By Dana Rogge, Public Affairs Specialist
From agronomist to meteorologist, farmers and ranchers wear many hats. It takes diverse skills and knowledge to care for the land, perfectly time crop planting and harvesting, market livestock, everything that impacts the farms bottom line.
USDA has many programs and services to help farmers build a strong and successful farm. For the past year USDA has partnered with SCORE, the nation’s largest network of volunteer expert business mentors and resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide agricultural producers an additional resource and guidance.
In Connecticut, Sara Kubick, New London County’s county executive director for the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), worked with the local SCORE mentor, Michael Del Vecchio, to let local producers know about the services SCORE offers. At a recent meeting, producers learned more about marketing their products and grant writing, as well as guidance on managing their farm finances.
“In addition to a significant family and emotional investment, farms are businesses. The folks operating the farm are experts in delivering their products and services, the same as any other successful business,” Michael said. “SCORE volunteers have significant background in the business world and can help with business planning and financial decisions. We leave the farming up to the farmers, but add real value by providing expert advising on how to succeed in business operations.”
Sara said mentors like Michael can offer a great service to her local customers.
“They [SCORE mentors] have business-savvy and have decades worth of experience,” Sara said. “They are helpful because they can talk to farmers in the avenue of cash flow and help them with the sorts of things they should be considering when treating their farm like a business.”
Jeffrey Sandness his wife Patty, and brother Jonathan operate Buell’s Orchard in Eastford, Connecticut. The Sandness learned about SCORE from Connecticut FSA’s outreach coordinator, Dawn Pindell, in early 2017.
“The SCORE mentors opened our eyes to some deficiencies and needs on our farm. It was helpful having a third party facilitate a discussion with our sons participating,” Jeffrey said. “We were able to identify areas where we could focus on giving more responsibility to our next generation as they become more invested in the future of the farm.”
Business mentorship through SCORE is free, confidential and one-on-one. Those who use SCORE can identify specific business questions to receive support on, or more generally request mentorship in an area of business, such as business plan development, marketing strategies, cash flow management and tax planning.
“We hope to see the SCORE mentors meet with us every three to four months and help us develop an action plan to accomplish some of the things we talked about in our preliminary meetings,” said Jeffrey. “We are looking for ways to improve marketing of our apples and cider, help with how to hold more effective staff meetings, and follow through on our discussion of succession planning and creating a business agreement that will include our sons.”
In Wisconsin, FSA and SCORE are hosting meetings around the state to introduce farmers and ranchers to mentorship opportunities. They are looking to help new and beginning farmers set a strong foundation to build their business.
“Every new or beginning farmer can benefit from a mentor with real-world business experience. That kind of expertise is exactly what SCORE provides,” said Sandy Chalmers, Wisconsin FSA state executive director.
SCORE mentors can help producers with all aspects of starting and growing a business. Among the most important is creating a successful business plan, a critical component for obtaining financing through FSA and local lenders.
“To be profitable, a farmer has to have good production skills, whether the focus is crops or livestock. But a farmer also has to understand soil, machinery, plant and animal disease, weather, markets, finance and a host of other topics,” Sandy said. “It is unusual for any one farmer to be an expert at every facet of the business. That’s why farmers look to many specialized resources for information and guidance.”
To learn more about SCORE, visit https://newfarmers.usda.gov/mentorship.