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.
1. Why are you interested in alternative enterprises?
2. What are consumers interested in buying and who will be your customers?
3. What are you planning to sell and how will you sell it?
4. Will your product require processing, and if so, how will you sell it?
5. What business and legal issues apply?
6. What resources will you need?
7. Will it be financially feasible and worthwhile?
Cooperative Extension, through North Carolina’s two land-grant institutions, N.C. State University and N.C. A&T State University, provides the latest research findings on new and alternative enterprises to farmers through fact sheets, field days and tours. This past week, more than 400 farmers and educators attended the 17th annual North Carolina A&T Small Farms Field Day at the N.C. A&T University Farm in Greensboro. They received information on the latest research and new technologies to help them become more profitable and sustainable. Some of the demonstration subjects were raising resilient goats, beef cattle, productivity and income, and how to make growing ginger profitable. Presentations covered such topics as making money to grow organic vegetables, producing high-value bio-fertilizers and fit farmers, fit families, fit fields.
Cooperative Extension has a tour scheduled for fall 2018 to provide farmers with research-based information on several new enterprises and opportunities. 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 and an alternative-farm tour will be held to show farmers opportunities for diversifying their operations and demonstrate that there is no one recipe for sustainable agriculture in our region. Look for more details on the workshop and tour once plans are finalized.
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 Area Farm Management agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center. He can be reached at 910-671-3276, or by email at [email protected]