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.
UVM Extension Forest Business has added a new tool to the digital resources available to forest products businesses.Small Business Planning for Loggers was produced by Steve Bick and Chris Lindgren with support from Vermont’s Working Lands Enterprise Initiative.
Forest Business has been supporting digital tools and skill development in our work for five years now. Whether it’s bringing bookkeeping to the computer or online, using video conferencing for meetings, developing digitally based tools, or collaboration in cloud-based applications, acceptance of digital tools is increasingly becoming the norm with the business owners who engage in our program.
This morning as I was working on this blog I read a press release about a new report on digital skills development in rural America—Unlocking the Digital Potential of Rural America. Commissioned by Amazon and researched by the US Chamber of Commerce the report concludes that the adoption of new digital skills and technology in rural America will lead to significant economic gains.
“Increased adoption of online tools and digital services for businesses across rural America could create more than 360,000 jobs in the next three years.”
“Increased adoption could grow annual revenues of rural small businesses by more than 21% over the next three years – the equivalent of $84.5 billion per year.”
“Online tools and technology have the highest potential impact on rural small businesses with annual revenue under $100,000.”
From Jake Jacobs, UVM Crop Insurance Education Coordinator
A series of webinars on various crop insurance topics is
being presented this winter through a combined effort between Penn State
Extension and National Crop Insurance Services (NCIS). These are designed to familiarize farmers
with the various insurance options and to help producers make decisions about
how crop insurance might fit in with their farm’s risk management plan. For each crop, participants will learn:
What crop insurance products are available
What risks are covered
How different types of insurance work
What options within each policy are available
The application process
Where to go for additional information and help
Here are the webinars scheduled in the 2nd half
For a complete list of all remaining topics in the webinar
series, go to the NCIS webinar link:
For resources on agricultural risk management for Vermont producers, visit the UVM Ag Risk website
It’s “all systems go” across the US maple regions in February. Producers have begun to tap trees and troubleshoot tubing systems. With only a few rumors of early sap collection in January most Vermont producers have begun or are about to begin setting taps for the 2019 crop. Drop line and spout sanitation practices paired with high vacuum tubing systems enable longer tap hole longevity to catch early runs and maintain production later in the season. UVM Proctor Maple Research Center leads the nation in maple production research and Vermont producer yields continue to lead the nation (see USDA NASS reports on the Extension Maple Pages).
The UVM Extension Maple Program, Addison County Maple Sugarmakers and the statewide VMSMA organized three maple conferences in January. Workshop topics included production, forest health, and food safety. Attendees and presenters put a large emphasis on market conditions. Industry leaders felt the expansion of maple taps continues but it has slowed in the past two years. Representatives from Quebec indicated that roughly 60% of the recent FPAQ 5 Million tap expansion allowance is currently hitting markets. The remaining taps are still being set up over the next few years. The general outlook is that US bulk maple syrup prices will hover near $2.00-$2.10 plus premiums for 2019. No one was willing to predict prices would increase but there was general agreement that nothing significant has prompted the price to drop below $2.00 per pound. Local maple marketers shared insights that wholesale and retail competition has grown dramatically in the northeast. Many marketers are setting their sights on consumers outside the northern maple belt region. Maple businesses are also working to differentiate themselves with unique products, packaging and branding to maintain sales. Large packers reminded attendees that Canadian syrup imports remain competitive due to the current US-Canadian currency exchange rates. Meanwhile, pure maple syrup is well positioned for consumer demand for natural sweeteners in the United States.
UVM Extension Business Specialists Mark Cannella, Tony Kitsos, Chris Lindgren and Betsy Miller 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 2019
➥ Held at UVM Extension Offices in 10 locations
➥ only $25.00 Online Registration Here!
New maple products like sap beverages and infused syrups now join the classic pure maple syrup products on store shelves and online platforms. Will US maple market policy and collective marketing entities innovate in new ways too? What options are available for collective marketing efforts here in the United States?
Two possible options for the maple sector are producer cooperatives and federal market orders. Both options require strong leadership from industry representatives, committed support from members and ongoing management to sustain the effort.
Vidalia onions, “Got Milk”, Florida Oranges…sound familiar? Producers in these industries approved collective efforts funded by small assessments (often pennies per pound) through a Federal Market Order (FMO). FMOs provide a way for producers and handlers to work together to accomplish things they could not achieve on their own. Orders do this by (1) maintaining the high quality of product that is on the market; (2) standardizing packages and containers; (3) regulating the flow of product to market; (4) establishing reserve programs; and (5) authorizing production research and marketing efforts. Read more about current Specialty Crop Market Orders on the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service website.
Producer cooperatives can be formed in many different ways with different goals. Cooperatives could range in size from only a few producer members to thousands. A new Cooperative establishes a legal business entity that is owned and overseen by members. Here is a list of co-op activities that may be relevant for a group of maple producers/members.
Collective ownership of processing facilities to store, process, and package bulk syrup into a marketable format.
Collective ownership of pooled market-ready product and/or active marketing efforts to sell the products.
Supply Cooperative: pooling member demand to access production inputs and supplies at reduced costs to its members.
