Crop Diversification…How many varities should I grow?

Jen Miller RAFFL New Farmer Program Coordinator

Jen Miller
RAFFL New Farmer Program Coordinator

Small farms, and new farms, tend to be extremely diverse in their enterprises, market outlets, and crop selections.  The number of different crops and the number of different varieties of each individual crop grown on any given farm can reach an impressive total.  And sure, crop diversity is necessary for ensuring that no matter what pressure is put on your plants by pests, diseases, and extreme weather events that you still have a harvest that season.  It may not be the exact crop mix, yield, or ready at the time that you had planned, but crop diversification helps ensure that farm income will be generated.

In these winter months, during time spent perusing the seed catalogues and talking about varieties with other farmers, it can be hard to exercise self-restraint when choosing your crops and varieties for the upcoming season.  Even if your seed order is already in, it may only take one discussion on the VVBGA listserv to generate excitement about a new variety of pepper, fueling a desire to add more diversity to your crop mix.  Right now growing 40 varieties of heirloom tomatoes for display at the farmers market may seem like a fantastic (and completely manageable) idea for drawing in customers; this same idea may lose its appeal when you are sorting and labeling your harvest in August.

Here are some key things to consider as you are finalizing your seed order and crop plan Jen Miller blog photofor the season:

  • Your Market: Do your customers, whether direct or wholesale, care about choosing between varieties or just about you growing the tastiest option? Do you have to grow every single crop you offer your CSA members or can you buy a few in?
  • Your Farm Systems: What inefficiencies will an increase in the number of crops or varieties you grow create in your system? Are the associated costs offset by the sales generated by your crop diversity?  What systems (i.e. record-keeping or employee management) can you put in place to minimize the impact of these inefficiencies?
  • Your Time: Is there an opportunity cost associated with growing a large number of different crops?  Is there an opportunity cost associated with NOT growing a large number of different crops on your farm?  How can you spend your time most productively (and profitably)?
  • Your Crop Mix: Are you satisfied with the crops and varieties you are currently growing?
  • Your Interest: To what extent does having a high crop diversity or trialing different crop varieties peak your interest and count as a value of your farm business?

If that last point rings true to you, check out this article by farmer Becky Maden to learn more about best practices for trialing new crop varieties on your farm!   Trial by Farmer

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It’s a Great Time to Be a Farmer

This week’s post is from Nancy LaRowe, Farmer-in-Residence at Vital Communities

Small scale farmingThe resources and information available to farmers today is amazing! When I started farming, more than 20 years ago, the internet was in its infancy and agriculture was not considered a particularly respectable profession. These days, people are clamoring for healthy food raised by people they know and the amount of information about how to successfully farm is almost limitless.

Vermont has always been ahead of the curve so I was lucky enough to be part of the growing community of people working the land by attending NOFA conferences and workshops, the grazing conference, and pasture walks organized by the UVM Extension and the Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

In 2003 I took the Growing Places class, which helped by focusing my many scattered business ideas into a clear plan for the future. After a few years in business, I was accepted into the Farm & Forest Viability Program. At the end of the two-year program I had a business plan which considered my quality of life in addition to the success of the business.

The resources I had access to are all still available to new and beginning farmers, and there are so many more opportunities:

  • The Vermont New Farmer Project has a slate of classes offered for various aspects and growth stages of a farm business, and an amazing collection of helpful information in the “toolsheds.”
  • Coaching and business planning opportunities, such as the Intervale Center’s Beginning Farmer Program mentioned in the last post.
  • Webinars about all aspects of starting and running a farm business are at your fingertips and more scheduled every week.
  • Workshops throughout New England that feature experts in various fields sharing successes and failures.
  • Land-access opportunities abound in every part of the state.
  • Websites such as Farm Hack, Virtual Grange, and others share tricks of the farming trade.
  • Connecting socially with the community of new farmers is easier than ever with farmer meet-ups around the state, the Vermont Young Farmer Coalition, and Facebook.

I know from experience how easy it is get caught up in the daily grind — the tyranny of the urgent. And, asking for help is not typically the strong suit of farmers.

But I encourage you to take advantage of this quieter time of the year and work on improving your farm business. I’m so excited about the multitude of opportunities in agriculture these days that in addition to farming I’m working as a service provider and spreading the word about how to access the help you need to succeed. Starting and running a profitable farm business is a lot of work. Let us help!

Nancy LaRowe has lived in the Upper Valley for more than 25 years. She has been active in food and farm issues during that time and runs Hogwash Farm in Norwich.

