UVM Agricultural Business is Hiring: Online Education and Communications Coordinator

Overview: University of Vermont Extension has three projects in 2021-2022 that include online education events, project webpages and communications initiatives to disseminate project resources to target stakeholders. UVM is seeking an experienced individual capable of coordinating ongoing online educational events and developing a multi-media communications plan to expand the reach of the projects. The selected candidate will work closely with the maple extension specialist and maple business project directors, oversee 3rd party consultants and coordinate external services to implement the communications plan. This is a part time position.

View the job summary with application instructions.

UVM Maple Webinar Series Begins in July

Maple syrup sample jars (Credit: Mark Isselhardt)

University of Vermont maple, business development and forestry specialists will present a series of online webinars starting July 21st 2021. Session information and registration is now available for eight sessions offered from late July through October. Register now on the Upcoming Events page at www.maplemanager.org or download the program schedule here: UVM 2021 Maple Webinar.

Topics will include: red maple syrup research, forest carbon, financial benchmarks, maple start-up investment profiles, sap-only enterprises, Northeast forest tax policy and more. Presenters will include: Abby van den Berg (Research Associate Professor), Anthony D’Amato (Director UVM Forestry Program), Mark Isselhardt (Maple Specialist), Mark Cannella (Extension Associate Professor) and Chris Lindgren (Forest Business Coordinator).

Register Today at www.maplemanager.org !

New Maple Business Reports – Summer 2021

Sap hydrometer measures sugar content.

The UVM Extension Maple Business program has published several new resources for maple business owners and forest landowners. The following publications add to the growing list of guides and financial planning calculators at www.maplemanager.org:

Legal Entity Structures for Maple Producers: This guide describes several legal entities appropriate for single or multiple owners of a maple business. Set-up and maintenance considerations for LLC’s, LLP’s, partnerships and joint ventures will help existing and new owners find the right entity to meet their ownership goals.

Joint Venture Template: This document includes the major considerations that partners should discuss and agree upon when setting up a joint venture.

Northeast Maple Business Benchmark (2019): This most recent report summarizes financial performance and business metrics from a sample of maple enterprises in the northeast United States. Business records from 6,000 – 60,000+ taps maple businesses demonstrate investment requirements, cost of production and profitability.

Visit www.maplemanger.org for maple business development and forestry resources today.

Did I Make A Profit Last Year?

by Betsy Miller UVM Extension Farm Business Educator

This time of year finds the staff of UVM Extension Agricultural Business holding one-on-one budget/business coaching sessions around the state. Typically, these are a time to prepare year-end financial statements or a budget for the coming year, discuss capital investments and anticipated changes to the business, and/or do some financial analysis of the business.  This year as we help farmers prepare their year-end statements and review the past year, we are seeing many farms that received CARES Act or VCAAP funds. 

While wrapping up my work with one farmer, they commented that at least they made a profit in 2020. Technically, yes, the bottom line was black. On the one hand, they are right to feel relieved. In a very trying year when all was said and done the government funds provided the relief they needed and kept them going. On the other hand, however, this doesn’t necessarily mean that their business was profitable.

When a farm takes in a significant amount of extraordinary income—in this case relief funds— how do we interpret the financial statements to assess the performance in the fiscal year? In the case of the VCAAP funds, they were based on a farm’s “normal” operations and meant to replace the measurable impact of the pandemic on the business. In theory, the addition of these funds could help to normalize the cash flow impact and the result would be a “typical” year. Other relief funds were not as directly tied to replacing lost income and therefore the result is more nebulous.

As I’ve reviewed farm financial statements this year, I’ve concluded that when we record 2020 financials, we should report them with an asterisk and be careful not to draw too many conclusions about the health or profitability of the farm based upon them. Projecting for 2021 and beyond will be challenging as we try to predict what “the new normal” will look like. Don’t let 2020 derail you from efforts to achieve your financial goals.

New Report: The Impact of Covid-19 on Farm and Food Businesses in Vermont

A new report has been published by University of Vermont that documents how Covid-19 has impacted food system businesses in Vermont.  The report, authored by Meredeth Niles and several other researchers, is available online here: “COVID-19 Impacts on Vermont Farms and Food Businesses: Pivots, Needs and Opportunities for the Future”

Here is a summary below:

This report highlights results from a survey of Vermont farm and food businesses conducted during August and September 2020, with a total of 223 respondents. The survey was distributed via a number of non-profit, business, and state agencies in Vermont. Respondents included farms, food and farm product retail, agritourism operators, on-farm food processors, food and beverage manufacturers, nurseries/greenhouses/garden centers, and food hubs/aggregators. Overall, we find the majority of respondents experienced a COVID-19 business impact, especially in market and financial ways. We also find that the majority of respondents had business changes they wanted to make, but couldn’t because of a lack of financial resources, inadequate equipment, or personal challenges. While the majority of respondents didn’t apply for COVID-19 grants and programs, those that did were significantly more likely to agree they had the financial resources to make necessary business changes. We also identify help recovery strategies including the need for market assistance to shift to online platforms. Finally, we identify that the majority of respondents indicated perceived stress at the time of the survey, further highlighting the need for mental health resources related to COVID-19. We discuss future opportunities for recovery efforts and resilience in the Vermont food system.

