When Farming Reality Doesn't Match the Business Plan

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2012: $165,293.60
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Kent Solberg
Sustainable Farming Association

Annual Reports

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, focus group, mentoring, networking, workshop, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, feasibility study, risk management
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, social capital, sustainability measures


    The Sustainable Farming Association, founded in 1990, is a Farmer to Farmer Network, dedicated to tapping into the wisdom of the community to enhance farming systems, and maintain a vibrant diverse farming community in the US and around the world.  Farming is a difficult business, and like all small businesses, start up farms are challenging.  Adjust 2015 gleaned from the collective experience of over 200 start up farms and identified the most common hurdles to farm success.  The New Farm Reality Check Curriculum is designed to help beginning farmers identify these potential hurdles in their business plans, and to prepare to navigate around them for future success.


    Adjust 2015 is designed to: a) increase the knowledge and awareness beginning farmers have of potential difficulties they may face, b) build into the beginning farmer educational system an emphasis on realistic, nimble and flexible business plans, c) develop the skills of beginning farmers to recognize dangers looming on the horizon early enough to make adjustments before those dangers threaten the business or the farm family, and d) help aspiring farmers develop a proper exit strategy as a part of their original business plan.


    If sustainable agriculture is truly sustainable, more farms need to succeed beyond the 3-5 year time frame, and grow into viable businesses that can adapt and overcome hurdles as they arise over a 20, 30 or 40 year horizon. As a movement, we should be doing all we can not only to prepare new and beginning farmers for entry into the farming, but also, we need to help them to anticipate and adapt to farm-threatening issues that occur after they have started farming.


    As the materials developed in Adjust 2015 are incorporated into beginning farmer training programs throughout the North Central Region, new farmers will develop business plans that are more realistic and flexible and easily adapted to account for the potential pitfalls that are facing today’s beginning farmers. In the long run, as beginning farmers take into account the lessons learned from farms that have failed or made significant adjustments in order to survive, we will see more new farms succeeding past the critical 3-5 year window. As more farms succeed, we will see the profitability of farmers and associated ag businesses improve; and we will see enhanced quality of life for farmers, rural and urban communities and society as a whole.

    Project objectives:

    The objective of the Adjust 2015 Project was to establish a curriculum and tools which can help farmers learn to adjust their farm operations to mitigate or avoid challenges to the farm business.  Specifically, we sought to survey 200 beginning farmers and interview 40 of them for case studies.  In actuality, we surveyed 232 and interviewed 36.    In hindsight, we may have been just as successful interviewing 20 or so farmers, as the interview phase of the project was the most demanding.


    We have developed basic curriculum tools and informational presentations.  Some of these tools and information have been presented to various audiences and have been well-recieved. At the time of the development of the grant proposal, and the initial roll out of the project, SFA did not have its own beginning farmer education program, and we were anticipating a great emphasis in providing outreach with tools and information to organizations with farmer training programs in place.  While this type of outreach and collaboration is a hallmark of SFA and will continue to be emphasized with the results of the Adjust project, SFA now has its own farmer training program, the Deep Roots Farmer Development Program.  Deep Roots is incorporating all of the learning objectives identified in this report, and further development will make materials more available to other organizations.

    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.