Risk Management for Beginning Farmers

Jake Jacobs, University of Vermont RMA Risk Management Education

USDA has established certain crop insurance benefits designed to help beginning farmers and ranchers start their operations. These benefits include:

  • Exemption from paying the administrative fee for catastrophic and additional coverage policies;
  • Additional 10 percentage points of premium subsidy for additional coverage policies that have premium subsidy;
  • Use of the production history of farming operations that you were previously involved in the decision-making or physical activities; and
  • An increase in the substitute Yield Adjustment, which allows you to replace a low yield due to an insured cause of loss, from 60 to 80 percent of the applicable transitional yield (T-Yield).

How to Apply for Benefits

You must apply for Beginning Farmer and Rancher benefits by your Fed­eral crop insurance policy’s sales closing date. You are required to identify any previous farming or ranching experience and any exclusionary time periods you were under the age of 18, in post-secondary education, or ac­tive duty military. Talk to your crop insurance agent for more information.  To find an agent licensed by USDA to sell crop insurance in Vermont, you can get a list at your local FSA office or go to the RMA agent locator on their web site at http://www.rma.usda.gov/tools/agent.html.

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Keeping Safe with a ROPS

A ROPS (Rollover Protective Structure) keeps you safe on your tractor. While it’s probably not first on your mind as you drive into your field, tractor rollovers are the leading cause of death and injury on a farm. However, having a Rollover Protective Structure (ROPS) is 99% effective.

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Overturns – the leading cause of serious injury or death can be prevented with a ROPS

Here’s what Tom Younkman of Stoney Brook Farm in Hyde Park said,“It’s a no brainer.   I’d had an accident and I didn’t want that to happen to my children, my grandchildren, or anyone. I applied online to a ROPS rebate program.

As Tom described the process, “John Deere Company furnished a ROPS that would fit my tractor and it came with everything in a box, easy to install.  I installed it on the farm in my own shop.”

While ROPS retrofit kits may be available from major tractor dealers, many are available from three or four companies that manufacture “universal” certified retrofit ROPS.

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Tom Younkman, Stoney Brook Farm, driving his tractor with the ROPS he installed himself.

A smaller ROPS weighs about 370 lbs; larger tractors mean heavier ROPS. A fold-down ROPS as Tom Youngman purchased for his John Deere has five main pieces (two lower uprights, two upper uprights, and one top crosspiece) plus the bolts, nuts, and anchor plates.

While Tom ordered his ROPS kit on-line and had the experience and tools at the ready to install the ROPS in his own shop, ease of installation may not always be the case.

ROPS parts

ROPS kit with all bolts and other pieces for assembly

As one one mechanic from Champlain Valley Equipment described the process, “it took me a long time to get the parts – they needed to be back-ordered and then I couldn’t get the bars to fit correctly so the ROPS would not bolt on.

However, don’t let the installation process put you off as help is available. George Cook, UVM Extension, explains, “Realistically, ROPS retrofits will take three to four hours, even by an experienced mechanic.” To get started, George recommends calling the ROPS Rebate hotline (1-877-ROPS-R4U or 1-877-767-7748) or go to www.ROPSR4U.com.  Not only will you receive advice for your particular tractor, you’ll also be able to receive up to 70% off the cost of getting a ROPS.

The ROPS Rebate program staff will research and provide you with key information as to:

  • Whether there is a certified ROPS available for your make and model of tractor,
  • Type of equipment needed and whether a fold-down option is available,
  • Where and from what company the ROPS is available as more than one option may be available,
  • Estimated costs including shipping.

You can order the ROPS from whichever source you choose as long as the ROPS are SAE Certified. While it is recommended that you have your roll bar be professionally installed, you have the option of self-installing if you provide a “before” and “after” photo as proof of installation.

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Howard Cook at the wheel after installing his ROPS with UVM Extension Safety specialist George Cook 

Having a ROPS on your tractor is a lifesaver, so the decision to purchase a ROPS is a “no-brainer,” as Tom Younkman tells us. Deciding where the installation will take place and who will do it is a separate decision. Certified installation at a dealership is recommended though if you’re still considering doing this yourself, read this “pause for thought

Coming soon is a National Rebates for ROPS Program, with a roll-out goal of fall, 2016. This will follow closely the program that has been conducted in New York and Vermont.

If you’re driving a tractor without a ROPS, don’t wait and risk your life. Contact 1-877-ROPS-R4U or 1-877-767-7748) or go to ROPSR4U.com. 


Posted in Farm labor and human resources, Quality of Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , ,

Strong recruiting in a tight labor market

Woman berry pickerIt’s April and the activity level on your farm is increasing fast. You pulled out the standard tools you use for recruiting your seasonal farm crew…you placed a few ads, called the local employment office, put up a few posts on your Facebook page, sent off an email to your former employees (the ones you want back)…and nothing. A few half-hearted emails and a voicemail that got cut off before you could get the return number.

You’re thinking, “What happened? It’s not poetry, but it’s always worked before.” Usually by now you’ve got most of your crew lined up.

The difference this year is that you are facing increased competition for a smaller workforce. The economy is starting to regain some strength and workers that were unemployed are finding their way back into the workforce. So what’s a farmer to do?

