Appendix A: Tables 1-5
 Appendix B: Questions classified...
 Appendix C: Index of contact with...

Group Title: Agricultural Economics Staff Paper
Title: Information dissemination to small farm operators
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00095682/00001
 Material Information
Title: Information dissemination to small farm operators
Physical Description: 10, 6 p. : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Hepp, Ralph E
Donor: unknown ( endowment )
Publisher: Michigan State University, Dept. of Agricultural Economics
Place of Publication: East Lansing, Mich.
Publication Date: 1979
Copyright Date: 1979
Subject: Farms, Small -- United States   ( lcsh )
Genre: government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: United States of America
General Note: "FILE: 17.27."
General Note: Caption title.
General Note: Agricultural Economics Staff Paper 79-44
Statement of Responsibility: Ralph E. Hepp.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00095682
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 435772745

Table of Contents
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
    Appendix A: Tables 1-5
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
    Appendix B: Questions classified by types of information
        Page 14
        Page 15
    Appendix C: Index of contact with cooperative extension service
        Page 16
Full Text

Agricultural Economics
Staff Paper 79-44
File: 17.27


Ralph E. Hepp
Extension Economists
Department of Agricultural Economics
Michigan State University

Small farm operations are significant contributors to agricultural

production in Michigan. Small farm operators cultivate almost two-thirds of

the agricultural land and harvest over sixty percent of the hay, soybeans

and wheat crops; one half of the corn; and one-third of the fruits and

vegetables. Small farms are significant contributors to animal production

especially beef, sheep and lambs. Over one-third of the dairy cows and hogs

and pigs are on small farms and ten percent of the laying hens.

Michigan continues to have a large number of small farms. The 1974

Census of Agriculture defines a farm as any operation grossing over $1,000

in sales of agricultural products. In 1974, 85 percent or 54,437 farms were

small while 6,848 or 11 percent were medium and 4 percent or 2,809 were large.

Farm size is based upon sales with small farms defined as those farms grossing

under $40,000, medium farms defined as those grossing between $40,000 and

$100,000, and large farms defined as those grossing over $100,000.

Small farm operators are farm owners, operate on a small scale, are

usually debt free and depend less upon the farm for their livelihood. The

objectives for the farm are more diverse than larger farmers since most

medium and large farm operators are farming full-time and obtain the majority

of the family income from the farm. Interviews with small farm operators

in Michigan resulted in categorizing operators to better understand the


motivation for the small farm.1 Three groups were identified: 1) part-time

farmers, 2) part-retired farmers, and 3) full-time small farm operators.

Forty-eight percent of the small farm operators are part-time farmers,

nineteen percent are part-retired farmers, and thirty-three percent are

small full-time farm operators.

The introduction of new technology has resulted in a trend toward

fewer and larger farms and a concern for the economic and social viability of

the small farm and rural communities. For years, the migration of people from

farms to urban centers was seen as a natural consequence of the competitive

system with the benefits accrued to individuals through higher living standards

in urban areas and to society by increased productivity of food and fiber at

lower cost. As a result of this structural change, many public and private

groups assumed that all small farm operators were going out of business and

little attention was given to the plight of the small farm operator.

Small farm operations are significant contributors to agricultural pro-

duction. But the problems of lower land and livestock productivity on the small

farm, low net family income especially for full-time small farm operators and

the application and adoption of technical practices on small farms are

important to the small farm operators.

All farmers regardless of size or objectives for the farm can be reached

with information. The family can be assisted to achieve income or other

goals that have been defined by the family. Change agents must specify its

audience by problems, farm goals and production enterprises to meet small

farm operator's needs. This paper discusses the use of information in decision

making and the implication for information dissemination to small farm operators.

1Description and Analysis of Michigan Small Farms, Research Report 296,
Agricultural Experiment Station, Michigan State University.

Use of Information in Farm Decision Making

Farmers have many needs for information in the management of their farm

and home. The problem solving or management process assumes that information

is gathered to further define the problem and develop alternative solutions to

problems. The type of information being searched by a farmer depends upon the

problem or problems being considered. It follows that the importance that a

farmer attaches to certain types of information also depends upon the importance

he attaches to the problem for which the information is needed. Thus, by look-

ing at the perceived importance of various types of problems, inferences can

be made regarding the perceived importance of various types of information.

Farm management research has revealed three broad areas of information:

technical, institutional and human. All types of information are relevant to

farm and home management. While it is true that real world problems typically

require all types of information, certain problems seem to require more of one

type of information than other types of information. A study was completed by

the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station to examine the information

gathering process by farmers and how educational programs could be delivered

for all farmers, but with special emphasis on small farm operators.2 Forty-

four common farm and family problems were developed as a base of reference to

ascertain the importance of information and source of information to help solve

those problems.3

2Thomas M. Olson, "Nonformal Educational Delivery Systems to Reach Limited
Resource Farmers in Michigan," Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Michigan State Univer-

3The classification of the questions used are given in Appendix B. Ten
questions could not be classified into a category.

