Ranch Management Consultants (RMC) are currently gauging interest to hold the business school of ranching in New England. If interested, take this four question survey: http://survey.constantcontact.com/survey/a07efe2mlf1jh6nkn0a/a014zjjq5r85v/questions
Information on the school:
RMC has a long, successful track record of equipping ranchers like you with the tools and insights to transform your ranch into a sustainable business.
The Ranching For Profit School has been recognized internationally for 35 years as THE business school of ranching. In less than a week they cover more topics more effectively than any other program in agriculture. You’ll learn how to apply economic and financial principles to increase your profit, manage debt and improve cash flow. You’ll learn how to manage grazing to improve soil health and increase carrying capacity without increasing labor or input costs. You’ll take home tools to manage drought and build a resilient business that can withstand risk. You’ll learn how to increase personal effectiveness, build a cohesive team and draft a succession plan to successfully transition your ranch to future generations. More info found here.
by Meg Grzeskiewicz, On Pasture
Strong, written contracts can prevent some of the Boneheaded Business Blunders I made in my early years of ranching. My previous two articles have covered every brutally specific detail that I should have included in my former land lease contracts. This month I’m running down everything that needs to be in a custom grazing contract.
In the past I have made contracts too short and simple, in an effort to avoid overwhelming potential partners. I wanted them to think that working with me would be stress-free and easy. But in the years that followed, those contracts proved ineffective at solving disputes and protecting us from one another. Now I don’t hesitate to hand people 5-page contracts. The kind of people I want to work with will welcome the security of a strong contract and respect me for making sure my bases are covered.
These are just my thoughts and I am not a lawyer.
Before signing a lease contract, you should have your lawyer look it over and ask them if you have forgotten anything important! The legal fees are worth avoiding potentially expensive future issues. If you have not worked with an agricultural lawyer up to this point, definitely make contact with one. Using other people’s land and/or caring for other people’s livestock is legally risky! Even if you think you’re getting along really well with your potential partner right now, and you trust them to be fair to you, a lot can change over the length of a multi-year contract.
My custom grazing contract starts out with an introduction that includes an effective date for the contract, and the names and contact information for both parties (individuals or legal entities). It states that the Grazier, as an independent contractor, will utilize land that they lease or own to graze and care for cattle owned by the Owner.
1. Terms of the Agreement – Starting, Duration and Ending
My contract begins on the delivery date of the Owner’s cattle to the Grazier’s land and remains valid for one year from that date. You can change this to whatever length of time that you want. Some contracts just continue until someone decides to terminate it. This is nice for flexibility reasons, but it’s hard to make future plans for your business if your source of income could simply disappear at any time.
For a custom grazing contract, I like a one-year or one growing season deal that can be renewed annually. Land leases need to be a little longer, because it takes a lot more time and work to switch farms than it does to buy or sell or move livestock. You need more security when it comes to your land base, so I prefer a 3-year land lease.
If you’re starting a new deal with a new partner, be careful about committing for too long a term. If they turn out to be a nightmare to work with, or if you realize you need to switch gears in your operation, you don’t want to be trapped for another five years.
The contract must state procedures for renewal or termination. I require a written renewal to be signed no less than 90 days before the end of the current contract, or it will terminate at the end of the current term. This gives me time to make plans for switching groups of cattle, managing cash flow, and making new deals.
See 1.5 in this section? The contract includes, as an appendix, a listing of ear tag numbers for each animal of the Owner’s that is on the Grazier’s land. Any time animals are born, delivered or removed, this listing must be updated within 30 days.
Why this extra detail? I heard of a case a few years ago in which a dishonest custom grazier was secretly taking an owner’s cattle to the sale barn and pocketing the money. The owner caught on when a significant number of cattle in his inventory records could not be located.
Herd inventory is especially important with large herds. Putting color, age, sex, breed and other distinguishing traits on the listing helps ensure that no switching of ear tags takes place. Theft and fraud can also be combatted by requiring proof when a grazier reports an animal as dead. The owner can either require a photograph showing the ear tag or may elect to visit the grazier to inspect the carcass.
Here’s my compensation language:
The owner will be responsible for paying the grazier:
Husbandry fees of $1.25 per head per day (a “head” being defined as a bovine over one year of age) on days when no hay is fed, and $1.00 per head per day on days when hay is fed. The owner must also reimburse the Grazier for all direct livestock expenses, which include but aren’t limited to hay, hay transport, mineral, salt, ear tags, medication, veterinary bills, livestock trucking, breeding expenses and pregnancy checks.
The Owner must ensure that the Grazier receives the full balance of the outstanding bill within 15 days after receiving an invoice from the Grazier. If/when the contract is terminated, the Owner must remove all livestock prior to the last day of the contract.
Insurance is another important topic. The Grazier needs to have a general liability policy, and needs to list the Owner as an additional insured party. The Grazier does not provide livestock insurance on the Owner’s cattle. If the Owner wants livestock loss coverage, they must purchase their own. Both parties need to make sure that their insurance agents understand the deal and are able to provide effective coverage.
4. Liability and Risk of Loss
This section is about making sure the Owner knows about problems with stock. Specify what kind of communication are acceptable for “giving notice” of things required in the contract. Is texting or e-mail okay, or does written notice have to be mailed? Do verbal phone agreements stand, or must everything be written? I definitely recommend that everything be recorded in some written form. I save text messages, Facebook messages and e-mails from my contract partners. Not doing this in the past has caused me monumental headaches in “he said she said” situations.
Rights and Responsibilities
This part of the contract outlines what each party agrees to do as part of the contract. The first paragraph in this section is important because it provides an “escape clause” should one of the parties not hold up his/her end of the bargain.
5. Owner’s responsibilities
The primary responsibility of the owner is to promptly pay invoices.
6. Owner’s Rights
With responsibilities come rights. In my contract I’ve listed the owner’s right to visit the property where livestock are housed to make sure that the grazier is in compliance with the terms of the contract.
7. Grazier Responsibilities
The Grazier has a long list of responsibilities to fulfill primarily based on the management section. Check out my sample contract to see what I include.
Not that in 7.12 I include the kinds of records I will keep, including grazing charts, medical records and herd records. Be sure you are clear on what kinds of records must be kept to avoid any disagreements.
8. Livestock Management
I start by being clear that the Grazier has the right to make all livestock management decisions. This is another really important statement! Graziers should cooperate with Owners to decide on production practices that both parties are happy with, but not let the Owner dictate how the Grazier’s farm or business is run. That would make it more of a partnership or boss-employee relationship. The Grazier must have the ability to change management practices at any time whenever needed.
