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Extension > Small Farms News > Newsletter - Dispatch from the National Small Farms Conference II

Monday, October 17, 2016

Newsletter - Dispatch from the National Small Farms Conference II

I had a dream last week about starting a farm…it was a disaster.  I had a partnership with two close friends who both have farming experience and would be great to work with – but then there were a whole bunch of other partners I didn’t know.  They were working on these projects that made no sense at all.  The details are foggy, but they were working on something that was exceptionally time consuming, really elaborate, and had no chance of making any money - and I couldn’t convince them it would not work.

Where am I going with this? First and foremost, my nightmares are atypical.

Secondly, this feeds into my “Dispatch from the National Small Farms Conference, Part II” on profitability.

Also, there is a grant opportunity for livestock producers available, and a research opportunity for organic produce farms that use manure.

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From the National Small Farms Conference:  Small farm profitability:  I attended several presentations and viewed multiple posters along this theme.  Cindy Fake, of University of California Extension gave a presentation titled “Beginning farmers and ranchers 2.0: Scaling up to profitability”. 

Through a survey they did of local farmers, they found…

  • A need to focus production on fewer crops to gain efficiencies, their recommendation was fewer than 10
  • I asked the presenter if they’re advising against CSAs, the answer was “yes”
  • While highly diverse cropping systems weren’t as profitable, diversification in markets was important

I can imagine you might be shaking your head, I get it -  MN and CA are different, and yes diversity is important for soil health and biology, fertility, diseases, insects, etc, etc, etc.  They, nor I, are advocating for a monocropping scenario.  There’s a lot of room for rotation growing 10 crops.  Also, scaling up may not always be the answer – marketing, financing, and labor/production management adjustments (among others) could provide solutions.

However, while a farm can lack diversity, the pendulum can swing too far the other way, at some point, we may end up juggling too much, getting away from what we’re best at producing and our most profitable enterprises.  Finding the right mix is a challenge – take a look at the Farmbyte below and business planning resources to find ideas.

Farmbyte:  Profitability, financial benchmarks, and economic impact of local food

Ryan Pesch, Extension Educator produced a report on his work assessing profitability of local farms in central MN.  Listen to an interview and read the report in this Farmbyte.


Business planning resources

There’s a lot out there, here are some resources that come to mind.

AgPlan (Web based business planning, UMN.  Find online training here)
Fearless Farm Finances (book, MOSES)
USDA New Farmers (website).

Livestock investment grant

It’s a grant, for livestock producers, from the MN Department of Ag.  Will help pay for construction of facilities, fencing, feeding and waste management equipment, etc.  More details on their website.


Research opportunity

The UMN Southwest Research and Outreach Center (SWROC) is looking for organic produce farms to participate in research investigating the breakdown of microbes in raw manure used to fertilize organic fruits and vegetables. Participants will receive soil test results, feedback on managing manure, and an incentive payment.

SWROC Research

PS:  Feel free to share using the social media icons at the top of the page, or with this link, http://z.umn.edu/19fs.

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