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Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century F Grain Farms Topics of Discussion During On-Farm Interview Elements of “Success” and Barriers and Broader Assessments of the Sustainability of the Farming Systems 1. What factors have contributed to progress or success for your farm/company? 2. In what important ways has this operation changed over the last 5 years? 3. Overall, how would you assess the performance of your farming systems on some broader indicators of sustainability— 3.1. Local ecosystem sustainability (for example, water, soil, air, biodiversity and critical species 3.2. Global ecosystem sustainability (for example, energy use, climate) 3.3. Social sustainability (for example, quality of life, labor, economics, community) 3.4. Food system sustainability (for example, food quality, nutrition, affordability and access) 4. What are the main opportunities you have to improve your farming operation? What are the main risks? 5. How have you overcome problems or decreased risks? (provide examples) 6. Do you do research or experimentation on new methods? If yes, what kind? Do you work with other organizations/people that do this work? If yes, with whom? 7. Do you have any specific problems that might benefit from more (or better) scientific research? 8. What do you think is the future outlook for your own farming operation/enterprise? 9. What factors will most influence your long-term viability? What do you think is the future outlook for sustainable systems/organic farming? 10. Do you foresee any barriers to continuing to farm sustainably, or to developing additional strategies to enhance sustainability? 11. What are you proudest about when you think of your farming operation?
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Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century 1. Production Practices YIELDS What are the approximate yields per acre for major crops raised? PRACTICES 1. For farms primarily producing field crops (e.g., grains and legumes) 1.1. List the major rotations, including all cover crops and fallow periods (including duration and timing) INPUTS 1. What are the most important purchased inputs you use on your operation? 1.1. Crop production 1.2. Livestock feed 2. Do you apply manure or other waste materials to your land? 3. Where/how do you get inputs for farming? 4. Has that been a problem or barrier to your success? PEST AND DISEASE MANAGEMENT What do you do to manage pests and diseases? How satisfied are you with your ability to manage pests and diseases? What do you do to manage weeds? How satisfied are you with your ability to manage weeds? PASTURE/GRAZING MANAGEMENT 1. What approaches do you use to manage pastures or grazing on your operation? 2. How satisfied are you with your grazing management practices? 3. What are your biggest problems or obstacles to managing your pastures/rangeland more effectively? 4. For farms producing both livestock and field crops 4.1. Do you rotate hay or pasture? 4.2. Do you produce hay? 4.3. What advantages and/or disadvantages do animals provide in production of your field crops? 4.4. What proportion of your grain crops is feed? 4.5. Do you feed/graze cover crops or crop stubble? 4.6. How does the presence of animals change your grain crop rotation? SOIL RESOURCES General Soil Characteristics (for the major soil types only) Please describe the soil types on your farm.
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Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century Relate soil characteristics to specific enterprises/crop rotations, vegetation management Highlight any limitations (for example, are soils erodible, subject to flooding, poorly structured, sloped, etc.)? What do you like best about your soil? How do you respond to challenges to soil quality (compaction, erosion, periodic flooding, poor structure, slope, etc.)? Soil Management Practices 1. Fertility and nutrient management practices 1.1. Do you have a nutrient management plan on file with NRCS? 1.2. Do you use manure on your operation? 1.3. What are your tillage management practices 1.4. Do you have an overall erosion control program? 1.5. Is your erosion risk primarily from wind or water? 1.6. What are your off-season soil management practices? 1.7. Any other conservation practices or benefits? 1.8. Do you use protected agriculture—high tunnels, greenhouses, plasticulture, row covers, hoop houses? WATER RESOURCES Quantity What is the average rainfall? Do you irrigate? How adequate is the water supply for your operation? Have you made significant changes in your operation to adapt to water scarcity? Quality Have water quality concerns been raised in your area? How have these concerns impacted your farming operation? Have you made significant changes in your operation to adapt to water quality concerns? What specific steps have you taken to protect water quality in your area? CLIMATE Have there been any major droughts, storms, or other weather events that have impacted your operation in recent years? How do you feel your operation has been impacted by climate change or global warming? How do you think this might impact your operation in the future?
