Change is continuous in farming. Prices, farm programs, trade policies, technology, markets and consumer preferences all change continuously, just to name some of the causes. Many farmers search for alternative enterprises and opportunities to help diversify their farm operations. Some farm enterprises benefit from these changes and some are harmed, so the search for profitable alternatives is a continuous challenge. There are seven important questions that should guide the search for alternative enterprises. Answering each one of these is important to achieving success.
— Why are you interested in alternative enterprises?
— What are consumers interested in buying and who will be your customers?
— What are you planning to sell and how will you sell it?
— Will your product require processing, and if so, how will you sell it?
— What business and legal issues apply?
— What resources will you need?
— Will it be financially feasible and worthwhile?
Cooperative Extension has a regional educational program, workshop and tour scheduled for fall 2016 to provide farmers with research-based information on several new enterprises and opportunities. On Aug. 25 at 1 p.m., a USDA Regional Outreach Program will be held at the Powell-Melvin Agricultural Service Center located at 450 Smith Circle in Elizabethtown to provide farmers and landowners with the latest information on USDA government programs. Representatives from the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Rural Development Agency, Risk Management Agency and the Office of Advocacy and Outreach will provide information on cost-share programs that help farmers look for alternative enterprises with financial and technical assistance.
Scheduled for later this year, a High-Tunnel Greenhouse Workshop will be conducted to provide produce growers with the latest research-based information and the basics of high-tunnel production. An alternative farm tour will also be conducted to give farmers opportunities for diversifying their operations and show that there is no one recipe for sustainable agriculture in our region. Details on the workshop and tour are to come.
Realize that enterprise selection is a complicated and demanding process. It should be considered no different than evaluating any other business opportunity. The amount of time and energy spent in research should be directly related to the amount of capital at risk and the potential rewards. All of this takes a lot of work, but it is well worth taking time to make sure the ideas you are considering will work and to avoid problems or disappointments down the road.
Nelson Brownlee is an Extension Area Farm Management Agent at the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Robeson County Center.