Maple Survey: The University of Vermont Extension Seeks Input to Develop New Maple Business Programs

UVM Extension wants to develop new maple business and economic resources to assist producers and industry leaders across the United States.

Take this short 3 minute online survey to tell us what you think. We need to know what topics to work on and how to make  programs most accessible to producers.

Maple Business Resources Survey

The Maple Business Benchmark has provided detailed financial analysis to maple producers since 2013. As the industry changes there are many more economic and business management topics to focus research and educational effort towards.

What are the key issues facing the industry?

What are the major constraints that your business wants to overcome?

What are the best resources that will help you manage forward?

Maple Business Resources Survey

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.

Business Skills for Logging Professionals: Workshops November 8th and 9th

UVM Extension will offer this free workshop for logging companies on November 8th (Chester, VT) and November 9th (Hardwick,VT). The workshop builds beyond topics covered in seminars last year. Presenters include: Sam Lincoln (VT Dept of Forests, Parks & Recreation), Paul Frederick (VT Dept of Forests, Parks & Recreation), Chris Lindgren (UVM), Christine McGowan ( VT Sustainable Jobs Fund) and Steve Bick (Northeast Forest LLC.). Topics this year include: current legislative issues, 5 smartphone apps for loggers, market/industry updates, business planning, personal finance and much more! Register Now!

 

New Factsheet on Farm Business Entity Formation and Conservation Payment Limits

UVM Extension has posted a new fact sheet describing the  federal conservation program payment limitations related to different types of farm business entities. The Farm Business Entities and Conservation Payment Limits fact sheet provides an overview of the opportunities and limitations facing  individuals, partnerships and limited liability entities that apply for NRCS conservation programs.

This new fact sheet and other legal education materials related to Vermont’s water quality regulations can be found on the Legal Education and Environmental Regulations web page.

Dairy Improvement and Water Quality Grants

The Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program, a program of the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, announced the availability of grant funds for on-farm capital improvement projects. Eligible farmers can apply for Water Quality Grants or Dairy Improvement Grants, both of which allow up to $40,000 in funding.

Water Quality Grants will help farmers make water quality-related capital improvements in on-farm infrastructure.The grants will assist with the costs of improvements required to comply with new regulations and are designed to complement existing federal and state grant programs that address soil health and water quality.

Funding for the Dairy Improvement Grants comes from Ehrmann Commonwealth Dairy, LLC, whose Brattleboro plant produces Green Mountain Creamery Greek yogurt from Vermont milk. To be eligible for Dairy Improvement Grants, farmers are required to provide a business plan and be members of the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery or Dairy Farmers of America.

You can find more information about grant opportunities at the Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program website.

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.

 

Farm Business and Budget Clinics

UVM Extension farm business educators are available to meet one-on-one with farm business owners over the next 3 weeks. Business and budget clinics offer a 1.5 hour private meeting to prepare a budget/financial statement or review a business plan strategy.

For more information and registration information go to the Budget Clinic Schedule:Winter 2017

The program is offered at the following locations: Bennington, Berlin, Brattleboro, Middlebury, Morrisville, Newport, Randolph, Rutland, St. Albans and St. Johnsbury

Farm Viability Network Resources

On February 17, 2017 the VT statewide farm viability business planning network members met to share current research and resources to advance farm business plans.The session included farm business benchmarks, feasibility studies and conservation easements.

The Farm to Plate Viability Indicators Task Force is collecting key benchmarks and indicators for produce, livestock, maple and other ag sectors in VT. Picture the scene, 17 business planners adding notes to a group spreadsheet and punching calculators to document business metrics used to evaluate performance and management: labor expense ratio for produce farms, gain per day for grass-fed beef finishing, debt repayment margins for robotic dairies. The task force will be publishing key benchmarks later in 2017.

Rose Wilson shared recent feasibility projects she has been working on. Right now, enterprise analysis projects for organic enterprises including grass only milk, laying hens and pork is underway. Spoiler…. these enterprise are challenged to break even at the current cost and market price levels. More studies include….

Feasibility Study for a Leased Vegetable Storage Facility, Rose Wilson This reports explores the demand and business  feasibility for a shared-use leased vegetable storage facility.