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Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century CARBON FOOTPRINT ISSUES To what degree are you aware of greenhouse-gas emissions (CO2 or equivalents) resulting from farm production (fuel usage of machinery, application of fertilizers and the use of synthetics, including plastics)? What specific steps have you taken to address potential concerns? ALTERNATIVE ENERGY Do you use any other forms of renewable energy (wind, solar, etc.) in your operation? How well have these systems worked for you? What are the best aspects of these systems? What are the worst aspects of these systems? Do you have an energy management plan? EQUIPMENT How has your equipment changed over time? Has your energy use increased or decreased over time? Do you have any specialty equipment? Where do you get this equipment? Do you use any contract equipment operations? What portion of your equipment maintenance do you perform on-farm? (Do you consider maintenance as a major part of your operation for cost saving/income?) Solid waste management? Other features or comments? 2. Economic/Market Questions SALES How have the gross sales of your farm changed over the last 5 years? What do you expect the change to be in the next 5 years? MARKETING Where do you sell your farm products? What proportion of your produce is marketed locally? What would motivate you to seek out local markets for your products (farm profit, local economic development, local food security, farm-to-school or farm-to-cafeteria)? Do any of your products go outside the United States? How do you determine what price you are paid for your product? Do you sell any of your farm products on contract? Organic Products 1. Do your farm productions have any other official “certifications” that you use in marketing your product? 2. If you are a certified-organic grower, please answer the following questions
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Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century 2.1. Do you get organic price premiums for your products? 2.2. Have these premiums increased or declined in recent years? 2.3. How important are these premiums to your ability to use organic practices? 2.4. Are organic premiums important to your decision to use sustainable practices? FARM ENTERPRISE FINANCIALS Income What are your approximate annual gross sales of farm products? What is your approximate income from government program payments? Are there other sources of farm income? Net Income In how many of the last 5 years has your enterprise made a profit? Has your net income increased over the last 5 years? Farm versus Off-farm Income Does anyone in your family work off the farm (known as public work in the South)? To what degree does your household depend on the farm for income and benefits? Debt Roughly what would you estimate is the current ratio of your farm debts to farm assets? (no debt, debts less than 10 percent assets, debts 10 to 40 percent assets, debts exceed 40 percent of assets) Are you comfortable with your current debt levels? LABOR Do you have workers assisting you on the farm? Have you been able to find adequate labor to sustain operation and quality of life? What specific practices do you use to ensure labor is treated fairly? How do labor issues affect your decisions about which production practices to use? RISK MANAGEMENT Do you have crop insurance? What would cause you to purchase crop insurance? If you currently have it, how could the policy be improved? How important is crop insurance to your farm’s long-term financial security?
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Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century 3. Social and Community Aspects What motivated you to choose this approach to farming? What keeps you enthusiastic about your approach? Do your customers/buyers have an impact on how you farm? Do they impact what you produce? If so, what kind of impact? How do you get information and advice for your farming? (main sources) Who comes to you for advice about farming? Do you share information with other farmers? Do you make an effort to share information about your operation with the public? Are you involved with any farmers’ groups or other organizations? Do you work with any government agencies? What government programs have the largest impacts on your operation? Are you involved in farm policy issues? If so, how? How does the way you farm influence the way your community relates to you? DEVELOPMENT PRESSURE 1. How much pressure does your operation feel from growth and development in your area? 2. What opportunities and challenges does urban growth and development present to your farm? 3. Farm transition challenges—how do you ensure viability of operation across generations/time? 3.1. How to ensure sustainability (values) across generations/time? 3.2. How to mitigate start-up costs for new farmers by removing land (and perhaps some infrastructure) costs through long-term lease and trust arrangements (to replace fee-simple purchase and/or inheritance models by community-based stewardship models)? 3.3. How to connect successive generations to pass on knowledge and practical experience? 3.4. How to secure the older generation while enabling the future of the next generation?