A new global agricultural economy is emerging, with important implications for extension. Farmers are growing value-enhanced (VE) crops, exploring new ways of cooperating, searching out contracts, linking to international markets, and making investments in new business opportunities that utilize their farm products. This characterization represents a vastly different agricultural system than the one extension has served in the past. This Illinois study provides a window into the future for extension systems worldwide as they prepare farmers for these emerging global opportunities. This new global agricultural system demands that extension specialists adopt new strategies, understandings and skills, if they are to satisfy the emerging knowledge and information needs of agricultural producers in their respective countries.
This paper uses data from over 10,000 Illinois farmers to explore topics related to the new global agricultural economy. An index was developed to differentiate farmers into three groups representing different levels of participation in this new global agricultural system. The resulting analyses show that the “high participation” group is made up of younger, large-scale, and better-educated farmers. The “no participation” group is a reverse image: older, less educated, smaller-scale, and less likely to have a side business. The high participation producers are pursuing a variety of income generating strategies. Producers are making complex decisions that are connected with the global agricultural economy, yet they have inadequate information about these new market opportunities. The research-extension project on which this paper is based was designed to produce information on differentiated and value-added markets and to diffuse this information to farmers throughout the state. The survey reveals a growing demand for educational programs on different aspects of the new global agricultural system, which will require new sources of unbiased information on these new market opportunities.