>So the question is where to go to make mistakes so that the knowledge can be
>applied to the big problem. That's a fairly conventional economic question
>relating to operating costs and overhead. Maybe we can think of something if
>we put our heads together.
The "big problem" is the structure of agriculture and the structure of
business in general. "Conventional" wisdom still says that the economics of
scale will kill the small producer. I believe the "economics of scale," and
its attendent expenses is the Achilles heal of big business, particularly
One of our young farmers in Indiana is raising hogs from farrow to finish on
grass and legume pasture, then allowing them to "hog down" the corn that is
still standing in the field. His cost of production is $20/cwt, a price much
lower than that of confined hog production. And, he gets a premium on yield
and grade at a conventional slaughtering facility. Plus he has only a
fraction of the capital cost of confined hog production. He does all of this
because he is young and he doesn't "know he can't." After his second child
is born in December, his wife will not return to work off the farm.
Your mistakes do not have to kill you. Farmers and small businesses must
assess risk just like every big business. Go ask consumers in your area what
(at a whole lot less cost than big businesses spend on market research) and
then produce it for them at the lowest possible cost without sacrificing
Plan thoroughly for expansion of present enterprises and start-up of new
ones. Labor is often a problem in small enterprises. Key on profitability in
the analysis and evaluation of enterprises. Focus on optimization not
maximization. Small farmers target a dollar return per acre (the largest
target I know of is $10,000).
In addition to specialty crops, look for opportunities to add value within
the farm gate (processing or packaging, for examples). Build loyalty among
your consumers through quality products and service, this alone will expand
your business through word of mouth.
Always educate consumers about quality of food and its relation to good
health. We must all do a better job of this. Create choices for consumers
without indicating that they are wrong about their present behavior.
Keep expanding the network of people who care about sustainability and
quality of life issues. Pool our knowledge and other resources whenever
possible. Nuture others who want to select new choices. We must reach some
critical mass that is necessary for building and maintaining sustainable
Steve Bonney, President
Indiana Sustainable Agriculture Association
100 Georgton Ct.
W. Lafayette IN 47906
(317) 463-9366, fax (317) 497-0164