Motivations, challenges, benefits, and educational needs associated with organic grain farming adoption in Iowa

Han, Guang
Major Professor
Nancy Grudens-Schuck
Committee Member
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Agricultural Education and Studies

The low adoption rate of organic grain production in the United States contrasts with strong consumer demands for organic foods. The low adoption of organic grain farming has constrained further development of the organic sector. Organic agriculture stakeholders have appealed to increase domestic organic grain production. The federal government has provided support for research and extension education regarding organic farming. However, low adoption persists. A better understanding of cognitive and motivational aspects of farmer’s decision making could help policymakers, agricultural scientists, and extension educators to encourage more farmers to adopt organic grain production. This study identified (1) factors that motivated farmers to adopt organic grain farming; (2) challenges that hindered farmers’ adoption of organic grain farming; (3) benefits farmers experienced after adopting organic grain farming; (4) farmers’ needs for extension education regarding organic grain farming; and (5) educational program delivery formats preferred by farmers who raise organic grain crops. I conducted in-depth interviews with seventeen Iowa organic grain farmers. Based on the responses from the interviews, I designed a survey incorporating multiple, five-point scales and administered the instrument to all farmers (672) who raised organic grain in Iowa. Farmers reported five motivations to adopt organic grain farming, which included profitability, personal safety, natural resources stewardship, consumers and public health, and honor and tradition. Challenges to adopting organic grain farming included elements of organic farming operation, particularly weeds; marketing, particularly access to organic hay, small grains and transitional crops markets; policies, particularly complex certification; finance, especially during the transitional period; inputs and information, mainly in the local level; social pressures from conventional farmers. Five areas of benefits associated with organic grain farming consisted of increased profitability, addressed health concerns, improved natural resources, validation of values and beliefs, and positive social interactions with other organic farmers. Benefits associated with organic grain farming mostly aligned with farmers’ original adoption motivations and long-term goals. Finally, farmers expressed needs for more extension programs that provided education, research, and technical services. Field days, one-on-one mentors, and farmer-to-farmer workshops were rated as highly effective delivery formats by the organic grain farmers.