The aggregate responses to the technical questions shows large farm opera-

tors tend to perceive of technical information as being very important more

frequently than small farm operators (Table 1 ). Likewise, small farm operators

tended to respond that technical problems are "not important at all" more fre-

quently than large farm operators. The same relationship holds for institutional

information. Statistical tests again indicate that a relationship exists at the

one percent level of significance (Table 2 ). Small farmer operations tended to

check "not important at all" more frequently than the other farm groups and

their cumulative percentage for items 3, 4 and 5 (very important) was smaller

than that of the large and medium farmer operators. ,

While differences among farm size groups was shown for the importance of

technical and institutional information, no significant relationship is shown

among farm size groups for human problems. The percentages in Table 3 show a

great deal of polarity in responses of not important and very important in

human information, but farm size groups were similar in their responses.

The respondents were asked to name sources of information used in relation

to the forty-four problems. The responses were aggregated by size of farm and

sources cited and the data presented in Table 4. A statistical test of

independence of classification indicates that there is a relationship between

size of farm and sources of information (significant at the one percent level

of confidence). The largest difference between the large and small farm opera-

tors concerned item "never had this problem." Small farm operators tended to

respond with this answer more frequently than others. This indicates that

larger farm operators tend to recognize problems more readily than small farm


The operators on large farms tend to seek information more frequently from

dealers, salesmen or buyers than do operators on small farms. The same is true

with regard to lending institutions, government agencies and the Cooperative

Extension Service. Small farm operators tend to seek information more fre-

quently from neighbors, friends or relatives and mass media sources. It should

be noted that the percentage distribution for all categories does not vary by

more than a few percentage points between sizes of farms. This indicates that

all farmers use a wide variety of sources for information.

Contact With the Cooperative Extension Service

The information survey of Michigan farmers asked specific questions about

farmers' contact with the Cooperative Extension Service. Since there are a

number of ways contact may be made between a county agent or the extension

staff and the farm clientele, an index was adopted which combined information
about various types of contacts into a single measure.

Farmers with gross income of $20,000 to $39,999 had the greatest amount of

contact with Extension, followed by the medium size farms and the large farms,

respectively (Table 5). Further analysis of various control variables shows

that 16 of the 21 farmers in the $20,000 to $39,999 category were full-time

farmers and twelve of these had more than 25 years of experience in farming.

Nine were in the fifty to fifty-nine age group.

Farmers in the $10,000 to $19,000 category have the least contact with

Cooperative Extension. Again, further analysis of the control variables showed

that for this group only eight of the eighteen were full-time farmers. The two

high-contact farmers were full-time, but there was no trend regarding age or

years of experience in farming.

There is a marked difference between part-retired and farmers less than 65

years of age in their contact with Extension. Seventy percent of the part-

retired farmers had no or low contact with Extension while only 22 percent of
the farmers who were not retired had low or no contact. On the other hand,

4The index is presented in Appendix C.

nearly 40 percent of the farmers who were not retired had high contact with

Extension and only 20 percent of the part-retired farmers had high contact with

Extension. Cooperative Extension is not reaching the part-retired farmers as

effectively as others. These older farmers may have some tried and true produc-

tion methods which could be useful to other small farmers, but which are not

being communicated for various reasons.

When the small farm operators are divided by occupation, full-time or

part-time, a higher percentage of full-time than part-time farmers have high

contact with Extension. Likewise, a much greater percentage of part-time than

full-time farmers have no or low contact with Extension. Since the part-time

farmers have other jobs, they may not be able to attend meetings or go to other

Extension activities as often as the full-time farmers. This suggests that other

alternatives may need to be tried in order to reach this farmer.

County agents were interviewed to determine their general conclusion re-

garding the various farm size operators and their needs for information. Large

farm operators generally ask more complex, complicated questions while small

farm operators looked for a single recommendation or answer to their question.

Although they felt the informational needs of the various farm categories would

be the same, they indicated that the level would be different. They also

indicated that large farm operators were more likely to involve the Extension

Service from the beginning of the decision-making process while small farm

operators tend to wait until later in the process. Often this leads to problems

which could have been avoided. Agents felt that small farm operators have more

trouble with the goal or objective setting function of farm management than

larger farm operators.

