Building Farm Financial Management Skills through Effective Distance Education

Progress report for ENE20-166

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2020: $163,612.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2023
Grant Recipient: UNH Cooperative Extension
Region: Northeast
State: New Hampshire
Project Leader:
Seth Wilner
UNH Cooperative Extension
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Project Information

Summary:

Problem and Justification:

Farmers across all commodities are turning to agricultural professionals for assistance in financial management.  Yet there is limited capacity in the Northeast SARE region as a result of retirements. 

Over 50 organizations collaborated in 2017 to develop a report entitled, “The Blueprint” that identified a need for farm financial technical assistance.  As “The Blueprint” (2017) details, skilled managers are essential to meeting the challenges facing today’s agricultural businesses.

A survey sent out in the Northeast SARE region had 73 respondents say there is a need in their area for agricultural service providers to assist farmers in financial management, only 2 said there was no need. In this same survey, 65 respondents expressed a desire to participate in this program, with another 15 saying “maybe.”

Data show that farmers benefit from direct technical assistance. The Vermont Farm Viability Program and the Carrot Project found that with two years of business advising, farms increased profits between 50-62% and farmers had “significant improvements in entrepreneurial skills.”

Solution and Approach:

This project applies effective adult education methods to a distance-based learning model, supporting participants as they learn complex skills. 

Our project will equip 25 agricultural service providers with farm financial management skills in basic accounting, financial record keeping, and financial statement preparation, with the objectives of assessing farm financial health and recommending changes to improve farm profitability.

These skills sets will enable the agricultural service providers to equip farmers with entrepreneurial skills to increase profits and sustain businesses operations.

Milestones:

From January through March each year, 25 agricultural service providers will engage in five 90- minute, web-based sessions for a total of 15 sessions over three years.  Supported by a coach, participants will apply their learning on at least two farms and also teach at least one workshop in the three years.

Prior to each session, participants will utilize an on-line learning platform with educational videos, readings, and podcasts to prepare. Participants will complete assignments housed on this platform to practice the skills they learned after each session. 

Peer-to-peer learning allows participants an opportunity to problem solve and share successful approaches and tools with each other. These occur among five member cohorts who “meet” on-line twice yearly.

Performance Target:

Twenty-five agricultural service providers work intensively with two farmers each and deliver at least one workshop by project’s end, reaching 300 farmers throughout the program.  Service providers enhance their skills to assist farmers in keeping records, developing financial statements, evaluating farm financial health, assessing market channel profitability, and calculating cost of production and break-even points. One hundred farmers enhance their ability to keep business records, prepare accurate financial statements and assess their farm’s financial health.

Introduction:

Problem and Justification:

Farmers across all commodities are turning to agricultural professionals for assistance in financial management.  Yet there is limited capacity in the Northeast SARE region as a result of retirements. 

Over 50 organizations collaborated in 2017 to develop a report entitled, “The Blueprint” that identified a need for farm financial technical assistance.  As “The Blueprint” (2017) details, skilled managers are essential to meeting the challenges facing today’s agricultural businesses.

A survey sent out in the Northeast SARE region had 73 respondents say there is a need in their area for agricultural service providers to assist farmers in financial management, only 2 said there was no need. In this same survey, 65 respondents expressed a desire to participate in this program, with another 15 saying “maybe.”

Data show that farmers benefit from direct technical assistance. The Vermont Farm Viability Program and the Carrot Project found that with two years of business advising, farms increased profits between 50-62% and farmers had “significant improvements in entrepreneurial skills.”

Solution and Approach:

This project applies effective adult education methods to a distance-based learning model, supporting participants as they learn complex skills. 

Our project will equip 25 agricultural service providers with farm financial management skills in basic accounting, financial record keeping, and financial statement preparation, with the objectives of assessing farm financial health and recommending changes to improve farm profitability.

These skills sets will enable the agricultural service providers to equip farmers with entrepreneurial skills to increase profits and sustain businesses operations.

Milestones:

From January through March each year, 25 agricultural service providers will engage in five 90- minute, web-based sessions for a total of 15 sessions over three years.  Supported by a coach, participants will apply their learning on at least two farms and also teach at least one workshop in the three years.

Prior to each session, participants will utilize an on-line learning platform with educational videos, readings, and podcasts to prepare. Participants will complete assignments housed on this platform to practice the skills they learned after each session. 

