It’s difficult under normal circumstances for producers to have economically viable operations, and recent events have made it even more difficult. The agriculture sector was impacted significantly by COVID-19 due to market disruptions. Restrictions on sales at farmers markets and other channels, as well as meat processing plant closures, required producers to switch to or consider diversifying their markets, including direct to consumer markets, online sales, etc. For example, many ranchers sold their cows directly to consumers, overcrowding local meat processing facilities. To compound these issues, the US West is facing a significant drought this year. The U.S. Drought Monitor reports that 87% of Utah is currently in extreme or exceptional drought. These unusual times have exacerbated the need for producers to assess the economic viability/potential profitability of the decisions they face (new markets, new crops/products, drought management strategies, selling or holding livestock, etc.). Timely and useful information and assistance is needed.
At the same time, heavy retirements in the university Extension system have led to the hiring of many county and regional Extension faculty with little experience in dealing with the issues producers are facing. Most of the county Extension faculty do not have a background in farm management, agricultural economics or finance, and thus, do not have the skills to adequately assist farmers with such financial decisions.
This project will provide professional development through webinars, workshops, and online courses in economic viability assessment to Extension personnel in five Western states. With increased knowledge and skills, Extension personnel will be able to work one-on-one with producers to assess their economically viable options. The ability to access this expertise at the county level will improve producer ability to make educated decisions in a timely manner.
Project objectives from proposal:
The overall objective for this project is to improve the quality of life and economic viability of agriculture enterprises in the US West. This will be accomplished by expanding the capacity of Extension personnel through improvements in knowledge and skills with regards to economic viability assessment. The project will target Extension personal across five states with the expectation that they will assist producers at the local level, through programming and one-on-one assistance, in assessing the potential economic viability and impacts of the management decisions they face, including but not limited to adding new crops or products, diversification strategies, new market development.
The specific objectives for this project are to:
- Increase Extension professional’s awareness of the importance of including economic viability in production and marketing decisions
- Increase Extension professionals’ knowledge and skills in economic feasibility assessment
- Increase Extension professional’s knowledge of and ability to create business and marketing plans
- Increase Extension professionals’ awareness of USDA programs which may enhance enterprise viability and/or sustainability
- Increase Extension professional awareness and use of the data available to producers when assessing economic feasibility
- Provide materials, tools, and best practices for incorporating economic feasibility assessment into county Extension programming for producers
- Motivate Extension professionals to incorporate economic feasibility assessment into their programming with producers