2021 Producers Underserved by Crop Insurance Projects

1.2021 Risk Management Education for West Virginia Beginning and Veteran Farmers
Project Director: Lisa Jones (lisa.lagana@mail.wvu.edu)
Co-Project Director: Adeola Ogunade (adeola.ogunade@mail.wvu.edu)
West Virginia University
Award Amount: $87,216

This purpose of this project was to assist small beginning and veteran farmers in West Virginia manage risks through the understanding of crop insurance programs.

This project served 138 producers through in-person and virtual education, including on-farm workshops and webinars. Topics included crop insurance policies, reporting deadlines, and managing different types of farm risk.

A multi-page crop insurance guide for West Virginia was developed as a result of this project. Project promotional materials included articles and electronic newsletters.

2. How Do You Know Your Pricing is Right, and Your Investment is Protected?
Project Director: Robert Hadad (rgh26@cornell.edu)
Cornell University
Award Amount: $80,137

Our project, “How Do You Know Your Pricing is Right and Your Investment is Protected” was created to assist fresh produce growers in understanding their financial status in order to make informed business decisions that ultimately improve profitability. Many farmers price their produce without fully understanding the costs of production. Without knowing their costs, making important business decisions throughout the year increases the risk of losing money. Growers often trade sweat equity for low returns on their investments but find it hard to pay for expansion, improvements, or labor down the road.

Farmers often take pricing for granted without the background knowledge of what it took to get product to market. Having customers give them loads of cash for sales isn’t a measure of how profitable (or even if it is profitable) the business is. Our discussions with participating growers in the project made this point clear. Many set prices based on supermarket pricing in their area. Many set prices based on what their competition at the farmers markets were charging. Others took whatever pricing wholesalers (restaurants) offered. Only a small handful actually kept track of their costs and set prices accordingly.

The majority of project participants who had been farming for more than 5 years, started to realize they needed to increase production volume. To increase production they were faced with decisions of acquiring more land, add equipment, and/or add more labor. How to pay for these changes were definitely not clear to them because they lacked the financial data to make those decisions.
Labor issues were a problem. Farmers wanted to keep their experienced workers for multiple seasons. It took time to train new workers each season. It made sense to do more to keep workers from year to year. Paying enough is one avenue but like in other workplaces, other attributes for the workers were important. Having a clear understanding of the farm policies for workers, providing more advanced training, providing more responsibilities, and having the workers feel they were a valued partner in the business was also important. This project assisted growers in advancing policies to address improving the working environment. A video was created as training tool for farmers to learn how to write an employee handbook using the template provided. A second video tool created was how farmers and employees can overcome issues that can otherwise generate conflicts. Reducing stress and maintaining a healthy work environment is hugely important for owner/worker relations. This tool is titled Diffusing Conflict on the Farm.

In NY as in other parts of the country, extreme weather conditions have played havoc with field production. Too wet. Too dry. Too wet then dry then wet again in the same season contributed to yield losses. New crop insurance programs for specialty crops along with other financial tools that FSA and other agencies provided were available. The produce growers we worked with had little or no knowledge about these programs. Many had misconceptions about eligibility mainly believing it wasn’t for operations of their smaller size. We brought in speakers from some of the county offices to address the growers. Links to their websites for the information was made available.

A cross section of the growers involved in the project represented farms from the organic and sustainable ag communities. Most of the farms were very small (less than 5 acres) and the rest were less than 25 acres. New farmers made up 30%. Beginning farmers made up 45%. The remaining 25% were growers with 7+ years of farming experience. Women and non-gender-specific individuals accounted for 10% of these groups. Urban farms accounted for 5%.

The approach we took for initial outreach to growers using online surveys (self assessments on labor, cost of production, and familiarity with crop insurance) did not work very effectively at all. It seems like Extension and other organizations were sending out surveys for everything and the farmers “tuned out” the requests for responses. The pandemic didn’t help. The pandemic stymied most of the in-person workshops training and a lot of the in-person one on one follow up. We took to calling farmers we knew to talk over the project and get them to fill out or at least provide verbal information for the self-assessments. Virtual conferences and stand-alone training were held but unlike in-person meetings, the online audiences were smaller than hoped for. When we did have a couple of in-person meetings, attendance was still low owing in part to the late season burn-out of growers. To accomplish what we set out to do, we had to rely on personal contacts with growers. To be less burdensome, we scaled back the self-assessments to simple verbal questionnaires and relied more heavily on just conversations/discussions.

3. Managing Operational Risk for Cattle Production
Project Director: John Johnson (john.johnson@mail.wvu.edu)
Jackson County Commission with the WVU Extension Service
Award Amount: $34,490

The 2021-2022 NERM Grant “Reducing risk in beef cattle operations by good management” has been successfully executed. The program was developed to cover the largest topics in beef production, including marketing, soil health, cattle production and health, forage production as well as an onsite field day. We started as planned with the first workshop in November 2021, covering marketing. Top professionals from across WV presented various topics for the day, including farm budgets and planning, farm goals and objectives, insurance and farm policies, beef economical software, and others. Evaluations were taken at the beginning and end of each course to determine knowledge starting points and knowledge gained to be implemented into producers’ operations.

