Making it happen: Profitability and success

Project Overview

ONE15-248
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2015: $14,973.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2017
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Dorothy Suput
The Carrot Project

Annual Reports

Information Products

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Farm Business Management: economic/marketing

    Proposal abstract:

    Many early-stage farm operators do not effectively use financial management strategies that are important to their long-term economic success. This information is critical because it impacts a farm’s bottom line. Most resources describe how to use financial management tools—for example budgeting techniques, but little to guide farmers in choosing between the variety of financial management tools and their practical implementation and integration into their business.

    Making It Happen will attempt to answer what financial management tools are most effective under what circumstances and at which stage(s) of business development and when and how are such tools most readily integrated into a farm’s operation.  We want to find if a seminar — within the context of ongoing education, required prerequisites, and follow-up support — contribute to improved financial management and decision-making on 50–75 farms.

    To succeed at this, we will complete an in-depth analysis of an existing data set, which was gathered over three years, from 30 farms and four technical assistance providers, as well as additional surveying of service providers. Then, we will develop and deliver a seminar and evaluate changes in participants’ understanding and use of financial management practices and decision-making.

    Outreach involves The Carrot Project and six other non-profits serving early-stage farm businesses. We will reach out directly to farmers in each organizations’ network, participating in relevant trainings or course-work, and graduates seeking on-going support. Outreach will be conducted person-to-person and via list-servs, e-newsletters, webinars, and presentations at conferences.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project will answer these questions: (1) what financial management tools are most effective under what circumstances and at which stage(s) of business development; (2) when and how are such tools most readily integrated into a farm’s operation; and (3) can a seminar — within the context of ongoing education, required prerequisites, and follow-up support — contribute to improved financial management and decision-making on 50–75 farms.

    To answer these questions, this project has two objectives. (1) We will complete an in-depth analysis of an existing data set, which was gathered over three years, from 30 farms and four technical assistance providers participating in Measuring Profitability and Success (MPS), a project funded by a Northeast SARE Research and Education Program grant (LNE11-310). The proposed project will include a more detailed analysis of that treasure trove of data, as well as additional surveying of program coordinators to take us beyond the existing SARE-funded project to more fine-grained understandings. (2) We will develop and deliver a seminar, Making It Happen, and evaluate changes in participants’ understanding and use of financial management practices and decision-making prior to the seminar, immediately afterward, and at the end of the following season.

    The project will be completed in two steps: (1) Detailed Analysis of Aggregated MPS Financial and Survey Information, and (2) Development of Seminar and Supporting Resources. The following details each step.

    Detailed Analysis

    Analyzing the aggregated data will address (1) when financial management tools, information, and advice are most effective, and (2) which tools are effective under what circumstances and at what stage(s) of business development. This project will combine detailed analysis of aggregate data with surveying of program coordinators to amplify the existing SARE-funded project.

    MPS collected data as follows. Farmers participating in the three-year research project agreed to: pre- and post-research surveys; a self-assessment of the farmer’s understanding of financial and other business practices; submission of farm financial information (balance sheet, profit and loss, and cash flow) for three consecutive 12-month periods; and meeting regularly with a program coordinator (technical assistance provider) during the project period to plan for achieving the farm’s stated goals — with an emphasis on enterprise planning, financial management and decision-making, and in some cases, accessing financing. The program coordinator working with each farm documented meetings, progress toward goals, and interpretation of financial information. Common goals included paying owner-operators a living wage, adding employees, and the ability to take time off. A third party entered all data into a spreadsheet, and prepared initial analyses, using each farm’s collected data, which are then discussed and reviewed with the program coordinator. Third-party entry and analysis allows for consistent treatment of data and new insights.