Changes Coming to Our Blog

Welcome to the Agriculture Business blog, formerly Farm Viability. Our work encompasses Farm Viability but is more than just Farm Viability!

We are migrating content from the blog onto our UVM website. Some content, like many of the static resources we offer will be found on our website instead of our blog. Our blog will also be getting a facelift.

Our resources will still be accessible and we will still be posting updates on the blog about specific Ag Biz topics of importance to your farm & forest enterprises.

If there is something you are looking for that you cannot find on our new website, email us with questions.

Farm Transfer Can Happen Outside the Family

By Tony Kitsos, Dairy Business Program Manager

I recently had the opportunity to work with and advise three farm business owners in structuring the transition of their businesses to prospective buyers who were not family members or neighboring farmers. As advisors, we often hit a wall when farmers express to us that there is no “next generation coming along”; that their children and relatives are not interested in becoming farm owners. Many family members state that they have no interest in working that hard for so many hours only to have too little money to show for it. Others say that they just want to follow their own path to success, usually outside of agriculture and the family business. Such was the case for all three of these farm businesses.

Each farm took a couple of years to find a young, knowledgeable and energetic person to bring in to their thriving businesses. They wanted to show them the ropes while they had the energy and health to provide mentorship. Let’s face it… with the way values of farmland, cattle and machinery have risen over the last 20 years, it’s extremely difficult for a young farmer to walk into a bank and borrow enough money to buy the business and then survive through the first two years of operating expenses unless there is plenty of cash to start with. Lenders do not want to see a new farmer fail for lack of cash and equity. The current owner has to make a decision: Do I sell outright to another farmer or bring someone new into the business? The approach is similar to that of a typical transfer – determine a period of time to “get up to speed” on the existing business, another block of time to begin the sure and steady transfer of certain assets to the incoming owner and then an outright purchase at the end of the trial period.

In each case, the owners had set up a combination of asset transfer for revenue increases over a specified schedule. The implicit agreement was: “Make this business better and more profitable over the transition period and it will be good for both of us.” In these scenarios there is mutual benefit from the continued and increased success of the business. Careful attention must be paid to the development of a sound exit strategy – one that covers both parties in case of a falling out or a change of heart. So gather in all of your trusted advisors, lay out a plan, let them shoot holes in it, restructure, and most of all don’t give up. There is a new generation of farmer anxious to get started with the right tools for success.

Support for Farms Applying to Covid-Relief Grants

UVM Extension Farm Viability business advisors are working with the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) Viability network to offer assistance to all farmers with the Vermont Covid Ag Assistance Program . VHCB has an intake form here to request assistance with your grant application.

The deadline for grant applications is October 1, 2020. To learn more about the program visit the website: VT Covid-19 Agricultural Assistance Program

 A number of other programs have emerged to provide funds or support services to farms across Vermont. See the Ag Covid Program Directory below. This document includes several links to grants, FSA payment programs and educational events.

New Grants for Vermont Farm Covid-19 Business Recovery

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets has announced it will begin accepting applications the week of August 17th for the new Agriculture and Working Lands Assistance grants program. This program is designed for non-dairy farmers, poultry/livestock producers and farmers’ markets. Applications will be accepted and awarded on a first come-first served basis until October 1st. VAAFM is hosting online informational webinars for applicants and service provider organization supporting the business owner application process this week and next week. See the VAAFM grants webpage to get application and grant information: Agriculture and Working Lands Assistance grants program.

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets is also offering the Dairy Assistance grants program and the Agricultural Fairs grant program that support enterprises that have prior or ongoing income loss or increased costs due to the Covid-19 economic impact. Both programs have online applications available now.

Vermont Small Farm Viability and Conservation Report

UVM Extension has released a report that documents conservation adoption and economic viability on Certified Small Farm Operations. Conservation and Farm Viability on Vermont Small Farms (FBRR035) is available online. This report summarizes responses from over 170 Vermont farms to a 2019 survey. UVM Agricultural Business explores the current situations that business owners face and the major issues moving forward.