Funded Projects for 2021

1. Agritourism Risk Management in this Brand-New Era
Project Director: Miriam Boateng (mb2377@cornell.edu)
Co-Project Director: Stephanie Radin (sradin@cornell.edu)
Cornell Cooperative Extension Dutchess County
Award Amount: $33,711

This project will create a risk management resource guide for farmers to navigate risk management issues pertaining to agritourism events/farm operations. The Covid-19 pandemic has added additional complications and risks for customers and employees.  Categories will include topics such as signage, employee training, operator provided written information, visitor responsibility, health/food safety, and operator duties.  It will be modeled on the NYS Safety in Agricultural Tourism Act (General Obligations Law, Section 18-303(1)(a)-(e)) plus agritourism regulations from other Northeast States. The NYS legislation provides agricultural tourism enterprises certain protections from liability when provisions are met. It will be applicable beyond NYS and serve as a template for reducing risk management for events/farm operations.

Working collaboratively with 8-10 farms, a working group (WG) will be the test model for the guide. The WG will include veteran farmers, beginning and existing farmers and will  be applicable to producers around the Northeast Region.

A comprehensive virtual educational training series for agritourism operators will introduce the resource guide and provide in-depth training on the modules.  The resource guide will provide an improved understanding of agritourism risk management and associated requirements. It is expected that 40% of participants will develop and implement risk minimizing measures.

2. Agritourism Safety and Liability: Updating Best Risk Management Practices for the COVID-19 Pandemic
Project Director: Lisa Chase (lisa.chase@uvm.edu)
University of Vermont Extension
Award Amount: $45,870

Consumer demand for local food and experiences on farms has led to rapid increases in agritourism and direct sales of agricultural products around the world. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the global agritourism market was estimated at $5.7 billion in 2018 with projected annual growth of 12 percent through 2025. Broadly defined, agritourism encompasses direct-to-consumer sales of local food (e.g., farmstands, u-pick), agricultural education (e.g., school visits and tours), hospitality (e.g., overnight farm stays), recreation (e.g., hunting, horseback riding), and entertainment (e.g., hayrides, harvest dinners). Agritourism enterprises allow farms to diversify their operations while preserving the working landscape, creating additional jobs, and maintaining farming traditions. At the same time, the public learns about the importance of agriculture to a community’s economic base, quality of life, history, and culture. However, opening a farm to visitors increases liability exposure and requires safety measures for the non-farming public.

The proposed project will provide training and resources on agritourism safety and liability for 200 farms and service providers. The project team will host three workshops (online and in-person depending on COVID-19 travel restrictions) and will follow up with farms to conduct safety assessments, resulting in at least 50 farms that implement best risk management practices.

3. Boots-2-Bushels: Improving Farm Viability through Comprehensive Education and Hands-on Training for Veterans and Farmers with a Disability
Project Director: Caragh Fitzgerald (cfitzgerald@maine.edu)
University of Maine Cooperative Extension
Award Amount: $35,374

Boots-2-Bushels (B2B) is a comprehensive 9-month market gardening education and training program for military veterans, their family members, and farmers with disabilities in Maine. This program, led by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and collaborating with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), United Farmer Veterans of Maine (UFVM), and Maine AgrAbility, will take 20 farm participants each year (total of 40) from seed-to-salary in a hands-on, realistic farm business project.  During ten weeks of instruction by subject matter experts, students will learn production, marketing, and best business practices for small fruit and vegetable farms.  Participants will further implement this knowledge during an intensive 6-month growing season with weekly fieldwork at a demonstration farm. The B2B program uses the “Five Fs” framework (Farming, Family, Finances, Future, Fitness) to address production, marketing, financial and human sources of agricultural risk, and creates a near-peer cohort that fosters unit cohesion in an empathetic, therapeutic environment.  This grant will provide support for hands-on field work at a demonstration farm in 2021 and 2022, intensive individual follow-up in both years, and instruction and fieldwork in 2022.  Remote online instruction will be underway by the grant start date in April 2021.