    Making It Happen uses the MPS data, deepens the analysis, and integrates it into a training seminar that will include information gleaned from MPS about profitability and important changes, for early-stage businesses, in financial standing or strength. The analysis for Making It Happen differs in two ways from the work being done for MPS: (1) it places greater emphasis on conditions that contribute to meeting farm goals, and effective use of resources and tools for financial management and decision making; and (2) additional resources will permit more-refined analysis through the lens of what information farmers might find most compelling and to bolster the case studies.

    Gather reflections from MPS service provider on what worked, when, and why

    • Design survey for feedback from service provider on what factors led to specific results
    • Survey service providers
    • Draft memo, describing results, for incorporation into overall analysis

    In-depth Analysis of Aggregate Financial Data

    • Review aggregate data; determine best ways to present for most meaningful results
    • Review and gather input from Farm Advisors and Training Team
    • Document learnings, insights, and highlights in internal Initial Report

    Analysis of Aggregate Survey Information

    • Determine best ways to present pre- and post-MPS farmer survey information, and create draft to convey meaningful results for seminar development
    • Review and input from Farm Advisors and Training Team
    • Document learnings, insights, and highlights in Initial Report
    • Development of Seminar and Supporting Resources

    Making It Happen: Profitability & Success comprises a seminar and attendant resource materials focused on financial management and decision making for new and early-stage farm businesses. Project objectives are to increase understanding of the tools and processes of financial management and decision making, and how to use them to increase long-term farm economic viability. The seminar and resources will provide information, and importantly, training, on how to integrate financial management strategies and decision making into farm operations.

    Development and delivery of Making It Happen will use information from MPS, the in-depth analysis described above, and the experience of the Training Team and Farm Advisors. The seminar will be delivered within a supportive network context, require prerequisite coursework, and provide follow-up support. Results will be evaluated to measure changes in farmers’ use and integration of financial management tools.

    The aggregate data analysis will support the use of case studies to address the questions described in the “proposed solutions” section. The seminar may explain a particular tool, such as enterprise budgeting, but go beyond the scope of existing trainings to make information more practical, fine-tuned, and useable. It will provide real-world examples of which factors were at play in a farm’s achievement of its stated goals (typically related to income, time off, financial forecasting, etc.).

    The seminar will be designed for single- or multi-period instruction, as well as for webinar availability. Follow-up support will be provided through The Carrot Project and/or our collaborators. The seminar will be paired with existing curriculum, as appropriate for the audience; because it is designed to build advanced farm financial decision making, the basics of financial statements and farm accounting are prerequisites.

    1. Training Team receipt of instruction on seminar design
    2. Seminar outline, goals, and objectives development

      • Farm Advisors and Training Team draft

    3. Identification (using MPS information) of five farms, facing representative situations, to develop into case studies
    4. Outline of resources necessary to support learnings for each case study

      • Farm Advisors and Training Team draft

    5. Development of five case studies to address key questions

      • Identify five farms for development into case studies
      • Create rubric for case studies and gather input from Training Team
      • Complete in-depth analysis of five farms
      • Draft case studies
      • Finalize case studies by making reader-friendly re: language and layout

    6. Integration of MPS and In-Depth Aggregate Analysis

      • Based on seminar outline, Training Team plans for integration into seminar
      • Modifications of materials and review, as needed

    7. Develop resources to support case studies

      • With collaborators, decide which financial management tool(s) to focus on (e.g., “Why Do Enterprise Planning”)
      • Develop relevant training modules
      • Review by Farm Advisors and Training Team
      • Finalize resources and units

    8. Develop seminar agenda and learning aids, such as slides, instructor guidelines, etc.
    9. Publicize Making It Happen with collaborating organizations
    10. Deliver five seminars, including pre- and post-seminar evaluations
    11. Produce webinar in collaboration with New Entry Sustainable Farming Project
    12. Solicit final evaluations on use of financial management and changes in financial decision making

    2015

    March: Project Begins

    March-April

    Project Director and Analyst will:

