In a study recently published in the Journal of Rural Studies, researchers from the Indiana University School of Public Health – Bloomington found that farmers who want to maintain their business for their children and grandchildren are more likely to diversify the production aspects of their farms. With advancements in technology, U.S. farms have moved from producing an average of 4.2 crops and animals in 1950 to 1.3 in 2000, according to the study. Areas of the Midwest, known as part of the Corn Belt, are the least agriculturally diverse in the country.
“We know that product diversification is an avenue for farms to increase their economic and environmental resiliency,” says Dr. James Farmer, assistant professor at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington. “This study aimed to better understand what motivates farmers to diversify their agricultural outputs.”
Dr. Farmer, along with post-doctoral fellow Dr. Julia Valliant from the IU Ostrom Workshop, academic specialist Ms. Stephanie Dickinson from the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, post-doctoral fellow Dr. Analena Bruce from the IU Ostrom Workshop, and professor of practice Dr. Jennifer Robinson from IU’s Department of Anthropology, studied diversified and non-diversified farms in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. The team interviewed five farmers and 13 agricultural advisors, and sent a 10-section questionnaire to 1,000 farms in the study area.
“Our principal finding is that farmers who want their farms to be able to employ their children and grandchildren as adults have a more favorable outlook on further diversifying their agricultural products,” Farmer explains. “Farmers are more inclined to diversify more when they place a higher priority on the ability of their farms to sustain descendants.”
Additional findings in the research indicate that having children under 18 raises a farm’s interest in diversifying, and non-diversified farms typically diversify by adding products when their children are in their teenage years in order to save money for college or to satisfy the requirements of the children’s participation in FFA or 4-H.