Ireland – Recent Entrants Training

Last week I had the pleasure of bringing 3 colleagues from Ireland’s extension service around Vermont. I studied last year with James, Fintan and Kevin, financial management specialists, when I was on sabbatical study leave in Ireland.

James McDonnell and Kevin Connolly, Teagasc; learn about maple at Mary McCuaig's, S.Woodstock, VT.

James McDonnell and Kevin Connolly, Teagasc; learn about sugaring from Mary McCuaig, S.Woodstock, VT.

Not surprisingly, farm financial training was one of our topics of conversation. They told me about a 3 half-day training program, ‘Cash Plan 2014.’ It is specifically for farmers who started up since the beginning of 2008 (recent entrants), dairy farmers in particular. Teagasc (an organization similar to Land Grant colleges in the US) will begin offering this course in the fall of 2014, they have 900 farmers signed up for it now.

Farmers who successfully complete the program will receive up to €1,000 (about $1,300)! The course is ‘hands-on’ with spreadsheets to be used for farm financial recording on a monthly basis for 2014, and preparing a monthly budget for 2015. The third piece of the course is to complete a workbook, My Farm, My Plan (Teagasc) that guides a farmer through the thought process of writing a business plan.

The European Union’s Dairy Marketing Quota ends in the spring of 2015. The Irish government wants more milk (for the cash that it creates), dairy farming is one of the most profitable sectors of the ag economy there, and many dairy farmers are planning expansions. The goal of ‘Cash Plan 2014’ is to teach the use of financial tools, and to get farmers thinking about a plan for their expansion.

The Vermont New Farmer Project has a 3 half-day course in February, Intro to Ag Financial Management (alas-with no big grant money to encourage people to attend). Our plan, as of July 2014, is to offer it in Feb, 2015 in Rutland and Berlin. The course focuses on the 3 basic financial statements: Balance Sheet, Cash Flow, and Income Statement, and how you can use them to manage your farm.

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Ten Thoughts about Employees

Editor’s Note: This week’s post is from guest blogger Chris Blanchard, an organic farmer and farm consultant based in Iowa. Through Flying Rutabaga Works, Chris offers consulting to organic and small-scale farmers on effectiveness and productivity, marketing, business planning and development, post-harvest handling, food safety, greenhouse crop production, and more. 

  1. Happy employees are productive employees – and productive employees are happy employees.
  2. The right tools plus the right people equals maximum productivity.
  3. The boss sets the tone and sets an example.
  4. The boss is never tired. Even if she is.
  5. Be certain going in that what you say you want is what you really want. If you have a partner, discuss this with them.
  6. Some people are fast. Some are not. You probably can’t do much to make dramatic changes, so figure it out before you hire. After you hire, either find a way to deal with what you’ve got, or change what you’ve got. Only two choices.
  7. Be clear about goals and be clear about standards- and make those standards quantifiable. 50 bunches per hour. No more than 3 cercospora leaf spots on a Swiss chard leaf.
  8. Be certain. Don’t tell people to “do their best”… describe best. Don’t make a big deal about changes in procedures- it makes even good employees think they know as much as you.
  9. Poor performance by one employee drags management and labor down.
  10. If you have a partner, be certain you agree on goals and procedures. Anything else encourages dissent and confusion.

Learn more about Chris and check out his blog at Flying Rutabaga Works website.

Posted in Farm labor and human resources, Leadership, production information, Quality of Life, Resources for Beginning Farmers, Scaling up | Leave a comment

Drip Irrigation Resources

?????????????????Drip irrigation systems can save enormous amounts of water, thereby reducing wear and tear on pumping components and reducing energy inputs and cost.  This article from Penn State Extension points to potential water savings of 50% compared to overhead sprinkler systems, and covers other pros and cons of drip.

Here is another good comprehensive resource on drip irrigation principles, components, design and layout and maintenence that UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture Farming and Climate Change coordinator Joshua Faulkner shared at a recent irrigation workshop in Southern Vermont:  Drip irrigation systems for small conventional vegetable farms and organic vegetable farms .

Another free comprehensive online resource on drip I’ve found to be informative is: Irrigation Tutorials .

For further technical assistance and information on the topic of irrigation design and optimization, please contact:

Joshua Faulkner, UVM Extension Center for Sustainable Agriculture Farming and Climate Change coordinator, (802) 656-3495,,

Ben Waterman, UVM Extension Center for Sustainable Agriculture Land Access and Resource Assessment specialist, (802) 656-9142,, or

Chris Callahan, UVM Extension Agricultural Engineer (802)773-3349 ext. 277, ,




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Soils Influence Purchase of Development Rights

Development rights are one of the rights in the ‘bundle of rights’ that we have when we own a parcel of land. Selling the development rights is a way to bring down the cost of land to a buyer, like a new farmer. The owner would sell the development rights to an organization like the Vermont Land Trust, and then sell the land to a new farmer. The owner would receive the fair market value of the land from 2 sources, (VT Land Trust and the new farmer) and the new farmer would pay a lower price for the land.

The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) is in charge of using money from the State of Vermont to help fund the purchase of development rights. In 2013, Vermont invested $2.7 million in the purchase of development rights from farms. This money leveraged another $4 million from USDA and NRCS.