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New Initiative Helps Real Estate Professionals Work with Farmers on Land Access

By Mike Ghia
Vermont Field Agent, Land for Good
for-sale-landscapeThere are many ways that buyers and sellers of farms make connections. Many farms are never advertised on the open market and sell by word-of-mouth or via long-term relationships between the buyer and seller. Others are offered publicly as for sale- by- owner, increasingly with the help of tools such Vermont Land Link and New England Farm Finder.

Additionally, licensed real estate agents often play a role in the sale of many farms. They typically have a sincere interest in seeing working farms stay in production. However, while there are a number of real estate professionals in Vermont knowledgeable in selling commercial farms, some have little or no familiarity with the production side of farms or the related interests and needs of farmers that affect their requirements for farm purchase. These agents may be very skilled and well-trained in selling a farmhouse with a large tract of land associated with it. However, they may have less experience with assessing the barn for commercial potential, and may know little or nothing about soils or soil mapping, forest management or other issues that are important to a buyer who is looking to make a productive income from the farm. They may also have only cursory knowledge of conservation easements, and not be familiar with outreach tools such as the land-linking programs.

With funding from a grant from the John Merck Fund, Land For Good (LFG) , in cooperation with the UVM Extension Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the Vermont Land Trust (VLT) are developing and offering training courses for real estate professions about the considerations farmers bring to a land purchase.

On January 16, Ben Waterman of UVM, Jon Ramsay of VLT, and myself representing LFG offered our first ever “Tools and Resources for Working with Farms with Commercial Agricultural Potential” Course in Middlebury. With enthusiastic assistance from the Vermont Realtors Association, we were able to obtain approval to provide Continuing Education Credits for the re-licensing of the Real Estate Agents. Helen Hossley of the Association arranged for all of the course logistics including advertising to the real estate community, resulting in 17 real estate professionals attending the training.

The training was well received by the real estate agents who attended, with excellent questions and the cross-sharing of information. It also provided an opportunity to start a dialog between those of us working on farmland access and real estate professionals, so we can learn from each other more in the future.

We hope to repeat this course in the Upper Valley sometime next fall. Additionally, at LFG we are developing an online guide specifically for real estate professionals that will include the resources provided during the workshop plus new resources under development. We’ll be adding this guide to our website this spring.

It is important for farmers working with real estate agents to understand that, unless you have contracted with a “Buyer Broker” to work on your behalf, the Agent who you are dealing with is otherwise working on behalf of the Seller and the seller’s interests, not you the buyer. Regardless of what type of broker you are engaging, and their level of expertise in farmland transactions, it is still important for you to do your own “due diligence” to make sure that you are getting through and accurate information on soils, water, Current Use Taxes, Conservation Easements, and farm infrastructure before committing to a purchase. And in any transaction, you should also be working with an attorney. Staff at UVM and Land For Good are also available to help you along the way. To contact me for a consultation, email mike@landforgood.org or go to our website www.landforgood.org

Posted in Land access

2015 Budget Clinics: Register Now

Pen, Calculator and LedgerUVM Extension Farm Business Specialists Mark Cannella and Dennis Kauppila, are available to work one-on-one with farmers on their finances. Bring your financial statements, records and questions for a 60- to 90-minute private meeting. Sessions are available throughout March and at various locations around Vermont including Berlin, St. Albans, Middlebury, Bennington, St. Johnsbury, Newport, White River Junction, Brattleboro and Randolph. Advance registration is required, and there is a $25 fee. Farm Budget Clinic Information and Registration.

Posted in Financial Mgmt, New Farmer Events, Resources for Beginning Farmers, Scaling up | 1 Comment

Upcoming Webinar: Farm Tax Basics for Beginning Farmers

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 7.39.58 AMThursday, February 5, Noon – 1 pm EST A UVM Extension New Farmer Project webinar.  Farm Tax Basics for Beginning Farmers. If you are facing preparing your first farm tax return, then join Dennis Kauppila, UVM Extension Farm Business Management Specialist to learn how farm income and expenses are reported for income taxes. Not all income on the farm is treated the same, and Dennis will provide guidance on how to navigate this challenging topic! He will refer to IRS publication 225, The Farmer’s Tax Guide, written in part by Extension staff to help farmers with their taxes. For additional information and to request a disability-related accommodation to participate in this program, please contact Heidi Krantz at 802-223-2389 or 800-866-1632 by January 21, 2015 so we may assist you. After that date we will do our best to accommodate you. The 2014 – 2015 New Farmer Project webinar series is supported in part by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and Working Lands Enterprise Board Newcomers to online learning are welcome. All you need to participate is internet access and a computer that you can hear sound through. To participate, please go to the kink above at about 11:45 a.m EST on Feb. 5, 2015 and click on the webinar title.  For more information, contact newfarmer@uvm.edu or call 802-223-2389×203.

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