Marsha Laux, P&S, Value Added Agriculture and Agricultural Marketing Resource Center
Producers in the state were interested in Quality Management Systems and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification as a way to help differentiate themselves in the increasingly-competitive marketplace. Producers were looking for a business model that met their demands for profitability, one that blends well with the realities of niche, specialty or premium markets. Producers must make profitability the primary objective of their business as well as addressing environmental and community concerns all while meeting consumer expectations. Quality Management Systems (QMS) offer a structured and integrated approach to help balance the complexity of managing a dynamic farming operation.
QMS is a general term for a systematic approach to business and production processes with an emphasis on the customer and quality outcomes. Examples of existing systems are ISO-9000 and USDA Process-Verified. Related is the USDA Certified Organic program and label. The most comprehensive version is ISO, since it addresses all aspects of a producer’s business with emphasis on planning, measurement, and analysis, as well as contract review, customer satisfaction and document management. ISO can meet customer requirements for auditability.
Producers were interested in obtaining QMS training, however with seasonal demands and geographic distributions producer’s availability to take a course in the traditional classroom created significant obstacles. With the Iowa State University (ISU) VAA staff experience in training and auditing for ISO certification, a search for solutions commenced.
The main objective in this project was to get QMS training into the hands of the producers who were increasingly asking for it in a method that would fit into their seasonal and geographic constraints. Another objective was to also make more service providers aware of and proficient in the tenets of QMS.
ISU VAA staff members applied for and were awarded Risk Management Education grant funds to make the QMS course materials available online. The curriculum has been adapted to WebCT and also put onto CD-rom and is now available for producers and service providers to access in an alternative format. Producers can now take the training at their own homes and in accordance with their own schedules.
This is being distributed through the Ag Management E-School (AMES) program and in other avenues. Train, the trainer sessions, were held in Indianapolis, Indiana prior to the National Value-Added Agriculture conference in June 2005. Staff members continue to seek avenues to promote the online training curriculum and to hold QMS trainings as this type of business model gains more attention and momentum.
With the assistance of ISU, more than 30 Iowa farmers and several agribusinesses have achieved ISO certification, and over 30 Iowa Extension personnel are QMS trained. These ISO certified producers were the first of their kind in the nation.
Programs such as ISO-9000 are demanding but those demands stem from the customer/market and the farmer’s true need for process control. With a QMS approach, the fundamentals of competitiveness and sustainability in business are addressed. Farms, feed mills, seed companies and others are applying QMS successfully and now leading the way in improving product quality, profitability and quality of life in agriculture.
Iowa producers that are ISO certified are now beginning to see benefits of planning for a new market. Their positioning, through QMS training and ISO certification has opened up doors such as cooperatively marketing low-lineolic soybean products with the development of their own label and a new producer-owned company.
Additionally, this training is available to producers and service providers in the Midwest and is also promoted nationally through the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center (the national resource center for value-added agriculture at www.agmrc.org).
121-- Adding Value and Enhancing Agricultural Products
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July 9, 2006
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