Maple Planning Tools are Now Available Online

University of Vermont has created a suite of short-form business planning tools for maple operations. The Maple Business website provides web-based modules that include a yield calculator, a pricing tool with a sales forecast report, and a budget tool with a cost analysis report. A self-guided business plan is also available for users to draft and print sections of a written business plan. The modules offer an optional log-in feature that enables users to save their progress and return to work on their plan at another time.

Are you developing a new marketing plan? Using the Gross Sales Forecast a maple producer can take their entire maple crop and assign it to different container sizes and prices. Here is a sample report for 6,000 tap enterprise selling 80% of the crop as bulk syrup and 20% in retail containers.

More Maple Business Coming in 2019

Northeast Maple Producer Survey: In late August UVM Extension will be sending a survey across the Northeastern United States inquiring about business practices, business outlook and forestry practices.

Maple Leasing Resources: In Fall 2019 UVM Extension will begin publishing a series of maple leasing templates and legal resources to guide the development of business partnerships and other business-to-business relationships.

Are you looking for a new resource or business calculator to move your decision-making forward? Contact Mark Cannella at UVM Extension Maple Business today and share your ideas!

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.

Ecosystem Services Valuation – What is it, and should we look at farming practices differently?

By Tony Kitsos

In my opinion, any discussion concerning ecosystems and the services we gain from them must begin with the teachings of conservationist Aldo Leopold. In his seminal book, A Sand County Almanac, published in 1949, Leopold wrote on “The Land Ethic”:

The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land. This sounds simple: do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and whom do we love? Certainly not the soil, which we are sending helter-skelter down river. Certainly not the waters, which we assume have no function except to turn turbines, float barges, and carry off sewage. Certainly not the plants, of which we exterminate whole communities without batting an eye. Certainly not the animals, of which we have already extirpated many of the largest and most beautiful species. A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these ‘resources,’ but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state. In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.

Leopold saw the value in land “conservation,” understanding that we must be able to both use, and preserve, that which we dwell upon – not only for monetary gain but for our very existence as a species.

Enter the discussion on valuing the conservation of habitat. Ecosystem Services Valuation (ESV) can be thought of as placing emphasis on “ecosystem services” by making an explicit link between the functions of nature and the subsequent benefits (goods and services) provided to society as a result of those functions. The “goods,” such as milk, beef, seafood, forage, timber, biomass fuels and natural fiber are easy to account for and important to human welfare. They usually have monetary value and are accounted for in the traditional functioning of our economy. The “services,” on the other hand, are just as valuable but are not accounted for in the consumer market. In other words, we do not directly pay for our use of them. They provide basic life-support functions, such as clean air, clean water, flood attenuation, carbon storage and sequestering, nutrient cycling, and biodiversity, to name a few.

But should we place economic value on these services? And if so, who should pay? With Legislation beginning in 1948 through today, dozens upon dozens of legislative actions at both the federal and state levels aimed at conservation and environmental protection have been passed. Most recently, Act 64, Vermont’s Clean Water Act, came on the scene, requiring farm businesses to adopt a wide array of practices geared towards improving the water quality of our state. With a combination of grants from NRCS EQIP and VAAFM BMP sources, farms can receive significant cost share towards implementation of these practices. However, the residual costs become the responsibility of the farmer and when profit margins are razor thin at best, those costs are daunting.

Are Vermonters receiving more value than just a new manure pit or barnyard to control unwanted direct discharges? What of the ecosystem value down the road – what value should be placed on land that must be maintained and farmed in specific ways? And does the product produced become more valuable? Should those goods be revalued to account for the “ecosystem services” provided by our land stewards – the producers? We may be entering into this arena of ESV and looking at other yet-to-be-identified players to actually pay for the future “ecosystem services” provided by Vermont farmers.  

Let’s keep in mind Leopold’s description of land ethic: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

Digital Template Helps Logging Companies Develop A Business Plan (by Chris Lindgren)

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.”

I completely agree.  This is a huge opportunity for Vermont. Vermont’s small businesses have much to gain by developing digital know-how and adopting digital tools. Forest Business will continue to support development of digital skills and tools for Vermont’s forest economy. Stay up to date on Forest Business programs here.

Do you have thoughts on digital skills education? Please take a moment to fill out our educational resource assessment survey. Thank you.

Crop Insurance Resources and Winter Webinars


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 of February:

2/26/19              Green Peas

2/28/19              Oats

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

https://go.uvm.edu/ag-risk

USDA and the University of Vermont are equal opportunity providers and employers. This material is funded in partnership by USDA, Risk Management Agency, under award number RM18RMETS524C022.

2019 Maple Production, Markets and Programs

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.

A new Maple Cheerios hit stores recently!!!

Three new projects began this fall in Vermont to support maple syrup production and marketing through 2021. National USDA Acer Access and Development Projects.

Farm, Forest and Maple Business Clinics

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!

Business Clinics Information Sheet

2018 Farm Bill Becomes Law

(Betsy Miller, Farm Viability Coordinator)

After months of negotiating the 2018 Farm bill was passed by congress and signed into law by President Trump on December 20, 2018.

The bill has many components relevant to agriculture in Vermont including:

  • Legalization of hemp
  • Changes to the Margin Protection Program (MPP)  for dairy
    • Increased margin up to $9.50
    • Lower premiums for first 5 million pounds of milk from farm
    • Allows for overlap with LGM
    • Refund of portion of premiums paid from 2015 – 2017
  • Changes to NRCS EQIP Programs

For more information regarding specifics of the farm bill follow these links:

https://www.agweb.com/article/the-2018-farm-bill-what-you-need-to-know/

This agweb article includes a table with MPP premium rates.

Senator Leahy has issued a press release on the subject:

https://www.leahy.senate.gov/press/leahy-hails-senate-passage-of-five-year-farm-bill

Policy Options for Maple Marketing into the Future

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.

Market Orders:

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

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.

Examples of specialty crop  farmer coops in the US that are relevant to maple producers:  Hazelnut Growers of Oregon, Organic Valley (CROPP), Deep Root Organic Coop.