On May 5th and 7th I had the
opportunity to represent Vermont as part of the Northern New England Dairy
Discussion webinars hosted by the University of New Hampshire’s Elaina Enzien.
Extension dairy specialists Peter Erickson, Mike Sciabarrasi, Carl Majewski and
Seth Wilner (New Hampshire), Gary Anderson and Rick Kersbergen (Maine) and I
offered participants some sound dairy management strategies to help deal with
the recent low milk prices and new pricing models. We focused on “right sizing”
animal numbers, switching from 3x to 2x milking frequency, ration adjustment
and using milk to feed animals on the farm as means to achieve cooperative
Also on the webinars were Catherine DeRonde from Agrimark,
and Leon Berthiaume from DFA /St Albans to discuss the two-tier milk pricing
model and what producers in each cooperative can expect for the remainder of
the summer. Milk market volatility is now being driven by supply and
distribution chain challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, with both
cooperatives forced to take measures to reduce the flow of milk coming in to
The series proved to be timely and very popular, with over 140 participants registering for the two-day session. A link to presentation materials and the video recording of the webinars can be found HERE at the UNH website. We plan to continue the series throughout the summer, with the next session being held on Tuesday, June 16th. Find more information and register HERE.
For the remainder of April UVM Extension Agricultural Business
will host a 30-minute web forum every Thursday at 12:30pm to keep pace
with emerging COVID-19 issues faced by farm and forest businesses. Each session
will include an update on market situations for our farming sectors
and information on hot topics, as well as time for questions and
Weekly Focus Topics:
April 16th: SBA Emergency Loan Programs
April 23rd: Cash Flow Triage for Small Business
April 30th: Digital Entrepreneurship and Online Marketing
UVM Extension Business Specialists Mark Cannella, Tony Kitsos, Chris Lindgren, Betsy Miller and Zac Smith 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 2020 ➥ Held at UVM Extension Offices in 9 locations (Online or phone meetings are also available) ➥ FREE!
Contact Christi Sherlock at Christi.Sherlock@uvm.edu or 802.476.2003 to register for one of the appointments listed below.
To ensure adequate preparation, reservations must be made by the Thursday of the week before your appointment. If you require a disability-related accommodation to participate, please call at least three weeks in advance of your scheduled session.
I work with many types of farms and farmers in business planning. I don’t keep track of the percentage, but I would say a majority of the folks I work with hire a professional to prepare their tax returns. However, I am a firm believer that a basic understanding of the rules is helpful even to those who hire a professional.
When I sat down to write this I planned to share a few links of resources that would be helpful to farmers who either prepare their own returns or just want a better understanding. What I found was a little disturbing. Many of the sites that I used to find helpful are now out of date. We all expect things to change from one year to the next, but there were some big changes in 2018 and many of the farm tax resources out there do not reflect or even mention those changes.
I urge any of you who use the internet to find tax resources to check the dates on what you are reading. Make sure you are getting current information.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
It is the nomination period for the Vermont Dairy Farm of the Year award. UVM Extension has an application form for you to nominate the farm you think exemplifies what an outstanding dairy is… great milk quality, innovation on the farm, progressive management practices, community service and ambassadorship for the industry are all characteristics of past recipients. Thanks to Richard, Bonnie and Tucker at Fairmont Farms for being great 2017 ambassadors for Vermont dairy producers!
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.