Defining Business Education for Small Scale Specialty Crop Farmers

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2020: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2021
Grant Recipient: Kansas State University
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Cary Rivard
Kansas State University


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: extension, focus group
  • Farm Business Management: business planning, financial management

    Proposal abstract:

    Small-scale farmers are currently in a state of financial vulnerability. Approximately 91% of U.S. farms are classified as small with a gross income of less than $250,000. About 60% of these small farms are considered very small, generating less than $10,000 and are most vulnerable as they exhibit high turnover rates. Small farms are vital to community vitality as they can lead to: increased revenue in the local economy, utilization of cropping systems that support high biodiversity and access to nourishment for local communities. One of the most prominent barriers for beginning small-scale growers is maintaining sufficient level of income. Higher levels of education correlate with success and a grower’s ability to receive the same or better wages as compared to an off-farm job. In addition, business can better prepare students for their careers by improving the qualities, skills and attitudes needed for success. Unfortunately, there are very few studies that report what kind of education beginning farmers need to have the business skills that keep a farm profitable. Furthermore, none of them address the needs of beginning small-scale produce growers. The objectives of this study are to:

    1. Define the business skills that successful and unsuccessful small-scale farmers view as necessary to be profitable.
    2. Prioritize business and finance skills based on grower feedback to inform business education curricula.
    3. Examine the perceived needs between successful and unsuccessful small farm operators.
    4. Disseminate the results of the study to the Growing Growers program and other educators in the region in order to strengthen their curriculum.

    The objectives of the project will be achieved through a series of focus groups administered among both successful farm businesses and farmers who are no longer farming due to financial hardships. There will also be an online survey through Qualtrics that will be delivered to small-scale growers including beginning and experienced farmers. The feedback obtained from this study will provide a better idea of what farmers need in business education in order to stay financially viable. These farmer-informed data will help educators better serve stakeholders and improve profitability of beginning small-scale produce growers.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Short-term Outcomes

    • Knowledge of skills required for business management as defined by farmers
    • Knowledge of what skills farmers find most important
    • Data to improve the Growing Growers curriculum or other similar programs in business education
    • Identification of farmers in the region who are experts in business management

    Medium-term Outcomes

    • Development of new business education curriculum in the Growing Growers apprenticeship program from project data
    • Beginning farmers in the Kansas City region gain knowledge from the business education curriculum that was identified by successful farmers.
    • Beginning and small-scale farmers utilize the skills learned from the Growing Growers program to become more financially sustainable
    • Other apprenticeship and training programs in the North Central region and beyond develop curriculum based on the results of the project

    Long-term Outcomes

    • Beginning small-scale produce farmers are more profitable
    • There is a greater retention rate amongst new farms in the region
    • Small-scale farming is perceived as a more viable option for young entrepreneurs
    • There are more successful small-scale farms that grow produce in diversified cropping systems
    • Access to local produce for at-risk and other communities is increased
    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.