Peer-to-peer learning allows participants an opportunity to problem solve and share successful approaches and tools with each other. These occur among five member cohorts who “meet” on-line twice yearly.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

Our educational model is based on the following best practices in adult education:

  • Adults are motivated by a sense of inclusion in a learning community. (Wlodkowski, 2008)
  • There is almost no long-term retention without practice. (Ericsson & Pool, 2016)
  • Meaningful feedback is essential to learning. (Wiggins, 2012)
  • Adults make meaning by applying knowledge in authentic real-life situations. (Stein, 2010)
  • Adults need safe learning environments. (Wlodkowski, 2008; Bell and McAllister, 2012)
  • Adults want choice in their learning. (Ryan & Deci, 2000; Bell and McAllister, 2012)

The following outlines our educational approach:

Participants prepare for each learning session with materials (reading, videos, and podcasts), hosted on the on-line learning platform. 

Participants engage in five 90-minute web-based sessions each year.  These sessions include PowerPoints, examples, and interactive discussions.  The sessions are held two to three weeks apart from January through March.

Following the sessions, participants practice and apply their learning with authentic farm-based assignments.

Web-based office hours are held the week following each session to process assignments and address questions.

Participants are paired with a coach, whom they access through phone or video streaming, to assist in their learning and in their work with farmers, building their confidence and knowledge. 

When ready, participants engage at least two farms per year to practice their skills and transfer knowledge to farmers. We estimate 3-4 visits per farm per year.

Learning communities of five participants meet twice yearly using video conferencing.  These sessions, facilitated by the program coordinator, focus on peer-to-peer learning.  Participants will share experiences, tools, resources, and strategies for farmer engagement.

Participants will work with their coaches to teach one workshop to a group of farmers before project’s end, further solidifying their learning.

There will be two educational tracks: beginner and intermediate.  The beginner track covers the same topics but at a more basic level.  Participants select their own track.

The web-based learning will utilize a modified version of Julia Shanks’ “Farmer’s Edge” curriculum, a course demonstrated to increase knowledge. 

The draft uploaded curriculum will build skills in following areas:

Year 1

  • Basic accounting
  • Developing an electronic managerial record keeping system

Year 2

  • Developing and reading income statements
  • Making accrual adjustments to cash-based accounting systems
  • Developing and reading balance sheets
  • Developing and using cash flow projections

Year 3

  • Assessing farm financial health – utilizing common financial ratios to assess profitability, solvency, debt repayment capacity and other metrics.
  • Cost of Production
  • Breakeven Analysis
  • Market Channel Analysis

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Agricultural service providers throughout the northeast SARE region learn about this program’s goals, expectations and learning model through electronic and social media outreach.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
150
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
200
Proposed Completion Date:
August 15, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
August 1, 2021
Accomplishments:

Bldg Farm Finan Mngmt Skills brochure

We utilized lists serves of organizations, spoke with and called agricultural service providers, emailed brochures, and contacted Northeast SARE State Coordinators to spread the word.

Milestone #2 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Interested participants submit an electronic application that includes: an agreement to complete pre- and post- session assignments, attend web-based sessions, work with at least two farms, teach a workshop by project’s end, complete participant evaluations, and collect outcome data of the farmers with whom they work. Participants also select their desired track: beginner or intermediate level.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
46
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
December 15, 2021
Accomplishments:

A link embedded in the brochure (see Milestone 1) allowed me to aggregate all the applicant information in Qualtrics.  This then allowed me to select participants based on whether they could commit to the program requirements, and I then grouped applicants based on skill level.  It worked super slick!

Milestone #3 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

After applications are reviewed by a project advisory group in the fall of 2020, 25 selected participants receive an invitation to the project. The invitation contains the contact information for their assigned coach and their learning community members (5 members per cohort), and a schedule and link for an initial video conference (Zoom) covering program expectations and a tutorial of how to use the on-line learning platform.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
25
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
36
Proposed Completion Date:
November 30, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
January 7, 2021
Accomplishments:

Given 46 viable candidates, I decided to seek out additional funds to accommodate more participants.  I raised an additional $9,300 and accepted 36 participants. This was an added bonus, but took a bunch more work. 

Milestone #4 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Accepted participants engage in a video conference where they learn how to navigate the on-line learning platform that houses: educational resources, pre-session assignments, post session activities, recorded videos of the sessions, PDFs of presentations, financial management tools, and participant and farmer evaluation tools.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
25
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
36
Proposed Completion Date:
December 20, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
January 14, 2021
Accomplishments:

We took participants through the web-site today!  We decided to utilize Julia Shanks “The Farmers Edge” website and she made us a specific section where we house class materials, homework, video recordings of the sessions, educational videos, and other resources.

