Although economic viability is only one of the three pillars of farm sustainability, without it a farm is not able to continue to carry out its role of natural resource stewardship and supporting quality of life goals. According to the USDA-ERS, 85 percent of new farm businesses fail within their first five years of production. While there are many training opportunities for farmers to learn about sustainable production practices, there is less support for farmers in the business management skills area, which is absolutely necessary if a farm is to be economically viable for the long term.
The “Take Your Farm to the Next Level” training course will address the business and financial management of beginning farms. The goal is for participating farms to develop detailed business and financial plans, recordkeeping systems, and improve their labor management and marketing. Increased attention on the business aspects of the operation will hopefully lead to more profitable farms and sustainable farms that continue to operate.
This project will result in a cohort of farmers who have developed plans to take their farming operations to the next level, while meeting financial and quality of life goals. Participants will receive training and support on whole-farm planning, business plan development, access to capital, financial management, record keeping, and market development through a six-month series.
- Develop a six-part curriculum for “Take Your Farm to the Next Level” training series.
- Conduct “Take Your Farm to the Next Level” training series.
- Produce a six-part series of online course for “Take Your Farm to the Next Level” and publish on NCAT/ATTRA website.
- Provide on-on-one technical assistance to participants and create a lasting network of beginning sustainable farmers who can continue to support each other beyond the timeline of the project.
- Conduct evaluation of the “Take Your Farm to the Next Level” training program and the impacts made.
The first year of this project we have utilized an in-person cohort model for training farmers. We developed a six-part workshop series to cover the topics of whole-farm planning, business planning, financial management and access to capital, recordkeeping, farm labor and management, legal issues and business structures, branding and marketing, and entering new markets. Participants committed to participate in all six workshops. At the time of this report we have completed five of the six workshops. NCAT Specialists and others experts have presented the content. The workshops have been structured to allow discussion among participants and sharing of their experiences. Resource books and publications have been provided to support the information presented. Each session also includes homework assignments to support the workshop content. The purpose of the homework is to have participants develop plans and implement workshop content on their own farms. NCAT Specialists are able to follow-up with participants and provide support as they complete assignments.
Educational & Outreach Activities
The goal of the workshop series is to work with the same group of farmers over the course of six months. We had a participant application process to select the cohort of farmers. The goal was to reach producers who had some experience and were looking to take their operations to the next level. The content of the course is focused on farm business management. Participants completed a pre-test measuring their confidence with certain farm business management aspects. At the completion of the workshop series they will complete a post-test. We initially selected 25 participants. After selection there were several that could not commit to participating in all of the workshops. The workshops have been held at a set day (2nd Tuesday of the month), time, and meeting location. To date, we have held five workshops. Each workshop is video and audio recorded. The recordings, course presentations, materials, and homework assignments are available to participants via a web folder. Some participants have missed workshops due to illness and other circumstances. They are able to listen to the recordings and catch up on the course assignments on their own time. There has been some dialog and sharing of resources among instructors and participants via a group email. NCAT/ATTRA Specialists have also provided one-on-one technical assistance to participants on a variety of agricultural production topics. Participants have asked these questions in-person after the workshops, and via phone and email.
The next phase of the project is to develop an online course. We will use the workshop recordings, presentations, resources, and homework assignments to create the course. The materials will be available on the ATTRA website (http://www.attra.org). Once completed we will promote the online course via ATTRA newsletters, email blasts, and social media.
social media marketing
The first outcome of this project is the development of a six-part curriculum. The NCAT team developed six workshops, with presentations, speakers, assignments, and resources. The curriculum focuses on economic and social aspects of managing a successful farm business. The curriculum covers whole-farm planning, financial management, legal issues, labor, recordkeeping, branding and marketing, and entering new markets. The curriculum is being used for the in-person workshop series. The curriculum and materials from the in-person workshops will be used to develop an online course. At the time of this report we have not completed the workshop series, so have not completed the post-assessment or have final data on outcomes. Based on class assignments, workshop discussions, evaluations, and follow-up assistance we know participants have developed business plans, implemented financial management and recordkeeping practices, made changes to their farm marketing, and have considered new markets. This workshop series has equipped the farmers with planning and management skills required to take their farm businesses to the “next level” and run sustainable farms for the long-term.
In addition to the knowledge gained and changes to their farm operations, participants have also developed a network of other farmers and agriculture professionals. We have see the participants become more comfortable with each other, sharing information, and supporting each other. They have learned from each other and many of them will maintain a relationship after the conclusion of the workshop series. They are also connected to the NCAT staff and other speakers. They know who to reach out to when the have questions or need further assistance.