Unfortunately there is no easy solution to this dilemma. You are hiring in a competitive market so you have to find a way to make your job stand out from the noise of all the other starting positions.

Here are a few tips that might get your farm labor opportunities noticed!

  • Put your marketing hat on. Use the same skills you use to sell a new customer on your products. It may not sit well with you but you are now in a position of competing for labor. That means you have to shift from “what are you going to do for me” to “what am I going to do for you” thinking. Review your job postings and advertisements to see if the position sounds interesting, fun, and an opportunity to grow or whether it sounds repetitive, boring and uninspiring.
  • If you are marketing your jobs to Millennials understand that a sense of purpose and mission is important to them. Share your vision and why you do what you do.
  • Keep the expectations reasonable — try to stick to eight-hour shifts, clearly identified days off, and have some scheduling flexibility.
  • Be competitive in wages. Familiarize yourself with the cost of living in your area and know what other entry-level jobs are paying. Consider incentives that provide ways employees can increase their wages — end-of-season bonuses, for example.
  • Emphasize any non-wage perks you can provide — it might be free/discounted produce, weekly staff cookouts, leadership opportunities, training events, etc.
  • Frame the expectation in a positive way — instead of “work outside in all weather” try “opportunity to be active, working outdoors” — you’ll have time to spell out the realities during the interview.

While these tips may help you recruit a larger pool of potential workers it will not necessarily yield a highly motivated field crew. You’ll have to screen carefully, interview thoroughly and follow up with reference checks. Remember, skipping any of these steps can lead you into trouble. There are worse situations than being short a few workers. But that’s a story for another time…

Posted in Farm labor and human resources | Tagged ,

Tips for a successful farm startup

Twenty years of observing new farmers has taught me that you are an enthusiastic, passionate, ambitious lot. This is a good thing because farming, especially in the early years, will take a toll — not just your body but your brain and sometimes your commitment as well. It takes a lot to get a successful farm business launched and when the results are not quite what you hoped, it can be a major blow to your dreams.

In sorting the successful start-ups from the challenging ones there are some lessons to be learned. They are not easy lessons but for your consideration:

  • Avoid the tendency to over-diversify your production. Especially in the early years when you need to focus on product quality and efficiency. Taking on too many profit centers can stretch you thin and leave you with mediocre results. In the early years concentrate on excellence in one or two areas — then expand.
  • Invest in post-harvest care. Inspecting tomatoIt is a shame to spend all that time and money on producing high-quality products that you mishandle. At the end of the day post-harvest washing, packing, and storing will impact the quality and flavor every bit as much as the careful selection of seed and your production practices.
  • Limit your market channels. It sounds counter-intuitive but in exactly the same way that over-diversifying your product line can lead to chaos, over-extending your market reach can yield bad results. If you are focusing your startup on direct marketing then choose one or two channels that will compliment one another. For example, farmers’ markets and a CSA can work well together. Once you have some production experience you can always add markets and/or leave some markets behind. Concentrate your efforts on learning your costs of production so you
  • chardbundlesListen to your customers. The hardest thing for any business owner is to hear negative feedback. I often hear farmers talking about customers’ “unreasonable” demands and lack of knowledge. Ok, some customers are clueless jerks. But, here’s the thing…the customers you have close relations with are sort of like family…they are not going to want to tell you the bad stuff. It’s the difficult customers you might hear the truth from, even if the way they deliver that truth is mean-spirited. So, even though it is hard, listen to the negative feedback and mine it for the tidbits that you can use to improve. Maybe those beans were a little past their prime. Those last steaks were really tough. And that lettuce…it was gritty and buggy.
  • Have a mechanization plan. Even though you may not have the resources to buy every piece of equipment that you need, that should not stop you from having a plan in place. Keep a list of the equipment you need and prioritize the list. What do you need first and what can wait a few years? Then start taking classes in how to maintain and repair equipment. Learning how doesn’t mean you have to do the work yourself–it means you will be better able to explain your needs to others and gauge the quality of their work.

The tricky part of farming is that you can do everything right and still not end up where you hoped to be. And that is why you need to plan carefully, proceed with caution and love what you do.

Posted in General info, Scaling up

Be Prepared for Avian Influenza

By now, you have probably heard of Avian Influenza (AI) and its devastating effect on the poultry industry in Midwestern states earlier this year. State agriculture officials are preparing for an outbreak this fall or spring in Vermont. Read this week’s guest post from UVM Extension Livestock Specialist Joe Emenheiser to learn about avian influenza and precautions poultry owners — large and small — can take to minimize its impact here.

How does the avian influenza virus work?P1000287

  • Domestic poultry are considered susceptible to a Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) virus which is carried by wild waterfowl. Backyard flocks are just as susceptible, if not more so, than commercial operations.
  • The wild birds are not clinically affected, but the virus is deadly in domestic birds that come in contact with contaminated manure, feather dander, dust particles, water, etc.
  • To date, over 10% of the nation’s egg layer population has been lost to HPAI. Presently, there is no human health risk, although viruses constantly mutate and this is being closely watched.
  • Wild waterfowl migrate along “flyways” after commingling in between migrations. Our concern is that birds which brought the virus to the Pacific, Central and Mississippi flyways earlier this year have been commingling with birds that are headed south along the Atlantic flyway and will be returning north in the spring.

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Posted in production information