The Tools for Transition (TFT) Project is a four-year research program that will yield new insights about the economics of organic transition; create unique data resources for farmers, other agricultural professionals and lenders; and inform policymakers of the potential economic barriers to organic certification.
The Tools for Transition Project has two inter-related long-term goals that are sharply focused on addressing the need for farm-based information about enterprise and whole-farm financial performance during the transition from conventional to organic production:
- To collect data on farm performance measures during the transition to organic production and develop resources such as an online database and benchmark reports for field crop and dairy enterprises and whole farm performance during and shortly after transition.
- To develop web-based and print materials to address the informational needs of farmers transitioning to organic production and the education needs of agricultural professionals who advise them.
Demand for organic food products is growing more rapidly than supply (Greene et al., 2009). The 2008 Farm Bill includes a number of provisions – including funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, first-time mandatory funding for organic market data collection, certified cost-share reimbursements, and conservation assistance for organic and transitioning producers within the Environmental Quality Incentives Program – that are designed to encourage the adoption of organic agriculture practices and increase the supply of organic foods. As more farmers are encouraged to transition to organic production, the high cost of transition – coupled with uncertainty about those costs and subsequent returns – will be a significant impediment to growth in this promising market sector.
There are few published studies on the economics of organic transition, and there is very limited availability of multi-year farm record data on production costs and returns during and after transition. Such data are needed by farmers developing transition plans, by lenders evaluating business plans and loan applications from transitioning producers, and by policymakers assessing program needs.
For crop and pasture production, transition from conventional to cerfied organic practices is a three-year process during which decisions and unforeseen events in one year affect management alternatives and potential performance in subsequent years. Also, some of the effects of transition may carry over into the post certification period. Therefore, on-farm research for organic transition must have a long-term design that follows farmers throughout the transition period and several years after achieving certification.
Tools for Transition outreach materials, based on analysis of initial farm data, participant surveys, and interviews with transitioning farmers, serve as a model for long-term research. Throughout the project, resources such as farm transition profiles, whole farm and enterprise financial analyses and business planning materials will be developed and made available for download and mail distribution.
The Tools for Transition Project received a four-year grant (2010-2014) from the USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (award #2010-51300-21401).