The second full day workshop in December 2021 covered soils and soil health. The state and area soil scientists from NRCS along with other agricultural professionals conducted the workshop. The topics covered included soil structures, soil health, erosion and compaction control, soil testing, deciphering soil analyses, fertilizing economically, and lime applications.

The third workshop in January 2022 covered cattle production and health topics, including cattle nutrition, cattle minerals and supplements, bovine vaccinations and health plans, calf processing, body condition scoring, multi-species grazing, winter feeding and supplementation, and recordkeeping.

The fourth workshop in February 2022 covered forage production and grazing management. This set of lectures included plant botany, forage utilization and rotational grazing, forage stockpiling, frost seeding, forage selection and seeding rates.

The last workshop in March 2022 was a farm field day that led the producers through a working beef cattle operation. The participants were able to see firsthand different watering systems, feeding areas, weed evaluations, agricultural technology, such as drowns and gps systems, forage mass measurements and rotational schedules, pasture stick utilization and bale grazing and strip grazing systems.

After each workshop, the participants received materials that can be implemented directly into their beef operations. At the end of the series, each participant had received all the materials needed for a bale grazing system and had gained the knowledge to use the materials. At the end of the course, farm visits were conducted, and a follow-up survey was given to measure the impact of the course on farm operations since the beginning of the workshops. I was pleased to see that most of the farms have implemented a lot of the tools and knowledge covered in the workshops or have improved upon production practices.  

4. Risk Management Education in Vermont 2021-2022
Project Director: Jake Jacobs (jake.jacobs@uvm.edu)
University of Vermont State and Agricultural College
Award Amount: $99,754

With approximately 90 percent of U.S. farm acres covered by crop insurance, Vermont producers continue to be decidedly underserved by Federal crop insurance programs with only 5.8 percent of farm acres insured. Many Vermont farmers remain unfamiliar with the options available to them and unaware of how to access risk management programs. This project provided education on Federal risk management programs available to Vermont producers across the state, with a focus on new and early stage producers, diversified farms selling to direct and local markets, and dairy producers.  Main topics included agricultural risks, available risk management options, incorporating risk management into business plans and decision-making, expanded options in WFRP, and milk protection programs such as Dairy-RP.

This project incorporated commodity-specific and audience-specific risk management information into educational courses and events, small group meetings and individual consultations.  Risk management information integrated into curriculum reached 46 participants in 3 courses; outreach was included in 15 workshops and other educational events reaching approximately 125 producers; 25 small group and individual consultations reached 28 producers.  Education delivered enabled participants to integrate risk management strategies into their farm business plans, assess available Federal risk management programs and make informed decisions about crop insurance participation.

5. “Risky Business:” Peer-to-Peer Expert Mentorship for Chesapeake Farmers Underserved by Crop Insurance
Project Director: Caroline Selle
Future Harvest, Inc.
Award Amount: $97,570

Crop insurance programs are frequently neither available nor applicable to small, diversified producers, particularly to those who are socially disadvantaged. Similarly, few farm service providers have expertise in the risks faced by these producers. To address this gap, we heeded farmers’ requests for both group and one-on-one support and built an expert network of Chesapeake farmers. Expert farmer mentors connected with 68 farmers in the Chesapeake region for individualized and group support to help farmers manage risks inherent in their sector. Farmers found 1) group support via peer-to-peer learning through facilitated “study circles”; and 2) individual support via a mentor-farmer matchmaking program for one-on-one, deep-dive assistance. Producers with similar business types and goals gathered in groups for monthly meetings, facilitated by experienced farming experts. Topics included include financial benchmarking, marketing, and crop production. Thirty producers were also connected with risk management experts, and were awarded up to $1000 per farm for one-on-one advice for their businesses.

6. Spray Safe, Spray Well: Reducing Pesticide Use Risks for Beginning Organic Growers and Spanish-Speaking Farmers
Project Director: Ethan Grundberg (eg572@cornell.edu)
Co-Project Director: Crystal Stewart (cls263@cornell.edu)
Cornell University
Award Amount: $97,795

The ”Spray Safe, Spray Well” project team delivered a series of eight simultaneously interpreted webinars over the winter of 2021-22 designed to support beginning, organic, and Spanish-speaking vegetable farmers in reducing their risks associated with pesticide use. Over 100 individuals participated in at least one webinar, while 35 more completed the pesticide applicator license preparatory course resulting in four participants acquiring their applicator’s license. The project team worked individually with growers underserved by crop insurance over the summer of 2022 to provide tailored on-farm technical support to further reduce the production, legal, and financial risks associated with pesticide use. Specifically, growers were supported in developing and adopting Integrated Pest Management strategies for the crops they were growing, calibrating spray equipment, trialing and evaluating new spray nozzle types to improve pesticide deposition and coverage, adjusting the pH of spray water using OMRI-listed citric acid buffers, and more. In-person meetings were also offered to a group of 9 vegetable farmers in Eastern New York’s “North Country” region focused on calibrating boom sprayers and appropriate adjuvant selection to improve pesticide efficacy and to a group of 11 urban farmers in Brooklyn, NY to discuss tips for reducing risks associated with backpack sprayers.

