Assisting Extension professionals in assessing profitable and sustainable agricultural enterprises with producer clientele

Progress report for WPDP21-012

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2021: $99,969.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2023
Host Institution Award ID: G342-21-W8617
Grant Recipient: Utah State University
Region: Western
State: Utah
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Kynda Curtis
Utah State University
Dr. Ryan Larsen
Utah State University, Dept. of Applied Economics
Dr. Anastasia Thayer
Utah State University
Ruby Ward
Utah State University
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Project Information


It’s difficult under normal circumstances for producers to have economically viable operations, and recent events have made it even more difficult. The agriculture sector was impacted significantly by COVID-19 due to market disruptions. Restrictions on sales at farmers markets and other channels, as well as meat processing plant closures, required producers to switch to or consider diversifying their markets, including direct to consumer markets, online sales, etc. For example, many ranchers sold their cows directly to consumers, overcrowding local meat processing facilities. To compound these issues, the US West is facing a significant drought this year. The U.S. Drought Monitor reports that 87% of Utah is currently in extreme or exceptional drought. These unusual times have exacerbated the need for producers to assess the economic viability/potential profitability of the decisions they face (new markets, new crops/products, drought management strategies, selling or holding livestock, etc.). Timely and useful information and assistance is needed.

At the same time, heavy retirements in the university Extension system have led to the hiring of many county and regional Extension faculty with little experience in dealing with the issues producers are facing. Most of the county Extension faculty do not have a background in farm management, agricultural economics or finance, and thus, do not have the skills to adequately assist farmers with such financial decisions.

This project will provide professional development through webinars, workshops, and online courses in economic viability assessment to Extension personnel in five Western states. With increased knowledge and skills, Extension personnel will be able to work one-on-one with producers to assess their economically viable options. The ability to access this expertise at the county level will improve producer ability to make educated decisions in a timely manner.

Project Objectives:

The overall objective for this project is to improve the quality of life and economic viability of agriculture enterprises in the US West. This will be accomplished by expanding the capacity of Extension personnel through improvements in knowledge and skills with regards to economic viability assessment. The project will target Extension personal across five states with the expectation that they will assist producers at the local level, through programming and one-on-one assistance, in assessing the potential economic viability and impacts of the management decisions they face, including but not limited to adding new crops or products, diversification strategies, new market development.

The specific objectives for this project are to:

  1. Increase Extension professional’s awareness of the importance of including economic viability in production and marketing decisions
  2. Increase Extension professionals’ knowledge and skills in economic feasibility assessment
  3. Increase Extension professional’s knowledge of and ability to create business and marketing plans
  4. Increase Extension professionals’ awareness of USDA programs which may enhance enterprise viability and/or sustainability
  5. Increase Extension professional awareness and use of the data available to producers when assessing economic feasibility
  6. Provide materials, tools, and best practices for incorporating economic feasibility assessment into county Extension programming for producers
  7. Motivate Extension professionals to incorporate economic feasibility assessment into their programming with producers
  1. Assumptions – To be sustainable, producers must evaluate the impacts of management options on their operation. While Extension specialists at the regional and state level, have expertise in farm management, finance, and economics, most local Extension agents do not. We understand that producers have a lot of interest in analyzing new ideas related to products, marketing, diversification, etc. However, they often don’t know where to start or obtain assistance. Extension agents live and work locally, they can work directly with producers in assessing economic viability and also provide assistance through the implementation stage.
  2. Resources - The resources and investments provided will include the time of project personnel and Extension and producer collaborators in curriculum development and testing; time to adapt existing materials and develop new materials as needed; copies for in-person workshops. Current university buildings, computers, software, and workshop and webinar technology will be used. All program materials will be available online. The Online course will be hosted by USU Extension and available on an ongoing basis.
  3. Methodology - A needs assessment with Extension personnel in participating states will be conducted to determine preferred topics, timing, etc. We will work with agriculture producer collaborators to develop examples and case studies to best illustrate each topic. We will compile and develop all curriculum in year 1. The webinar series and in-person pilot workshop will be held in year 1. Additional programming will be done in year 2 with updated material, including an online course delivered to four cohorts, and one in-person workshop.

Year 1:

  • Conduct needs assessment with county Extension personnel
  • Develop a final list of topics
  • Evaluate existing materials and outline curriculum
  • Adapt existing and create new materials for each webinar (10)
    • PowerPoint, handouts, examples, case study, evaluation questions, worksheets
  • Finalize project evaluation plan, obtain IRB approval if necessary
  • Schedule webinars and in-person pilot workshop
  • Deliver monthly webinars (10) and workshop
  • Conduct retrospective evaluations
  • Complete annual report

Year 2:

  • Conduct 6-month follow-up evaluations - year 1 participants
  • Update materials for online course
    • Technical edit, graphic design and formatting, video editing, etc.
  • Create online course to include 10 50-minute modules
  • Publish course online and enroll 4 cohorts in year 2
  • Hold in-person workshop
  • Conduct retrospective evaluations
  • Post final materials to USU Extension website
  • Conduct 6-month follow-up evaluations - year 2 participants
  • Complete final report

Post Project:

  • Continue to administer Online course
  • Conduct 2-year follow-up evaluations


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Cole Ehmke (Educator)
  • Staci Emm (Educator)
  • Garrick Hall (Educator)
  • Dr. Michael Howell (Educator)
  • Bruce Richeson (Educator)
  • Justen Smith (Educator)
  • Trent Teegerstrom (Educator)
  • Lydia (Penny) Trinca - Producer
  • Holly Ward - Producer
  • Jack Wilbur - Producer


Educational approach:

This project will provide professional development through webinars, workshops, and online courses in economic viability assessment to Extension, agency, and tribal personnel in five Western states. With increased knowledge and skills, Extension, agency, and tribal personnel will be able to work one-on-one with producers to assess their economically viable options. The ability to access this expertise at the state and county level will improve producer ability to make educated decisions in a timely manner.

Education & Outreach Initiatives





Educational & Outreach Activities

14 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
4 Webinars / talks / presentations
17 Other educational activities: Webinar Recordings, producer testimonial recordings, case studies

Participation Summary:

60 Extension
5 Nonprofit
5 Agency
4 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

70 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
70 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The following were complete in the first six months of the project. 

Tasks Completed:

As of January 30, 2022 the following have been completed:

  • Conducted a needs assessment with county Extension personnel
  • Developed a final list of topics
  • Evaluated existing materials and outlined curriculum
  • Adapted existing and created new materials for each webinar – four completed
  • Finalized project evaluation plan
  • Schedule all webinars
  • Delivered four webinars

Webinars Results:

As of January 30, 2022, four separate webinars were held. A total of 70 Extension, agency, and tribal personnel attended the webinars. All program materials were posted to the program website. 364 people visited this website in 2021. This is a new program and as it progresses, we will have evaluation and impact data. The remaining webinars will be held through May 2022 and the in-person workshop will be held in September 2022. 

70 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers

Information Products

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.