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David Conner and Anusuya Rangarajan

The market premiums that currently exist for many organic crops are an attractive incentive for conventional growers considering the transition to organic practices. Before making this decision, there is a need to better understand the production costs of these systems. While many factors, such as crop rotation, soil type, and marketing, influence cropping decisions, production costs are vital information for production and pricing decisions. This research evaluated crop budgets from two Pennsylvania organic farms as case studies. A critical component of these budgets was the calculation of costs related to cover cropping, rotations, and compost production or use. These farms were very different in their scale, management, and marketing strategies. The crops selected for study on each farm were also different, based upon economic value to the farm. Beech Grove Farm used horse traction and hired no production labor on about 4 acres of production; budgets for carrot (Daucus carota), onion (Allium cepa), and garlic (Allium sativum) are presented. The other, Spiral Path Farm, used machinery and a hired labor crew extensively on about 60 acres; their production costs for tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), lettuce (Lactuca sativa), and winter squash (Cucurbita moschata) are presented. While costs could not be compared between the farms, costs per acre varied widely among crops on a farm, but less so across years. Neither farm spent a great deal on pest control inputs, relying on soil fertility and other management practices to minimize infestations and grow healthy plants. While these single-crop budgets provided some realistic measures of costs of organic vegetable production, longer-term budgets measuring multiyear rotations would better capture the tradeoffs made by diversified organic farmers.

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David S. Conner and Kathleen Demchak

Strawberry (Fragaria ×ananassa) and caneberries (Rubus sp.) are popular crops that can bring revenue to farms and may improve farm profitability. High and low tunnels can bring a number of benefits to growers, including season extension and improved berry yield and quality, as well as management challenges. Few studies in the literature report directly on grower experiences using tunnels. We report the results of interviews of 10 independent growers who use tunnels to produce strawberries and caneberries. The results echo previous studies finding improved yield and quality, and highlight benefits and challenges around pest, weed, and nutrient management. One novel finding is the role of season extension in creating marketing opportunities. Interviewed growers caution of a learning curve and the need to start on a small scale and grow gradually. Future focus for research should include improved ventilation and mechanization.

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Florence A. Becot, Terence L. Bradshaw, and David S. Conner

Hard cider production has increased annually by 50% between 2009 and 2014 in the United States while apple (Malus × domestica) orchards managed exclusively for cider apples are rare. Cider apples have unique flavor, acid, and tannin characteristics suited to only hard cider production. Demand for fruit by cider makers represents an emerging market for apple growers and an opportunity to diversify their production and marketing systems. The goal of this study was to compare the fruit requirements of cider makers with present cider fruit availability in orchards to identify opportunities and challenges for the growth of both industries, and we surveyed cider makers and apple growers. Growers in our study saw a market expansion opportunity in the growth of popularity of hard cider, but present apple prices were identified as a key threat. Cider makers are also expanding their operations, all of those sampled anticipate increasing their production in the next five years, but maintaining adequate fruit supply was identified as a major threat. Cider makers and apple growers have both expressed interest in dual-purpose cultivars that may be sold to the fresh market or for cider making. Apple growers have expressed guarded interest in growing specialty cider cultivars while cider makers have expressed a strong interest in increased production of cider-specific cultivars. We conclude that there are a number of potentially beneficial opportunities, particularly in increased production of dual-purpose and specialty cider cultivars, as long as price and coordination issues can be resolved.

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David S. Conner, Kurt B. Waldman, Adam D. Montri, Michael W. Hamm, and John A. Biernbaum

Relatively low-cost season extension structures have the potential to contribute to farm economic viability in temperate climates by providing a means to continue sales beyond the limits of outdoor-only field production. These structures, commonly called hoophouses, high tunnels, passive solar greenhouses, or unheated greenhouses, allow for the extension of heat-tolerant (warm season) crops on both ends of the production time frame and at winter harvesting of cold-tolerant (cool season) crops. In this study, results are presented from a multiyear investigation into the economic impacts of year-round production and harvesting, with a focus on profitability of the structure and crop production as a whole. The results of case studies from nine Michigan farms reveal a very broad range of outcomes across farms in construction time, labor allocation and returns, and gross and net revenue. The economic implications of farmer use, including projected investment payback time, are discussed.

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Florence A. Becot, Virginia Nickerson, David S. Conner, and Jane M. Kolodinsky

This article addresses the economic costs of good agricultural practices (GAPs) audits of small and medium size farms in Vermont. It focuses on the costs of infrastructure, equipment, and labor required to successfully pass a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) GAPs audit. In-depth interviews and surveys of produce farmers in 2011 revealed that the cost of GAPs certification ranges between $37 and $54 per acre, and an additional 7 hours were required each week during the growing season. Based on this exploratory research, certifying all the farms in Vermont would cost between $228,216 and $3,019,114. Our study explored all the criteria of the certification and measured the costs of GAPs from planning stages to daily record keeping more than one year after the certification was achieved. This study provides information to farmers who are considering GAPs certification. It also provides background information to agricultural service providers and policymakers planning for the future of the fresh produce industry.

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Kurt B. Waldman, David S. Conner, John A. Biernbaum, Michael W. Hamm, and Adam D. Montri

Quantitative and qualitative data from a group of 12 novice hoophouse farmers over a 3-year period in Michigan were analyzed to better understand factors associated with profitable use of these structures. There was wide variation in labor inputs and effective wages. We used regression analysis and semistructured interviews to better understand the variation in performance. Not all farmers were making use of the hoophouse between outdoor seasons when supply is low and prices are high, as economic theory would predict. However, high wage earners were more likely to push production into the extended season months, hire labor at higher wages, and spend less time in maintaining crops and appeared to harvest more efficiently. Markets played a role in farmers’ success as some farmers were able to make significant profits by organizing community-supported agriculture (CSA)/direct sales or by finding new markets.