UVM Extension Agricultural Business To Host Weekly Web Forum

For the remainder of April UVM Extension Agricultural Business will host a 30-minute web forum every Thursday at 12:30pm to keep pace with emerging COVID-19 issues faced by farm and forest businesses. Each session will include an update on market situations for our farming sectors and information on hot topics, as well as time for questions and discussion.

 Weekly Focus Topics:

  • April 16th:  SBA Emergency Loan Programs
  • April 23rd:  Cash Flow Triage for Small Business
  • April 30th: Digital Entrepreneurship and Online Marketing

Please register in advance for this web meeting.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Feel free to send questions in advance to Mark.Cannella@uvm.edu.

Watch for updates about this series on our blog.

UVM Extension Agricultural Business Educators are available for consultation

If your farm, forest or maple business is under pressure to plan for COVID-19 disruption, our educators are available for business coaching and can assist with locating resources. We can help with critical business decision-making, assessing changes to markets, financial planning and other issues facing your enterprises.

Contact one of our educators by email or leaving a voicemail to make an appointment:

Farm, Forest and Maple Business Clinics

UVM Extension Business Specialists Mark Cannella, Tony Kitsos, Chris Lindgren, Betsy Miller and Zac Smith are available to work one-on-one with farm, forest and maple businesses on their finances. Reserve a 1½ hour appointment to prepare documents that will help manage the business. Use the time to develop a balance sheet, update financial statements, review a business plan, consider changes to the business and more. Bring your financial statements, recent records and questions!

➥ 1½ hour, private meetings
➥ Nearly 100 appointments available from February – April 2020
➥ Held at UVM Extension Offices in 9 locations (Online or phone meetings are also available)
➥ FREE!

Business Clinics Information Sheet (PDF)

Contact Christi Sherlock at Christi.Sherlock@uvm.edu or 802.476.2003 to register for one of the appointments listed below.

To ensure adequate preparation, reservations must be made by the Thursday of the week before your appointment. If you require a disability-related accommodation to participate, please call at least three weeks in advance of your scheduled session.

Any Given Timber Harvest

by Chris Lindgren, Forest Business Educator

There must be as many ways to harvest timber as there are loggers, likely more. Every approach may not be “best,” but most are acceptable.  Each logger has a different set of equipment and a different crew with a variety of experience and skills, forest landowners have varying visions and objectives, and forest managers approach forest systems and forest operations based on their sensibilities. Each of these variables factor into a logger’s approach.

Whatever the circumstances, all parties desire a positive economic outcome. At all stages of production those who add value want to be fairly compensated for their work. The win-win result hopefully applies to both the cash value of materials harvested and the impacts on the residual stand, as well. Clearly, this is not always how it works out.

When I first began business planning work with logging contractors, one of the first workshops I attended was with Steve Bick of Northeast Forests LLC. I “got” to play a game Steve called penny logging.  This game was like production and assembly exercises I had encountered at various lean trainings over the years.  The objective: given certain constraints, arrange assets and production to achieve the smoothest, most economic output. Over the years I have become keenly aware of the constraints (terrain, soil, weather, ownership, regulation) on any given timber harvest. The harvest in the video above is an example of loggers using the constraints to their advantage, creating an exciting and elegant material flow. Enjoy!

Are you on track to reach your goals this year?

by Betsy Miller

On a recent visit to a diversified farm I noticed a whiteboard posted in the office that listed sales goals for each month.  At the end of each month actual sales were tallied and written alongside the goals set back in January.

Goal setting is an important part of the business planning process.  People commonly refer to “SMART” goals – usually meaning Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, & Timely.  Setting goals that clearly define success (or failure) make it much more likely that we will hold ourselves accountable for the plans we make.  The farm I visited has a prominent display reminding them every day where they are relative to meeting sales goals.

As important as it is to set those goals in the first place, it is equally important to review them, update them, and determine if they were met.  Mid-year check-ins can help to identify areas that might be lagging while you still have time to change course.

Don’t let your goals become like New Year’s resolutions forgotten by Groundhog Day.  Keep them fresh and check regularly to see if you are on track to reach them.

Spring Has Sprung – a Gasket!

by Tony Kitsos

This spring has been quite a challenge, to say the least! Weather reports across the state talk about rain in some location on any given day, and that makes us a bit grumpy! We’ve waited all winter to get this year’s crops in the ground and take first cut off — and here it is June 5th with plenty of work to do on most farms.

On a recent early-June drive from Morrisville to Middlebury I saw a good many cornfields un-spread, un-plowed, and unplanted. And the window for getting a mid-May first cut in and covered was slammed shut by a month with rainfall 4” over the historical average. The New Englander’s adage of a year’s seasons being 4 months of winter and 8 months of damn poor sleddin’ has held court. It seems that if there’s less that can be done in the field, it hampers doing other projects – just don’t want to get wrapped up in anything else in case the weather breaks and it’s time to head to the fields.

All well and good, but while we wait, we need to turn our attentions to another season that’s upon us… Construction season. As if having too much water in the fields isn’t enough, there’s plenty of mud hanging around the farmstead and making quite a mess! It’s pointing out some of the high-risk areas that need to be filled in, drained, graded, or whatever is needed to minimize farmstead runoff into our waterways. Take the opportunity to find areas needing attention. Do some easy fixes. And be sure that we’re all responsible for containing runoff when and where it occurs.

UVM Agricultural Business has funds to help you assess the financial feasibility of some of the more comprehensive projects. We work independently, or with NRCS and VAAFM staff to help you find the best, most cost-effective solutions to most any water quality situation.  Give us a call at the St. Albans office at 802-524-6501 and ask for Tony Kitsos. I’m looking forward to starting the conversation.