The VHCB information page on Vermont’s Farmland Conservation Program states that the demand by farmers to sell development rights outstrips the supply of cash to buy the rights. So, VHCB has criteria that they use to rank proposals. The main criterion is soils. (That makes sense, the soils are going to be there long after you and I are here.) DSC01769Soils in different proposals are ranked by the percentage of soil in the proposal that is scored as either Prime Ag Soil, or Soil of Statewide Significance. You can learn more about soils and see a map of soil types in Vermont on the Agency of Natural Resources online Natural Resources Atlas.  Learn more about this tool in our previous blog post about the Atlas.  Scroll to the bottom of the info page for the VHCB Policy for the Conservation of Ag Land publication and the selection criterion.

For more information on development rights, Nancy Everhart,, the Ag Director at VHCB would be a good person to talk to, 802-828-5066802-828-5066.
For more information download the Farmland Classification Systems for Vermont Soils, NRCS publication.

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Farm Incubation: A growing form of land access across the country

One of the most pressing issues facing young farmers today is not only land access but all the other investments that go along with getting a farm “off the ground.”  Farmers need tractors and implements, space for propagating their plants or housing their animals, a cooler for storing vegetables or meat. Farmers also need access to reliable markets, a community of people to learn from and learn with, business planning support, technical assistance and many yearn for a way to build equity. The Intervale Center’s Farms Program Local market for local goods saturated?has been incubating farm businesses at the Intervale for about 20 years, which includes not only access to land but also the other resources and assistance needed to get going.

The process to becoming a new farmer at the Intervale is involved. Beginning farmers with at least three years of production experience can apply with a short application. If the application is accepted, farmers are asked to submit a full business plan for their farm to Intervale Center staff for review and edits. The Intervale Center supports the applicant in this process, and it can take a few months to finish. The plan is then shared with current Intervale farmers for review. The applicant attends a farmer meeting and presents their business plan to the community. The current farmers offer suggestions for the business plan, ask questions about how and why the farmer is choosing to produce what they describe, and finally, make a recommendation to Intervale Center staff as to whether the candidate should be accepted or not. The final decision on acceptance rests with our Executive Director.

Ben Butterfield of Besteyfield Farm, a 2nd year incubator at the Intervale raising laying hens. Find his products at City Market and Healthy Living in Burlington, VT.

Ben Butterfield of Besteyfield Farm, a 2nd year incubator at the Intervale raising laying hens. Find his products at City Market and Healthy Living in Burlington, VT.

We view this process as a highly valuable experience for a beginning farmer.  Taking an idea, developing a business plan and receiving feedback from a community of seasoned farmers is a unique opportunity for many.  If a farmer is accepted, they are able to lease land at the Intervale for up to 5 years. For those five years, farmers pay to have access to land, cooler space, dry storage space, space to build a high tunnel or greenhouse, a wash station, tractors and implements and greenhouse bench space. What farmers at the Intervale don’t pay for directly is the community– access to mentorship, business planning and technical assistance and markets.

Many of our graduates mention the community, proximity to markets and customers in Burlington and great soil as the best things about farming at the Intervale. Obviously every parcel of land comes with its challenges .  The farmers at the Intervale face flooding, vandalism and the complexities that come with having an organization as your land lord. Our hope is that the benefits outweigh the challenges.

In addition to offering both tangible and intangible support for beginning farmers, farm incubation can reduce some of the risks of starting a new farm business. After farming for a couple of seasons, many people decide that business ownership is really not what they are passionate about.  By making this discovery in a farm incubator setting, they avoided spending savings or taking on large amounts of debt for a mortgage, equipment to start-up, building a greenhouse, etc. We see farm incubation as a safer space for beginning farmers to develop and launch their business and assess if farm ownership is the right career for them.

At the end of 5 years, farmers must transition to, what we hope, is a more permanent parcel of land. This may be another long-term lease arrangement or a farm purchase. By establishing themselves and their farm name at the Intervale, farmers have built credibility and have a greater likelihood of accessing long-term tenure, with landowners, a land trust, or through a bank, than a farmer who has never managed their own business before.

Some different versions of incubation are emerging elsewhere in Vermont. Tyler and Melanie Webb at Stony Pond Farm are helping to incubate businesses by allowing their staff to launch their own side businesses using land that the farm owns. Sobremesa Farm will begin growing vegetables and making value added products while also milking and doing other farm jobs for Stony Pond. Tyler has also incubated a pork business and a small rabbit and goat business. In collaboration, the Intervale Center has supported some of these beginning farmers with business planning assistance and coaching, and the farmers also receive insight on farm ownership from the Stony Pond owners themselves.


The site of the new Hudson Valley Farm Business Incubator in New Paltz, NY, a new livestock incubator.

Nationally, the growth in incubator programs has been incredible. The Intervale Center is part of the National Incubator Farm Training Initiative (NIFTI) which helps to support and educate new incubator programs all across the United States. Currently there are over 111 incubator projects across North America managing over 1100 acres of land. The majority of incubator projects are less than 5 years old, a fairly new land access model in this country.

If you are a new farmer interested in incubation as a way to access land and start your farm business, check out the list of incubator programs on NIFTI’s website and check out the Intervale Center’s Farms Program.

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