Agriculture is a unique family business because it involves large investments and often times large debt. If there is only one member of a farm family who knows how to operate the business aspect of the farm and something were to happen to them it could leave their family and their employees in a bad situation, not only emotionally but also financially and possibly legally. With over 550 farms in Steuben County there are a lot of farm families who could benefit from having additional family members who are informed and engaged in the business practices of their operation. Steuben County has twice as many of its residents involved in agriculture compared to the national average. In 2012 there were 562 farms in Steuben County with 91% of those farms being operated by families or individuals. Only 1% of the farms in the County are being principally operated by women, but 43% of farms reported having women working for their operation.
Six sessions of Annie's Project were offered between November 10th and January 7th. Topics included personality and leadership assessment, farm financial analysis, farm estate planning, cash marketing, and crop insurance. Partners from Bunge Grain, Jacob Insurance, SWCD, NRCS, Ag One Agency, Schwarz Law Office, and Farm Credit Mid-America helped teach the participants about these areas of risk and how to manage them accordingly.
During the Human Resources session the class completed Real Colors personality assessment. The participants all gained an understanding of their personalities and how to better communicate with people who have diverse personalities in order to reach common goals and accomplish tasks around the farm. The participants learned that the best way to begin the legal process for their operation is to start with the business plan, structuring the business and possibly developing holding companies to reduce legal risk. Once there are job descriptions and a hierarchy established it is easier to think about estate and succession plans. John shared many tips to structuring estate plans to avoid probate costs and reduce estate taxes. Code Red is a new tool developed by the Purdue Women in Agriculture Team that is a must have tool for every family, business, and farm operation. The tool includes important information such as passwords, bank account information, rental agreements, insurance papers and power of attorney documents and much more in one easy location. After completing the Code Red plan, it should become the "go to" tool if something happened to a key member of the management team. Each participant was given a copy of the Code Red program on a 4GB flash drive.
An important aspect of farming is lending, many farms, especially smaller family farms rely on lenders approving them for loans on equipment. Through the farm financial analysis session participants learned how a lender evaluates a borrower. By understanding financial ratios and components of a balance sheet the participants were able to evaluate whether or not a lender might approve someone for a loan. Insurance can provide risk relief if a farm has proper coverage. The participants learned how crop insurance works, the deadlines for crop insurance decisions, and how revenue insurance works. All of the participants felt they could better understand what insurance their operations needed after taking the class. Another important aspect of risk management is marketing. Participants all improved their understanding of how to calculate the cost of production in order to create a budget based on expected farm profitability.
Soil health is an important part of farming and can be a costly endeavor. The SWCD and NRCS helped participants understand soil health by using soil from a conventionally tilled farm and a no-till farm and completing a slake test. During the demonstration the soil from the conventionally tilled farm fell apart in water while the soil from the no-till field held together. The soil falling apart represented nutrient-rich topsoil that leaves the field during rain events. Several participants have implemented NRCS and SWCD programs to protect their soil as a result of completing Annie’s Project.
As a result of this program four farm women feel empowered to be better business partners and be more involved in their family farms in Steuben County. One individual stated that they look forward “to working with my husband more on all aspects of our farm and help to make our farm better.”