July 18, 1994
MARINE on ST. CROIX, Minn. -- Farmers who use sustainable production methods
are more profitable than their neighbors who farm conventionally, according to
a new study conducted by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the
Land Stewardship Project.
The economic analysis, the results of which were released July 15,
examined the net profitability of four southern Minnesota farms that use
chemical-free crop production, management intensive livestock grazing and
other sustainable methods. The financial records of the four crop and
livestock operations were compared to the average cash flow of other
southeastern and south-central Minnesota farms as documented by the
Minnesota Farm Business Management Program.
At a time when large, factory-like farms are considered by some to be more
efficient and profitable, the bottom lines of these four family operations
run counter to such conventional wisdom, according to Jodi Dansingburg, a
research analyst for the Land Stewardship Project's Lewiston, Minn., office.
The average size of the four farms studied is 282 acres, as compared to
451 acres for the average farm in south-central and southeastern
Minnesota. However, during 1992 these smaller farms produced an average
net income that was twice that of the average net farm income in their areas.
The profit margins of these smaller, sustainable farms ranged from 8
percent to as much as 47 percent higher than the average operation,
according to the study.
"By minimizing production costs, focusing on increasing profits rather
than yields and learning from natural systems, these farmers have been
able to obtain net farm incomes well above the regional averages,"
Although each farm is unique, they share common management strategies such
as minimizing production costs and using natural systems as models. The
four families involved in the study are successful because each has
managed its farm as a "whole," said Dansingburg. Each of the enterprises
is environmentally and economically successful in its own way, and the
overall strength of these farms comes from the synergistic interaction of
their soil, crop, livestock and financial management systems, she added.
For example, one south-central Minnesota farm that took part in the study
approaches sustainability from many directions. It diversifies its
financial base with the help of milk, beef, pork, corn, soybean, oat and
barley production. Such diversity allows this farm family to use its labor
efficiently and to thrive in a climate of low commodity prices,
diminishing government subsidy payments and the uncertainty of nature,
And like other sustainable farms examined in the study, this operation
mimics nature in every way possible. The hog enterprise, for example,
relies on grazing, minimal housing facilities and a management strategy
more tied to available resources than short-term production gains. The
result? A pork production enterprise that produces a fraction of the
number of pigs of the average operation, but is three times as profitable,
according to the analysis.
In follow-up interviews, the owners of the operations studied said
sustainable farming has produced another positive result: a better quality
of life. One farmer participating in the study told researchers
sustainable production methods have allowed him to accomplish what few
conventional farmers even aspire to achieve. He is making a comfortable
living, is debt free and has time to enjoy hobbies.
"This system makes sense," he said.
NOTE: To order a copy of the 41-page study, "An Agriculture That Makes Sense:
Profitability of Four Sustainable Farms in Minnesota," send $5 plus $2.90 for
shipping and handling (add $1 shipping & handling for each extra book
ordered) to: Land Stewardship Project, 14758 Ostlund Trail North, Marine on
St. Croix, MN 55047. Minnesota residents add 6.5 percent sales tax. For
orders of 10 or more, call LSP at 612/433-2770 for a bulk discount.