The business planning and implementation knowledge and skill necessary to start, run and grow a farm enterprise are often not strong in regional producers. Farmers tend to enjoy producing leaving business decisions to fate. This project sought to increase the comfort level and knowledge depth of extension educators, and other ag professionals, in teaching the entrepreneurial process in order to affect local farmers.
The curriculum utilized during this professional development project comes from a previous SARE sponsored effort. Tilling the soil of opportunity™ is a nationally recognized training tool for both instructors and students of entrepreneurship. As a quality control measure, all Tilling instructors must be certified. This certification was the focus of this project.
Twenty Extension educators and other ag professionals will understand and teach the entrepreneurial process.
Twenty percent of their time will be spent preparing, teaching and consulting with producers.
Fifty Extension educators and other ag professionals will understand and incorporate into outreach activities the changing role of consumer demands.
“Consumer choices driving production decisions” will be referred to in 75 percent of newsletters, presentations and individual contacts.
Forty Extension educators and other ag professionals will understand and teach two methods of more completely serving the end consumer.
• developing a business plan
• developing a marketing plan
• using market research
• using feasibility studies
Maintaining or expanding farm viability through the use of traditional, commodity-based production and the resulting marketing channels has limited potential in the Northeast. Least cost producers in other geographic areas offer real and growing competition. At the same time, farmland preservation programs are setting aside a land base to support local, economically viable agricultural enterprises.
Training is needed to help producers become more proficient in business planning and analysis so they can effectively use farm resources to meet consumer demands. The approach used is a complete enterprise and market planning approach. This method offers educators the tools to provide clients with a series of actions and functions leading to positive change.
Rapidly changing consumer demands for both food products and land use are challenging traditional farm management models. Transitioning to sustainable farms will be supported by professionals delivering education that provides the process leading to the following appropriate answers: 1) do not pursue an unlikely business, 2) what is currently being done is the best use of resources, and 3) selection of alternative paths that offer acceptable probabilities of success.
Extension educators who teach in the program areas of fruit, vegetable, livestock, horticultural or agronomic production; business and community development; food processing, food safety; business management and marketing are the secondary target audience. Working directly with producers, processors, distributors, retailers and consumers keeps them current with the educational demands of this client base. The secondary target audience is the Agricultural Enterprise owners and managers seeking to maximize their resource base.
Building expertise in the program areas of farm enterprise development, management and expansion has been documented as a professional development need. A group of approximately 45 Extension educators developed the following list of needs, in three categories, relating to training for delivery of sustainable agriculture education programs:
1) Whole Farm Planning for Profitability, Environmental Sustainability and Social Acceptability. This includes Understanding Business Planning, Teaching Management Decision Making and Focusing on Profit Centers with Farmers.
2) Marketing and Profitability. This includes Developing Marketing Strategies, Marketing Skill Training/Education for Agents, Value Added and Alternative Enterprises, Learning New Skills for Entering New Agricultural Producers and Stressing Profitability.
3) Educational Material Needs. This includes Information on What Viable Sustainable Ag Enterprises Exist, Enterprise Transitioning, Curriculum Materials on Profit, and Information Base Available When You Get A Teachable Moment.
Additionally, a larger grouping of education professionals have indicated training needs in the following program areas:
1) Risk management strategies to protect sustainability
2) identifying and adopting appropriate strategic business plans
3) opportunities and challenges associated with value-added industries
4) using business management skills, such as management and marketing strategies, goal setting and financial analysis.
There is a stated need for assistance as producers attempt to remain viable land stewards. Recognizing the need for change, and then changing, has little educational support in the region. The social and economic involvement of farmers in their business and community does not make typical business management training readily transferable. The SBDC system does not offer programs targeted at agriculturally based enterprises and lacks the connection in the agricultural community. The Cooperative Extension system is the proper bridge to the farm community, but Extension educators generally lack adequate expertise to offer entrepreneurial process training and consultation.
Current producers modifying their enterprises to add employment opportunities for family members, producers trying a different enterprise and new producers entering the food and fiber industry would benefit from agricultural entrepreneurial training. Agricultural educators have not yet defined their role in developing the entrepreneurial skill set that is required to maintain and enhance the viability of family farms in Pennsylvania. Starting the shift from traditional production education to a more progressive business analysis and enterprise development education emphasis requires program development, support and direction.
The entrepreneurial process professional development will be provided by the NxLevel™ Training Network (www.NxLevel.org). NxLevel’s™ “Tilling the Soil of Opportunity…Guide for Agricultural Entrepreneurs” program is specifically designed, tested, and refined for the individual who is searching for innovative ideas and enhanced marketing opportunities in the food and fiber industry. “Tilling the Soil of Opportunity…Guide for Agricultural Entrepreneurs” provides a complete set of instructional materials on the subjects of resource use, management, marketing, financial statements and analysis, and strategic planning. In addition to a participant text, there is an instructor’s manual containing the history of NxLevel™ Training, how to use the material, evaluation of the program, games, brain teasers and food for thought, and a teaching manual. The teaching manual contains a participant outline, instructor outline, additional instructor notes, overheads and handouts for each session. The delivery of this ten-session, twelve-week course requires instructor certification.