Milestone #5 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Participants select two farmers with whom they will work to practice and teach the knowledge and skills they gain each year. It is anticipated that participants will engage the farmers between three to four times per year. Participants may work with the same farmers throughout the project, or choose different farmers. Participants choose when they engage with farmers based on their knowledge of the materials.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
25
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
36
Proposed Completion Date:
January 31, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

We are in progress and participants are asking a bunch of questions on who to select, how much of the farmer’s time is required, what farmers can expect etc.   This was an unanticipated time sink!

Milestone #6 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Participants receive reminder emails two weeks before each session that provides pre-session assignments including readings, videos, and/or podcasts. All materials will be housed on the learning platform. Participants complete pre-session assignments, building their knowledge and preparing them for the content of the web-based sessions.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
25
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
32
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

They did for today’s session and we had 100% attendance! 

Milestone #7 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Participants engage in five interactive, 90-minute on-line sessions per year, from January through March, for a total of 15 web-based sessions throughout the project. The sessions cover: year 1 - basic accounting, developing an electronic record keeping system, year 2- developing and reading income statements, making accrual adjustments, developing and reading balance sheets, developing cash flow projections, and year 3 - assessing farm financial health, cost of production, market channel analysis, and breakeven analysis.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
25
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
36
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Today was session 1!  Yay!

Milestone #8 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Participants utilize Zoom video conferencing to meet with their coaches to discuss strategies for working with their farmers. Participants, supported by their coach, work with farmers from mid-January through mid-April each year. Participants teach farmers how to: year 1 - develop electronic managerial record keeping systems, year 2- develop and utilize financial statements, and year 3 - assess financial health, market channel profitability, and calculate key metrics, including costs of production and breakeven.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
25
Proposed Completion Date:
April 15, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

We haven’t yet done this, but coaches have been selected and I am in the process of assigning participants to coaches.

Milestone #9 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Participants utilize Zoom video conferencing to continue meeting with their coaches for assistance with educational concepts, farmer engagement strategies, questions from farm visits, and other feedback. Participants receive six hours of coaching per year. Coaching can happen at any point throughout the year.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
25
Proposed Completion Date:
April 1, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #10 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Participants utilize Zoom to meet with their five member learning communities in February and in July. Participants share their experiences working with farmers, including: successes, obstacles, questions, tools, educational materials used, and strategies for engagement. These sessions are facilitated by the program coordinator or project director. Peer-to-peer learning is the focus of these sessions.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
25
Proposed Completion Date:
August 1, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #11 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Program participants, supported by their coach, teach at least 10 farmers through a workshop type setting, on topics relevant to their learning that is beneficial to farmers. Topics can relate to accounting, managerial record keeping, development of any of the financial statements, financial health assessment, cost of production, breakeven analysis or other related topics.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
250
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
25
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #12 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Program participants complete learning and outcome verification tools documenting increases in knowledge, skills, action outcomes, and impacts resulting from program participation for both themselves and the farmers with whom they work. Tools to be used will be available on the on-line learning platform. Participants complete these assessments after completing each post session homework assignment. Farmer evaluations are conducted yearly.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
300
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
25
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2023
Status:
In Progress

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities and events conducted by the project team:

2 Online trainings
2 Webinars / talks / presentations

Beneficiaries who participated in the project’s educational activities and events:

11 Extension
1 NRCS
21 Nonprofit
3 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
36 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers

Target #1

Target: number of service providers who will take action to educate/advise farmers:
25
Target: actions the service providers will take:

Agricultural service providers work intensively with two farmers each and deliver at least one workshop by project’s end, reaching 300 farmers throughout the program to assist farmers in keeping records, developing financial statements, evaluating farm financial health, assessing market channel profitability, and calculating cost of production and break-even points.

Target: number of farmers the service providers will educate/advise:
300

Performance Target Outcomes - Farmers

Target #1

Target: number of farmers who will make a change/adopt of practice:
100
Target: the change or adoption the farmers will make:
Farmers enhance their ability to keep business records, prepare accurate financial statements, and assess their farm's financial health.

Additional Project Outcomes

$9,300.00 Dollar amount of grants received that built upon this project
Additional Outcomes Narrative:

I raised an additional $9,300 dollars from the following organizations:

  • Agricultural Viability Alliance (co-sponsored this event as part of their Professional Development Work Group goals)
  • Penn State Energy Business and Community Vitality Team
  • NOFA-VT
  • Glynwood
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension Oneida County
  • Center for Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship
  • UNH Cooperative Extension Livestock Program
  • Center for an Agriculture Economy
  • Young Farmers
  • Maine AgrAbiity
  • Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA)
  • Intervale
  • Maine Farmland Trust
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.