Empowering small farms to make big decisions: Examining profitability of local markets in West Virginia

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2012: $14,959.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Northeast
State: West Virginia
Project Leader:
Sigrid Teets
WesMonTy RC&D

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: workshop
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance

    Proposal abstract:

    Farmers in West Virginia are presented with unique challenges in topography and environment that limit the scope and scale of production. Further, few resources that teach producers how to effectively work within these limits are available to small-scale producers. Through two trainings, Empowering Small Farms to Make Big Decisions will teach six small-scale specialty crop producers in North Central West Virginia improved record-keeping methods as a way to improve farm management and viability. The first training will focus on record keeping and the second on market decision-making. Using these record-keeping methods, farmers will learn to examine their operational inputs, costs and outputs to improve productivity and profitability. They will be given support for one year for monitoring and to resolve any issues that arise. In order to increase the effectiveness of the project, the results will be compiled into a two-page document in plain language that will be distributed to farmers through several media channels and several farm conferences. It will offer practical information to help farmers decide which marketing option is best for them based on their scale. To further increase dissemination of project results, outreach between the partner farmers and non-partner farmers will be encouraged. Additionally, several farm conference workshops will be held that will detail the project results and how other local farmers can adopt these methods.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project will use case studies of six North Central West Virginia farmers to gather detailed data on costs and revenues associated with their operations. These farmers currently grow a variety of specialty crops that they sell in a variety of markets, including farmers markets, via community supported agriculture, and to food service and institutional markets. They will be trained in record-keeping methods and provided with record-keeping tools to aid in gathering this data. They will also receive ongoing support from the project manager and project partners to ensure that accurate data is being recorded, including several farm visits and discussions at monthly Tygart Valley Growers Association meetings. These farmers will receive a stipend in recognition of the time needed to keep detailed records that reflect all of the expenses involved with production and marketing via these different markets, including the often neglected time inputs of the farmer.

    Although the number of farmers from whom data will be gathered is low, we believe that the quality of the data gathered will be high, and thus useful as a basis for other farmers who find themselves making marketing decisions in similar situations. Data on prices and revenues received in the different markets will also be recorded to determine profitability for each of the markets. Additional data on prices and demand for products in each of these markets will be gathered by project partners as needed. Although this information will be case specific, generalizable results regarding which factors are most important for profitability should be recognizable.
    As shown in by King et al. (2010) case studies can provide important information for comparing marketing alternatives. Data from specialty crop farms as small as these in West Virginia is rarely available from other sources, necessitating that this information be gathered directly from representative producers. Further the topography and climate makes West Virginia farming a unique case study that other states cannot produce.

    We will conduct two daylong farmer trainings. The first will train the farmers on record keeping using the book Organic Farmers Business Handbook by Richard Wiswall (2009). WesMonTy will conduct the trainings with technical assistance from Cheryl Brown and Mary Oldham at West Virginia University. The daylong trainings will teach the producers to use the materials from the book including spreadsheets and logs. The emphasis will be placed on keeping accurate records for the information needed for this project. Producers will leave feeling
    confident in their abilities to record daily activities and costs incurred with ease.

    The second training on marketing decision-making will also be a daylong training. This will be facilitated by Cheryl Brown who is an Agricultural economist at WVU. This will be more of a business training that will teach producers how to access markets, and the benefits and drawbacks of different marketing options available to them. We will use the information generated by farmers in their record-keeping efforts as a basis for cost-benefit analysis and decision-making. This will build producer confidence in their ability to analyze their costs and benefits and make strategic profit-maximizing market channel decisions. It will also provide motivation for them to continue to keep records and to share their knowledge with others.

    The farm visits will be an opportunity for the project manager to check in on the producers and ensure that they are keeping accurate records as well as work out any issues that may arise during the project. The visits at the TVGA meetings will allow the producers to ask any questions they have and work on resolving any issues
    between farm visits.

    The farmers will make presentations on work at the Tri-state Farm Conference after the first harvest season and at the WVU Small Farm Conference the first winter. These panels will simply discuss the work done so far, issues encountered and how other farmers can adopt this method. Any farmers that adopt record keeping will be encouraged to follow up with the project managers to facilitate training later on. At the second Tri-state Farm Conference, producers will participate in another panel and disseminate results. Furthermore, a workshop will be held with the additional farmers that were recruited from the first Tri-state Farm Conference. This will encourage the dissemination of the information and it will provide a training opportunity for those farmers that were not included in the project to resolve any issues they may have had.

    The data gathered from these case study farmers will be used to create spreadsheets that can be used as decision-making templates. These operation budgets will be based on the identified possible marketing strategies and include the time and out-of-pocket expenses involved, as well as the potential revenues from each market. Sensitivity analysis will determine which factors are key to profitability in each market. Farmers not part of the case studies will then be able to adjust these factors for their own unique situations in order to examine profit potential for different markets in their regions. For example, farmers will be able to input their own travel times to different markets along with prices received for various products to determine profit potential for each market. We often hear there is a need for this type of data in such a format and believe that using such a tool in a decision making exercise will help farmers better understand the profit potential of their different options.

    The information collected will be analyzed and placed in a two-page document that outlines the results of the project. This information will be easy to read as it is intended for distribution among farmers that may be lacking in technical literacy. The distribution will be made at different farm conferences and through several electronic
    newsletters and networks.

    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.