Next in this section, I lay out specifically how the cattle on my operation will be managed, and state that my adherence to these practices cannot be interpreted as negligence and cannot be considered grounds for termination of the contract. I describe my practices and rules for things like castration, breeding, antibiotic use, grazing, diet, calving, night checks, culling, and more.
Laying out this detail is important. Just because you think something is normal and acceptable does not guarantee that the cattle owner will think so too. For example, I do not mechanically wean calves. I allow them to stay with their mothers and they stop nursing when their mothers dry off. I don’t even think about it anymore. But for a lot of cattle producers, the thought of not weaning calves is insane. They might freak out if I tell them seven months after calving that I’m not weaning their calves.
If you are the Owner and are selling livestock or livestock products into a marketing program with production rules, make sure the contract requires your custom grazier to keep your herd in compliance with the program. Be sure to include that you have the right to visit your livestock
Don’t ever assume the other party in your deal is going to do something a certain way. Even if you don’t record every painstaking detail in writing, make sure you discuss everything before signing anything.
9. Relationship of Parties
In this section we agree once more on the relationship between Owner and Grazier.
The “independent contractor” part of the contract is important. During my ill-fated year of custom grazing without a contract, the owner of the cattle did not recognize my custom grazing activities as being separate from my work as an employee of a beef company they owned. As a result, the owner wanted a lot more control over my business and my production practices than I was willing to grant.
I learned that your contract needs to say that the Owner has no right to control, direct or supervise you, the Grazier, in carrying out the contract terms. The contract does not create any partnership, employment or joint venture.
This section says, in fancy legal terms, that just because somebody doesn’t enforce some certain provision or exercise some right they have under the contract, that doesn’t void all or part of the contract. Changes can be made to the contract during a term, by way of both parties signing an amended contract. The written contract in question comprises the entirety of the agreement between the Owner and Grazier and supersedes all prior oral or written deals concerning the subject of the agreement.
What I Forgot
One thing that should have been in my last contract is that the Grazier has no obligation to market the Owner’s livestock. I was willing to help my herd owner find buyers for cattle on my farm that he wanted to sell, but I did not want sole responsibility for that task. The owner saw marketing as one of my duties as the custom grazier. This was a topic that we hadn’t discussed and the contract was not clear about whose job it was.
It didn’t end up being a problem, but it was still a concerning oversight that could have become a problem between different people. To avoid these situations in the future my contracts will include this sentence something like this: “This contract covers everything that the grazier agrees to do. Anything not written down here is not the responsibility of the grazier.”
At the end of the contract, both parties sign above their printed names and roles in their legal entities. You may also have a witness sign if desired. For extra protection, you may want to sign in the presence of a notary, and/or put the contract on public record with your county clerk.
As Northern New York farmers scout corn and soybean fields for any diseases that may impact crop health and yield, they can use five years’ worth of survey results as a guide to newly-emerging and common crop pathogens in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.
The corn and soybean disease survey project is funded by the farmer-driven Northern New York Agricultural Development Program. In addition to identifying current areas of concern and trends, the project provides regional farmers with the expertise of Cornell Cooperative Extension specialists who scout 12 sentinel fields of corn and 21 sentinel fields of soybeans. These fields on Northern New York Farms represent different soils and growing conditions, and a variety of cropping practices.
Fields are assessed at various stages of crop growth. The Bergstrom Lab at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., has cultured and analyzed field samples since 2013.
“Multi-year surveys better capture variations in weather from year-to-year, from a wet spring to drought in the past five years. The data helps farmers make more informed corn and soybean variety selections, evaluate soil and crop debris for potential problems, and plan management strategy,” said project leader and Cornell plant pathologist Dr. Gary C. Bergstrom, Ithaca, N.Y.
This disease survey project was started in 2013 as the first systematic assessment of corn and soybean diseases conducted in Northern New York in recent decades.
Results of the most recent NNY corn disease survey by county is online at https://fieldcrops.cals.
A statewide soybean disease survey is online at https://fieldcrops.cals.
For more information, contact Cornell Cooperative Extension North Country Field Crop Specialists Kitty O’Neil, 315-854-1218, and Mike Hunter, 315-788-8450.
By Lee Rinehart, NCAT Program Specialist
The following article is an excerpt from the factsheet “Building Healthy Pasture Soils” available in full at www.ATTRA.org and can be downloaded as a free PDF at the website, along with many other guides and resources.
Let’s consider the agricultural practices that help build healthy soil. In essence, we want to increase aggregation, contribute soil organic matter, increase biodiversity, buffer soil temperature, and minimize soil compaction and disturbance. Sounds like a lot, right? Well, not really, if we break them down into six basic principles. Let’s take a quick look at the principles that will define our soil management practices for grazing:
Minimizing tillage preserves soil structure, encourages aggregation, and keeps soil carbon in the soil profile where it belongs. Tillage brings a flush of oxygen into the soil that spurs microbes into a feeding frenzy on carbon molecules, resulting in CO2 release. We reduce tillage through the use of perennial pasture and minimum or no-till of cover crops.
Maintaining living roots in the soil for as much of the year as possible feeds soil microorganisms all year.
Also, by maintaining living roots and leaving grazing residual, we are covering the soil all year, forming an “armor” to protect it from loss of moisture and nutrients.
Maintaining species diversity is achieved with cover crop mixes and the use of diverse perennial-pasture mixes. Try to incorporate warm- season and cool-season plants, both grasses and broadleaf plants, in the same fields.
Managing grazing is accomplished by planning for an appropriate grazing-recovery period on your paddocks, keeping in mind that plants need various recovery periods depending on the species, the time of year, and the soil moisture content. Overgrazing (not allowing adequate recovery) reduces root mass, photosynthesis, and the amount of carbon sequestered into
the soil, decreasing soil life. Proper grazing builds soil.
Finally, utilizing animal impact and grazing impact provides nutrient cycling in pastures, and contributes to soil organic matter. Additionally, the grazing action on forage plants encourages root growth and root exudation of plant sugars that feed soil microorganisms.
For livestock producers, this boils down to a combination of perennial pasture, cover crops in rotation on annual fields, and good grazing management. These simple concepts are described by ranchers Allen Williams, Gabe Brown, and Neil Dennis in a short video on how grazing management and cover crops can regenerate soils. View the video Soil Carbon Cowboys to get their take on soil health practices: https://vimeo. com/80518559.
