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Four Reasons to Take a Farm Business Class

by Jessie Schmidt

Seth Wilner teaching a business planning course offered through University of Vermont’s New Farmer Project. Photo by Jessie Schmidt

As the outdoor growing season winds down, the notices about upcoming classes, courses, workshops and conferences for farmers start filling email inboxes. Sometimes it’s easy to see the value of these learning opportunities. You experienced a problem this season with soil management or pest control and a workshop appears that addresses the issue. However many classes and courses require a bigger investment of your time and focus on the aspects of your farm that are usually put in the low urgency category—planning, analysis, assessing values and goals, and the other big picture items. Of course many of us tend to focus on the high urgency categories of our operations—that ‘putting out fires’ mentality is hard to escape when you are managing a highly complex biological system known as a farm.

So is it worth the time to take a class this winter? Can a class really make a difference in the development and success of your farm? Here are four reasons why taking a farm business class is a good investment in the future of your farm.

1. Proof is in the Planning— Whether you have a great farm business idea, or want to grow or change your current farm, good planning pays off. Getting clear on your goals and values, thinking through your strengths and weaknesses, making sense of the market place and how your plans translate into dollars is an investment of time and paper. Paper is cheap; time…maybe not so much. But wasting paper and time on an unproven idea is less risky than wasting money and time. Classes give you the opportunity to discover mistaken assumptions and fully vet your plan, so you have confidence when you do put your money on the line.

Where to Take a Farm Business Class

UVM Extension New Farmer Project—Classes focused on farm business development at locations across the state and also online for out-of-state participants. http://www.uvm.edu/newfarmer
Northeast Beginning Farmer Project—Many online classes, many with a production focus, for beginning farmers. http://nebeginningfarmers.org/
Holistic Management International—Offering whole farm planning courses for beginning women farmers throughout New England. http://www.holisticmanagement.org (search “Whole Farm Planning for Beginning Women Farmers”)

2. Money Matters— Like it or not, farms require money to operate. They might need a little or a lot, depending on scale and markets, but having access to capital to start and run your farm business is a key to its success. Farm business classes help you understand how much income your farm can generate, how much capital you will need to keep your farm humming, how to evaluate where you should invest your money on the farm (land? fencing? greenhouses? marketing?), and how to understand farm finances so you can make smart business decisions.

3. Gaining Focus off the Farm— Farms, like any business, take a lot of time and energy to start and maintain. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day details and forget about the big picture. Farm business classes give you the time to concentrate on your whole business and access to experts who can offer input where you need it the most.

4. Networking for New Opportunities— Ag based businesses can be isolating. Classes provide a rich environment for collaboration and support from other farmers, service providers and technical experts. By building these networks you are investing in the social infrastructure that you can rely on throughout your farm’s development.
So as you think about your plans for this winter, consider how a farm business class might support your farm’s success. Many classes are offered online to accommodate your schedule and location, or you can search for an in-person class with the organizations below.

Jessie Schmidt is the Coordinator for Community & Agriculture Programs
at UVM Extension and may be reached at newfarmer@uvm.edu or 802-223-2389 x203.

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