4. Developing Culturally-Appropriate Record Keeping Methods & Tools to Enable Discovery and Communication of Marketing Risks and Opportunities at Amish Produce Auctions
Project Director: Elizabeth Buck (emb273@cornell.edu)
Co-Project Director: Elizabeth Higgins (emh56@cornell.edu)
Cornell University
Award Amount: $40,714

Combined, the Amish-run Chautauqua (CPA) and Genesee Valley (GVPA) Produce Auctions serve 120+ Amish and English specialty crop producers located in 3 NW-PA and 5 SW-NY counties.  Many producers are small, limited resource, and beginning farmers. Despite being key markets, both auctions struggle to achieve their financial and marketing risk comprehension goals.  The lack of knowledge, tools, and training materials to permit detailed, paper-based record-keeping, risk analysis and communication disadvantages these auctions and their growers.

Better recordkeeping will reduce the auctions’ financial risk and enable marketing risk discovery and communication to benefit their growers. Six auction personnel will gain new record-keeping, analysis, data interpretation, and risk communication skills. Auction staff will become the primary marketing risk assessors and communicators for their growers.  100 growers will learn marketing risk reduction information; 40 will implement changes on-farm. 10 summer and 2 winter grower meetings, group discussion and individual consultations will support grower adoption. Auction staff will be trained using 6 workshops, 2 educational kits, 10 check-in meetings, homework, and mentorship for iterative skill refinement. Ultimately, by empowering the auction to self-sufficiently meet their and their growers’ needs, this project will create a stable, long-term solution that can be replicated in other communities.

5. Family Communications, Succession Planning, and Estate Planning for Maryland Agricultural Families
Project Director: Alexander Chan (alexchan@umd.edu)
Co-Project Director: Paul Goeringer (lgoering@umd.edu)
University of Maryland Extension
Award Amount: $34,345

Extension has a history of providing workshops addressing retirement and farm succession planning. However, without addressing family communication difficulties, the practicality of these workshops is limited. We seek to provide a series of workshops on retirement and succession planning that include an emphasis on family communication skills. In particular, communication skills will focus on developing shared goals and conflict resolution.

Given the unpredictable and demanding schedules of our target audience, the primary method for delivering the program will be pre-recorded sessions hosted on a central webpage. Participants will be given the opportunity to join live Q&A sessions after viewing the pre-recorded sessions. Audiences will also have the option to participate in the full program live via a web conferencing platform such as Zoom.

The target audience will be Maryland and Delaware farmers and their family members.

The pre-recorded workshops will be available continuously to registrants beginning in Fall 2021 through the rest of the grant period. Monthly, live Q&A sessions will be available concurrently with the publication of the pre-recorded sessions.

Improving interpersonal skills in communicating and developing shared goals with family members to allow for development of successful succession plans.

Number of producers who will achieve these results: 150

6. Financial Management Practices to Rapidly Evaluate and Respond to New Situations
Project Director: Dorothy Suput (dsuput@thecarrotproject.org)
Co-Project Director: Jeffery Cole (jcole@thecarrotproject.org)
TSNE-The Carrot Project
Award Amount: $24,707

This application describes a training that empowers participants to plan and pivot quickly to reduce risks arising from rapidly changing business environments. The training covers these risk management education topics: 1) best practices to refine recordkeeping systems for financial analysis; 2) using financial information to determine cost of production, create financial benchmarking, and manage assets as part of business and strategic planning, such as transitioning to value-added enterprises, and, 3) during the growing season, comparing budget to actuals in order to analyze the economics of input decisions and rapidly manage assets to increase net income and potentially lower household stress.

The live, interactive training is delivered online, supplemented with webinars and 1:1 business advising. The target audience is small farmers, producers converting production and marketing systems to pursue new markets, and value-added producers, who live in Southern New England (MA, RI, and CT). We will hold two trainings, each consisting of four sessions, prerequisite webinars, and 1:1 business advising and cohort group meetings. We expect that 24 of 30 participants will complete the training and implementation.

7. Grid Scale Solar Energy Development in the Mid-Atlantic Region – Leasing Impacts to Ongoing Agricultural Production
Project Director: Jon Laughner (jbl14@psu.edu)
Co-Project Director: Daniel Brockett (dlb14@psu.edu)
The Pennsylvania State University
Award Amount: $48,550

Shale energy leasing in Pennsylvania and nearby states impacted land used for agriculture in a limited fashion, as most of the follow-up development occurred below ground. Conversely, grid scale solar leasing, which is increasingly occurring throughout the mid-Atlantic region, has the potential to convert significant amounts of surface lands into energy development. Officials estimate that over 80,000 acres in Pennsylvania alone will be involved. Farmers on flatter land in proximity to electrical substations are the prime focus of leasing agents and are being offered substantial payments to transition their land to energy production. In partnership with the West Branch Crop Management Association, and following a Penn State Extension series of associated leasing webinars, PSU Extension will source a 20 farm case study in Pennsylvania, which are considering this transition. An in-depth review of leasing documents, financial, and residual agricultural production outcomes will be assessed, looking at solar leasing as a multi-generational risk management hedge allowing for sustaining the farming enterprise over the expected 25-year life of these contracts. In generating various financial summaries, and lease document recommendations, this data will be made available in a collective form for other farms attempting to understand the implications of this risk management tool.

