Change is continuous in farming. Prices, farm programs, trade policies, technology, markets, and consumer preferences all change continuously, which are just 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?
Realize that enterprise selection is a complicated and demanding process. It should be considered no different than evaluating any other business opportunity. Every farmer is unique, with unique skills, resources, and preferences. Each farm is different, with different soils, fertility, sources of water, climate, and marketing options. 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.
On Feb. 7, there will be a Regional Small Farmer Production Workshop at North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Bladen County Center, in Elizabethtown. The workshop will begin at 8:30 a.m. and end around 5 p.m. Lunch will be provided. Extension specialists from N.C. A&T State University will conduct the workshop. Growers will have an opportunity to learn a number of production innovations and alternative systems such as: utilizing plastic mulch and drip irrigation; economics of high-tunnel production; industrial hemp production; artificial insemination of livestock; silvopasture; and good agricultural practices.
For more information, or to register for the workshop, please contact me at 671-3276, by email at Nelson_Brownlee@ncsu.edu, or visit our website at http://robeson.ces.ncsu.edu/. For accommodations for people with disabilities, contact Cooperative Extension at 910-671-3276 no later than Tuesday.
Nelson Brownlee is an Area Farm Management agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center.