New Vermont Maple Business Benchmark Report

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Photo Credit: Mark Isselhardt

UVM Extension has published the newest 2016 VT Maple Benchmark report. This report shows financial analysis and profitability for a group of syrup businesses that range from 2,500 to 20,000 taps. Download a copy of the 2016 report now. 

In 2016 maple market prices had dropped significantly but very high production yields for many participants resulted in stronger profitability for 2016 compared to 2015. Bulk maple producers showed a wide range of cost of production from $1.62 per pound to $2.52 per pound with an average cost of $2.00 per pound. Overall costs on a per pound basis declined in 2016 due to high production yields. Several historically high performing businesses, however, will be challenged to stay profitable as market prices drop below $2.25 per pound and/or they experience only “good-to-average” yields. This is a growing concern for maple sugar makers from 8,000-15,000 taps that rely on maple income for household income.

Many maple businesses have already or plan to diversify market channels. There is no guarantee that higher wholesale or direct market prices can compensate for the costs and time associated with serving those new customers. The reality, however, is that bulk maple businesses that drop below financial break-even levels will seek to find alternative ways to market syrup in order to stay in business. Several participating businesses in this project have demonstrated that a mixed marketing plan that includes bulk sales and some direct sales can preserve profitability and reduce the risk of uncontrollable bulk market prices.

The VT Maple Benchmark project will continue in 2018! Starting in May our business educators will begin completing 2017 financial analysis with maple sugar makers and sap only enterprises. Contact Mark Cannella for more information (Mark.Cannella@uvm.edu) . This year the project specifically needs more producers from 15,000 taps – 50,000 taps to register.

UVM Extension is also offering maple business planning assistance from May- December to Vermont sugar makers. Contact Mark  for more information on maple financial analysis and business planning assistance. Mark.Cannella@uvm.edu

 

Business Clinics for Farm Owners

UVM Extension farm business educators (Mark Cannella, Tony Kitsos and Betsy Miller) are available to work one-on-one with farmers on their finances and business planning.  Reserve a 1½ hour appointment to prepare documents and plans to manage the business. Use the time to develop a balance sheet, update financial statements, review a business plan, consider changes to the business and more. Bring your financial statements, recent records and questions!

The winter-spring schedule has been posted with dates available from mid-January through April at 10 locations statewide.

Register now at this website: http://www.regonline.com/clinicswinter2018 or download the program brochure. 


VT Ag Business Today: Produce Cost Studies, Food Safety Grants and more…

The Vermont Farm Viability Service Provider Network met on October 4th. This meeting of consultants and business educators is a place to share current resources to enhance farm business planning in Vermont. Topics of the day:

  • NOFA-VT has produced cost of production benchmarks for carrots, onions, lettuce, winter squash and potatoes. The study has also produced whole farm financial benchmarks. Go to the cost of production benchmarks to see  the sales per acre, costs per acre and net profit per acre for these crops.
  • VT Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets announced the first round of Vermont Produce Safety Improvement Grants that farmers can apply for to improve on-farm produce safety. Farms can also get support for an On-Farm Readiness Review to have a one on one conversation on how the farm is doing on produce safety in advance of formal inspections.
  • Dairy Industry Overview: discussions continue about how the oversupply of conventional and organic milk is impacting farm gate prices. Stagnant or declining prices paired with regulation/certification driven investments present a difficult situation for dairy business owners to navigate. Farm transfer planning is further complicated as the outlook for many dairies remains uncertain. Back to brass tacks, this group talked about the need to revisit accurate and responsible asset valuation on dairy herds and how to develop pro forma statements that negotiate short term cash flow shocks.
  • Farm to Institution Spending: active research continues to explore possible opportunities to enhance regional institutional spending (schools, colleges, hospitals) on agricultural products. The looming question remains: What will it take for farms or distributors to find solutions that get the right products to the buyers at the right price.

Use Pre-Mortem Analysis to Prevent Project Failure

When you are planning a bold farm diversification or expansion who do you want on your planning team?  An ultra-advocate….”we can do this!” or the devils-advocate… “here is something that  could really go wrong!”.  Consider the premortem analysis process. Don’t wait to complete the  postmortem debrief after the project fails. At that point it is too late. The team can learn from the mistakes but it will be too late to recoup sunk capital, time and possibly relationships that suffer from the failure.The premortem analysis takes an important look at all the factors that can wreck your project. It is a key process to anticipating these risks, fine tuning the plan and building in sufficient contingencies.. Business advisers can facilitate this process or business owners/project leaders can do it within their groups.

Feasibility planning regularly suffers from over-optimism or key leaders that are over-invested in success (at all costs!). The project premortem is an essential step in the planning process. Here is a list of key steps to complete the project premortem

  • Gather key projects members and stakeholders that have already been briefed on the anticipated project goals.
  • Make the announcement “the project has failed”.
  • Team members must  start with the brainstorm first (don’t try to problem solve). Ask participants to list 2-3 the things that caused the failure. Ideally, get people to develop their list independently without group conversation. Create space for all team members to get their perspective into the process.
  • Team leaders and/or the group reviews the premortem symptoms and ranks the highest priority items.
  • Look for ways to strengthen the project plan.

Farming is a risky business and certain farms are challenged to retain profits. At any point in the business planning process it is OK to ask, “is there more evidence pointing to project failure compared to success? Can this be a viable project?”

The premortem perspective will bring your farm planning to a higher level. Forcing projects to fail on paper will improve a manager’s ability to make them work in real life.