8. Hybrid Education to Advance Business Succession Readiness
Project Director: Mark Cannella (mark.cannella@uvm.edu)
Co-Project Director: Zachary Smith (zachary.m.smith@uvm.edu)
University of Vermont Extension
Award Amount: $48,966

UVM Extension Agricultural Business will develop a hybrid educational model enabling farm business owners to assess their readiness for business succession and to implement a targeted step(s) to advance the process. This project will develop online assessments and a learning platform that will match specific educational resources to participants needs and offer limited, yet targeted, consultation to identify and execute key implementation steps. Existing farm and maple business owners in Vermont are the primary audience of this program. This model serves an audience of farm owners that prefer to self-navigate steps in transfer planning or need to self-pace their progress in often complex realm of succession planning. Participants can utilize the online learning platform independently or engage with Extension educators trained for in person or phone support. 

Three articles (2,500 readers), three clinics (30) and one short-course (10) will provide education and promotion that directs participants into the learning environment.  A peer validated library will be organized for customized resource referrals to 150 participants that increase their learning. Seventy-five farm owners will complete an assessment to identify their next succession action step and 50 owners will commit to that action.  Forty owners will implement changes, agreements or planning outputs.

9. Managing the Marketing, Legal, and Safety Risks for Hemp Products
Project Director: Heather Darby (heather.darby@uvm.edu)
Co-Project Director: Suzy Hodgson (suzy.hodgson@uvm.edu)
University of Vermont and State Agricultural College
Award Amount: $33,338

This project will focus on the marketing, legal and safety risks of growing hemp and further risk that might arise from value-added production.  UVM Extension will build on its experience delivering hemp education by providing risk management tools to new farmers and also attract a wider group of farmers who are converting to new production and marketing systems to pursue or expand markets.  Farmers will learn through participatory webinars with on-line chats and live Q&As, and gain skills to implement marketing and risk management strategies. Farmers will also have access to an online resource hub, educational videos, and the 2022 UVM Industrial Hemp Conference.

This proposed project will deliver and coordinate an education and outreach program based on Farmer/Producer demand including the following topics:

Marketing:
Fundamentals of hemp.
Identifying and securing new market channels.
Developing labelling, direct markets, and a Vermont Branding identity.

Legal:
Federal and state regulations & implications for marketing and selling.
Personal and business liability – protecting your business from unique risks associated with hemp; how business structures limit liability; what types of insurance can cover these liabilities.
Navigating and developing sales contracts.

Safety:
Considerations and standards for safe hemp storage and product development.
Fire and overall facility safety related to hemp storage and processing

10. Maryland Food Ventures Curriculum and Online Portal for Food Entrepreneurs
Project Director: Ginger Myers (gsmyers@umd.edu)
University of Maryland
Award Amount: $26,672

Producers are using value-added food products as a way extend the shelf life of their raw products and to diversify their product offerings to increase product sales. The safe production and marketing of value-added food products can be challenging while profits from their sales can be substantial.

The pivot to online sales and retail ready products during Covid-19 accentuated the need for producers to move from considering diversifying their product offerings to enter new retail market outlets. The development of the Maryland Food Ventures Curriculum and Online Portal will provide a one-stop site for training curriculum and sourcing resources for food entrepreneurs in Maryland. The curriculum modules will cover the topics of product development and production, business planning, financial recordkeeping, marketing, regulations, and will provide instruction in the tools/strategies to mitigate the legal, marketing and financial risks associated with developing and selling value-added agricultural products.  The curriculum and support materials will be designed to be presented as an in-person workshop and as an online virtual workshop on the Maryland Food Ventures website.

Program participants will also have access to one-on-one coaching with University of Maryland Extension’s Entrepreneurial Coaching Team where they can clarify their next steps and additional resource contacts.

