The Sustainable Farming Association, founded in 1990, is a Farmer to Farmer Network, dedicated to tapping into the wisdom of the community to enhance farming systems, and maintain a vibrant diverse farming community in the US and around the world. Farming is a difficult business, and like all small businesses, start up farms are challenging. Adjust 2015 gleaned from the collective experience of over 200 start up farms and identified the most common hurdles to farm success. The New Farm Reality Check Curriculum is designed to help beginning farmers identify these potential hurdles in their business plans, and to prepare to navigate around them for future success.
As the materials developed in Adjust 2015 are incorporated into beginning farmer training programs throughout the North Central Region, new farmers will develop business plans that are more realistic and flexible and easily adapted to account for the potential pitfalls that are facing today’s beginning farmers. In the long run, as beginning farmers take into account the lessons learned from farms that have failed or made significant adjustments in order to survive, we will see more new farms succeeding past the critical 3-5 year window. As more farms succeed, we will see the profitability of farmers and associated ag businesses improve; and we will see enhanced quality of life for farmers, rural and urban communities and society as a whole.
Our strategy hinged on providing a safe environment for people to share genuine stories of why and how their farm business has not met their expectations and how their families have been affected. We also provided an outlet for stories of success where the downward spiral was caught in time and disaster averted.
- List of Key Themes as identified by participants
- What to watch out for.
- Advice to beginners
- Common issues.
- Keys to success.
- Learning objectives for students completing the New Farm Reality Check Curriculum:
- Identify life patterns (relationship and behavior) contrary to farming or business success.
- Identify progress benchmarks consistent with realistic expectations. Build them into the business plan.
- Identify benchmarks associated with exiting the business. (find examples from other industries, and businesses.
- List the basis for each assumption in your business plan. ex. Dairy farmer and his milk checks. Old equipment owned by mr. fixit.
Ability, awareness, impetus to actually build a network of experts, friends, colleagues, consultants, professionals who are your “team” : Including an “honest skeptic”
How do you find an honest skeptic? qualifications.
Be able to develop alternative plans (3) in addition to primary plan.
-“Pre-nuptial” agreement – practical ideas for managing risk. (e.g. “What are we going to do if:…[fill in the blank]
-back up plans for enterprises (e.g. irrigation)
-How will future events affect my business, climate change
-Managing risk- Insurance.
Identify community building opportunities: sources of expertise, associations, memberships (SFA, FLAG, others…), Books, publications, magazines, online forums
- Develop plan, expectations regarding number and timing of children.
- Acquire necessary soil literacy to develop reasonable expectations for land aquisition, production and mitigation of problems.
- Establish clear roles with family members. Managing family differs from employees.
- Understand basic employee management
As the New Farm Reality Check curriculum is presented to more farmers, we continue to receive feedback as to its effectiveness in helping farmers to avoid situations which create negative outcomes. While difficult to measure, a negative outcome, such as a new or aspiring farmer delaying implementation of a new enterprise, or delaying or canceling the launch of a farm that is poorly equipped for success is actually a very positive outcome for farming as a whole. Farm failures affect more than just the farm that fails. When a farm goes out of business the whole community suffers. “Better to have never farmed than to have farmed and failed.”