2018 Funded Completed Projects

1. Developing and Supporting a Benchmarking Program for Grass-Milk Farms in the Northeast.
Project Director: Heather Darby (heather.darby@uvm.edu)
University of Vermont State and Agricultural College
Award Amount: $49,891

Farmers converting to grass-fed dairy production require technical assistance to assure the farm is getting accurate and relevant information.  These opportunities don’t fit every farm and farmers should be well aware of any potential risks as well as the opportunities.

There is need to collect information from first adopters to quantify how management differences effects the success of these producers. Farmers need support determining what herd size their land base can support, what soil and forage quality improvements will be needed, and to understand the financial  pros and cons of grass-fed dairy production.

This project helped develop the first grass-fed production benchmarking program. Production information from 22 grass-fed organic milk producers helped to document the characteristics, benefits, and challenges of this production system.

Information about the benefits and challenges of grass-fed organic dairy was delivered to over 1000 stakeholders through workshops, field days, conferences, and webinars. In addition, a grass-fed dairy production manual was developed through information gathered from the benchmarking program and the scientific literature. Overall, the program helped 22 new farmers convert to grass-fed dairy and 82 farmers improve forage or soil quality to help reduce grain feeding on their farms.

2. Developing Risk Management Strategies for New and Existing Agritourism Businesses in the Western Catskills Region

Project Director: Mariane Kiraly (mk129@cornell.edu)
Cornell University
Award Amount: $24,732

This project taught all five areas of risk management education to 75 farmers and entrepreneurs that are planning or already engaged in an agri-tourism venture.  Five seminars focused on each risk management category and were followed by a farmer panel with existing agri-tourism businesses in the region that have been successful mitigating risk.  The seminars were half-day, 4-hour programs.  Participants  worked on their risk management plans in-between seminars using the material presented.  Instructors were experts in each of the five risk management categories and came from Extension and other fields.  By utilizing ZOOM, distance learners in adjoining counties connected with the host county, Delaware County Extension, which made access to the program easier, and offered a low-cost way to attend.  Other participants from Maine to Maryland also attended via Zoom. At total of 75 attendees participated in either the first or second session. The target audience was new and existing agritourism businesses in the 5-county region that is considered the Western Catskills.  The panel reinforced learned material, making it “real” by connecting to existing businesses.  A risk management plan was completed by the end of the program by most participants.

3. Estate and Transition Planning for Maryland Farm Families
Project Director: Paul Goeringer (lgoering@umd.edu)
Co-Project Director: Mayhah Suri (msuri1@umd.edu)
University of Maryland
Award Amount : $42,180

The goal of this project was to gather and update the existing farm transition resources to develop of series of robust, interactive workshops to help Maryland farm families manage legal and financial risks associated with farm succession and transition planning.

These workshops covered a wide variety of topics associated with transition planning, including taxes, tools like trusts and wills, and communications skills. The workshops also included discussions, case studies, and worksheets to engage the participants more deeply.   Presenters also tried to create a comfortable atmosphere to discuss these difficult topics through humor, sharing personal stories, and encouraging participants to respond to others with empathy and understanding.

The team held seven workshops in Maryland and one in Delaware at the Women in Agriculture Conference. The team also led two webinars. The team wrote and updated eleven fact sheets and publications on different farm transition topics.

After attending the workshops, almost 90% of participants agreed and strongly agreed that transition planning was important to their farm. Over half of respondents reported holding a full or partial family meeting to discuss farm transition goals. About half of respondents reported either completing a transition plan or beginning to take steps toward completion.

4. Facilitating Communication in Farm Families with Personalized Coaching
Project Director: Leslie Forstadt (leslie.forstadt@maine.edu)
University of Maine
Award Amount : $49,964

Facilitating Communication in Farm Families with Personalized Coaching is focused on Human
Risk, specifically interpersonal, family, and business relationships. There were two methods to
program delivery:

1) Five educational workshops were offered regionally in Maine (locations: Caribou, Newport,
Augusta, Waterville, and online). 100 farmers attended a workshop about improving family
and business communication. Each participant practiced listening skills, created a personalized goal, and identified steps toward it. Each participant was informed about the opportunity to enroll in a farm coaching project.

