Regional Strategic Planning

Craig A. Chase, Farm & Ag. Business Management Field Specialist, Northeast and Brenda Ranum, Winneshiek County Extension Director
The agricultural industry in Iowa is dominated by commodity production, which is a high volume, low profit margin industry.  Narrow profit margins force farm businesses to grow in assets, output, and labor income to remain profitable.  As farm size increases, fewer farmers and farm families surround rural communities.  Community leaders are looking at ways to help increase the number of farms and farm families participating in their communities both economically and socially.
To help community leaders better understand the trends of the current commodity-based agricultural system and discuss what can be done to increase farm numbers and farm families, community leaders were invited to participate in a strategic planning process. The strategic planning committee consisted of approximately 25 stakeholders and was comprised of farmers and farmer networks, businesses, economic developers, financial institutions, and other community leaders.  The committee developed three focus areas that could increase community and economic development activity from agriculture.  The three areas were diversified agricultural production, food processing, and storage and distribution.   The committee met three times to establish a draft plan, which was then presented at three public meetings for feedback.
A record was kept of the comments generated from each public meeting.  In general, response toward the plan was very positive.  Some concerns were addressed related to focusing on existing farms and businesses first as well as not losing site of the commodity producers who are doing well economically.  Overall comments were positive focusing on developing a food system comprising of local farmers and businesses networking production, marketing, storage, processing, and distribution systems.  Meeting participants felt that this type of system would allow small and mid-sized farms to succeed as well as give opportunities for young and beginning farmers and entrepreneurs.
The committee is scheduled to meet to finalize the plan and determine how to implement the various components.  The planning process is likely to be reviewed and copied by other rural Iowa communities as they try to determine what type of agricultural system would most benefit them.  ISU Extension is helping rural community leaders understand the trends of the current agricultural commodity industry and to proactively determine what type of agricultural system best meets their economic and social needs. 

March 31, 2006
POW 121 - Adding Value and Enhancing Agricultural Products

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