Perennial pastures, because of the lack of soil disturbance and their permanent cover, are higher in carbon and organic matter than tilled crop fields. This biological system has a stable habitat to conduct business, and the nutrient cycles can sustain themselves. However, we know that by adding livestock to the mix, we get a multiplier effect on soil health.
The impact of grazing is known to increase soil carbon and nitrogen stocks. As an animal grazes, it sends a signal to the plant to pump out sugars through its roots and into the surrounding soil, or rhizosphere. Root exudates, which are sugars developed by the plant through photosynthesis, are food sources for myriad microorganisms in the soil. The action of grazing jump-starts the soil food web and increases nutrient cycling, making nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon available to the growing plants.
Walt Davis, a rancher and management consultant, puts it this way: “Grazed forage pumps
root exudates (mostly carbohydrates) out into the area around their feeder roots; this feast of sugars and starches brings about an explosion of bacteria which causes the populations of predator microbes to increase greatly. As the predators consume the bacteria, they take in more protein than they need and excrete the excess nitrogen (in a plant usable form) out right where the plant that contributed the carbohydrates can grab it to produce new growth. All of this activity (the life and death of billions of organisms) plus the root growth of properly grazed forage swards creates the fertile and biological active top soil that is the real solution to sustainable, productive and profitable agriculture.”
How to Manage Grazing in Two Easy Steps
There’s a lot of information available about rotational grazing, multi-paddock grazing, and controlled grazing… it has a lot of names. As well, many graziers will extol the benefits of rotating animals from paddock to paddock. Paddock rotation is a management practice that helps us control grazing and has been shown to increase the sustainability of grazing operations. A system that rotates livestock through paddocks can be reduced to two essential steps:
First, determine how long your rest, or plant recovery period, should be. Then, determine how long animals should be on a paddock. Everything else in paddock rotations stems from these two decisions.
Recovery period is the number of days that animals are not on a paddock, when the forage has a
chance to recover from grazing. A rule of thumb is to start the spring with fast rotations, say moving livestock every 15 to 20 days, and increasing the recovery period as it gets warmer and drier, to 30 days or so for cool-season grasses and 40 or more for warm-season grasses. These figures are for improved pasture in the Northeast, so a bit of judgement and adaptation for your region is crucial here.
Once you know your recovery period, determine how long animals will be on the paddock. The animals should be removed from a paddock before grazed forages begin to regrow, to prevent overgrazing. For most forages in rain-fed pastures, this is around two to three days. Grazing periods of a day or less, especially with high animal density, provide uniform grazing and efficient manure distribution. High stock density builds soil.
It’s important to maintain an adequate post-grazing residual forage height for photosynthesis and the recovery of carbon and nitrogen stocks. Remember that severe defoliation decreases car- bon and nitrogen over time. A good grazing pol- icy is to take half and leave half. This feeds both our livestock and soil microbes, resulting in less added fertilizers.
Remember: Managed grazing with adequate residual heights encourages soil aggregation, which is compromised with poorly stocked grazing. Situations that result in compaction should be avoided, such as grazing wet soils. Paddock grazing periods that are too long result in overgrazing. This is especially detrimental when the grazed paddock is not allowed full recovery before re-grazing.
Paddock Size and Grazing Uniformity
As mentioned before, livestock grazing contributes to nutrient cycling and increases soil organic matter. Managed grazing allows for uniformity of paddock defoliation but also encourages uniformity of manure distribution within the paddock.
Let’s take a look at three different paddock systems and the influence that number of paddocks has on manure distribution. In the three-paddock system in Figure 2, it’s easy to see that the cattle congregate around the trees and the water source. Most likely, this system has long grazing periods, which increases grazing selectivity. It also clearly decreases uniformity of grazing.
spatial distribution of manure can be managed in many ways: for instance by the size and shape of the
paddock, the placement of water sources, and the number of animals on the paddock.
Paddock size should be determined by an assessment of the forage demand of the livestock and the forage available in the pasture. This will also determine the number of paddocks you need in a grazing cell.
Lesson 3 of the ATTRA Managed Grazing tutorial covers this concept, and I recommend reviewing the principles to determine paddock size and number (https://attra.ncat.org/ tutorials/grazing/). The ATTRA Grazing Planning Manual and Workbook: A Toolbox and Tem- plate for Writing a Practical Grazing Plan provides worksheets and a calculator to help you determine paddock size and number
Square paddocks work best for encouraging uniform grazing and, thus, uniform manure distribution. Some practitioners suggest that long, narrow paddocks don’t work very well because livestock will graze one end of the paddock more intensely than the other. However, some have noted that with high stock density, livestock will graze a rectangle-shaped (or really any other shape) paddock just fine, working from one end to the other. The key here is animal numbers, as well as the length of time they are on the paddock. Long, rectangular paddocks can work if animal numbers are high and the grazing period is very short, creating a very high stocking density.
Another way to encourage even grazing distribution is with water-source placement. Water should be placed within 300 feet of the farthest reaches of the paddock for best distribution, but still, manure tends to accumulate toward the water source, especially as the temperature increases. Research has shown that, during heat stress, most dung accumulates within 100 feet of the water source. Shade and extra water sources can help alleviate this problem.
The 12-paddock system in Figure 3 is a little better. Notice that a higher number of manure piles is distributed around the paddocks. Finally, in the 24-paddock system in Figure 4, we see even more piles distributed throughout the paddock, even if there tends to be a high amount around watering sources. Compare this system with the three-paddock system. The more paddocks you have, the better the distribution of manure over the whole pasture.
Water tank placement, short grazing periods with high animal density, and more paddocks can maximize grazing distribution. In a well-designed pasture system, like the 24-paddock system, animals will deposit about 85% of their manure and urine within the paddocks, about 12% around water sources, and the rest in the lanes and, for
dairies, the parlor.
Transitioning to a biological system from a chemical system is going to be a slow process, and it’s good
to recognize that it will take several years for soils to start turning around. Be patient and, as Ray Archuleta, a conservationist with NRCS, says, “you cannot build ecology integrity without human integrity” (2017).
Have the integrity to believe that nature will work with you over time; that it’s going to work.
