suggesting the researchers would do well to highlight unproductive areas in these farmers’ corn and soybean fields and highlight how a multifunctional perennial cropping system could bring in additional profits and help build an operation’s bottom line.

Graduate students working under Lovell in the university’s crop sciences department are now following up with several farmers who indicated an interest in MPCs. The students will develop custom designs to help these farmers establish the cropping system in their fields.

As we move through another growing season, I encourage you to consider which factors may be driving your decisions. Are you money-motivated to stick to tried and true methods that have worked well for you in the past? Or maybe a young innovator motivated to try a new practice that may mean a trade-off between short-term yield reductions for long-term agronomic or environmental benefits? Understanding what motivates you can help in selecting the best conferences and trade shows to attend during those busy winter months and identify which opportunities are most likely to keep you inspired and energized long after you return home.

Whatever your motivation, I wish you a safe and profitable season.