Sponsoring Institution
National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Project Status
Funding Source
Reporting Frequency
Accession No.
Grant No.
Project No.
Proposal No.
Multistate No.
Program Code
Project Start Date
Sep 15, 2003
Project End Date
Sep 14, 2006
Grant Year
Project Director
Redlin, M.
Recipient Organization
PO BOX 2275A
Performing Department
Non Technical Summary
Long-term loss of small and mid-sized conventional family farms, particularly those located in low population density regions such as the northern Great Plains, has multiple social ramifications for both rural and non-rural populations, for the stability of rural communities, and for the sustainability of the rural environment. This study examines alternative farm operations in the region, such as game farms, agrotourism, organic farming, community supported agriculture and farm-based marketing. These new forms of agriculture are most commonly found at the small to mid-sized level, and are approaching the first point of generational transfer. The question is, are these new forms of agriculture able to be, or intended to be, transferred over to the next generation? Will their transfer revive the possiblity of a stable family farm base in rural areas? The purpose of this study is to establish the possible benefits of alternative agricultural operations as a basis for generational transfer in family farming. This knowledge will be obtained through the assessment and gathering of current data sets, and through conducting 40 farm profiles in four states. Both data and profiles will be made publically available through the Rural Data Center at South Dakota State University.
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories

Knowledge Area (KA)Subject of Investigation (SOI)Field of Science (FOS)Percent
Goals / Objectives
1. To identify the forms of alternative agricultural operations in the northern Great Plains region. 2. To gather and assess current data sources on alternative agriculture operations. 3. To post data and sources on the topic on the web page of the Rural Data Center at South Dakota State University. 4. To compile farm profiles and case studies of alternative farms in the region. 5. To establish whether alternative farm operations are candidates for generational transfer. 6. To assess alternative farm operations as a stable economic and social basis for rural development and population stability in low population density areas.
Project Methods
1. The researcher will assess and assemble currently available data sets and reports on the variety of alternative agricultural operations in the region. Data will be gathered from rural organizations and state offices. Additionally, USDA links will be provided where deemed appropriate. Data will then be posted on the web page of the Rural Data Center at SDSU for public access by interested parties. 2. Farm profiles will be gathered from 40 farms in the region, ten in each of four states: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska. Farm contacts will be made through assistance of sustainable agriculture organizations in each state. 3. Based on the work accomplished under the project, the researcher will prepare a summary report, journal article manuscripts and professional and community presentations.

Progress 09/15/03 to 09/14/06

During the last twenty years, alternative agriculture (including organics, agri-tourism, farm-based processing, specialty markets and direct sales) has been emerging in the Northern Great Plains. During this same time, the number of conventional family farms has decreased, with many unsuccessful in generational transfer. The process of farm generational transfer has been credited with population stability and rural community sustainability. Individual farm persistence in turnover has been credited to reasonable profitability, life quality, philosophical commitment and socialization of following generations (Salamon, 1998; Haigh, Stover and Helling, 1996; Stover and Helling, 1998.) This seed grant research examined generational transfer of alternative farms and potential impacts on populations in the Great Plains. Results indicate that large- and middle-sized alternative farms demonstrate high potential for successful planned turnover, and consequently may assist in stabilizing rural and farm populations in low population density areas. Small alternative farms showed the greatest potential in rural entrepreneurship development. In effect, alternative farms serve as a potentially key part of sustainable development in the Great Plains. Forty farmers were interviewed in-depth to assess economic feasibility, quality of life, philosophical commitment and generational planning/transfer of their operations. These farmers represented: 10 commercial commodity crop organic producers (OCC); 3 home-based processors (HBP); 15 grain and/or fruit and vegetable Direct Sale (DS) and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations; 10 organic livestock and/or livestock and crop operations (OL: 4 working with larger organizations e.g. Organic Valley farms; 5 independent direct and internet sales; 1 game rancher specializing in breeding stock); and 2 agri-tourism and/or farm tour operations (AgT). 30% of the farms were less than 100 acres (CSAs, HBP), 50% of farms were 101 to 1000 acres (DS, OL, HBP, Game, AgT), and 20% of farms were larger than 1000 acres (OCC, OL, AgT). Approximately 80% of farm operators were males, 20% females. Research findings indicate clear patterns relative to generational transfer planning and farm size. Organic livestock and commodity crop producers were most aligned with traditional family farm philosophy, and economic planning and organization of transfer were also similar. Only about one third of these alternative agriculturalists insisted that the next generation remain organic as a prerequisite for transfer. CSAs, DS, and HBPs were least likely to have any plan for generational transfer of the operation. Farmers viewed their operation as a philosophical, religious or personal pursuit, rather than a business for economic return, and had additional outside income. Mid-range farm operators were most likely to speak of environmental concerns as their motivation for alternative practices. Not all had transfer plans in place, but all spoke of requiring sustainable processes for the future. Many of the farmers connected their environmental beliefs to religious beliefs, and they were the most likely to have transfer plans in place.

This research has been integrated and presented in multiple community forums. In South Dakota, this research formed one of the bases of the Agri-Cultural Alliance, an organization including alternative farmers, artists, faculty, extension educators and state officials. The Agri-Cultural Alliance sponsored the first annual Agri-cultural Conference focusing on integrating alternative agriculture and agri-tourism with fine arts and folk arts to develop a state-side cultural tourism initiative. Now in its second year, the Alliance is self-guiding and supporting. Also in response to this research, a new initiative for local food development based on alternative agriculture operations has been launched by Dakota Rural Action, one of the participating members. The new initiative incorporates farmers and consumers, and proposed actions include crafting state legislation supporting state start-up monies for small scale producers and agricultural entrepreneurs to support their growth and development. Additional projects include consumer educational campaigns in association with local grocery outlets and restaurants and cafes. Organizational participants were all distributed summary reports of research findings. Two panels at respective annual meetings of Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society and Dakota Rural Action focused on generational transfer planning and processes. A resource web page is currently being updated. The information is available to the public through The update will be completed by the middle of January 2007.