Lee Rinehart has been writing and educating on sustainable agriculture for over 20 years. A graduate of Texas A&M University and a Program Specialist for NCAT’s ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture program, his work focuses on agronomy, livestock, and grazing. Lee can be reached at 479-587-3474 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Peter Smallidge
In New York and most of the Eastern states, the greatest proportion of woodland owners have relatively small parcels. A “small” parcel size is not defined, but often considered to be less than 10 acres, or less than 50 acres. The USDA National Woodland Owner Survey (NWOS) offers a feature to make tables and charts about owner attributes and intentions (Google search “nwos table maker”). The NWOS data for NY indicates that 62% of owners have parcels less than 9 acres and 28% of owners have parcels that are 10 to 49 acres. The average parcel size is 18.3 acres. The 90% of owners with parcels less than 50 acres collectively control about 42% of the woodlands.
Small is perhaps best defined, from the owner’s perspective, relative to what the owner wants to accomplish. From that perspective, a parcel might be too small, or not. Statewide however, 13% of owners with parcels less than 49 acres have had commercial harvests, 4% of those with parcels less than 10 acres have had a commercial harvest. These small-parcel owners want to be active on their land, but are challenged by the scale of operations. As parcel sizes decrease, the feasibility for commercial activity also decreases, but there are still options.
The challenges of extracting woodland products, especially sawlogs or firewood, relate to the costs to the logger or forester of operations versus the benefit or value obtained from those products. The fixed costs include, for example, those associated with moving equipment, building landings for log trucks, arranging for log trucks, and in some communities town or municipal permits.
(Figure 1) Another fixed cost is the opportunity cost of harvesting a small parcel with the time to coordinate and execute the harvest, rather than setting up on a larger parcel that will provide a greater volume and value. Variable costs, or those that differ among harvests, might be less or greater on small parcels. On small parcels the skidding distance will be less and thus a reduced cost. However, there will be fewer options for landings, and a higher percentage of the harvest area adjacent to neighbors. Thus, as parcel sizes get smaller, the cost of operations on a per acre basis increases. For a business (logging is ultimate a business) to justify operating on a parcel, the value must be greater than the cost.
Woodland owners with small parcels may be placed in a compromised position given the need for value to exceed cost. Some owners will decide to take no action because the changes in their woodlands would be too substantial. Owners who need to have some management applied, such as for forest health or forest products, need to find strategies to have the work done, but without overly excessive harvesting that could nullify the owner’s objectives.
There are two paths an owner might take. Any given owner might take one or the other at different times for different circumstances. For lack of better terms, these paths are “Do it Yourself” (DIY) and “commercial.”
Regardless of the path an owner pursues, a forester should be involved in the planning, design and oversight of the activities. Because of the smaller area and likely lower values as compared to larger parcels, foresters might be more inclined to charge a flat rate rather than percentage of the harvest value. Foresters will also know the loggers who work in an area and who might have a business strategy with lower costs than other loggers. Owners should start with a DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) public service forester, but may ultimately need to select a private-sector forester from a list provided by the DEC.
The DIY option requires that the owner or the owner’s friends have the necessary equipment, skill with that equipment, time and motivation. These are real investments and easy to underestimate. However, many owners thrive on this type of activity, or have friends who do. This option effectively reduces the costs by excluding or reducing the need to transport equipment, pay salaries, and pay overhead. Owners should be aware that their investment of time has value because they could be doing something else that might be more important or more productive.
Time and motivation are important, but if their availability is overestimated the consequences may not have great consequence. However, overestimating the skill or appropriate equipment for the task could result in personal injury, death, or damage to the woods. Of particular note is the essential need to be able to use directional felling techniques when cutting trees. Also, having the right equipment to maneuver in the woods and extract the size and quantity of logs being harvested. Another reality is that the DIY small-scale logging is hard and slow work. The equipment can’t move large quantities of wood (Figure 2). It is typically impractical to move commercial volumes of wood with small-scale equipment.
The DIY path results in logs at the disposal of the woodland owner. The owner may be able to process the logs for firewood, hire a portable bandsaw to make boards for sale, or sell the logs roadside. Each of these processes includes additional effort for the owner, and as regards the sale of products may increase the owner’s tax liability.
Skill and the correct equipment are essential. At a minimum, anyone felling trees should have training, such as Game of Logging, to directionally fell trees. The details of the topography, soils, season, and size of trees will determine the minimum types of equipment that are needed. Video of small-scale logging are available at www.youtube.com/ForestConnect and in the discussion forum at www.CornellForestConnect.ning.com
The commercial path requires that the owner find some way to change the cost-to-value ratio. This could be through either an increase in the value or volume of wood harvested, or reducing the cost per unit of wood harvested. Increasing value might be accomplished as increasing total value, total volume, or the value per unit.
One strategy to change the cost-to-value ratio is through a more intensive harvest on the property, or focusing on just the high-value trees. Either of these approaches could be counter to the owner’s objectives, is exploitive, and could degrade the condition of the woods. The forester needs to know the owner’s objectives and be instructed to not compromise those objectives.
A second strategy is for the owner to work with another landowner, ideally a neighbor, to increase the total value and volume, and also reduce the cost per acre (Figure 3). Each owner could have different objectives, and require harvests based on different silvicultural prescriptions and different harvest intensity. Although easily said, the feasibility is low for finding a neighbor who is ready to harvest at the same, and use the same forester and logger. A similar strategy would be for the owner to join a woodland cooperative, but cooperatives are rare.
The challenges to managing small parcels are daunting. In some cases the owners may decide that a harvest isn’t feasible. If the final goal is to manipulate the trees that are present to create better wildlife habitat, improve forest health, or improve tree growth for bigger trees there are non-harvest options that the owner could discuss with their forester. One such option might be the use of selective herbicides or mechanical girdling to kill some trees and allow adjacent trees better growth. In all cases, the owner needs to have a clear awareness of their objectives to avoid the potential pitfalls of the management strategies they pursue.
Peter Smallidge, NYS Extension Forester and Director, Arnot Teaching and Research Forest, Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University Cooperative Extension, Ithaca, NY 14853.
Support for ForestConnect is provided by the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and USDA NIFA.
By: Kat McCarthy & Dan Welch
Ashlee Kleinhammer became involved with Clover Mead Farm in 2012, when she approached its then owner, Sam Hendren, about buying the business. In 2013, a third-party foundation purchased the farm from Sam and established a 5-year lease-purchase agreement for Kleinhammer, who recently closed on the property. In reflection, Ashlee points out that Sam set-up both the infrastructure and the markets for local grass-fed cheeses in this area and paved the way for many local farmers. He not only started Clover Mead Farm, but was also a catalyst for the Ausable Valley Grange Farmers Market Association. During the first year establishing her farmstead creamery, North Country Creamery, Ashlee was able to hire Hendren as a mentor through NOFA’s Journeyperson program.
