Covid-19 Updates for Ag Businesses

Updated 4/2/20

Here are resources that have been developed in the past several days for agricultural businesses owners operating through the current health crisis.

Micro Loan and Grant Programs: American Farmland Trust Grants ($1k max); VT Farm Fund (up to $10k Emergency Loans), FACT Mini-Grant ($500 for livestock and poultry)

US Small Business Administration Emergency Programs

Small Business Owners Guide US CARES Act: See document download below (includes Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan/Grants) Note: As of 4/1/20, We have confirmation that farm businesses are eligible for the PPP SBA programs. “Farms” (ie. 100% farm production) are not currently eligible for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) but please stay tuned if that changes. Food processors, value-added, maple syrup producers, nursery and aquaculture may be eligble for EIDL, check details with SBA. Both these programs are “forgivable” for certain uses and do not require 100% repayment. See fact sheets below.

SBA Paycheck Protection Program webpage: A fact sheet and application are posted below. Contact your local bank or lender for information on how to submit an application.

PPP for sole proprietor owners seeking benefit for themselves. See this article on how to calculate your previous year Schedule F “Net Earnings” from prior year.

SBA Economic Injury Disaster Application

What is an Emergency EIDL Grant? ( As of 4/1/20 “Farms” are not eligible for COVID-EIDL program below. Stay tuned if that changes. Related food processing businesses,nursery, aquaculture, and agricultural cooperatives can still apply.)

•A borrower applying for EIDL can request an advance on the loan of up to$10,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA). •SBA must distribute the Emergency EIDL within 3 days of the request.•The up to $10,000 advance will be considered an Emergency EIDL grant.•The borrower will not be required to pay back the Emergency EIDL Grant even if they are subsequently denied for an EIDL loan. •In advance of disbursing the advance payment, the SBA will require that the borrower file a certification, under penalty of perjury, that they are eligible to apply for a EIDL loan

VT Agency of Agriculture Covid-19 Response Page: Submission form to submit your emerging business issues, newsletter sign up and resource links.

VT Agency of Commerce and Community Development Covid Updates: Covid Newsletter Sign Up, Emergency Declaration Guidance, Economic Injury Disaster Loans, Submit data on your business losses to inform agencies where support is needed

VT Emergency Management: This site contains the Essential Persons List (subject to change) and it’s relation to Emergency Child Care

UVM Extension Covid Response Blog for Produce Growers

Pro Dairy Cornell :Covid Resources Update: Lots of links below!

Novel coronavirus prevention & control for farms

Richard Stup, Cornell Agricultural Workforce Development, has tips for employers regarding novel coronavirus prevention and control on farms. Talk with your employees about coronavirus, how it spreads, and how to prevent getting infected. Print the CDC factsheets and posters, post in your workplace and employee housing facilities. Provide guidance to help employees clean and disinfect employer-provided housing. Follow up with employees and manage the process to be sure that this happens. Set up a regular weekly and daily schedule for cleaning. (CDC guidance for cleaning homes) Clean and disinfect your workplace. The employee breakroom and bathroom are great places for virus to be transmitted. Clean and disinfect any areas where employees congregate or routinely touch items such as doorknobs and computer keyboards. Set up daily and weekly cleaning schedules. Provide cleaning supplies such as cleaning solutions, buckets, mops, brushes, etc. for cleaning at work and for those living in employer-provided housing. (CDC list of approved antimicrobial cleaning products) Review your sick leave policy. The first advice for people who are sick is to stay home except to get medical care. Do you provide paid sick leave for your employees? If you do not, will employees feel financially obligated to come to work even if they are sick? Communicate with employees that they should stay home if they are sick. Employees sometimes come to work believing they will face punishment or firing if they miss work. Be sure your employees understand that their health and that of their co-workers’ comes first. Communicate and make a plan to cover for sick employees. CDC provides posters in English and Spanish covering symptoms of novel coronavirus. Prepare your disaster contingency plan. What will you do if 50 percent of your employees become sick and unable to work? Are there neighboring farms who might be able to share resources in an emergency? Who will manage for a few weeks if you or another key manager are unable to leave your house or are hospitalized? Cornell’s Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) provides community education resources across the entire disaster cycle of preparedness, response, and recovery.





