- Education and Training: technical assistance
- Farm Business Management: business planning
Problem and Justification: In a 2019 report on farmer needs and priorities in Maine, farmers repeatedly mentioned both the importance of profitability to farm viability, and the fact that absence of profitability directly and negatively impacts their ability to adapt their businesses, plan for succession, or adequately protect the natural resources of their land. Maine has 13,414 farmers according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture—many of whom seek assistance for business planning, succession planning, marketing, labor management, and more. At the same time, Maine lacks enough service providers with both business and agricultural expertise to meet this need. In our survey of service providers during the planning process for this grant, the category ‘farm business management and financials’ had the most responses as both the unmet need most frequently expressed by farmer clients (55%) and the next area of learning needed for our service providers to expand their capacity (71%). The demand for farm business planning and support services far outstrips the supply of qualified service providers in Maine.
Solution and Approach: Maine Farmland Trust (MFT), a land trust with strong background in farm viability and business support programming, and SCORE Maine, the state chapter of a national organization which supports small business growth through free access to experienced mentors, will collaborate to improve overall capacity to support farmers and agricultural businesses. Over 30 service providers from these organizations will benefit from the training funded by this grant, which will include farm-specific business management and financials, Quickbooks, and facilitation. The training will provide a basis for a team model for technical assistance to be trialed by up to 12 service providers and 20 farms. MFT and SCORE will work together to improve and adapt existing templates and financial management tools for use with farmers.
While MFT’s service providers have a deep understanding of Maine farming and farmers, they frequently rely on outside consultants to provide expertise in marketing, financial management and other specialized skills. By contrast, SCORE volunteer mentors have a wealth of specialized knowledge from decades of experience in their previous professions, but often are more unfamiliar with agriculture. This collaboration will produce opportunities for cross-training to enable this diverse group of service providers to broaden their knowledge and work more effectively to help farmers achieve their business goals. Group trainings each summer of the two year grant will enable a baseline of knowledge among the service providers, and will allow each service provider to work more effectively as a well-rounded individual service provider. In addition, this collaboration will also enable the start of a new model of team technical assistance to support the needs of up to 40 farmers on 20 farms over the course of 2 years.
Performance targets from proposal:
30 service providers will deepen their farm-specific business advising skills and knowledge, and 12 service providers per year (between Maine Farmland Trust and SCORE Maine) will work collaboratively to provide enterprise budgeting, whole farm financial planning and other business-related technical assistance to 40 farmers who have a median of 17 acres in production and $72,000 in gross sales. Of these farmers, 10 of them (or 5 farms) report improved net margins or increased net profits.