UW-Madison”s Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems has received a grant from the USDA”s National Research Initiative to strengthen the food supply chains that connect medium-sized farms and ranches to the marketplace – part of the National Initiative to Renew “Agriculture of the Middle” (www.agofthemiddle.org).
Although the medium-sized family farm has long been recognized as the backbone of many rural communities across the nation, the number of agricultural producers in this sector has been steadily decreasing over the past several decades.
“The overall problem faced by mid-sized producers is that they are often too small to thrive in increasingly global commodity markets, yet they are too large or not well situated to participate successfully in smaller, more direct markets like CSAs or farmers markets,” project director Steve Stevenson says.
A solution, says Stevenson, is to tap into emerging consumer trends. Consumers want food that is both great tasting and healthy, and they want to know where it came from, how it was produced, and whether it was produced and distributed in a manner that is fair to all parties involved.
To help mid-sized producers take advantage of these opportunities, researchers like Stevenson, a rural sociologist, will collaborate to develop new business models that will help these farmers gain a greater share of the food dollar.
“We think there is an alternative market growing for significant volumes of high quality, highly differentiated food products,” Stevenson says. “Farms and ranches of the middle have both the flexibility and the capacity to participate with other similarly positioned food supply chain firms to respond to these rapidly expanding markets.”
Over the next three years, the $471,678 grant will support research and education that will provide models aimed at giving mid-sized producers a much-needed boost.
The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences has a strong history of gaining NRI funding to address key problems of national and regional importance in sustaining all components of agriculture. Members of Wisconsin”s congressional delegation, including Senators Herb Kohl and Russell Feingold and Representatives Tammy Baldwin and Dave Obey, were instrumental in helping the College obtain this funding.