2) Between December 18, 2018-September 6, 2019, Farm Family Coaching was offered. It consisted of four, 2-hour meetings with two coaches. Eight families participated, and the goals for each family were individual, and plans were created for that family.  Coaches engaged farmers in practicing communication skills and increasing understanding of the impact communication has on productivity and efficiency. Coaching was available on farm (in-person) at the kitchen table, and videoconferencing was also used as needed.

At least two members of the farm family participated, and in one case four family members attended all four sessions. In another case, six family members attended one of the sessions. Farmers (n=25) developed goals and a plan to reach the goals.

5. From Surviving to Thriving: Financial Risk Management Strategies for Urban Farm Success
Project Director: Neith Little (nglittle@umd.edu)
Co-Project Director: Kim Rush Lynch (kimrush@umd.edu)
University of Maryland
Award Amount: $29,400

This financial risk management education project supported current and aspiring commercial urban farmers in the Baltimore and Washington, DC metro regions to move from crisis-management to proactive risk management. In our prior work with urban farmers, we had observed their struggle with this transition. Many farmers get overwhelmed by the daily challenges of farming, spending their time seeking short-term financial solutions to keep their urban farms afloat. The goal of this project was to help urban farmers use risk management strategies to move from survival mode to a more proactive understanding of what their farm needs to thrive.

Our primary implementation tools were to (1) compile a first edition guidebook for urban farmers in Maryland, (2) convene five focus groups (21 participants) to gather farmer input, (3) offer six Farmer Field Schools (41 participants) at urban farms to pilot our educational materials, and (4) launch the guide in both hard-copy and online formats. 

The resulting guidebook resource has already been distributed to focus group participants and co-authors, and will be distributed to urban farmers at the 3rd annual Urban Farmer Winter Meeting in Baltimore, MD. A digital version of the guidebook is available online here:  https://extension.umd.edu/urbanag/urban-agriculture-guidebook

6. Helping Beginning Farmers Manage Risk and Succeed in Finding Farmland in New York
Project Director: Tim Biello (tbiello@farmland.org)
American Farmland Trust
Award Amount: $36,146

American Farmland Trust (AFT) and collaborators– Farm Credit East, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Erie County and National Young Farmers Coalition – offered the Helping Beginning Farmers Manage Risk and Succeed in Finding Farmland in New York project to aid beginning farmers in managing risks in finding farmland.  

The project included a three-part series of workshops offered in two locations in New York.  These workshops adapted materials from AFT’s national Farmland for the Next Generation training curriculum, developed in concert with the USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and Farm Credit, and included presentations, worksheets and checklists, and peer-to-peer learning.  Participants received training on the National Young Farmer Coalition’s Finding Farmland tool.  All participants also received multiple follow-up contacts, during the approximately 9 months after the final workshop, to offer one-on-one coaching in helping them to find and secure farmland, evaluate their farming and business plans, as well as connect with other resources, including additional adviser services and funding.  These one-on-one coaching services were made available to other beginning farmers seeking farmland in New York as well.  In total, 23 farmers attended the workshops, 38 farmers were contacted regarding assistance, and 20 farmers received one-on-one land access support.

7. Improving Soil Health and Supporting Water Quality Compliance on Vermont Vegetable Farms
Project Director: Vernon Grubinger (vernon.grubinger@uvm.edu)
University of Vermont Extension
Award Amount : $30,597

This project developed web-based tools to help vegetable growers improve nutrient management and soil health, facilitating compliance with water quality regulations. The tools include soil amendment planning and record keeping templates; interactive farm maps, crop rotation templates, nutrient application calculator; and cover crop records. These tools are available on an open-source web platform called farmOS.

