The Edmond Sun

Local News

May 28, 2014

OSU earns USDA grant aimed at producers, ag businesses

STILLWATER — Oklahoma State University researchers will be looking at ways to help small- and medium-sized producers and agriculture businesses take their enterprises to the next level thanks to a hefty U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant.

Though national in scope, the project easily has the potential to affect any producer in Oklahoma, said Dave Shideler, OSU Cooperative Extension economist and one of the project’s lead researchers.

“The idea is to help producers move forward, regardless of the current size of their operations,” he said. “Our work will apply to the farmer operating a roadside fruit stand in Idabel, as well as to the producer in Arnett who wants to begin selling watermelons to the local school.”

The three-year $484,000 award is a significant slice of $7 million awarded to 10 universities through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Small- and Medium-Sized Farms program.

The research team will work directly with farmers, ranchers, co-op managers, aggregators and others involved with local and regional food systems across the nation to develop typical economic structures of various businesses.

The economic structures will be incorporated into an updated schematic originally developed in the late 1990s.

“Producers will be able to use the updated model to get an idea of the efficiency of their operations based on relevant factors,” Shideler said. “They’ll also be able to use it as a planning tool to look at various options for growth and some of the economic costs and benefits linked with each of those options.”

In addition to producers, project researchers also will target local government officials in an effort to help them develop ways to support the growth of local food producers based in their communities.

“The goal is to give local governments some alternatives along with the costs and benefits of each of those alternatives to help them figure out the best ways to encourage local food initiatives,” Shideler said.

Another anticipated outcome of the project is a streamlined evaluation method to better gauge the economic impact of local and regional food systems.

With the increased popularity of local foods and the growing awareness of locally sourced foods by consumers, Shideler said local governments view small- and mid-sized farming enterprises as opportunities to create jobs and keep wealth in communities.

“Current methods for determining the impact of these types of initiatives vary widely,” Shideler said. “We hope to be able to create a standard evaluation procedure so we can begin comparing and evaluating local food initiatives more consistently and accurately.”

As part of the project’s Extension component, the research team will produce materials such as fact sheets and share information through a national conference.

In addition to Shideler, Merritt Taylor, OSU agricultural economics professor, and Dawn Thilmany, Colorado State University professor and Extension economist, will lead the project.

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