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Sustainable Agriculture

Surveys confirm Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program results

The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program has awarded grants to more than 3,000 projects in the past 18 years. The impacts of those projects have made a real difference to the lives of farmers, ranchers, and to the agricultural community nationwide. (See Highlights of Selected SARE Projects for a sampling.) Further, surveys of farmers, extension educators, and researchers help quantify that SARE is achieving results on the ground. Consider what others have said:

Farmer-Rancher Grants

A 2005 survey of farmers and ranchers who received western SARE grants reveals that grant recipient experiences were overwhelmingly positive:

  • 64 percent said their SARE project helped them achieve higher sales
  • 41 percent reported increased net income
  • 79 percent experienced improved soil quality
  • 69 percent saw increased wildlife habitat

Farmer/rancher grants also have a positive spin-off effect. Survey respondents said at least five other producers tried their idea, approach or technology on their own farms.

A related survey of extension educators and other technical advisers to farmer/rancher grantees supported the farmers' findings. Moreover, two-thirds said they would recommend the approach undertaken in “their” producer's project to others.

Extension Professional Development

Surveys of extension educators – the primary audience for SARE's Professional Development Program – also confirm the tidal wave of interest in more sustainable farming and ranching.

The overwhelming majority of educators responding to two regional surveys (96 percent in SARE's north central region and 90 percent in the west) were positive about the importance of sustainable agriculture, and three-fourths of them have led at least one educational program to share innovations in sustainable agriculture with farmers, ranchers and the public.

A survey of southern SARE state coordinators found that most (16 of 19) are either “passionate” or very enthusiastic about SARE. Their enthusiasm likely evolved over time; only one-fourth “really wanted” the responsibility when it was assigned by his or her extension director.

Far-Reaching “Cascade” Effects

Impacts from SARE's grant projects often go well beyond the immediate, planned results. Surveys and interviews with recipients of north central SARE research and education, professional development, and producer grants revealed a variety of spin-off effects, such as:

  • seeing new ways of doing things
  • meeting new people
  • being viewed as leaders in the community
  • continuing a program of research/innovation long after SARE funding concludes

About the Data

The findings cited here came as part of surveys conducted for SARE by independent evaluators. Complete survey results are available at:


SARE Logic Model is the basis for evaluating program results

Situation: Sustainable agriculture first came to general awareness in the early 1980s due to concerns with rising costs and falling prices, impacts of agricultural chemicals on the environment, and the effects of agricultural industrialization on farm families and rural communities.

Congressional directives: Congress defines sustainable agriculture as “…an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long-term: satisfy human food and fiber needs; enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends; make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources, on-farm resources, and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls; sustain the economic viability of farm operations, and; enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.” SARE has been funded since 1988 to “…encourage research and education designed to increase knowledge and extend information about sustainable agricultural production systems that:

  • maintain and enhance the quality and productivity of the soil;
  • conserve soil, water, energy, natural resources, and fish and wildlife habitat;
  • maintain and enhance the quality of surface and ground water;
  • protect the health and safety of persons involved in the food and farm/ranch system;
  • promote the well being of animals, and;
  • increase employment opportunities in agriculture.”

SARE summarizes the above responsibilities as: SARE works to increase knowledge about – and help farmers and ranchers adopt – practices that improve profits, environmental stewardship, and quality of life.

SARE's Research and Education (Chapter 1) funding supports projects that “…should be conducted to obtain data, develop conclusions, demonstrate technologies, and conduct educational programs; promote agricultural production systems that reduce, to the extent feasible and practicable, the use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and toxic natural materials; improve farm management to enhance agricultural productivity, profitability, and competitiveness, and; promote crop, livestock, and enterprise diversification.”

SARE's Professional Development Program (Chapter 3) is designed to “…develop specific training and education activities to facilitate adoption of sustainable agriculture production systems and practices, as researched and developed under SARE, water quality, and other appropriate research programs at the USDA.”

Priorities: Facilitate and increase the scientific investigation and education of sustainable agricultural production systems.

External Factors:

  • Funding from Congress
  • Prices/economics (more/less favorable to conventional)
  • Incentives
  • Regulations

SARE Logic Model (PDF)


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