The research showed a demand for information by small farm operators and

an expressed willingness to attend meetings or educational programs related to

important farm or home decisions. Small farmers use a wide variety of sources

for information and suggested a number of specific and general topics which

they would like to have discussed at a meeting or school. Generally, small

farm operators suggested "how to" topics, such as fertilizer use, sheep shear-

ing or dehorning livestock as their greatest need.

Implications for Information Dissemination to Small Farm Operators

Farmers use a wide variety of information sources in the management of their

farming operations. Likewise, a number of private firms and public agencies have

a desire and responsibility to reach small farm operators with information,

products and services. Although many similarities in information needs exist

between producers by size, there are significant differences which must be recog-

nized when designing programs for operators on small farms. These differences

are summarized in the following points.

1. The large number of small farms in comparison to larger farms results

in many more independent decision makers to be reached on the small farm with

information, products or services. Volume of business transacted with each

producer is small.

2. Total agricultural sales from the small farm in the midwestern states

varies from 20 to 40 percent of the total sales. One-third or more of Michigan's

production of major crops and livestock originates on the small farm.

Small farm operators are important markets for production inputs, suppliers of

agricultural products and markets for agricultural services.

3. The small farm operators use local input suppliers and market outlets,

while larger farm operators use regional distribution centers. Small farm

operators are more dependent upon the local country elevators for products and

services, the local livestock auctions or buying station for their livestock,

etc. They are more dependent upon traditional local sources of information on

prices, new products, and other information than larger producers.

4. Larger farm operators are more likely to purchase information or obtain

information directly from company sales representatives. They are more dollar

conscious with their business transactions. While small farm operators are

also cost conscious, they require more information at the point of purchase

or market.

5. Small farm operators are more heterogeneous in experiences, ages and

farm objectives. The dependence on farm income for the family, the time devoted

to farming, and the recognition of problems varies greatly. Larger farm opera-

tors are more homogeneous with respect to these points. If information is to

reach the small farm operator, the content of the message must be targeted

toward the needs of the specific group.

6. Small farm operators place less importance on technical and institutional

types of information and consequently on the problems which demand this informa-

tion. This requires that more emphasis be placed on problem recognition, the

role of technical and institutional information and the use of this information

in problem solution.

7. Small farms have lower crop and livestock productivity. Fewer produc-

tion inputs are used per crop and livestock unit. It appears that demand is
present, but can it be translated into effective demand?

8. If the U.S. and other countries need additional outputs of food products,

a greater potential is present to obtain the output from small farms rather than

large farms because there is a wider gap between actual and potential production

from crops and livestock (assuming the current state of technology).

9. Much of the communication methodology of the change agencies (i.e.:

educational institutions, mass media publications, input supply and marketing

firms) has been based on certain assumptions which rural sociologists and

communication researchers have labeled the multi-step flow model or the "trickle

down" model. In this model much of the initial attention is focused on the

early adopters. These people are generally better educated, more upwardly mobil,

more open to change and suggestions by others, have larger farms and greater

capital investments and are commercially oriented. The assumption was that the

later adopters would be more likely to adopt an innovation after opinion leaders

had adopted it and shown it to be successful. While the theory probably still

works in actual practice, the gulf between late adopters and early adopters

has widened. They have somewhat different objectives, different problems, and

different needs for information. The smaller farm operator has less to copy

from the large farm. The problems and problem solutions of the small farm opera-

tor need to be addressed directly rather than indirectly from their larger


10. Some of the new technology in agriculture is size specific (i.e.:

large tractors and livestock building systems) and not available for direct

application on individually owned small farms. While most of the new technology

could and should be applied to small farms as well as large farms, the process

used by the farmer to apply the new technology may be different. Individual

application on the small farm may not be possible, but collective application

to many small farms is possible through cooperative production units, joint

ownership of capital items and leasing or custom hire. Small farm operators

need to be shown how they can apply new technology on their farm and its benefit

in problem solution.

11. Small farm operators require more basic farm technical skills than

other operators. The large farm operators understand the basic production

skills and are more concerned with the process skills or integrative skills.

Rather than ask "how much fertilizer should be used on corn?" they ask "can


my yields be challenged by using more fertilizer?" and "what inputs are limiting

my yields?"

12. Small farm operators need to be presented with an integrated manage-

ment system to improve productivity, output and returns. Rather than talk about

the need for fertilizer, herbicides and other inputs in isolation, they need

information on an integrated program for crop production or pest control, or

obtaining maximum returns from the land.

