Calculating the Learning Curve for Farmers
August 10, 2005
 
Whenever there is a new piece of equipment to operate or new software to use there's a learning curve. The same goes for farmers who are transitioning from conventional farming to organic. They have to build a new set of skills and it takes time.

Maria Boerngen, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois wanted to find out how much time and if time is money, how much it's costing farmers to learn these new skills.

She conducted a survey and learned that farmers invested 260 to 520 hours when transitioning from conventional to organic farming or about 5.2 hours per week and lasted one to two years.

Boerngen believes that it's important to place a wage value on farmers' time in order to measure the actual costs of learning, and that these learning costs should be included in research studies that look at profitability. That measure of the time spent learning about organic practices could be useful in calculating conversion subsidies that could be offered to encourage farmers to make the transition.