Establishment of farm gate prices/contracts that eliminate the year to year volatility and uncertainty of final crop sales prices after the production season.
Establishment of verified product standards or unique features that enhance the distinction of coop products from other similar products available to consumers
Coordinating large numbers of participants into a unified and powerful voice for political organizing and communications campaigns that promote the interests of the membership.
“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Dwight D. Eisenhower
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Mike Tyson
I’m not sure if Tyson and Eisenhower are saying the same thing, but they are saying similar things; plans are important, but they go awry. This insight applies to logging businesses particularly. Logging is not boxing or battle, but logging is a risk heavy business significantly influenced by external factors. Improvisation is an essential skill and planning helps you succeed in the heat of the moment.
There is a workshop next week offering free lunch, industry discussion, business skills and technical knowledge to logging businesses. No disrespect to Tyson, but I have found in my work that not everybody has a plan. This workshop is a great place to get one started and to learn how to adjust when you feel the knuckles on your jaw. Offered by University of Vermont Extension, Forest Business, the class is worth 5.5 CFE (Consulting Forester Education) credits and 8 LEAP (Logger Education to Advance Professionalism) credits. This is a great opportunity for professional development. This class will help loggers and foresters understand the shifting economic landscape and stay current on the regulatory and policy front. It is a time to network with peers in the forest products sector and to pick the brains of industry leaders and educators. It is also time to learn business management and finance skills to help your company identify what’s important and where to focus effort.
While preparing for the workshops I have been reading Continuous Improvement in Logging, (CIL) by Steve Bick and Jeff Benjamin. An adept application of Theory of Constraints (TOC) to logging, CIL distills the ideas of CI (Continuous Improvement) providing examples of the productivity of logging operations. With detailed information on productivity and a thorough discussion of common bottlenecks for timber harvesting systems, the book dispenses management wisdom along with rigorous focus on identification of bottlenecks in logging operations. CIL introduces readers to The Goal, a business novel worth a read. The goal is defined as, “making money now and in the future.” This goal focuses all productive effort. Steve will be speaking at the workshop bringing productivity enhancing tools and techniques to those in attendance. These tools will help you continually improve your game, preparing you to avoid the knuckles and spend more time “making money that sticks.”
Punches and lunches lead to continual improvement!
Tell a logger or forester you know to join us or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
UVM Extension will offer this free workshop for logging companies on November 7th (Rutland, VT) and November 8th (Hardwick,VT). Presentations will cover a range of topics from industry updates to marketing strategies and include new presentations not included in past years. Presenters include: Sam Lincoln (VT Dept of Forests, Parks & Recreation), Paul Frederick (VT Dept of Forests, Parks & Recreation), Chris Lindgren (UVM Extension), Christine McGowan (VT Sustainable Jobs Fund) and Steve Bick (Northeast Forests, LLC). Learn more about the program and how to register!
Posted by Betsy Miller, UVM Extension Farm Viability Coordinator
On August 13, 2018 Agri-Mark hosted a Dairy Summit in Albany, NY. This was an opportunity for farmers and dairy industry representatives to discuss the current state of dairy pricing and to offer proposals for a new structure.
Proposals posted on the website share a common theme of supply management and price stabilization. Many suggest a pro-active approach lead by co-ops. Expansion of current farms and entry of new farms into the business are both areas that offer challenges to the idea of a quota system. All seem to agree that this is a complex problem that doesn’t have an easy solution.
As global maple syrup production increases the markets, communities, and business owners are facing changes. Vermont has a long cultural heritage of syrup production ranging from subsistence production to commercial activity for over 100 years. 2018 is no different… for every new maple enterprise setting up to tap 50,000 trees we are likely to have 10+ new hobby producers making their own syrup and selling the excess directly in their neighborhood.
Research on farm economics has demonstrated how farms can often get caught in the middle of the push and pull of dynamic business environments and consumer preferences. The 2008 text Food and the Mid-Level Farm (Lyson, Stevenson, Welsh) explains the dilemma that faces “agriculture in the middle.” The super-small farm can often maintain a specialty niche that serves local or direct clientele. It’s common that these farms might be part-time or lifestyle farms. They may be profitable but it may not matter. The largest scale farms are producing goods at low costs and high volumes and they are serving broader markets that value uniform product, lower price points, and require sophisticated supply chain logistics. What’s left is the farm “in the middle”. These farms are full time jobs for their owner -operators that need to earn a livelihood from risky business activity. They are too big to be accepted in niche markets and too small to compete with the big players.
The recent maple price downturn has begun to reveal where the “middle maple producer” may be. Four years of maple finance benchmark analysis has shown how a reasonable owner livelihood can disappear as the business environment shifts. A small sample of 7,500-15,000 tap maple producers in VT has demonstrated the looming risk for a formerly viable owner-operated bulk syrup enterprise that can’t break even if market prices stay below $2.10 per pound. These businesses can be a too big to pivot into niche direct marketing and too small to compete in the larger wholesale markets. We don’t know where the sweet spot for a commercially viable “middle” operation will be but we do know not to assume it will stay in the same place forever. We also wait to see if a group of informed consumers that value the people and practices of “ag in the middle” will persist.