Any Given Timber Harvest

by Chris Lindgren, Forest Business Educator

There must be as many ways to harvest timber as there are loggers, likely more. Every approach may not be “best,” but most are acceptable.  Each logger has a different set of equipment and a different crew with a variety of experience and skills, forest landowners have varying visions and objectives, and forest managers approach forest systems and forest operations based on their sensibilities. Each of these variables factor into a logger’s approach.

Whatever the circumstances, all parties desire a positive economic outcome. At all stages of production those who add value want to be fairly compensated for their work. The win-win result hopefully applies to both the cash value of materials harvested and the impacts on the residual stand, as well. Clearly, this is not always how it works out.

When I first began business planning work with logging contractors, one of the first workshops I attended was with Steve Bick of Northeast Forests LLC. I “got” to play a game Steve called penny logging.  This game was like production and assembly exercises I had encountered at various lean trainings over the years.  The objective: given certain constraints, arrange assets and production to achieve the smoothest, most economic output. Over the years I have become keenly aware of the constraints (terrain, soil, weather, ownership, regulation) on any given timber harvest. The harvest in the video above is an example of loggers using the constraints to their advantage, creating an exciting and elegant material flow. Enjoy!

Northeast Maple Producer Survey

Maple producers can complete the survey here: Maple Producer Survey

Photo Credit: Mark Isselhardt

The University of Vermont is conducting the Northeast Maple Producer Survey to understand the recent development in the maple sector and to inform how education and research can support maple producers. The survey will ask you about your maple production history, forestry practices, business goals and educational interests. Current projects focus on the Northeast but producers in any US state are welcome to complete the survey!

Participants will be asked to complete the online version or print survey. The survey will take approximately 20 minutes to complete. If you would like to complete a paper version you can contact Christi Sherlock at 802-476-2003 or Christi.Sherlock@uvm.edu to have a copy mailed to you.

The results of this survey will be published by University of Vermont Extension, shared in industry publications and discussed at maple conferences beginning in Fall 2019.

Maple producers can complete the survey here: Maple Producer Survey

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

UVM Extension is Hiring a Farm Business Educator

Job Posting: Extension Farm Business Educator

The University of Vermont Extension seeks a Farm Business Educator to deliver business management education to owners and managers of commercial farms. The position will focus on business analysis, financial planning and outreach education programs.  A Bachelor’s Degree in agriculture, economics or a closely related field and at least 3 years of experience in agricultural development is required.  The University is especially interested in candidates who can contribute to the diversity of the institution and deliver high quality outreach programs to a broad audience. Applicants are encouraged to include in their cover letter information about how they will further this goal. The position is located in Berlin Vermont. This is a grant funded position that starts at 0.80 FTE with the option to increase over time.  For further information or to apply, search for posting # S796PO at our website: www.uvmjobs.com .

Cage Free: Animal Welfare or Omega Emotion

As a farm business adviser it can be very difficult to reconcile a few concepts that impact farm viability and innovation. This Canadian article on fast-food giants converting to cage free eggs does a great job discussing the market and production dynamics at play in food systems:

The Cage Free Trend… (the Globe and Mail)

Back to farm planning topics. First: consumer is king, queen and treasurer, right? Farmers must provide a product to the market that is in demand. Second: price-maker or price taker? Farms that innovate have the opportunity to set prices, at least for a while, until the rest of the suppliers catch up.

Consider an innovation that dazzles the consumer population. But remember that the  98% of the US population that are non-farmers are guided by factors reasonably detached from practical farm matters or even science based attributes. Add a few mega corporations, advocacy groups and social media into the mix and now you have a marketplace. Check out this article: The Cage Free Trend… (the Globe and Mail)

 

Maple Benchmark on TV!

UVM Extension Across the Fence ran a television show on maple business and the Maple Benchmark project. Maple Benchmark: Across the Fence 4/12/16

Reports are coming in that 2016 is a record crop season. Producers are excited about yields but wary about possible price shifts if supply outpaces demand. Tune in to see what maple business owners consider to ensure this great Vermont product reaches your kitchen table.

Click this link to watch the segment: Maple Benchmark: Across the Fence 4/12/16