Agri-Cluster Retention and Expansion (ACRE) Program: Training Service Providers in Strategic Business Planning for Complex Value Chain Enterprises

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2021: $143,883.00
Projected End Date: 05/31/2024
Grant Recipient: Center for Transformative Action/Thomas A. Lyson Center for Civic Agriculture and Food Systems
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Duncan Hilchey
Center for Transformative Action/Thomas A. Lyson Center for Civic Agriculture and Food Systems

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: decision support system, extension, networking, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: business planning, feasibility study, new enterprise development
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Sustainable Communities: community development, community planning, infrastructure analysis, leadership development, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, quality of life, social capital, social networks, values-based supply chains

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem and Justification

    Since the Great Depression of the 1930s, many farmer-led cooperatives, grower associations, marketing projects, and, more recently, food hubs have been launched in the Northeast. They have evolved in our region due to a combination of advantages—from unique soils and microclimates, to proximity to large diverse markets that require farmers to collaborate to achieve scale. Trends suggest, however, these advantages may be disappearing as a result of very savvy global competitors who are flooding our region with comparable, but cheaper, undifferentiated products. Our outmoded production and marketing approaches are under attack. We believe that NE farmers should not try to compete in a race to produce high volumes of cheap commodities. It is a race they simply cannot win.

    Solution and Approach

    Instead, we propose to build a community of practice and train and certify a cadre of agriculture service providers to use a US-adapted version of a French strategic business planning process for value chains. The “Agri-Cluster Retention and Expansion” program (ACRE) will train service providers to help farmer-led marketing projects carve out and defend their position in the marketplace. ACRE does this through a series of transparent and trust-building exercises that unite all stakeholders in the value chain—farmers, suppliers, laborers, buyers, processors, and retailers. In this collective action approach, a shared vision among all stakeholders is established, common goals and objectives are identified, and a strategic plan of work is developed with indicators to measure progress. The result is a more profitable and competitive value chain.

    While a similar engagement of value chain actors is often applied to short supply chains (e.g., farm-to-school initiatives), it is rarely applied in the US at the midscale, regional level. We will encourage this approach in Northeastern commercial family farming areas: fruit belts, milksheds, viticultural areas, and vegetable-growing areas. Specific actions taken following an ACRE project might include processing lower-grade products not fit for retail, entering niche ethnic markets, starting place-based branding, and/or pursuing quality certification marks or state and federal marketing orders. Community and environmental projects can also be embedded in these initiatives, based on the interests of the enterprise leaders.

    Our approach is informed by the PI’s previous work in the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt of Western NY and PA, as well as his study of the PERF method of strategic agribusiness planning in France. ACRE will build on the project team’s current "Muck Onion Value Chain Pilot Project" funded by the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development. We believe that equipping a cadre of trained service providers (Extension professionals, farm leaders, and organization staff) with the ACRE process will lead to better decisions to launch, expand (or even close down) struggling farmer-led marketing initiatives.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Sixty-five (65) service providers will be trained, and 18 will be certified to be trainers themselves, to provide “Agri-Cluster Retention and Expansion” (ACRE) strategic business planning programs for farmer-led marketing projects that will engage 120 farmers and 70 other value chain stakeholders.

    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.