Business help for farmers and ranchers

MARSHALL – Food production is a business very dependent on marketing and finance management, and is highly regulated. Minnesota West Community and Technical College offers training in how to create a business plan using free software developed by the University of Minnesota Center for Farm Financial Management.

On Wednesday, 14 area farmers gathered at Marshall Middle School for a one-day workshop on how to use the AgPlan program and website to manage their own operations.

“We’ve been doing this for over 25 years,” said Dennis Schroeder, farm business management instructor for Minnesota West and Marshall Public Schools. “Today we’re focusing on business planning with a system for recording our goals, our mission, production, marketing, and personnel and financial management.”

With the AgPlan program a user can record all parts of their business plan and has an option to share with their family, other members of the business, shareholders and even their bank. Users can make comments and edit as the plan develops.

“A business plan should be examined and reviewed periodically as the business progresses and changes,” Schroeder said.

Participants spent the first half of the seminar watching a presentation on how the program works, then were walked through the process of logging on and inputing data in six categories: executive summary, business description, operations, marketing plan, management and organization and financial plan.

Within each category users need to define things as abstract as their goals and mission, and as concrete as the licenses, permits and regulations needed.

“It’s a program that allows our farmers to become better managers of their farms through understanding finances and evaluating market trends, and making sound decisions about the longevity and direction of their business,” said Paul Lanoue, farm management instructor at Minnesota West.

Don Buhl raises hogs and some crops near Tyler. He attended the course with two of his long-term employees who are in the process of becoming partners in the transition to the next generation of the operation.

“We felt this would be a very good way to facilitate communication between partners and make sure the goals are everybody’s and not just mine,” Buhl said. “The nice thing about this is it helps elevate our ability to manage our operation, helps us step back and take a look, and helps make us better managers.”

Participants are not expected to master what is a fairly sophisticated software tool.

Instructors will make visits to farms in the following weeks to see how the participants are progressing and farmers can consult with them online.

“This is one of the programs we offer,” Lanoue said. “They typically get individual attention on their farms, but as members of a management team we saw a need for farm management courses.”