Free Lunch, A Punch in the Face, and Continual Improvement

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“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 cplindgr@uvm.edu for more information.

2018 Business Skills Workshops for Logging Professionals—November 7th and 8th

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!

Dairy Summit and Industry Proposals

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.

Proposals are available to read and comment on at this site:  https://dairyproposals2018.com

The UVM Extension Farm Viability program provides one on one business planning to farm owners in Vermont. For more information see the program summary page.

 

Vermont Maple “In the Middle”

Credit: Mark Isselhardt

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.

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

 

Online Maple Sap Price Calculator

For many years maple sap and syrup producers have referenced the print version  sap buying pricing sheet that is regularly posted in industry publications like the Maple News or the annual Maple Syrup Almanac. There is now an online Sap Value Calculator developed by Cornell and Ohio State available for use. Cornell also has the Cornell Sap Buying Spreadsheet available for download (excel version) from their website.

Some sap sellers had historically used a 50% or 60% value share to price sap but those percentages are not necessarily current to all regions. Fast growing maple regions are  cited for up to  65% – 70% of final syrup market value being paid to the sap producer. The online Sap Value Calculator and the Cornell Spreadsheets offer more flexibility to target a specific crop share percentage for sap pricing.

Are you looking for more online maple business planning tools? UVM Extension has been awarded a new grant to develop online business planning tools and financial calculators  for maple producers. The project starts in June 2018. If you have ideas please contact 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. 


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!