Five years later, Ashlee is looking to expand. She has a long-term goal of building a new milking parlor, fostering farm community, and enhancing quality of life along with business viability. Since taking over the business, the line of products has grown to include yogurt and raw milk, and the onsite Clover Mead Café and Farm Store has been reinstated. Along the way, she has focused on strategies to increase efficiency and enhance food safety compliance.
Profit Team Project Review
Another farmer first suggested Ashlee apply for the profit team project in 2016. At the time, the farm’s cheesemaker began to ask questions about production techniques that were beyond Ashlee’s knowledge. “We value our employees; we try to think of them as our best assets,” Kleinhammer notes. This helped Ashlee identify a need to work with a consultant who could help address the cheesemaker’s questions while growing the operation’s knowledge of food safety and milk quality processing. As a result, Kleinhammer applied for the profit team project to work with consultant Shannon Rice-Nichols. By bringing in a consultant, North Country Creamery developed a HACCP plan over time, answering periodic “homework” assignments that gathered approximately 50 pages of data. The resulting recommendations from this consultant included tips and techniques that improved cheese quality and processing, from suggestions about pressing and flipping cheese, to brining and batching, to yogurt container filling.
In developing the HACCP plan, the farm focused on improving standard operating procedures (SOPs) and standard sanitation procedures. Before the project, procedures were informally organized. Now, written SOPs are coupled with forms for daily recordkeeping. Establishing these protocols helped Ashlee identify that her cheesemaker was assigned too many tasks and therefore didn’t have enough time to focus on working in the cheese cave. Through simple strategies like developing a job description or writing out the cheese making process, both owner and staff could better understand business operations, work flow and needs. Ashlee notes “we made so many changes and improvements” while working with a consultant on this project, which will have short- and long-term impacts.
As a result of the project, the business has reduced its risk, improved efficiency, and enhanced product quality. In turn, North Country Creamery is selling more yogurt, which now also has a longer shelf life. Additionally, farmer’s market sales are improving over time. From a quality of life standpoint, Ashlee notes that becoming more comfortable with food safety requirements and procedures has helped her be more at ease. These strategies have poised the business to be ready for scaling up and positioned North Country Creamery to be in compliance with upcoming regulations as a result of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Furthermore, formalizing SOPs and staff training has allowed Ashlee to delegate more recordkeeping and creamery management duties. She can now focus more time on cows and herd health, her true passion. With the additional free time, she is currently working with mentors to focus on herd health and is already seeing improvements. Looking ahead, Ashlee hopes to review data like labor costs and yields as well as financials associated with processing to assess the profitability of various cheeses.
Finding the Right Consultant
A strong focus of the farm’s profit team project stemmed from a goal of improving the cheese making process and supporting the farm’s cheesemaker to learn about ways to enhance existing procedures. To do this Ashlee needed an outside consultant who could assist in developing processes that would increase the efficiency of the creamery. Additionally, a consultant could help North Country Creamery develop a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCAP) plan. By establishing written procedures and improving process control, the cheesemaker’s time is now used more efficiently. An unexpected benefit from this project was that Ashlee now also has more time to work with the cows as well.
Farmers can sometimes be reluctant to hire an outside consultant due to costs or not knowing where to find someone with the necessary expertise. Two things made it clear that North County Creamery needed a consultant with expertise in dairy processing and food safety. One was that their cheesemaker began asking technical questions that the farm management could not answer. The second was the need for the farm to be ready for the new regulations that are being developed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act. By working with a consultant, the farm was able to access additional knowledge and experience that could be applied to improving their operation.
While there is some cost to hiring a consultant, the cost is relatively low when compared with the cost of not proactively addressing risks to the farm business. In the case of North Country Creamery, having written Standard Operating Procedures and a HACCP plan will help the farm minimize risks of a foodborne illness outbreak, which has the potential to put a farm out of business. While Ashley plans to do more financial analysis, she expects that implementing process improvements will lead to reduced costs and higher sales, which could significantly improve profitability in the long-run.
Working with a consultant can bring many benefits to a farm. Consider the following tips when planning to work with a farm consultant. This advice can be applied for many different types of consultants, ranging from business experts to financial advisors to those providing technical assistance.
- Ask for references and follow-up with them to learn about the experiences other businesses had in working with the consultant.
- Meet with a perspective consultant before signing an agreement to see if they are a good fit for your farm and project.
- Make your expectations for the project clear from the initial point of contact.
- Receive a written scope of work or project outline.
- Keep in contact with the service provider throughout the project time frame.
- Ask questions and do your homework to stay informed throughout the process.
- Don’t be afraid to change providers if you’re not satisfied with the work completed.
Strategies for Success
Ashlee’s strategies can be readily applied to other farm businesses.
- Plan in stages and keep a focus on your true passion and goals. For Ashlee, her passion is working with cows. In reflection, Ashlee said “sometimes, I wake up in the morning, or at the end of the day [and] I’m like, I do all this because I like milking cows…so much of what I do has nothing to do with milking cows.” Her role as a farmer is diverse and requires her to complete numerous tasks, many of which contribute to her ability to work with cows, but are not directly related. By keeping an eye on the big picture, North Country Creamery has identified steps towards increasing business viability while scaling up. Though establishing set procedures and improving efficiencies in the business, Ashlee has been able to make more time to focus on working with the cows.
- Be aware of your own risk tolerance and comfort levels. In acknowledging a certain level of risk aversion, Ashlee chose to work with a third party foundation on a lease-purchase agreement. This avoided undue stress and enabled her to focus on business operations and improvements.
- Understand the value of employees. Ashlee and her partner both feel that employees are one of their best assets. As a result, they have offered opportunities for staff to incubate new businesses onsite, providing space for individuals to start beekeeping, raising goats, and growing a market garden. They also encourage the development of an environment in which staff learn from one another. By fostering opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, staff enhance skillsets, while contributing to the cultivation of a strong and resilient farm community. This in turn establishes a dedicated, knowledgeable core of staff who understand the farm operations.
This project was a collaboration of the Cornell Small Farms Program, NY Farm Viability Institute, and NY FarmNet, and made possible with funding from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2015-70017-22882.
