Tough Funding Decisions for Outcomes-Based Farm Business Programs

Proposed by: Mark Cannella

Presenter: Cannella, M., Farm Business Management Specialist, University Of Vermont Extension, Berlin, VT 05602

One-on-one farm business programs provide intensive business education that enhance decision making and the adoption of best management practices on farms. UVM Extension Farm Viability offers programs ranging from 5 hours of direct educational contact with participants to 20 hours of direct contact over 1 year of business planning. Since 2002 a variety of funding sources have supported these programs at virtually no cost to participants while internal costs range from $1,000 to $5,500 per farm.

The program has documented the education improvement of managers, measured business performance and measured economic development indicators that demonstrate the value farmers receive through program completion. Currently up to 30% of applicants are repeat participants accessing programs at no cost. There is concern that repeated free access does not reflect the target outcomes of the program to improve the ability of the business to support itself.

In 2013 110 previous participants completed a survey exploring their interest in future programs. Forty two percent indicated a willingness to pay for future services above the current application processing fee of $75. The majority of farm owners had a preference for a program providing annual business reviews that could cost up to $500.

Focus groups were conducted in the Fall of 2013 to get more input from twenty three farm owners. These farmers brainstormed and evaluated the merit of over a dozen program options and assigned prices they would pay that ranged from $10 per hour to $70 per hour. Farmers interested in a management team format demonstrated a willingness to pay from $100 to $150 per team meeting. These fee’s would not cover the full costs of stand-alone programs but would make a significant contribution to a sustained mixed-funding model for repeat participants. UVM Extension Farm Viability is now designing the Pilot fee-based program that will be available in the Winter of 2014-2015.

All Accepted Proposals