Focusing on interpersonal relationships for greater farm viability

2016 Annual Report for ENE16-142

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2016: $61,002.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2018
Grant Recipient: University of Maine
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Leslie Forstadt
University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Focusing on interpersonal relationships for greater farm viability


Farmers call upon agricultural service providers for their technical acumen. In a one-on-one consultation, providers offer expertise related to production skills, business planning, soil health, land acquisition, financing, and more. But other areas like communication and interpersonal relationships are rarely addressed. Although it may not be expected that providers can address these areas, they often do come up in consultations.

Recent agricultural census data indicates that from 2007-2012 Maine has gained 59 farms in years 1-4, but lost 64 farms in years 3 or 4 and lost an additional 48 farms in years 5-9. This resulted in a net increase of just 38 farms over 5 years. This project will focus on improved farmer retention through education of service providers. Farmers in the first ten years of farm establishment will benefit if providers can provide a diverse portfolio of support tailored to their needs.

There is also a lack of understanding of the specific needs of beginning farmers at different stages of the “beginning,” defined by the USDA as the first ten years. Existing new farmer training materials have primarily focused on topics such as production, marketing, financing and land access; in this project, areas will be expanded to include interpersonal skills acquisition.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Forty-five agricultural service providers will increase competence and confidence to understand and respond to a range of beginning farmer concerns about interpersonal relationships. They will apply skills in one-on-one consultations with 90 farmers, who manage 10,755 acres, with an aim to improve farm retention and farmer lifestyle satisfaction.


Revised Milestones and Timeline

  1. Sixty providers receive a project overview, online survey and invitation to apply. Providers are asked to complete a survey describing programs they offer, requests input about perceived problem areas for farmers and assesses knowledge and skills providers utilize in one-on-one consultations (on topics like: communication, values- based decision-making, goal-setting, and time management). Providers identify 1-2 farmers at different points within the first ten years of farming for focus group participation. Providers apply if they commit one year of time, attendance at trainings, and to the performance target. (09/16) 

We have had 30 responses from a variety of service providers to our initial survey. Of that group roughly half, 14 respondents have chosen to participate in the year-long project.

  1. Forty-five providers return the survey and identify 1-2 farmers. (11/16) Survey responses identified 20 farmers as potential participants in the focus groups.
  2. Twenty providers apply and commit to project participation and becoming part of a community of practice. (12/16) 

As mentioned above, we have 14 service providers committed to participation at this point.

  1. Sixty farmers participate in one of four focus groups about interpersonal challenges and successes to draft DACUM for Maine Beginning FarmersBeginning Farmer Learning Stagesdocument, and checklist for service providers to use in one-on-one consultations. (01/17-02/17) 

We completed 4 focus groups over three days at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show (January 10-12). 48 farmers participated in the focus groups and data is now being analyzed before a final focus group is scheduled. 

  1. The project team creates draft documents and summary report from focus groups created. (3/17-4/17)
  1. At a half-day, in-person meeting, twenty providers review the summary report and draft documents described in #4, and furnish feedback. (05/17)
  1. Project team updates the Beginning Farmer Resource Network on the project activities and resources and incorporates the group’s feedback. Planning for in-person workshop and webinar. (9/17)
  1. The twenty participants attend a one-day workshop focused on communication skill-building, practice new skills and receive tools outlined in #4 as well as workshop slides and handouts. An additional 25 providers participate in a webinar covering the same topics and receiving the same materials. 45 participants begin using the Beginning Farmer Learning Stages document and checklist in one-on-one consultations. (10/17)
  1. The forty-five service providers receive a survey requesting feedback and their experience using the project tools in order to refine tools and receive technical support from project coordinators. (11/17)
  1. The twenty project participants and twenty-five webinar participants (45 total) receive a comprehensive digital resource that includes the Beginning Farmer Learning Stagesdocument, checklist for use in one-on-one consultations, and supplementary materials. (1/18)
  1. The 45 participants complete a survey to evaluate change in competence and confidence in addressing interpersonal skills. The survey will also quantify the number of one-on-one consultations, acreage managed by farmers and will inquire about changes in farmer behavior. (01/18)
  1. Final report to funder. (03/18)

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

None other than milestones met, as described above.