By Mark Phillips
In the Spring of 2017, 35 people gathered at Back the Lane Farm in Stephentown, New York, for a workshop with Mark Shepard, author of Restoration Agriculture, to witness the design and implementation of a permaculture inspired chestnut and hazelnut orchard. As the founder of New Forest Farm in Viola, Wisconsin — a commercial scale, perennial agricultural ecosystem that mimics the native ecology of its bioregion — Shepard has served as resource and inspiration for farmers aspiring to use agroforestry, or the intentional cultivation of trees and tree crops, as a vehicle for ecological restoration and financial profitability. This story highlights the work of three diversified tree farms in the Hudson valley area, united by the bold vision that chestnuts and hazelnuts can one day be the staple food of the Northeast region and beyond.
As woody perennials that produce nuts year after year without the annual tillage required of grains and vegetables, chestnuts and hazelnuts are ecosystem services providers par excellence–reclaiming degraded landscapes while sequestering carbon in topsoil and plant biomass. Project Drawdown, an interdisciplinary collaborative that recently delineated the 100 top solutions to climate change, has called out regenerative agriculture for its potential to reverse global warming while enhancing agricultural resilience and food security in the face of intensifying climate change. Together, chestnuts and hazelnuts represent an opportunity to advance agroforestry as a carbon farming practice in the Northeast, with the added benefit that their nuts are a profitable new cash crop for the region’s agricultural economy.
Indeed, in addition to their ecological benefits, chestnuts and hazelnuts boast growing domestic and international markets in short supply. Propagate Ventures, an agroforestry investment firm based in Hudson, NY, estimates that it would only take 5,000 acres of chestnuts to displace the $12.4 million imported into the country in 2011, with opportunities to further capitalize on unique options for value-added processing. Chestnuts, for example, can be processed into a delicious gluten-free flour, while hazelnuts produce a superior culinary oil and, of course, are a main ingredient in Ferrero’s popular Nutella spread. The pair are nutritionally similar to corn and soy, respectively, and could conceivably replace their annual counterparts with enough support and investment: “We’re going to replicate the corn/soybean model because we know it works at scale, and so we want to have some sort of analog for both,” shares Ben Hart, who hosted Shepard’s workshop last spring.
As a part of a long-term vision to seed a new industry for nuts in the Hudson Valley, Hart planted several thousand seedlings on his farm in a single weekend with support from Shepard’s team and workshop participants. Initially sourcing commercially yielding varieties from Shepard’s nursery, Hart plans to work together with neighboring Shaker Creek Farm to breed locally adapted nursery stock for larger orchard development in the area over the next decade.
Good genetics are the foundation of successful nut growing operations, and decades of work from independent growers in the Midwest and Finger Lakes, NY, regions have produced hybridized varieties of both chestnuts and hazels that address issues like chestnut and eastern filbert blight, while offering cold-hardiness and commercial farm productivity. Active breeding efforts by farmers and researchers themselves are ongoing, with nurseries like Shepard’s quickly selling out each season as demand for nut trees increases throughout the country.
“Our goal is to begin developing chestnuts, hazelnuts, and other perennial plant species for commercial use,” shares Keegan Schelling of Shaker Creek Farm, “so that there is enough supply for area farmers as the industry grows.” With a diversified orchard planted last spring that includes plans for zero-input, organic apples for cider production, Keegan and his partner Alison are also researching effective perennial polycultures — intentional plantings of diverse species in mutually beneficial relationship — that can be profitably replicated throughout Columbia County and elsewhere in the Hudson valley.
Hopeful nut growers like the Schelling and Hart families are enthusiastic about opportunities to collaborate and support other growers in the region. Right across the border in Western Massachusetts, Seva Tower and Kalyan Uprichard of Nutwood Farm similarly embrace other growers as important harbingers of success for a larger movement around chestnuts and hazelnuts. “Maybe there’s something to this if multiple businesses jumped into production feet first. We’re really trying to inspire an industry here, so having co-conspirators in the start up is a welcome relief,” says Seva.
Primarily focused on hazelnuts, the couple began converting their seven-acre woodlot into a diverse, community-scale food forest two years ago and is already seeing the first signs of nuts on some of the top-performing shrubs. Like their neighbors in New York, Seva and Kalyan are keen on resource sharing, with the goal of learning from existing growers in the Midwest and, eventually, plugging into larger efforts for regional nut-producer cooperation.
Pathways to Scale
Cooperative development between growers and food system stakeholders will play a key role in supporting the longer-term success of a nut industry in the region. “In the Midwest almost across the board there are mid-scale businesses that producers are selling into, and those businesses are doing all of the packaging, processing, and distribution,” shares Connor Stedman of Appleseed Permaculture, a farm planning and regenerative design firm based in the Hudson Valley and New England area. Both Stedman and his colleague Russell Wallack research nut-based agroforestry systems as a part of their role with Appleseed, referencing the Route 9 Cooperative in Ohio as a successful example of coordinated sales and distribution for nuts. Processing upwards of 100,000 pounds of chestnuts annually, the Route 9 Cooperative provides efficiencies of scale for five different orchards that might otherwise compete with one another to access consumer markets.
Both Stedman and Wallack are enthusiastic about the potential of nuts while offering guiding caution to new growers: “Recognizing that we’re at such an early stage with this crop in the US context, we need to be scientific about it if we want to develop an industry around chestnuts in the region,” shares Wallack, who emphasizes that research and collaboration on breeding for commercial production up front will directly benefit the ultimate success of a nut industry in the region.
“It sounds like a monumental task, but I’m mostly encouraged,” says Seva from Nutwood Farm. Like their Hudson Valley neighbors, Seva and Kalyan are taking the lead on their own breeding efforts while calling for additional support from values-aligned partners: “Soybeans were non-existent as a crop 100 years ago and it’s only because of massive public investment through land-grant universities and public research that spurred the soy plant into existence. So nuts really just need a revolution, a little redirected resources, and it could totally happen.”
With active breeding efforts underway, there is promising potential for tapping into larger networks of existing nut-growers throughout the region. About 200 miles west of the Hudson Valley in the Finger Lakes, for example, the nascent New York Tree Crops Alliance is taking tangible steps towards the formation of a producer cooperative. Established New York operations like Twisted Tree Farm in Spencer and Z’s Nutty Ridge in McGraw already serve as important resources to new nut growers in the surrounding region, providing commercial nursery stock and education around orchard planting and maintenance. The budding cooperative is an opportunity to further develop technical assistance for chestnut and hazel operations throughout the state while supporting the regional adoption of nuts as an ecologically regenerative industry. With projected sales in the $500M range over twenty years, the cooperative identifies the chestnut and hazelnut duo as a financially viable opportunity for restoring fallow hillsides throughout New York State to agricultural productivity.
