NCAT Southeast staff recently wrapped up a series of workshops—one per month for six months—with the same group of farmers from Arkansas and Oklahoma. The “Taking Your Farm to the Next Level” workshop series started in November 2018 and concluded in April 2019. The participating farmers had several years of production experience, but wanted to focus on the business aspects of farming to improve their operations. It was a diverse group of livestock and crop producers with varying scales of production.
November 13: Class 1
The first workshop covered introductions of NCAT, the Southeast office staff, and participants. NCAT Southeast Regional Director Margo Hale presented on whole-farm planning and NCAT Horticulture Specialist Luke Freeman gave an overview of farm business planning. Each attendee received a copy of the book Building a Sustainable Business, published by Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE). Participants also received binders to hold handouts and ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture publications. The group left with homework assignments to complete before the next session.
Participants received copies of goal-setting worksheets and other resources from ATTRA’s Business Planning and Marketing tutorial. They also received a copy of the ATTRA publication Holistic Management: A Whole-Farm Decision Making Framework.
December 12: Class 2
This session focused on farm financial management. Ashley Appel started the evening with a presentation on financial recordkeeping. Ashley is co-owner of Appel Farms with her husband, Travis Appel, who is an alumnus of our Armed to Farm program for veterans. She is an accountant and also keeps the books for their farm, so she had lots of practical advice to share. She talked about setting up a chart of accounts, using Quickbooks, and other important financial management topics. The second speaker was Charlie Stockton, a retired ag lender. He talked about what you should do to prepare for working with a lender. He had great wisdom to share with the group. The homework assignments for this session included evaluating recordkeeping on their farm and putting together a cash flow budget. The participants were engaged, asking lots of good questions and having lively debates!
January 8: Class 3
This session focused on recordkeeping. Luke gave a presentation on recordkeeping and digital tools for recordkeeping. The group was really interested in this topic; they asked lots of questions and shared resources that they use. Then Jeremy Prater of Cedar Creek Farm (and NCAT Agriculture Specialist Nina Prater’s husband) talked about recordkeeping on their farm. Jeremy keeps detailed records and has amazing spreadsheets. He does a great job of explaining how he uses his records to make production and farm decisions. He showed us a few of his spreadsheets and everyone was on the edge of their seats as he used the data to tell the story of their farm.
February 12: Class 4
This session focused on legal issues. Rusty Rumley from the National Agricultural Law Center presented about general farm liability issues. He also talked about business structures and the importance of those for a farm business. Rusty also discussed labor issues and some of the legalities around interns versus paid staff. Discussing farm legalities always becomes lively, and this workshop was no exception.
They also received copies of the book Farmers’ Guide to Business Structures, available either in print or as a free download from SARE.
March 12: Class 5
This session focused on branding and marketing. NCAT Program Specialist Robyn Metzger presented on branding and sharing your farm story to engage with customers. Luke presented on social media marketing. He also discussed using Google, websites, and e-newsletters to reach customers. Participants shared their logos and social media accounts, and Robyn and Luke used those as examples.
For additional information on using social media for your farm, see the ATTRA webinars Using Social Media to Grow Your Farm Business, Using Facebook to Grow Your Farm Business, and Using Instagram to Grow Your Farm Business.
April 9: Class 6
This final session focused on market options and entering new markets. We asked several participants to share their experiences with different marketing avenues, including farmers markets, u-pick operations, wholesale/grocery stores, restaurants, and online ordering/delivery. Luke interviewed each of these participants and had them share pros, cons, skills needed, price and volume expected, and why they chose that marketing channel. It was great to hear their varying experiences. The other participants asked questions and got a sense of what each marketing channel is like. NCAT Horticulture Specialist Guy Ames also shared his experiences with various marketing channels. The session ended with each participant sharing their “take aways” from the course, sharing what they have implemented on their farms and what they plan to implement in the future.
Throughout the course, participants became comfortable with each other and made good connections with other farmers in the area. We will create an online course/tutorial from the workshop recordings, videos, and resources, so stay tuned!
The “Taking Your Farm to the Next Level” workshop series was funded by a Southern SARE Education grant.
ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture specialists are available to answer your questions about farm business planning, financial planning, recordkeeping, marketing, livestock and vegetable production, and many other topics! Give us a call at 1-800-346-9140 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.