Training and Tools for Assisting Small and Mid-Scale Producers of Horticulture Crops with Business Decisions
A day-long training for service providers on assisting small and mid-scale producers of horticultural crops with tracking key farm data, analyzing the data and making business decisions to help them attain their goals and lead to increased farm profitability was held in Mobile Alabama. Trainers primarily utilized PowerPoint presentations and interactive classroom discussion to walk through the complex nature of managing a diverse farm business and introduced valuable tools including Veggie Compass.
Our overall project goal is to equip at least 80 agricultural professionals with knowledge, techniques and tools that will allow them to assist producers of horticultural crops with tracking key farm data (including revenue and expenses), analyzing the data, and making business decisions that help them attain their goals and lead to increased farm profitability. This project will target agricultural professionals who provide assistance to small and mid-scale producers of horticultural crops who are striving to become more sustainable. The target audience includes: • Extension agents with horticulture assignments • Extension small farm specialists • Extension and university personnel assisting producers with farm financial management • NGO personnel working directly with small and mid-scale horticultural producers • Beginning farm programs personnel • Lenders who advise small and mid-scale horticultural producers Objectives 1. At least 80 agricultural professionals who work with small and mid-scale producers of horticultural crops will gain a greater understanding of the key activities needed for farm owners and managers to make well-informed business decisions that can help them attain their goals and increase their farm profitability. These activities will include understanding what farm data to track, how to collect and store the data, how to analyze the data, and how to make business decisions based on key drivers of farm profitability. 2. At least 75 agricultural professionals who participate in this project will gain confidence in their ability to discuss recordkeeping techniques and business decision-making with producers who they assist, and will be able to recommend specific farmer-friendly tools and other resources that the producers can use to track important farm financial data, analyze the data, and make business decisions that lead to increased farm profitability. 3. At least 60 agricultural professionals who participate in this project will incorporate more effective assistance on recordkeeping and business decision-making into their farmer assistance. Examples of behavior change expected: • Project participants incorporate information about recordkeeping and business decision-making into production training and other education for small and mid-scale horticulture producers, with a focus on increasing farm profitability. • Project participants include more in-depth education about recordkeeping and business decision-making that leads to increased farm profitability when assisting small and mid-scale horticulture producers with loan applications, USDA program applications, or new enterprise decisions. • Project participants include education on recordkeeping and business decision-making that leads to increased farm profitability when training beginning farmers who are interested in horticultural enterprises. Our intent is to equip more assistance providers, who are often the primary information contacts for farmers, to be able to provide assistance in a whole systems way by discussing recordkeeping and business decision-making within the context of production and marketing, instead of as a separate, and often neglected, topic.
To date, project partners have developed, promoted and carried out a one-day training for 21 farm service providers (the majority being extension personnel) in Mobile, Alabama. Since many extension travel budgets have been cut in recent years, a travel scholarship process was established to assist with transportation to the training. Individuals applied for the scholarships which were subject to a review process prior to scholarships being awarded. Eighteen individuals utilized the scholarship in assisting with their travel costs. Participants came from 10 different states and provided feedback to the trainers both in terms of the value of the training itself as well as what other kinds of information they could use to better assist farmers with this challenging area of farm management. In addition, the project team has begun planning potential online content and follow-up webinars to both build upon the initial training and assist other service providers.
We anticipate the following work to be accomplished in the coming months.
Apr-June 2015 – SSAWG PI and communications specialist, along with Polishuk and Munsch, finish designing and developing online content and three webinars; select webinar dates. Woods, Morgan and Matteson provide feedback.
June-Dec 2015 – SSAWG staff promotes online materials to targeted audience, monitors activity and collects evaluation information. SSAWG communications specialist promotes course at two trade shows TBD.
July-Nov 2015 – SSAWG staff promotes and conducts three webinars, conducts evaluation at end of each one. SSAWG PI contracts with webinar trainers as determined by content.
Feb-Mar 2016 – SSAWG staff conducts follow up evaluation surveys with project participants, compiles and analyzes results.
Apr 2016 – SSAWG PI writes final report for SARE.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Participants in the initial training were asked to complete both a pre-training survey and a post-training survey to determine if their level of confidence in assisting producers of horticultural crops had increased as a result of the training. The survey read as follows:
Please indicate your level of confidence in your ability to help horticultural producers:
- Understand the guiding principles of managing a farm as a business:
? ? ? ?
- Identify farm data that horticultural producers need to track in order to make well-informed business decisions:
? ? ? ?
- Identify farmer-friendly tools and other resources to help horticultural producers track and analyze data on their farms.
? ? ? ?
- Analyze farm data that is being tracked by horticultural producers to increase profitability:
? ? ? ?
- Make business decisions based on key drivers of profitability
? ? ? ?
- Manage labor for profitability
? ? ? ?
- Consider profitability and business management whenever making any production or marketing decisions
(conversely, not making and production or marketing decisions without also considering the ramifications on
? ? ? ?
There were 19 pre-training surveys received and 18 post-training surveys. There was a marked improvement from the pre-training survey averages across all 7 questions. On the post-training survey respondents were also asked: “Did you find this training useful for your service to producers?” All 18 respondents answered affirmatively.