11. Navigating an Uncertain Employment Environment with Support in the Northeast Region
Project Director: Sarah Vaile (sarah@farmcommons.org)
Co-Project Director: Rachel Armstrong (rachel@farmcommons.org)
Farm Commons
Award Amount: $48,529

Through this project, 220 farmers in Northeast region will understand the 11 essential legal and human risk management strategies for an effective farm workforce by reading project resources (a series of 1 overview guide, 11 tip sheets, and 4 comprehensive manuals). Of those, 60 will also analyze their own legal vulnerabilities through an online course. 45 farmers then develop and implement an action plan to resolve those vulnerabilities through a peer-cohort. At the end, 27 farmers will modify employee classifications, 27 farmers will purchase an appropriate insurance, 27 farmers will modify work schedules and pay scales to comply with the law, 27 farmers will come into alignment with tax law, and 27 farmers will implement protections against discrimination claims. Additionally, 9 farmers will cease usage of employee contracts, 9 farmers will cease usage of interns/apprentices and volunteers, and 9 farmers will comply with non-cash payment rules.

By addressing legal and human risks of employee management and communication, producers will better navigate an uncertain farm labor market. With access to clear information, farmers will select the workforce options that work for them. With support from a team of peers and qualified professionals, farmers will implement their plans and achieve goals quickly.

12. Next Generation Farmer Peer Group Development to Build Risk Management Strategies
Project Director: Teresa Rusinek (tr28@cornell.edu)
Co-Project Director: Elizabeth Higgins (emh56@cornell.edu)
Cornell University
Award Amount: $48,210

The “Next Generation Farmer Peer Group Development to Build Risk Management Strategies” project will address several risk management areas with a unique focus on human risk issues faced by next generation farmers seeking opportunities to develop interpersonal and business relationships.   Cornell University Cooperative Extension specialists from the Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture Program (ENYCHP) will recruit, and guide a next generation farmer cohort through this program.  ENYCHP specialists will set up an online collaboration platform to build and support the cohort in a easily accessible and convenient format.  Specialists and farmers will engage regularly using a web-based team collaboration app such as MS Teams or Slack and when possible, through in-person meetings. Five facilitated programs addressing risk management, identified as priority area by participants,  will be offered connecting participants with financial, legal, marketing and other industry professionals.  These programs will be delivered through web based video-conferencing linked into the collaboration platform and when possible as in-person meetings.  The target audience is next generation farmers with significant years of farming experience on multi-generational, diversified, vegetable farms located in the Eastern New York region.   Thirty farmers will participate in the program that will strengthen the resiliency and viability of the farm operation.

13. Oneida County Urban Farm Learning Lab at Union Station
Project Director: Bonnie Collins (bsc33@cornell.edu)
Cornell Cooperative Extension Oneida County
Award Amount: $39,991

Cornell Cooperative Extension Oneida County (CCEOC) will develop the Oneida County Urban Farm Learning Lab in the retired Railway Express Agency (REA) wing at historic Union Station, in Utica, NY. The Learning Lab will be an experiential training facility for aspiring urban farmers who face business start-up barriers and limited resources. The program will help manage risks in the areas of production, market development, and business/financial planning due to lack of experience, growing space, access to capital, and other resources. Fifty (50) individuals will learn and work in teams to cultivate and harvest an indoor farm adjacent to the Oneida County Public Market where they will also have an opportunity to engage in direct-selling of their fresh produce. Education and training will involve business planning and risk-reduction workshops, focus-discussion groups, and hands-on participation growing vegetables, herbs, and food items. Two sessions that run throughout the central New York growing seasons will be offered, with one each in 2021 and 2022. Oneida County urban residents interested in farming for income, including veterans and refugees, may benefit from developing urban farming enterprises. The project will be implemented over an 18-month period starting April 2021.

14. Risk Management for Improved Viability of the Northeast Hemp Industry
Project Director: Lindsey Pashow (lep67@cornell.edu)
Co-Project Director: John Hanchar (jjh6@cornell.edu)
Cornell University
Award Amount: $29,220

The project will cover production, marketing, financial, legal, and human risks.  Participants will prioritize risks for further assessment.

The project team will deliver in person educational activities.  If faced with unexpected program interruption, then the project team will practice flexibility and apply experience with alternative delivery methods.  Substitute methods include distance learning, and small group meetings.

Project members propose a total of 10 educational opportunities targeting the following in the Northeast [NY and VT]:  NYSDAM authorized grower, processor research partners; active hemp growers and processors; farmers and their families not authorized, not active, but interested in evaluating hemp enterprise opportunities; new, beginning growers and processors attracted to hemp enterprises.

