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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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)
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
Apply for Dairy Improvement Grants up to $20,000
With grant funds donated by Commonwealth Dairy and in partnership with the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery, Dairy Farmers of America, Housing Vermont, and the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation, the Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program provides grants of up to $20,000 to Vermont dairy farmer members of the St. Albans Co-op and Dairy Farmers of America to make farm improvements. This round of funding is for projects that will improve water quality and help farmers meet new water quality regulations. Application deadline is February 12th
Click this link for application information: Dairy Improvement Grants
Forest Business Educator – Extension
The University of Vermont Extension seeks a Forest Business Outreach Educator to deliver business coaching and business management education to owners and managers of forest products-based businesses. The position will also contribute to forest and agricultural research projects. A Bachelor’s Degree in forestry, natural resources, business administration or a closely related field and at least 3 years of experience in economic development, forest products or business management education 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.
The position is located in Rutland or Berlin Vermont. This is a grant funded position. For further information and to apply with electronic application, resume, cover letter and one page written biography visit our website at this link: https://www.uvmjobs.com/postings/18409
UVM Extension Farm Viability is offering several programs for farm managers this winter.
2016 Budget Clinics : UVM Extension Farm Business educators are available to work one-on-one with farmers on their finances. Bring your financial statements, records and questions for this 1 to 1 ½ hour private meeting at a local Extension office. Click the link above for the schedule.
Ag Biz Pro : Ag Biz Pro is the program of choice for farm managers who wish to continue working with an individual adviser after completing a grant funded Farm Viability business planning project. Participants work directly with a farm business adviser within a flexible curriculum to address priority issues facing the business through the preparation of financial statements, financial analysis and overall business analysis.
Farm Viability Business Planning and Dairy Management Teams : Individualized and team based business planning programs run throughout the entire year. Click the program summary above and download applications from our “Application Materials” page.