August 1997 // Volume 35 // Number 4 // Ideas at Work // 4IAW2

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Creating Extension and Public/Private Partnerships through Agricultural and Resource Outlook and Planning

This paper describes a state-wide program in Connecticut that integrated university research, Extension, state agencies, private commodity groups, and individual farmers and businesses into a process of planning and developing strategies for future change in agriculture and rural resources. The outcomes included a planning conference and a published report that reached beyond the partnerships to policy makers and the general public.

Linda K. Lee
Associate Professor
Agricultural and Resource Economics
University of Connecticut
Storrs, Connecticut
Internet address:

Connecticut's agricultural and natural resource sectors have experienced dramatic changes during the past decades. Land in farms, numbers of farmers, and traditional agricultural enterprises have undergone significant declines since the 1950s. Further dramatic changes are anticipated as we move into the 21st century. Yet, as agriculture adapts to an urban, populated environment, the sector continues to contribute significantly to Connecticut, both economically and in more difficult to quantify contributions to the quality of life.

The challenge for Extension is to provide leadership in planning and addressing the future needs of the agricultural and natural resource sectors while responding to constituent needs arising from the realities of a changing economic environment. Sector-wide planning and evaluation is needed, but this can only be successful with broad based partnerships of state and federal agencies, industry and commodity groups, individual farmers, and businesses.

The University of Connecticut recently undertook such a planning process. This state-wide program integrated University Extension and research, state agencies, private commodity groups, and individual farmers and businesses into a process of planning and developing strategies for future change in agriculture and rural resources. The outcomes included a planning conference and a published report reaching beyond the partners to policymakers and the general public. The objective of this paper is to identify the strategies and processes that created these partnerships.

The Need

Agricultural and resource outlook has been a traditional programming tool in Extension economics and policy arenas. Specialists in commodity and resource fields typically describe the current environment for a particular sector and project short -run trends in such factors as commodity demand, prices, or government policies. This type of program is often an annual event with shareholder participation limited to questions and program discussion. The University of Connecticut College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has a history of this type of outlook, but the current need was perceived as much broader than the traditional format would allow. Connecticut agriculture, having undergone extensive changes in recent decades, is facing challenges to adapt and reinvent itself in order to survive and prosper in the next century.

At the same time the University of Connecticut has adapted to a changing political and financial agenda and is attempting to achieve Extension goals with fewer staff and resources. Participants in both the private and public sectors had expressed the need for a longer-term look at the future of Connecticut agriculture and resources in order to better plan and develop private and public sector programs and strategies. The University of Connecticut Extension faculty were the logical coordinators of this planning process.

The Process

Stage One

The planning process was developed in two stages. In the first stage, a written document was prepared in the mode of traditional agricultural and resource outlook with some modifications. In Fall 1994 the planning committee met and key agricultural and resource sectors within Connecticut were broadly defined to include rural land, forests, and rural population as well as important agricultural industries such as dairy, poultry and eggs, greenhouse and nursery, crop production, and commercial marine fisheries.

Report chapters were developed by researchers, Extension faculty, and Extension field staff. Authors were asked to review past and present trends, identify factors that could initiate change, and project agricultural or resource trends 5-10 years into the future. A summary of key points was provided at the beginning of each report.

Authors were encouraged to work closely with industry and other public sector agencies in developing the data and assumptions used. Each report chapter was reviewed by university Extension and research faculty in other disciplines, industry and commodity group leaders, private farmers, and state and federal agricultural and natural resource experts. Where reviewers were critical, data, assumptions, and projections were re-thought and, when appropriate, revised.

The final report, completed in Fall 1995, clearly indicated the enormous changes in the structure and composition of Connecticut agriculture. Some non-traditional agricultural segments, such as greenhouse/nursery and aquaculture, are expanding and becoming more important to the state's agriculture and economy. Other traditional sectors, such as the dairy and egg industries, despite some consolidation, remain significant producers within the New England region.

The report also identified equally important but difficult to quantify contributions that rural land, forests, and the rural population make to the total fabric of Connecticut life. The final report clearly indicated that agriculture in Connecticut is a significant contributor to the state's economy in terms of jobs and income, even though traditional agricultural enterprises such as dairy and eggs are less visible than in the past.

Approximately 2000 copies of the final report, Connecticut Agriculture and Resources 2000, were printed and distributed in January 1996 within the state to commodity group leaders, public agencies, Extension field offices, and the press. The reaction was positive, with newspaper articles appearing around the state, including a feature article in the state's leading newspaper, The Hartford Courant, on the emerging greenhouse/nursery industry in the state.

Stage Two

The written report was not the ultimate goal of this project. Rather it was hoped that this report could be used to begin a dialog with major agricultural and resource participants in the private and public sectors to develop strategies to better identify and cope with future industry changes and needs. To achieve this goal a state-wide planning conference was held in April 1996 at the University of Connecticut. Over 100 attendees from the university, commodity groups, environmental organizations, state and federal agencies, and private businesses attended.

The format of the conference was discussion with participants dividing into six commodity and resource sector discussion groups to focus on forces of change within the sector and areas of potential cooperation between university Extension/research and the public and private sectors. Each group reported their findings to the larger audience who then had an opportunity to further comment and discuss the issues. Conference evaluation by participants was very positive.


Since the release of the report and the planning conference several important outcomes have emerged. First, the written report has been a significant factor in developing a more positive relationship with commodity and industry groups and agricultural and resource decisionmakers within the state. Policymakers now have a clearly defined picture of the different, but significant, face of agriculture and resources in the state. The report continues to be an important reference document for agricultural and resource policy within the state and is often cited in speeches and newspaper articles.

Secondly, new and strengthened relationships between university Extension and research faculty and commodity groups have emerged in some cases. An example is an on-going data collection effort funded by the nursery industry with Extension faculty involvement from plant sciences and agricultural and resource economics. In other areas, an on-going dialog has been created that may lead to future collaboration and partnerships between the university and private/public sectors.