Project Abstract

What is the problem?

Farmers call upon agricultural service providers for their technical acumen. In a one-on-one consultation, providers offer expertise related to production skills, business planning, soil health, land acquisition, financing, and more. But other areas like communication and interpersonal relationships are rarely addressed. Although it may not be expected that providers can address these areas, they often come up in consultations.

Recent agricultural census data indicates that from 2007-2012 Maine has gained 59 farms in years 1-4, but lost 64 farms in years 3 or 4 and lost an additional 48 farms in years 5-9. This resulted in a net increase of just 38 farms over 5 years. This project will focus on improved farmer retention through education of service providers. Farmers in the first ten years of farm establishment will benefit if providers can provide a diverse portfolio of support tailored to their needs.

There is also a lack of understanding of the specific needs of beginning farmers at different stages of the “beginning,” defined by the USDA as the first ten years. Existing new farmer training materials have primarily focused on topics such as production, marketing, financing and land access; in this project, areas will be expanded to include interpersonal skills acquisition.

How can we approach a solution?

This NESARE PDP project will advance the skills of agricultural service providers including members of Maine’s Beginning Farmer Resource Network (BFRN) and their colleagues to meet the needs of beginning farmers on a wide range of topics.

Providers will learn new skills related to communication, decision-making, goal-setting, and time management that impact farm viability. Farmers will participate in focus groups to provide first-hand knowledge about their experiences. Combined, this information will be used to complete a DACUM for Maine Beginning Farmers and to create a description of Beginning Farmer Learning Stages that includes interpersonal skills and needs. A tool will be provided for service providers to use during one-on-one consultations that include questions, prompts, and additional resources, as needed.

Providers will receive training and opportunities to practice with the tool, the typology, and the suggested resources to assist farmers with the interpersonal needs that may be arising on the farm. By addressing a known gap, this project, Focusing on Interpersonal Relationships for Greater Farm Viability, will provide information to meet the need in order for service providers to support farmers to consider how interpersonal issues impact their farm viability.