We expect 140 participants will:  increase their understanding of risks; increase awareness of risks faced by supply chain firms; identify three priority risks

A to be determined number of participants working in small groups will analyze risks — assessing and evaluating alternative strategies; choosing the best/set of best strategies

140 participants will become aware of, and learn about solutions identified by the small working groups

Sixty participants will create, and document risk management plans

Forty participants will:  implement risk management plans; mitigate priority risks leading to improved economic viability of hemp enterprises

15. Soybean Cyst Nematode: A New Threat to Soybean Production and Profitability in the Northeast
Project Director: Kenneth Wise (klw24@cornell.edu)
Cornell University
Award Amount: $29,730

The soybean cyst nematode (SCN) is the #1 pest of soybeans causing $1.2 billion loss in North America annually.  SCN was not considered a northeast pest of concern until it was first discovered in NY in 2016.  Since then, it was confirmed six more counties in 2019, and least another 14 counties in 2020.  SCN is a significant risk, and our farmers need to understand it’s time for active management, before it becomes our #1 soybean pest.  We propose nine trainings across NY to educate farmers on the biology, epidemiology, sampling and testing, impacts, and management of SCN to help farmers reduce risk to losses from this pest by making the best and most economical management decisions.  Most sessions will be virtual (due to COVID), open to surrounding states, and recordings made publicly available.  Training sessions will reach 20–200 stakeholders each, and approximately 500 farmers total.  Participating producers will 1) understand the importance of testing and implement regular testing of their fields, 2) understand how to interpret test results and implement appropriate management actions according to results, and 3) understand all integrated pest management options available and implement the best strategy for their individual situations.

16. Strengthening Women and Beginning Farmers Labor Management Skills to Reduce Risks on Livestock and Specialty Crop Farms
Project Director: Beth Holtzman (beth.holtzman@uvm.edu)
Co-Project Director: Kenesha Reynolds (kenesha.reynolds@unh.edu)
University of Vermont Extension
Award Amount: $49,684

Through this project, 90 farmers who operate specialty crop and diversified livestock farms will increase knowledge related to managing human resource risks and 50, primarily from Vermont and New Hampshire, will report adopting employee recruitment, supervision and retention practices that will contribute to increased viability and resilience of their operations.

Our outreach efforts, conducted through e-newsletters and social media, will connect 1200 women farmers and beginning farmers with risk management and record-keeping information appropriate for the stage and sale of their operations. From that larger group, we will recruit 120 VT/NH farmers to participate more intensive education via a series of small-group workshops, online tools and tutorials, and learning circles. Best practices in adult education, incorporating gendered aspects of learning, will guide program development, implementation and evaluation.

Educational offerings will help farmers development leadership, communication and decision-making skills that are critical to effective labor management. It will also address intersecting components financial and legal risk management – e.g., building cash flow projections, managing production costs, employer rules and obligations — lay the foundation for becoming the kind of business – an “employer of choice” – for people seeking work in the ag sector.

17. Supporting Producers to Manage Risks through Online and Novel Software Technology Applications
Project Director: Jennifer Hashley (jennifer.hashley@tufts.edu)
Trustees of Tufts College
Award Amount: $49,943

Producers desire to improve sales, manage customers, track production, increase land access, and improve financial management and record-keeping practices. COVID and climate change have accelerated need and interest in technology solutions.  Technology exists to solve agricultural challenges and manage business risks, yet barriers to adoption exist and producers want to learn directly from peers. A series of 12 educational workshops across risk management topics will include: 4 marketing workshops (online sales and customer management systems), 3 production workshops (field and yield tracking systems), 2 legal workshops (farmland access and tenure tools), and 3 financial workshops (record-keeping, sales integration, and enterprise analysis software).  Workshops will feature software demonstrations by leading technology platforms alongside local farmers providing user testimonials and 1:1 advising.  Technology risk management decision-making tools, workshop recordings, and a fact sheet series with producer case studies posted online will result in over 150 Northeast specialty crop producers gaining increased understanding of technology options and evaluating adoption.  Follow up evaluations with 120+ producers who attend workshops will result in over 45 producers implementing new technology systems that could result in increasing sales, improving production efficiency and record-keeping, gaining access to secure farmland, tracking financial data, and increasing overall economic viability.