Growers created individual farm websites within farmOS that were accessed by project personnel to provide individual technical support. Of the 51 growers that utilized this web-based resource, 46 growers with a total of 400 acres in production uploaded soil test records and fertilizer plans, and 20 of those growers with 250 acres in production documented the implementation of their fertilization plans by uploading records of soil amendments applied their fields.

We successfully developed a nutrient management module in farmOS, but it proved to be too complicated for most farmers. The next phase of this effort will adapt content developed for farmOS and merge it with content from the Community Accreditation for Produce Safety program (previously funded by NERME) to create a user-friendly web site that will be owned by the Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers, and will also allow them to manage their membership registration.  

8. Maple Business Planning Modules
Project Director: Mark Cannella (mark.cannella@uvm.edu)
University of Vermont Extension
Award Amount: $41,813

The UVM Extension Maple Modules project adapted recent research findings and business best practices into a variety of educational materials for current and prospective maple owners.  In person workshops, online planning tools and industry publications were used to inform and train maple producers and related industry professionals. This project created five online business planning tools that included a multi-year production yield average, production forecast, pricing and gross sales forecast, cost budget and self-guided business plan.  The tools are available at vtmaplebiz.org. This project developed a “One Hour Business Plan” workshop complemented by the one page maple business planning worksheet. A maple marketing workshop was also developed. These sessions were delivered at maple conferences in Vermont, New York, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.  

Two industry publication articles and three three blog posts were written to provide foundational education on the evolving maple market situation, potential market policies and business practices. The project resulted in 23 workshops delivered in four northeast states reaching 548 participants. Online business modules were accessed over the last five months of the project and reached 170 maple producers. Participants at in-person workshops completed 165 “One Hour Business Plans” and 170 online business analyses were completed.

9. Reducing Legal Risks Through On-line Education
Project Director: Seth Wilner (seth.wilner@unh.edu)
Co-Project Director: Rachel Armstrong (rachel@farmcommons.org)
University of New Hampshire
Award Amount: $49,841

This project helped 165 beginner and mid-career farmers in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, and Delaware reduce their legal risks by building knowledge in employment law, business structures, food safety regulations, leases, contracts, sales agreements, value added, and agritourism laws, and develop compliance or mitigation strategies.    

Educational resources were developed and housed on the national eXtesnion website. eXtesnion has a Moodle platform that allowed educational resources developed for this project to be uploaded and housed.  These resources included narrated, interactive PowerPoint presentations, guides to help participants absorb, process and apply relevant information for their farms, as well as other relevant resources participants downloaded or printed. State specific information was developed for each topic.

Participants worked through these self-paced, interactive, videos, presentations, and exercises and then engaged in four weekly 60 minute web-based learning sessions.  These sessions featured activities to process the materials, as well as time ask questions of agricultural lawyers.
Participating farmers increased their knowledge in farm employment laws, observing local and state zoning regulations, selecting or modifying business structures to limit risk, and creating effective contracts, leases and sales agreements.

The course was made public after the educational program concluded, thus accessible to anyone nationwide at https://campus.extension.org/course/view.php?id=1632.

10. Risk Management Training for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers in the Central Chesapeake
Project Director: Caroline Selle (caroline@futureharvestcasa.org)
Future Harvest CASA
Award Amount: $25,575

Future Harvest CASA developed and offered risk management training for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers. The training topics addressed the education needs identified by Chesapeake region farmers in our recent surveys, including building efficient farm systems, marketing product, managing finances, creating value-added businesses, navigating regulations, and recruiting and maintaining employees.

83 individuals attended our four field day workshops in the Central Chesapeake Region. 520 individuals attended our 2019 conference in College Park, MD, 24 of whom were socially disadvantaged producers attending via a scholarship made possible by this grant. There were a total of 931 attendees at the 16 risk management related sessions, with an average of 58 attendees at each session. (Some attendees went to multiple risk management sessions).

On average, over 90% of participants in program events reported they were planning to implement knowledge gained from the programs on their own farm operations. In one-on-one phone interviews, 100% of the interviewed scholarship recipients reported an increased awareness of risks, a new understanding of how to manage those risks, and a plan for implementing risk management strategies.