7. Strength in Networks: Risk management education for underserved producers in NY’s Hudson Valley
Project Director: David Llewellyn (dllewellyn@glynwood.org)
Glynwood Center for Regional Food and Farming
Award Amount: $65,471

The Glynwood Center for Regional Food and Farming (Glynwood) is a leading institution specializing in training and convening small-to-mid-scale regenerative, diversified agricultural producers in NY’s Hudson Valley. Many of these farmers are new and beginning farmers from socially disadvantaged groups, audiences that are currently underserved by traditional risk management efforts of USDA.  Through this project, Glynwood supported a total of 243 vegetable and livestock producers representing a diverse set of these underserved producer groups (apprentices, Mid-Hudson CRAFT participants, participants in Glynwood’s Farm Business Incubator, and regional livestock producers).  Participants took part in risk management education activities addressing key elements of agricultural risk, including production, marketing, financial and human risk. Through participation in both producer group roundtables and farm visits, as well as workshops and one-on-one technical assistance sessions, producers achieved a variety of risk management results, including improved understanding of: crop rotation and succession planning; cover cropping strategies; marketing plans; relevant farm insurance policies for diversified producers; and team communication skills for farm workers and managers. Glynwood gained valuable experience hosting events that included simultaneous Spanish to English interpretation, which will improve its ability to recruit and support more native Spanish speakers in subsequent programming.

8. Training Underserved Specialty Crop Producers to Mitigate Production Risk through Farmland Assessment and Soil Health Practices
Project Director: Jennifer Hashley (jennifer.hashley@tufts.edu)
Trustees of Tufts College
Award Amount: $99,960

Beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers face increasing crop production risks due to climate change. With the Training Underserved Specialty Crop Producers to Mitigate Production Risk through Farmland Assessment and Soil Health Practices Project (14622), educational programs trained 507 producers on soil health, water conservation, and agroecology principles to mitigate production risks and support producers to address legal risks through assessing available farmland and securing long-term leases or farmland purchase.

Through 1-1 technical assistance, farmland advising, field demonstrations, web-based presentations, producer learning networks, and field days/farm tours, we conducted two half-day soil health workshops; two webinars on water conservation, soil health, and agroecology/regenerative agriculture principles; two farm tours showcasing conservation production practices; four presentations on farmland search and leasing tools; two farmland mixers; and updated a farmland resource guide. Risk management curriculum was incorporated into existing farm business planning and crop production courses.

Our target audience were Northeast Massachusetts beginning and socially disadvantaged specialty crop farmers underexposed to risk management and crop insurance options.

The results: participants gained knowledge/understanding of soil quality indicators; created conservation and soil health plans; improved their knowledge of farmland assessment and leasing tools; improved record keeping; and implemented risk mitigating crop production practices. 507 producers attend workshops (132), webinars (195), classes/mixers (30), tours (130), and individual farmland advising sessions (20). 367 – 2,500 additional individuals accessed additional online resources, subscribed to our YouTube channel, and actively accessed New Entry’s monthly newsletter featuring outreach about resources developed through this project.

9. Women in Agriculture: Effective Communication Skills and Strategies to Reduce Stress on the Farm
Project Director: Michelle Kirk (mkirk@pafarmlink.org)
Co-Project Director: Darlene Livingston (daliving@pafarmlink.org)
PA Farm Link
Award Amount: $83,895

Communication and stress go hand in hand. Whether with a spouse or farm business partner, communication is the largest issue Pennsylvania farmers report during farm family meetings facilitated by PA Farm Link professionals. Stress caused by poor communication is a substantial factor affecting human risk management.

Farm women play an intricate role on farms and improved communication skills will garner increased respect in interactions with ag businesses, farm families and employees.

This multi-faceted project addressed effective communication skills that will assist farm women with conveying thoughts, concerns and needs to those in their family and farm businesses, particularly those whom it is difficult to speak with. Participants were encouraged to openly share struggles they face during five webinars and an in-person workshop. Professionals shared communication and stress reduction skills with participants through the webinars and workshop.

A series of three articles were developed and published in American Agriculturist magazine and a blog post published. Videos focusing on communication and stress were produced and uploaded to the website for 24/7 access.

Farm women are vital to the success of farming; better communication skills will greatly reduce stress leading to a happier, healthier farm family and farm business!