first_imgFarmers around the state are benefiting from in-depth, one-on-one business planning services provided by the Vermont Farm Viability Program. Since 2003, the program, which is administered by the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, has enrolled more than 375 farmers and ag-related businesses, providing on-farm business and financial planning as well as technical assistance ranging from veterinary services to marketing consultants. The program can help farmers to solidify their business skills, examine their farm’s profitability, plan for an expansion or diversification, transfer the farm to a new generation, and more.Agency of Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross said, ‘The Farm Viability Program is making a real difference for farmers across the spectrum’from dairy to beef to vegetable farms and for value-added producers like cheese makers’this program is giving farmers the benefit of an inside look at business planning decisions that can increase profits.  As a result, farms are expanding, diversifying, and hiring help’all good indicators for the industry and for Vermont’s economy.’                  Among the farms that have enrolled in the program are Millborne Farm in Shoreham, a dairy farm also producing yogurt drinks, Stony Pond Farm in Fairfield, where Tyler and Melanie Webb specialize in dairy and beef, and Bread and Roses Farm, a vegetable farm run by Westford native Chris Siegriest.Millborne Farm: Gert and Arda Schut operate Millborne Farm in Shoreham. They moved to Shoreham in 1999 by way of their homeland, the Netherlands, where they felt hindered from starting their own farm by a quota system. They farmed in Connecticut for 10 years before moving to Vermont and building up their herd to 160 cows. The Schuts began thinking about diversification in the early 2000s and enlisted the help of UVM’s Food and Nutrition Department to develop a drinkable yogurt, which they began to produce on the farm in 2005, using milk from their own herd.The yogurt business grew, but slowly, and in 2009 the Schuts enrolled in the Farm Viability Program to work with Al Curler, a consultant with UVM Extension, to develop a marketing plan for the yogurt. Following development of the plan, the Schuts were successful in expanding their drinkable yogurt operation tenfold’they are now utilizing 30,000 pounds of their own milk each week to make their own product and two other yogurt drink products packaged for private labels. A $6,000 implementation grant from the Farm Viability Program in 2010 matched with their own funds enabled the Schuts to purchase an additional processing tank and a large walk-in cooler to help them expand their value-added enterprise. Producing their own yogurt has allowed the Schuts to operate at a profit and provide employment for seven people while also helping them weather downturns in milk prices.      Stony Pond Farm: Stony Pond Farm in Fairfield is a small dairy and beef operation established in 2004 by Tyler and Melanie Webb. Tyler enrolled with the Farm Viability Program in 2005 to produce a business plan for the young farm, giving the couple a solid understanding of how to get their operation off to a sound start. Since then, the Webbs have established a very successful farm business specializing in dairy and beef cows. Using their business plan, the Webbs are refining and improving their operation as they continue to consider diversification strategies for the future.Since completion of their business plan, Stony Pond Farm has been awarded two implementation grants. A grant of $6,000 was awarded in 2009 and allowed for construction of a hoop house for their growing herd of cows. With the latest implementation grant of $3,500, Webb is finishing construction of a new, multi-purpose farm building. While sales at the farmers market and beef sales to wholesale accounts are booming, soon local customers will be able to purchase beef right on the farm. Now, with a central location for on-farm sales, Webb can increase his business potential and also be in a position to accommodate future value-added farm products. On Saturdays, the Tyler and Melanie can be found grilling their wildly popular grilled hamburgers at the Burlington Farmers Market!Bread and Roses Farm: At Bread and Roses Farm, Westford native Chris Siegriest and Laura Williams lease acreage between the Westford Green and the Lamoille River where they grow vegetables under the community supported agriculture (CSA) model. They have grown the business to offer 70 full-sized shares and they remain the only CSA in Westford. Additionally, the farmers have a strong social mission: they produce vegetables to fill 50 smaller shares for residents at a local senior housing development and offer subsidized shares through donations from other shareholders and a cost-share agreement with NOFA-VT. Chris and Laura completed a business plan with the Farm Viability Program in 2010, working with staff at the Intervale Center. According to Chris, ‘The Program was incredibly helpful for our business, especially in financial planning and analysis. Mark [Canella] helped walk us through our first loan, so we could establish a line of credit for the business which we used to purchase a bed shaper.’In 2010, Chris and Laura applied for an implementation grant from the Farm Viability Program. An award of $3,000, matched with their own funds, helped them purchase a cultivation tractor. Chris erected a greenhouse in 2010-2011 that is now pumping out vegetables that were spared exposure to the heavy rains this spring when many direct-seeded crops were lost.The Vermont Farm Viability Program works with private consultants and service providers such as the University of Vermont, The Intervale Center and NOFA-VT to deliver services. To produce a written business plan, farmers enrolled in the Farm Viability Program meet and work together with a consultant for approximately one year. In the second year, the program provides additional technical assistance and help updating the business plan. The business planning process involves the farmer in an assessment of the farm operation’s strengths and weaknesses and in an exploration of possible management changes to increase profits and meet production goals. Examples include consultations on keeping better production or financial records, financial benchmark analysis, meetings with crop or animal health specialists, new product enterprise analysis, estate and farm transfer planning, labor management, and value-added processing. Farmers who have completed business plans with the program are eligible for grants towards capital expenses or additional technical support to implement the business plan, when funding is available.The Farm Viability Program accepts applications quarterly, with the next upcoming deadline on September 30. To request an application, call 828-3370 or visit the website, www.vhcb.org/viability.html(link is external). Funded by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the Farm Viability Program is a collaboration with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets with funding assistance provided by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA Rural Development and private foundations, including the John Merck Fund.last_img

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