One, two-day instructor certification training per year will be delivered. There will be 20 educators at each training. Some certified trainers will attend training sessions a second time as a refresher or to gain additional insights not picked up during their initial effort. A recent study by the Small Business Administration indicates a 90 percent new business failure rate when the business owner does not receive entrepreneurial training. This same survey indicates that new enterprises have an 80 percent success rate if the managers have received entrepreneurial training.
Performance Target Outcomes
The goal of this four year project has been to develop the expertise of educational professionals to effectively deliver training for producers developing the additional management skill necessary to start, operate or expand an enterprise. The process of entrepreneurial business planning will serve a sustainable agricultural community in the Northeast. Extension educators that teach in the program areas of fruit, vegetable, livestock, horticultural or agronomic production; business and community development; food processing, food safety; business management and marketing are the target audience.
We used a formal evaluation tool with an incentive for timely completion and return. Highlights of the results include:
total participants trained = 97
evaluations mailed = 86
completed responses received = 39
evaluation response rate = 43%
Participants who returned evaluations represented a mix of the available training classes:
12 – NxLevel® instructor certification June,2001
7 – NxLevel® instructor certification August, 2002
12 – NxLevel® instructor certification June, 2003
13 – Dr. Kohl in-service November, 2003
8 – NxLevel® instructor certification June, 2004
1 – I don’t know which training I attended
0 – I don’t remember attending any of these trainings
There were five people who attended 2 sessions, two people who attended 3 sessions, and two people who attended 4 sessions.
At least 20 participants learned new teaching techniques during this training. These techniques included:
Group participation in projects and sharing.
Five minute mission statement. Elevator speech.
Better use of flip charts and better understanding of the value of identifying with the audience.
An understanding of generational differences in how individuals approach business as regards: A. respect. B. level of commitment. C. level of sacrifice to achieve success. D. what motivates.
I learned more about using case studies as a teaching tool.
Some great new materials!
Different age groups have different expectations of their job.
Good curriculum. Good use of incorporating entire group to learn.
How to get students involved in the class. That bringing experts in to talk to students.
Class warm-ups and methods for class collaboration.
Use of brain teasers to help make connections with class participants.
Incentives for completing business plans.
As a result of this project fourteen Tilling the Soil of Opportunity classes have been offered locally with 154 total farmer learners.
Also, 7 classes were offered, but cancelled for low registration. 6 classes are planned for this coming fall.
Twelve participants plan to offer a class in the future.
Ten participants have established new program development, promotion or delivery partnerships because of this training.
Great materials — I am willing to assist other trained instructors.
Having the curricula is definitely helpful.
Perhaps more follow-up could be offered in the form of consultants who can help us get started.
Thanks for hosting the NxLeveL Train-the- Trainer classes. It was a great opportunity for me and one not offered in my home state.
It was a good course, but almost overwhelming with the amount of information you as an instructor were expected to retain.
Ways to shorten course from ten weeks to less sessions. Difficult to get ten-week commitment from farmers.
We had a hard time selling the program. People, even the participants, were looking for one-on-one assistance and/or someone to write their plan for them. I think if I were to offer entrepreneurial training again, I would separate the topics into individual sessions and forget about the business plan (unfortunately).
Training was good — networking opportunity helpful, too.
10 states were represented
The instructor perceived need for additional support/time needed to deliver a local program.
A new educational organization was started in New Jersey.
PSU, College of Agriculture adopted this curriculm in 2003 as an official educational activity across the Commonwealth. They continue to sponsor and support this project from main campus. This adds legitamacy to the program, established a main campus point of contact and adds to the probability of continued growtrh of the program.
Supplemental trainings were provided to certified instructor employer organizations by PSU to enhance staff expertise.
A set of power points replacing the overhead transparencies in the curriculum were developed and distributed in 2003, 2004 and 2005.
We worked with the evaluation specialist at PSU to design meaningful evaluation tools for local program participants to measure knowledge gained. Follow-up surveys are measuring practices changed.
A web site was enhanced to include entrepreneurship materials and information.
The network of expertise is broader and more geographically diverse than anticipated.
This program is a pioneer in establishing guidelines for cost recovery of program delivery and support.
Additional Project Outcomes
The educators certified by this project report a positive impact on their knowledge, skills, ability and enthusiasm to further the business skills of their local clients. Long term impacts will accumulate as these educators work with clients.
A specific example is K.G a local farmer that was trained in the sessions offered by J.B. Three years after taking the class K.G. has completed a formal business plan, wrote a successful grant proposal, started an on-farm enterprise to the tune of over $1.2 million. K.G. attributes at least some of the growth in their business to participating in the “Tilling the soil” class. The positive impact in this specific family, their community and beyond may be hard to quantify, but is VERY real.
I wonder – Of the 97 educators that were trained/certified through this project – How many local success stories continue to grow?
There seems to be a steady source of projects that seek to increase the output of regional farms. It seems there may be an unrecognized or unacknowledged need to increase the ability of regional farms to make money and stay in business. Future study of business and marketing educational needs and support may benefit the northeast ag community.