Knowing what consumers want when they shop for fresh market fruits and vegetables is the key to growers’ success in planning and growing crops. Consumer tastes and trends vary from year to year and are often influenced by popular magazine and other media features. How can growers predict what consumers will want when they’re planning and planting for the season? Becoming familiar with ag census data as well as local trends will help minimize loss due to flooded markets. Penn State extension educator Tom Ford says that data on cucurbit crops from the ag census indicate that vine crop production has dropped. Ford says the problem with ag census data is that it’s a snapshot and doesn’t always accurately reflect what’s being grown. With that said, national vine crop data from 2007 to 2012, indicates that acreage for pumpkin and cantaloupe has dropped; cucumbers and winter squash acreage is up and summer squash and watermelon has declined. The overall picture is that the only cucurbit crop on the upswing is winter squash. “As people look at buying local and from year-round farmers markets, we’re seeing that winter squash is becoming more and more important to the consumer diet in the United States,” said Ford. [Read more…]
by Emily Enger
Labor issues continue to dominate farm-based businesses. Our work takes hands-on education and training, it’s often seasonal, and it doesn’t fit well in a typical family’s 9-to-5 schedule. Truthfully, not everyone is cut out to work for us. But as we debate how to best retain employees, it is important to first look at the issue from an employee’s perspective.
Whatever you choose to do when it comes to boosting productivity or morale, remember your employees two imperative needs, money and respect.
by Sanne Kure-Jensen
Farm inputs can include energy in the form of fuels, electricity and fertilizers. Crop and livestock production uses energy in many forms. Energy heats water for washing equipment and harvested crops, and powers lighting for production and handling areas. Livestock and produce producers use energy for heating, ventilation and refrigeration. Transportation uses more energy to move inputs to farms as well as moving produce and livestock from farms to processors, markets and consumers. Sustainable, viable farms maximize energy efficiency and minimize costs for all aspects of production.
The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) oversees programs that help farmers and producers conserve energy through a variety of on-farm energy upgrades for existing buildings. Kip Pheil, C.E.M., Acting Leader of the USDA NRCS National Energy Technology Development Team and Stephen Henry, P.E., NRCS South Carolina Assistant State Conservation Engineer described NRCS programs and shared their expertise in a webinar called “Key NRCS Energy Practices: Farmstead Energy, Lighting, and Building Envelope.” [Read more…]
by Melissa Piper Nelson
If you are now taking the time to review the interviews you did last fall or this winter for new workers, incorporate the “E-Factor” for finding and retaining exceptional employees. The E-Factor equates to those individuals who you move to the top of the hiring list for their enthusiasm, energy and effectiveness.
Individuals with enthusiasm are eager to learn, less likely to get stymied when problem-solving and move beyond workplace differences quicker than employees who require constant motivation. While enthusiasm is not a replacement for fundamental skills, the employee who is willing to do her job well and tackle challenges, often proves her worth from the start. Indifferent employees require more of your time as a manager to monitor, correct and encourage. In reviewing potential employees, think about those individuals who were eager to learn more about the business, had shown natural leadership abilities and whose past work experience reflected an interest in more than just showing up at the job. [Read more…]
Make decisions regarding labor management and new equipment investment is something that most farmers face during normal business operations. Chris Blanchard of Purple Pitchfork shared his experience gathering accurate farm costs and production data for investment decisions at the 2014 Beginning Farmer Learning Network Conference recently. The lecture covered ways farmers can track, extrapolate and weigh labor costs and capacity against hiring staff or investing in tractors or other equipment; Using accurate data and careful budget analysis, farmers can maximize profits and make fewer poor decisions.
According to Blanchard, many farmers are afraid to track their true hours because if they write it down they will find out how little they really earn. Farmers have told him, “It’s depressing to see how little you are worth.” Blanchard urges farmers to track farm labor (time) for field preparation, seeding, transplanting, weeding, mulching, pruning/staking, harvesting, washing, sorting, bunching and packing. Do not forget to include installing and adjusting implements as well as greasing and repairing equipment. Include loading and delivery time, pick-ups and unloading, paid breaks as well as time at farm field days or educational conferences. Remember to track time not farming: overseeing CSA pickups, retail stands or farmers markets and working in the office. [Read more…]
Two of the top names in agriculture met for a standing room only town hall meeting during the recent annual convention of the American Farm Bureau. Farm Bureau President Stallman moderated while U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack addressed current topics and fielded audience questions.
Vilsack acknowledged the work that Farm Bureau has done with programs including the Farmer/Rancher Alliance, the Farmland movie, farm safety and and youth educational programs. “The My American Farm program is geared toward young children (K through 5th grade),” he said, “which gives kids an understanding of where food comes from and a higher appreciation for farmers.”
Regarding short and long term gains for United States agriculture, Vilsack said, “Every time we open an opportunity or enter into a free trade agreement, it’s good for agriculture. Exports represent about 30 percent of all the gross income received by the farm community.” [Read more…]
by Bill and Mary Weaver
Adam Kantrovich, Farm Management Educator for MSU Extension, has heard “just about every notion known to mankind” on the topic of how to avoid having problems with the ACA. He has also studied the law carefully enough to be able to point out what sorts of things might get an employer in trouble.
For example, Kantrovich advises, don’t decide to divide your larger business into multiple smaller entities, solely for the purpose of getting around the ACA.
“If you develop a series of separate business entities, even with limited differences in ownership, they may still be considered a single ‘control group’ by the IRS. This would mean an owner is required to count all employees from all entities in determining their status as either a ‘Small’ or ‘Large’ employer under the ACA guidelines. [Read more…]
One of the biggest obstacles for a business is the initial task of getting people in the door. Getting one’s name out there requires extensive advertising and marketing, and it can be difficult to tell which campaigns are working and which ones are not.
Mike Estes, owner of Rick’s Garden Center in Colorado Springs, CO, wanted a way to determine what was bringing customers into his shop, and a reasonably priced way to do it. “I really wanted the tangible feedback,” said Estes. “We spend so much money on advertising, you really like to know it’s working.”
So he got creative.
On average, it takes 5-6 years for an evergreen tree to reach 6-8 feet. This means that when a Christmas tree farm goes out of business, there remains acres of young trees still growing that potentially won’t be harvested.
When a tree farmer chooses to retire, it is very rare that his buyers are looking to farm, as well. Sometimes the timing is that lucky, but often it is not. So when the sale is made, what happens to all the young trees still growing? If the tree farmer delays selling, hoping that young, tree farmer buyer will still come along, what does that mean for the trees ready to be cut? [Read more…]
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) — crops modified to have desirable traits of resisting pests or herbicides to control weeds, insects and diseases — have long been a hot potato topic. This past May, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed a bill into law requiring labeling of GMO foods — the nation’s first law of its kind. Additionally, labeling was a voting item Nov. 4.
UMass Amherst’s Rich Bonanno spoke on this issue at a workshop entitled “Hot Topics: GMOs and Neonicotinoids.”
Genetically modified organisms are “not creation of genes. It’s movement of genes,” said Bonnano. With traditional plants, you can only breed within a species. With GMOs, you can move things outside species, outside their genus. “You can do cucumbers versus geraniums,” said Bonanno. [Read more…]