    • Start In depth Analysis of Aggregate Financial Data
    • Review Aggregate Data and Determine Best Ways to Present to Convey Most Meaningful Results
    • Start Analysis of Aggregate Survey Info and Determine best way to present pre- and post-MPS farmer survey information and create draft to convey most meaningful results
    • Develop seminar outline, goals, and objectives
    • Identification (using MPS information) of five farms, facing representative situations, to develop into case studies
    • Outline Resources Necessary to support learnings for each Case Study

    The Farm Advisors and Training Team will:

    • Provide feedback on each item above

    May

    Training Team receives instruction on seminar design

    May-June

    The Project Director and Analyst will:

    • Gather reflections from MPS service providers on what worked when and why.
    • Design a survey to elicit feedback from service provider not on what happened (already recorded) but what factors led to specific results
    • Survey the service providers
    • Draft memo describing results and for incorporation into overall analysis

    The Project Director and Analyst will Document learnings, insights, and highlights in Initial Report from the different activities, described above, in March-April.

    July

    The Training Team will:

    • Integrate information from MPS and In Depth Aggregate Analysis
    • Based on seminar outline, Training Team plans way for integration into seminar
    • Modifications of materials and review, as needed

    August-October

    The Analyst with the Project Director will:

    • Development of 5 case studies to address key questions
    • Identify five farms for development into case studies
    • Create rubric for case studies and gather input from Training Team
    • Complete in-depth analysis of five farms
    • Draft case studies
    • Develop Resources to Support Case Studies
    • With collaborators, decide which financial management tool(s) to focus on (e.g., “Why Do Enterprise Planning”)
    • Develop relevant training modules
    • Review by Farm Advisors and Training Team

    October

    The Training Team and Farm Advisors will:

    • Review Case Studies and Resources to Support Case Studies

    October – November

    • Finalize Case Studies by making reader-friendly in terms of language and layout
    • Finalize resources to support Case Studies

    November – December

    The Trainer with support from the Training Team will:

    • Develop detailed seminar agenda and learning aids such as slides, instructor guidelines, etc.
    • The Trainer in coordination with non-profit Collaborators will:
    • Publicize Making It Happen with collaborating organizations

    2016

    January – March

    • Publicity and registration continue
    • Deliver 5 Seminars including pre- and post-evaluations

    July

    The trainer will:

    • Produce webinar in collaboration with New Entry Sustainable Farming Project

    December

    The Trainer will:

    • Solicit final evaluations on use of financial management and changes in financial decision-making

    2016

    January

    • The Project Director in coordination with the Training Team and Farm Advisors will draft the final report

    The project results will be disseminated through a report made available on our website, described in our e-newsletter that reaches 1,000 contacts, posted on the SARE website, social media accounts, and shared with our collaborators and the farm participants. Whenever possible, we will also use findings from the project into the panels and workshops in which we participate each year. On average we speak at 8-10 farmer conferences annually.

    While The Carrot Project will publicize the Seminars as described above, our collaborators will complete the majority of the outreach to attract and register seminar participants. Their efforts are described in detail in their collaboration letters. Efforts vary and include:

    • Enrolling participants in on-going programs
    • Reaching out to past-graduates for enrollment
    • Posting Making It Happen on the Beginning Farmer Network of Mass email lists and to the Eastern Mass CRAFT (Collaborative Regional Alliance of Farmer Training) listservs
    • Publicize the event to farm clients as well as through partner service providers of the
    • Vermont New Farmer Network
    • Publicize to farm clients and through a listserv and specifically to farmers enrolled in a 3 class program on financial statements provided with UVM

    In addition, we will work with New Entry Sustainable Farming Project to record a webinar version of the training which will be publicized by The Carrot Project in the same ways as the final report. New Entry Sustainable Farming Project has also offered to post it on their website. The Stone Barn Center would like to post it on their Virtual Grange, an e-learning platform, that more than 30,000 people a year visit. We will seek other avenues as well and if permitted will post it on the NESARE website.

     Finally, assuming successful, we will continue offering it and train others to do so when appropriate.

    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.