  • Burrows, R., Fennell, A., Redlin, M. and Verschoor, L.. 2006 under review. Agri-Cultural Tourism: Linking the Arts and Humanities with Agricultural Direct Marketers and Specialty Producers. Journal of Extension.

Progress 01/01/05 to 12/31/05

Over the past year, interviews and farm visits have been completed. All interviews have been transcribed, and interviewees have approved their use in future publication. Currently, this information is in the design stage for technology transfer and presentation of research findings and information links through public posting on the SDSU Rural Life Data Center website. Initial findings indicate three primary motivations for alternative agriculture participation: 1) Personal and/or political philosophies of quality of life; 2) Religious orientation and belief systems of stewardship; and 3) Economic viability and return for small- to mid-sized farm operations. Of farmers noting these motivations, those reporting religious and economic motivations are most likely to have plans in place for generational transfer of the farm operation. Other factors of note in this research include gender, upbringing, family dynamics, and kind of operation. Gender patterns in alternative agriculture are not distinctly different in organic production farm operations than they are in mass market farm operations. In both instances, generational transfer remains focused on the father-son dyad, although some farm women participate more in the day to day activities of the farm for organic production operations. If there is no father-son line, the land is rented out to a male farmer for organic production. Small-scale direct sale of organics is dominated by women working alone or couples. There were no men working alone in this form of agriculture, which reflects broader national trends identifying an increase of women farmers coupled with an increase in small farms. Similarly, women and couples engaged in small-scale direct sales operations tended to be from non-farm backgrounds, although not exclusively. These populations reflect the dedication to quality of life, as noted above, and generally had no plans or prospects for generational transfer. Those few in this group from farm backgrounds were more likely to agree that generational transfer plans were important, although they were no more likely to have such plans in place. Current family dynamics were a key factor in family relations in cases where a son had taken over a traditional family farm and transformed it to an organic production farm. For the majority of these farmers, parental resistance was an on-going issue, including both emotional and financial stressors. In one case, however, these same stressors were identified for the reverse situation;the father had established an organic production operation and the son taking over had plans to return to traditional production methods. Initial summary of research outcomes indicates that alternative agricultural operations (production organics and agri-tourism) that follow gender and structural norms are indeed fulfilling the role of generational transfer. However, small-scale alternative operations focused on direct sales or specialty sales may not transfer. As this is the fastest growing sector of alternative operations, there is no clear indication that these forms of agriculture will form a basis of rural population stability.

The study has been the focus of multiple media reports in 2005 and 2006, demonstrating public interest in approach and outcomes. The primary investigator was interviewed and featured in three radio reports (two on South Dakota Public radio, and one on a local station) and three newspaper articles (two in South Dakota and one in Montana). Preliminary findings from this study have been accepted for presentation in 2006 at one national conference, one regional conference and one international conference. One article is currently under review for 2006 publication in The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability. In addition, two community presentations on the study were given in 2005. A summary report for all participants and partner organizations (Dakota Rural Action, SD; Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society, ND; Alternative Energy Resource Organization, MT; and the Nebraska Organic Society, NE) will be issued in April of 2006.


  • No publications reported this period

Progress 01/01/04 to 12/31/04

This study focuses on the motivations and aspirations for generational transfer of small to mid-sized farmers engaged in alternative agriculture in the Northern Great Plains. In the first year of this study, I have gathered reference data for farmers about alternative agriculture operations from all relevant state bureaus in Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana, from four different farm organizations dedicated to promotion of alternative agriculture, and from the USDA Census of Agriculture. This information will be posted on in keeping with project goals of distributing information about alternative agriculture possibilities directly to farmers. Twenty-three interviews and farm visits (out of 40) have been completed: seven in North Dakota, seven in Nebraska, four in South Dakota, and five in Montana. Preliminary data indicate that there are three primary motivations for alternative agriculture participation: 1) Personal and/or political philosophies of quality of life (approximately 50% of those interviewed); 2) Religious orientation and belief systems of stewardship (approximately 30%); and 3) Economic return increase for small to midsized operations (approximately 20%). Of farmers studied thus far, those reporting religious (30%) and economic motivations (20%) are most likely to have plans in place for generational transfer of the farm operation. Premilinary discourse analysis reveals that these populations focus on multi-generational outcomes for self and community. Farmers reporting motivations arising from personal and/or political philosophies are more likely to encourage their children to "do what they want" and therefore, are less likely to encourage the next generation to continue in farming, whether alternative or traditional, and less likely to have plans for such a transition in place. Research in 2005 will be key to determining the prevalence of this population, which seems to undermine an argument for alternative agriculture as the new "family farm" structure. In addition, the completed interviews will also be examined for patterns of type of operation, geographical location of operation and motivational frameworks. Remaining interviews are being scheduled for early spring and summer of 2005 and final analysis will be conducted at that time.

This study has been included in three radio reports and three newspaper articles pertaining to family farm sustainability, demonstrating public concern and interest in alternative agriculture for continuation of family farms. The preliminary findings noted above have been integrated with a similar farm study from France, and the resulting paper has been accepted for 2005 presentation at three national conferences and one regional conference. In addition, this paper will be submitted to Rural Sociology for consideration of publication in summer of 2005. Following conclusion of the study, two more articles are planned: one analyzing patterns of farmer motivations and one examining practical planning for generational transfer of these operations.


  • No publications reported this period