By Ron Goldy
The weather and other events of the 2019 growing season have been the equivalent of rubbing salt on already wounded farmers. Many farmers began 2019 wondering if this year may be their last, and sadly, some may be joining many others who have gone out of business over the past several years.
Unfortunately, the end of these struggles may not be near. How long our farms can continue depends on how lean and efficient they can become. Government efforts in the form of trade deals and developing better labor and other regulations may help, but those can be uncertain and will most likely be slow in coming. This uncertainty leads producers to wonder what they can do while the agriculture economy works through its issues.
To provide some answers, Michigan State University Extension has collaborated with the Great Lakes Expo to provide a daylong program during the 2019 expo called “Securing Your Legacy — Tomorrow's Success Depends on Today's Decisions.”
Program topics were developed with input from various Michigan commodity groups, and most of the speakers are nationally known for their expertise. The program is designed to not only help identify signals of emotional stress but also give tangible tactics that can be used to help alleviate stress.
The program is divided into three concurrent tracks, so it will be advantageous to have more than one representative attend from each farm.
Track One focuses on farm succession and will cover transitioning farms to the next generation. Attorney Rusty Rumley will discuss legal aspects, while Paige Pratt will speak from her own farm experience on the personal and emotional aspects of transition.
Track Two focuses on increasing farm efficiency. Ben Hartman is a farmer and author. His presentation title is “How to Minimize Waste, Increase Efficiency, and Maximize Value and Profits on Your Farm.” Hartman is nationally recognized for his book, “The Lean Farm,” and even though he operates a small farm, he will share ideas to benefit any size farm.
Track Three will cover several general topics, including “Hiring and Keeping Great Seasonal Retail Staff” with Ruth Ann Roney from Tuttle Orchards. The presentation is geared toward farm marketers but will have tips for any operator.
Next will be MSU Product Center’s Bill Knudson with “Adding Value to What You Already Produce.” Then Steve Kluemper from Greenstone Farm Credit Services will give a presentation on “Uncovering the Drivers of Profitability on Your Farm.”
Lastly, there will be a panel consisting of Bill Grabemeyer, Mike Radham and Stacey Rocklin with a presentation titled “Preparing for Life Before and After the Auction.” Grabemeyer and Radham will talk about the thought process growers go through as they prepare for and go through an auction, and Rocklin will talk about her experiences working with the children of stressed farm families.
The final presentation will bring together all three tracks with a presentation by Ted Matthews, who is the director of Minnesota Rural Mental Health. He will give a presentation titled “Recognizing Farm Stress and Steps to Take.”
Matthews has many years' experience working with stressed farm families and is a nationally recognized authority on the issue. Matthews and Pratt have offered to meet with farmers one-on-one for consulting. Time slots are limited, so those wishing to do so will need to sign up in advance.
The 2019 Great Lakes Expo will be Dec. 10-12 at the DeVos Place Conference Center in Grand Rapids, Mich.
While the event has a fruit, vegetable, farm market and greenhouse emphasis, all agricultural producers are encouraged to attend this program Dec. 12. There is a discounted fee for the Thursday date. For more information, visit glexpo.com.
Goldy is the vegetable production educator, Food and Animal Systems and Environmental Quality, at the Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center.