Leading with polyculture, not monoculture
Moving forward, a key challenge will be to develop production models for chestnuts and hazels that not only optimize biodiversity but also achieve the economies of scale necessary for commercial viability. “All of this research is about how we design diverse chestnut orchards, or orchards that effectively integrate into a farm system,” shares Wallack. He notes the distinction between simplified monoculture plantings of chestnuts and the more diverse, albeit labor-intensive polycultures in
place at farms like Shepard’s in Wisconsin.
Ben Hart, whose initial planting last spring serves as a model for regional replication, points out that, “If we want this regenerative model of nut-based polyculture farming to explode, it must be profitable for farmers to operate at price points consumers are willing to accept. In the context of an economic system that rewards productivity and scale, the long-term adoption of such diversified farms calls for business models that navigate the complexity of polyculture while attaining at least some of the operational efficiencies of commodity-scale monoculture — not an easy nut to crack.“
Information sharing is huge: we’re all in the same game together and I don’t see other people who are doing nuts as a competitor with me so much as a possible collaborator,” affirms Hart. He identifies opportunities for coordinated research on farm plans and financial models as key to the long-term success of a nut-industry in the Hudson valley and beyond.
Recognizing that the trees are a long-term investment, farmers aspiring to return chestnuts and hazels to the northeast food system are clearly a highly committed, entrepreneurial lot. For Nutwood Farm, the planting of nuts is a deliberate choice, rooted in a larger story about the potential of perennial agriculture to heal degraded land and regenerate communities: “We still have the diversity of the natural environment, we have the insect and the bird life that are the signature of a healthy ecosystem, or at least one that is recovering,” share Seva and Kalyan. “We can contribute to that or we can take from that. We contribute to it by bringing in more diversity, because diversity is strength.”
Mark is based in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where he explores the relationships between food, community, and agriculture in the new economy. You can read more of his writing and learn about his work at https://about.me/MarkjPHL
By Ulf Kintzel
Feeding hay in the winter is in many parts a reality in the Northeast. You will hear often these days that the best way to deal with hay in a grass-fed operation is to rid yourself of hay feeding and graze stockpiled forage instead. In my view it is true that extending the grazing season is a good and desirable goal and should be an aim for anyone. Well-managed pasture will almost always be better for the sheep than stored forage. Besides, it is likely to be cheaper as well.
However, in some areas of the Northeast there are limits to how long you can graze into the winter. If you are trying to extend the grazing season, please ask yourself to what end. Wanting to extend grazing season cannot be a goal in itself. You are doing yourself no favor if you can show pretty pictures of your sheep in deep snow, claiming they still graze, when the energy used to get to the grass and to keep warm when the wind blows, and the temperatures are very low. That means that in many parts of the Northeast, feeding hay during a certain period will be the better option to wanting to extend grazing even more. My hay feeding period starts about early to mid-January and ends when the grass grows in the spring and the sheep have lambed and are no longer in the barn. That is usually early to mid-April, which means my hay feeding time lasts about 100 days in most years.
Before I start discussing the quality of the hay I am seeking, you may have noticed by now that I have not said forage. You may ask by now “What about baleage or haylage”? If you can make quality baleage, go for it. Just note that any mold in haylage have killed many sheep over the years by causing listeriosis, also called circling disease. Sheep are quite sensitive to mold in baleage. In addition, once a sheep catches listeriosis, there is next to no way to save it. For that reason and for reasons that just fit my management system better, I have stuck to dry hay.
Most of my hay is made at my farm. It is custom-hayed by my neighbor Peter. I like to get the first cutting made as early as possible. In some years this may be still late May, in most years it will be made during the first week of June. In any event, I like to have that first-cutting hay made before the orchard grass blooms. There are two problems with that: First, the weather is not that stable yet in most years in early June. Mid to late June brings much better hay making weather. Secondly, the yield is still lower than it could be. These two reasons keep many to cut the grass in late May and early June. However, that is the one of the best quality hay you can make. It is not only high in protein. It is also high in energy. Which leads me to the next issue.
Many times, when I am asked about the quality of hay, I am asked what protein content I am seeking. I am very dismissive of needing to know about the protein. If your hay was cut at a palatable stage and didn’t receive rain while drying, chances are that the protein content is high enough any given time of the year no matter what your hay field consists of. I know this is a bold statement, but I stand by it. Besides, one third of the protein a sheep receives, it receives from rumen bacteria that die off. These bacteria feed on celluloses.
What is important in hay is energy. Energy keeps you warm. Energy keeps you fat. Most of the winter you need exactly that for maintenance. However, the energy content in hay varies greatly throughout the year. Early cut hay has a lot of energy, both in the form of sugar and celluloses and very little in the undesired form of lignin. Second-cutting that grew in the months of June, July, and August has a good energy content as well. However, once the fall-flush starts, grass is low on energy. The nicest looking hay is the one that grew mostly in September and was made in September and October, which is often third cutting. Do they distinguish at hay auctions between second and third cutting when the hay is sold? Around here, they often don’t. Of course, if most of your grass grew during the summer months when you cut a field in September, the fall flush will increase your protein content while your hay still has a high energy content. So, you get to have it both ways.
One factor that greatly reduces energy content is rain. Rain washes out the highly soluble sugars. Getting a tenth of an inch of rain is one thing. But if you get a good shower in your hay it will reduce the quality tremendously. Hay that has received a steady rain, especially when it was close to getting dry, becomes useless for feeding purpose. This hay becomes bedding.
Another advantage of early-cut first-cutting hay is palatability. You want the sheep to want to eat it and you want them to eat a lot of it! Hay cut late with lots of stems has an increased amount of lignin. Lignin reduces intake. The importance of palatability cannot be overstated.
When I have my ewes in the barn and feed first and second cutting hay side by side, I am always amazed how much more they like the first cutting. Yet, I need some second-cutting, usually cut in late August or very early September, to feed my ewes in the jugs and for when the lambs start eating, which requires a very soft hay.
The exception to all the above is alfalfa. I am not experienced enough with alfalfa to give other people advice. I have been told that the energy content is high throughout the year. It is certainly a great feed, but it does not fit into a sheep-grazing enterprise since it does not take grazing well. Therefore, I have not been seeking it. If you make quality alfalfa hay, go for it. You can’t go wrong with it.
