From the Director
From the director
|Washington grower Karl Kupers spends much of his workday researching markets for alternative grain crops such as millet. Kupers, shown examining a stand of winter wheat, received a SARE producer grant in 1996 to explore alternatives to a wheat/ fallow system (see p. 5). "My SARE grant gave me the opportunity to manage risk for the first two years I explored alternatives," Kupers says. Photo by C Meye Photos|
As farmers and ranchers contend with commodity prices so low they often do not cover the cost of production, the seasons ahead present an opportunity to move toward more profitable crop and livestock systems.
Sustainable agriculture offers producers improved management options that can cut input costs, one sure way to boost profits when market prices hover around the break-even point - or lower. It also proposes innovative marketing and value-adding strategies to capture a premium price for alternative products. Finally, producers who protect natural resources may improve returns if they market under "green" labels that appeal to consumers looking for ways to support a cleaner environment.
Since 1988, USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program has administered grants that advance sustainable agriculture systems. Its body of knowledge has grown in step with close to 1,400 grant projects exploring some aspect of sustainable agriculture. (For examples of some of SARE's most innovative, recently funded projects, see 1999 Research Roundup).
Today's serious farming concerns - uncertain markets, declining rural communities, manure management and its impact on water quality, and the phasing out of pesticides by environmental regulators - require long-lasting solutions rather than temporary "silver bullets."
SARE offers some of those solutions because a group of forward-thinking people 12 years ago designed a program that would be innovative, yet grounded in reality - with a regional structure, integrated research and education objectives and lots of producer involvement. Today, that unique design fits into the new model of government programs, ones that are more flexible, voluntary, innovative and entrepreneurial than their top-down predecessors.
Four regional SARE councils composed of producers, farm consultants, university researchers and educators, state and federal government agency staff and representatives from nonprofit organizations identify information needs and select projects in a competitive process.
Producers can apply much of SARE's information thanks to the strong involvement of farmers and ranchers in grant selection and project work. Farmers and ranchers conduct SARE research using producer grants, then pass on what they've learned through field days and demonstrations. Producers also collaborate on virtually all research and education projects. They serve on the regional councils as well as on technical committees that score grant proposals.
SARE links agricultural research and extension through its Professional Development Program (PDP). PDP offers training opportunities in the latest sustainable practices and systems to extension educators and other agricultural advisers. Many SARE research projects involve extension educators, who also help generate local interest and publicity among farmers.
The following 12 projects represent some of SARE's most innovative projects from across the country. To find out more about a listed project, visit www.SARE.org/san/projects.
Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service