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Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century G Specialty-Crop 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 so, what kind? Do you work with other organizations/people that do this work? If so, who? 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 PRACTICES 1. What practices do you implement on your farm and what percentage? Conventional__________ Integrated pest management__________ Low input__________ Certified organic__________ Mixed crop and animal systems__________ Biodynamic__________ Other__________ 2. Do you rotate crops? 3. Do you use cover crops? 4. Do you control flowering, fruit set, or growth of your crops? 5. How do you accomplish pollination? 6. Do you manage bees or other pollinators? 7. If you grow annual crops, do you use hybrid varieties? 8. Do you grow perennial, woody, or tree crops? 9. Do you have a strategy for managing biodiversity on your farm? WEED, DISEASE AND INSECT CONTROL What control practices do you use for weeds? What control practices do you use for diseases? What control practices do you use for insects? If you use integrated pest management (IPM), what practices do you employ? If you use IPM, do you hire or contract with IPM management firms or individuals? SOIL RESOURCES—General Soil characteristics (for the major soil types only) Please describe the soil types on your farm. 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 to respond to challenges to soil quality (compaction, erosion, periodic flooding, poor structure, slope, etc.)? What soil management program do you use? How do you assess soil health and fertility? Do you do bioassays to evaluate microbial activity? Do you use fertilizers? __Yes or __No Do you use compost? __Yes or __No Do you use green manures/cover crops. If so, what crops? Do you use soil amendments? If so, what kind? Do you use soil conservation/prevention of erosion methods? If so, what kind? Do you know the level of soil organic matter in your fields? If so, how do you measure this?
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Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century 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? Has water availability changed in recent years? Water 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? Do you test your water source? Do you have any drinking water health issues? 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? AIR QUALITY ISSUES Are there any air quality or odor issues that currently affect your farming operation? What specific steps have you taken to address potential concerns? 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? ENERGY What are your main sources of 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?
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Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century EQUIPMENT AND STORAGE What kind of specialized farm equipment do you use (i.e., precision seeders, seedling transplanters, plastic layers)? Do you use animals to farm? Do you have postharvest storage capabilities? If so, what type, what capacity? Do you have postharvest cooling capabilities for fruits and vegetables? If so, what type, what capacity? 2. Socio-Economic/Market Questions SALES How have your gross farm sales changed over the last 5–10 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? Do any of your products go outside the United States? Do you sell any of your farm products on contract? Do you get farm credit? How have your marketing approaches changed over the last 5–10 years? Do you provide value-added packaging or branding for your harvested products (i.e., clam shells, special boxes)? 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 2.1. Do you get 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 Although the committee does not need complete details regarding your farming operation finances, it is interested in the economic opportunities and challenges facing different kinds of farm enterprises. Can you provide us with rough estimates of the following economic information?
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Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century INCOME Gross 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 10–40 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? Do you provide them with housing on-farm or off-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 What are the major sources of risk on your farm? What strategies have you developed on your farm to deal with these sources of risk? Given recent changes in energy and farm commodity markets, how well do you feel your operation can compete in the current high-energy and high-feed-cost environment? What alternatives do you see in managing future (expected) shortages in energy, fertilizer, land and water resources, and concomitant increases in production costs? 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 SOCIAL AND COMMUNITY 1. What motivated you to choose this approach to farming? What keeps you enthusiastic about your approach? 1.1. Could you give us a thumbnail description of what you mean by sustainability? 2. Do your customers/buyers have an impact on how you farm? Do they impact what you produce? If so, what kind of impact? 3. How do you get information and advice for your farming? (i.e., main sources) 4. Who comes to you for advice about farming? 5. Do you share information with other farmers? 6. Do you make an effort to share information about your operation with the public? 6.1. Other? 7. Are you involved with any farmers’ groups or other organizations? 8. Do you work with any government agencies? 9. What government programs have the largest impacts on your operation? 9.1. Positive? 9.2. Negative? 10. Are you involved in farm policy issues? If so, how and at which level: federal, state, county, or town? 11. How does the way you farm influence they 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? FOOD SAFETY Do you have a Food Safety Plan?