Learning to Survive

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Over the last eight years with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, I have had the great opportunity to interact with diverse groups of people outside of the agricultural industry. Many times I have the opportunity to talk with folks about where their food comes from. Even with the knowledge that there is a growing number of generations being removed from the family farm – yes, 96 percent of U.S. farms are family-owned – it is still surprising the number of “from the grocery store” responses I get. Although the grocery store is the convenient “pick-up” spot for our many needs, I can assure you that our food system goes far beyond the double doors in the back of the grocery store.

Let me ask you, when you put that last milk jug in your grocery cart, did you happen to pause for just one second to think about the 2,731 dairies that went out of business across the U.S. in 2018 alone? This is a continuation of years of ongoing struggle for the dairy industry. Most of us probably don’t even realize the struggles many of our family farms are facing. It’s hard to know the whole story when less than 2 percent of the U.S. population is involved in production agriculture. The number of challenges for agricultural producers appear to be growing while income continues to decline. Be it trade tariffs with major export markets, low commodity prices, changes in consumer preferences, or major weather events, farmers have had their fair share of challenges in recent years, forcing them to be smarter than ever before to just survive! But who’s paying attention? Cooperative Extension is!

In an effort to help family farms manage the “business” of farming in today’s economy, a new program has taken shape in the Southeast called The Executive Farm Management (EFM) Program. The EFM Program is a collaborative program offered by NC State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and N.C. Cooperative Extension along with their partners at Poole College of Management, Clemson Cooperative Extension, ECU College of Business, and University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. As mentioned on the website, different sectors of farm enterprises have unique management needs. For large grain farmers managing capital investments is a high priority, while vegetable growers may focus more on management of labor. Each year the program changes based on specific enterprise needs.

The 2020 EFM Program was created exclusively for large, commercial, family-owned operations across the Southeast who grow, pack, and/or process tobacco, fruit, and/or vegetables. The program consists of content and curriculum taught across three sessions in three states over the course of six weeks (January-February). According to the program website, “EFM is designed to increase the management competencies and profitability of specialty farms across the Southeast, by utilizing a holistic operation-focused curriculum. Course topics include Strategic Planning, Human Resource Management, Labor Management, Financial Management, Risk Management, Family Business Issues, Assessing Markets, Supply Chain Management, Brand Management, and Marketing, Assessing and Building Key Partnerships and Strengthening an Operation’s Value Proposition, among others.”

If you are a tobacco or fruit/vegetable producer in need of learning how to work smarter, not harder, consider applying for the 2020 EFM Program beginning in January. If not, maybe the next session will meet your enterprise needs. The application deadline is October 31, 2019, but could close sooner should applications exceed available space. A deposit of 50 percent of the total payment is due November 11, with the remaining due by December 9. Read more at the Executive Farm Management website. For more information, contact Mac Malloy, Extension Field Crops Agent, at 910-671-3276, by email at Mac_Malloy@ncsu.edu, or visit our website.

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