Alfalfa leads me to the last topic. I am often asked if certain forages aren’t too rich for sheep. There is no such thing as forage being “too rich”. Remember, you are replacing grain, which is always “richer” than any forage. However, your sheep can get Enterotoxemia when your forage is very good, regardless of whether it is grazed or stored forage. Enterotoxemia is better known as Overeating Disease, also known as Sudden Death Disease and Pulpy Kidney Disease in lambs. You can vaccinate against it with readily-available vaccines like Bar-Vac CD/T. (The T stands for tetanus, you might as well vaccinate against that one, too). You vaccinate the lambs twice with three to four weeks in between shots and the adult sheep get a booster shot once a year.
There are a couple more things worth pointing out. At times, when I run out of hay made at my farm, I go to one of the many hay auctions that we have around. I am blessed that we have them here. There are a couple of mistakes that I detect time and again that must be watched when making and storing hay. First, a lot of grass is cut too low when hay is made. I asked my hay guy Peter to set the mower as high as possible. Nothing, absolutely nothing is gained when cutting low, but a lot is lost. The forage closest to the ground has no quality. When you cut too low, your hay field needs more time to grow back. What you do get with low cutting is dirt or soil in the hay. The official name is ash. While ash is of course the mineral content of hay, it also includes dirt and soil. Ash reduces intake!
The second mistake in making hay is getting dust or mold in it. I am always baffled when I buy hay that clearly was made at the right time and without rain but then was stored on the dirt barn floor, drawing up moisture, which leads to dust and mold. That too leads to reduced quality and reduced intake and can even cause some health problems. I put all my hay in the barn and set it on palllets or skids and other bales stacked on top. That does not exclude that the hay draws up moisture entirely, but it surely reduces it a great deal.
Lastly, the feeding method is important. When I feed hay in the winter, I feed it free-choice. My sheep are never without hay. I don’t make them eat cleanly. Stems are used
for bedding or, applying to the hay fed in the pasture, spread out as fertilizer. I make access in feeders easy, which often requires that I turn the bale in the feeder upside down when it is half-eaten, which makes the good parts easily accessible again. The feeders I am using are made from cattle or livestock panels with staggered holes cut into them. Remember, you are trying to replace grain. That is no easy task.
In summary, I am seeking a very early-cut first-cutting dry hay without having received any rain, which washes out sugars. Such hay is high in both protein and energy and is very palatable. Sheep love it. The second-cutting I have made, will be made in the summer months. No hay is being made in the fall from grass that grew only during the fall flush. That growth will be pastured, or stock-piled and grazed later in late fall or early winter. Grass with lower energy content will increase its energy content again when the days get cooler and at the onset of some frost.
Ulf owns and operates White Clover Sheep Farm and breeds and raises grass-fed White Dorper sheep and Kiko goats without any grain feeding and offers breeding stock suitable for grazing. He is a native of Germany and lives in the US since 1995. He farms in the Finger Lakes area in upstate New York. His website address is www.whitecloversheepfarm.com. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone during “calling hour” specified on his answering machine at 585-554-3313.
By Jason Detzel
Farming is family. Rarely have I encountered a group of people who are more motivated, dedicated, innovative and tenacious as farmers. Whether you are tending apples in Orange County or herding sheep in Oregon, we as farmers hold these truths to be self-evident that all farmers will work hard, be good stewards to the land, and share what they have learned with others. But there is a cost to our agrarian stubbornness. All too often, I find that some of us don’t know when to quit. Now I know that your hyper American “I can do anything I set my mind to” mentality is currently telling you that this is not right but bear with me.
We all know that you have to make mistakes to succeed. As Nelson Mandela so eloquently phrased it, “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” This quote rings true for all of us, but getting up does not mean that we get back up and go do the same thing all over again. All too often, I see farming enterprises ride the failure wave from frustration, to suffering, to burn out, to blow up. There are reasons that we are reluctant to quit, and not all of them are cultural. There are two major forces at work when dealing with quitting. One is known as sunk cost and the other is opportunity cost. Sunk cost deals with what you have already invested. It is the time or money that you’ve put into a project, which makes quitting hard. The longer you invest in something, the more difficult it is to let it go and that can be a huge mistake when you consider the other concept of opportunity cost. This concept deals with the future. It means that for every hour or dollar you spend on one thing, you’re giving up the opportunity to spend that hour or dollar on something else – something that might make your life better. Instead of directing all of your efforts towards something that isn’t sustainable, you could be directing your energies towards something that might make you happier, that might suit your lifestyle better, that might make you more money. This is why I am a firm believer in the power of quitting.
These two concepts underlie our inability to quit when the timing is right. I am currently witnessing this process on some of the farms in the area. Let’s take for instance Sunny Side Farms (not their real name). They have endured multiple difficult seasons, a broad and varied cast of vegetable products, a CSA population dwindled by the critical mass of small farms in the area, and labor that doesn’t last or doesn’t come. Needless to say, it has been a tough road for these beginning farmers. This scenario is all too common and the way that Sunny Side’s leaders deal with the hardships is to soldier on, to spend more time plugging the dam, expending personal effort and emotion to produce products that are not making them happy or making them money. Many hands make quick work, but in this case the revolving door of overworked and underpaid help have left them high and dry. Here we can apply the sunk cost concept directly. Many years of work, infrastructure and land improvement, plus a dwindling but solid customer base, have all contributed to the operations persistence.
Now I have the luxury of commenting on all of this from afar, but I wonder what if they had quit? What if they had quit the CSA model before the movement was flooded? What if they had concentrated on a different product line that was easier to manage and made more money? What if when they lost their land they walked away and put their time in energy into another project that had nothing to do with farming?
You do not have to temper your passion to quit, and you don’t have to not work hard to quit, you just have to adjust your focus. Granted, this takes two very important skills that are directly related to both the opportunity and sunk cost concepts. You have to be honest with yourself and your team when things are not working, and you have to have set and be bound by goals related to your products. The other side of the coin is that you have to act before you reach critical levels. Here’s a tough example. Sunny Side is planning on planting 500 rows of salad mix thought this season to sell in bags. That is their plan. Their goal and boundaries are if they have not been able to plant, grow, harvest and sell 200 pounds of that by August 1st they will stop all production of salad mix and move onto something else. No more spending time planting, no more time harvesting, and those bags can now go to some other product. Granted there is going to be seed in the shed and product in the ground but those are symbols of your success and not failure in moving on. You have to account for all the time that you now have to invest in other enterprises. If Sunny Side had not invested in quitting they would have no time, energy, or thought to put towards other endeavors.
So here’s to quitting for the good of yourself and business. If you still don’t feel comfortable using the word quitting, how about transitioning or adjusting your focus? Any way you slice it, quitting could be the most important decision you make.