Appendix A

Table 1. Perceived importance of technical information by farm size category

Perceived importance Farm Size
of information Small Medium Large

Not important at all 30.4 22.9 25.1
2 4.4 3.1 5.3
3 14.8 17.7 12.1
4 11.4 15.9 15.0
Very important 39.0 40.4 42.5

Source: 1978 Information Survey of Michigan Farmers

Table 2. Perceived importance of institutional information by farm size category

Perceived importance Farm Size
of information Small Medium Large

Not important at all 31.2 23.8 19.2
2 5.4 6.1 3.0
3 15.4 17.2 28.7
4 9.8 13.9 12.6
Very important 38.2 38.9 36.5

Source: 1978 Information Survey of Michigan Farmers

Table 3. Perceived importance of human information by farm size category

Perceived importance Farm Size
of information
Small Medium Large

Not important at all 33.6 30.0 33.5
2 4.8 6.3 6.4
3 15.5 15.0 14.9
4 8.7 11.1 7.4
Very important 37.5 37.6 37.8

Source: 1978 Information Survey of Michigan Farmers

Table 4. Sources of information for 44 common problems faced by farmers cate-
gorized by farm size

Farm Size
Source of information
Small Medium Large

Newspapers, magazines,
radio and TV 21.9 23.0 20.2
Cooperative Extension 20.8 20.9 22.2
Dealers, salesman and buyers 7.1 8.0 9.9
Neighbors, friends and
relatives 11.0 10.6 8.6
Lenders, government agencies
and farm organizations 5.6 7.5 6.9
Never had this problem 16.4 12.6 11.3
Did not seek information on
this problem 11.3 10.0 10.7
Other 3.2 1.6 2.2

Source: 1978 Information Survey of Michigan Farmers

Table 5. --Contact with Extension by Gross Farm Income

Gross Farm

Over $100,000

$40,000 to $99,999

$20,000 to $39,999

$10,000 to $19,999

$5,000 to $9,999

$2,500 to $4,999

Under $2,500


No or Low









Source: 1978 Information Survey




























of Michigan Farmers



Technical Questions

Whether or not to buy a new piece of machinery.
Problems with insects or disease.
Knowing when to sell your farm products.
Figuring out how much fertilizer to use.
What crops to plant next year?
How to remodel the kitchen?
How to cut down on the heating bill?
How to set up a family budget?
Figuring costs and returns on business investment?
Keeping up-to-date with records and farm accounts.
How to compute the best feed ration for livestock.
Whether or not to expand your livestock enterprise?

Human Questions

Conflict with the neighbor.
Finding good farm employees.
Personal and family health concerns.
Planning meals for nutrition.
Planning for children's education.
Figuring out how much insurance to buy.
Planning your estate.
Marital problems.
How to raise children properly?
Which clothes to buy on a tight budget?
Whether or not to raise a garden?
Trying to understand today teenagers.

Institutional Questions

How to figure out income tax.
Finding the best place to borrow money for the farm.
Complaints that you are causing pollution (smell,
runoff, etc.)
Political Issues (school bonds, highways, etc.).
How to improve the public schools in the area?
How to get better prices for your farm products?
When to hedge in the futures market?
Inadequate medical care and facilities in the area.
How to compete with larger farms?
Where to go with consumer complaints (damaged products,

General Questions

Whether or not to buy more land?
Whether or not to continue farming?
Whether or not to look for a part-time job?
Not knowing when to change production plans.
Difficulty in being able to define family objectives.
Not knowing when you are on the "wrong track" in your
attempt to reach a desired goal.
Not being able to "put your finger" on the difficulty
when you know there is something wrong.
Not being able to keep up with all the new information
(technology) relating to farming that always comes
Having trouble organizing and understanding information
made available to you so that you can use it on your
Not knowing how or when to make a decision when the
information does not lead to a clear-cut course of



The following weights were used:

Type of Contact Weight

1. An agent visited your farm or home 15
2. You or your family visited the Cooperative
Extension Office 10
3. You or-your spouse talked on the phone
with a county agent 10
4. You or your spouse attended a farm tour
sponsored by the Cooperative Exten-
sion Service 10
5. You or your spouse attended a meeting or-
ganized by the Cooperative Extension
Service 10
6. You or your family listened to a radio or
TV program sponsored by the Coopera-
tive Extension Service 2
7. You or your spouse received a circular
letter or pamphlet from the Coopera-
tive Extension Service 1

The reported frequency was multiplied by the

appropriate weight, and the results added to yield a

weighted score for each farm. Four categories of contact

with Extension were established:

1. No Contact

2. Low Contact: 1-14 (Those who had less than the
equivalent of one farm or home visit during 1977)

3. Medium Contact: 15-90 (Those who had the equivalent
of at least one farm or home visit during the
year, but not more than one every two months)

4. High Contact: over 90 (Those who had the equivalent
of a farm or home visit every second month, or more

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