Northeast Kingdom Agricultural Transportation Feasibility Study, Rose Wilson
This report presents different freight service delivery solutions and includes cost analysis, route mapping and other business considerations.

The meeting concluded with an extended panel featuring the VT Land Trust Farmland Access Program.  A key discussion centered on  on farm labor housing and appraisal considerations relating to collateral values and credit decisions. Conservation easements continue to be an important way to meet conservation goals, facilitate farmer exit planning and provide affordable farmland access for new farm businesses.

Maple Business and Industry Update

What do Fortune 500 investors, folklorists, family farmers and Harvard Business School all have in common?

vacuum-on-3-16ths

All these people were at winter maple conferences and investigating ways to get in on the maple industry expansion. UVM Ag Business was able to attend maple conferences in NY and VT to witness the blend of old-school sugaring and new industry innovations. Here is a quick recap.

  • Industry Overview

Representatives from Butternut Mountain Farm, Bascom Maple Farms and Leader Evaporator Co. provided data and insights on maple supply, demand and pricing in the US and overseas. Consumers are making a shift towards “healthy” sweeteners. Maple syrup is a pure product with a very short processing chain that appeals to customers seeking pure and natural products. That being said, the industry is aware they are selling sugar and they don’t want to overstate health claims to promote maple. The panel estimated that global maple sales are split like this: 25% farm gate sales , 50% mass markets wholesale and grocery and 25% to manufacturing (sugar, cream, food product flavoring). Now with bulk maple prices hovering at $2.10-$2.20 per pound (down from almost $3.00 6 years ago) they predict an increase in the manufacturing portion of demand as maple becomes a more affordable ingredient for mass produced foods.  We are seeing that, new maple products and more products with added maple for flavoring. There is tremendous product innovation at all levels, big and small: maple sap beverages, infused syrups and sports recovery products

Is there still a place for table syrup? Everyone think’s so. Even with increasing global sales they cite the room for growth in domestic consumption in the US. Canadians consume ~ 1 quart of pure maple each year while Americans only consume 4 ounces. Promotional goals will work to increase consumption for those that already love pure maple.

  • Storytelling

Michael Lange, Associate Professor at Champlain College, delivered a keynote address blending folklore, storytelling and graphic design themes for maple producing regions in Vermont and beyond. After completing hundreds of interviews with maple producers he explained that the “Vermont” maple experience is something truly unique to our state. It blends a combination of nostalgia, cuisine, hobby and commercial economic impact in our state. He continued with the practical aspects of maple marketing and explained how storytelling through product promotion and branding is perceived differently outside maple producing regions.  People in urban areas and other countries are attracted to different element of the maple story.  Take the time to know your audience and don’t assume they care about the same things we do in VT.

  • Finances and Business Management

Mary Peabody, UVM Extension, explained current direct market trends and how to target the right customer. Increased demand for ethnic foods highlight expansion of spicy flavors in USA food products, and spicy flavors are often best complimented with sweet flavors (hint….Maple).

Yankee Farm Credit discussed how sugar bush real estate is appraised.

Business investors from other industries are attending sessions as they explore investing in new maple ventures. Even academics from other business schools are taking notice of maple. All the topics are there to entice a business student: a strategic reserve and quota system, free expansion in the US, technology innovations, risk and profit potential.

Producers are watching their finances! Declining bulk markets have producers nervous about short term cash flow. Many producers continue to get organic certification and enjoy the $0.15 – $0.20 premium, it helps! Find more on maple finances at our Maple Benchmark webpage.

 

Legal Education and Water Quality Regs: Workshops this Month

lisaborre-et-al-lakechamplain

Photo: Lisa Borre

UVM Extension is holding legal education workshops for farmers on December 15th (Vergennes), 16th (Randolph) and 20th (Enosburg). This workshop will focus on farmer rights and responsibilities as a new regulatory framework is established.

Workshop Features:

  • Legal Education Presentations
  • Break-out Groups: Compliance, Liability, Leases
  • Farmer to Farmer Networking
  • Participants will develop short term legal risk management plan

Presenters include: Tony Kitsos & Mark Cannella, (UVM Extension), Annette Higby, (Attorney at Law)

Register Now at:   https://www.eventbrite.com/e/water-quality-regulations-and-legal-education-for-farmers-tickets-29757524557