N.C. State introduces online tools to grow ag businesses

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 14, 2009

KANNAPOLIS ó A Lexington farmer says a new business development program created at the N.C. Research Campus has given her farm a boost.
“It’s paying off big time,” Brenda Garner of SandyCreek Farm said.
Garner used a resource called the Business Development Files, designed for small- to mid-size farmers.
N.C. State University extension agents at the Research Campus in Kannapolis developed the program to help farmers with marketing, legal considerations, competitor analysis and more.
“We had no idea this resource was available,” Garner said. “If other farmers will use it, I can’t imagine how they wouldn’t benefit. It’s a tremendous service.”
SandyCreek Farm recently expanded to include new products, a greenhouse and a Web site complete with an online shopping cart. Garner said the Business Development Files helped her expansion.
The recent grand opening of the SandyCreek Farm store brought more than 70 people to the farm.
“I would’ve considered 20 to 30 people a success,” Garner said.
Subscriptions to SandyCreek’s e-newsletter have more than tripled over the past year, attendance is up at the farm’s workshops and demand from local restaurants for fresh produce is exceeding supply.
The farm now has a waiting list.
N.C. Cooperative Extension centers are distributing the new Business Development Files statewide.
The program offers step-by-step advice for those interested in building or expanding an agricultural business.
Seven files, or steps, provide guidance on various aspects of developing an agricultural business, from estimating market potential to calculating costs.
“There are a lot of materials telling farmers what they should do to be successful, but they don’t explain how to do it,” said Gary Bullen, an extension associate at the Research Campus in Kannapolis.
“These files will walk farmers step-by-step through the business development process and evaluate issues before farmers invest their time and money.”
Bullen, an extension associate in the N.C. State Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and the Program for Value-Added & Alternative Agriculture, which is based at the Research Campus, spearheaded the effort after pinpointing a gap in the flow of information between business experts and farmers.
Cooperative extension agents will work with farmers to complete worksheets for each of the seven files and evaluate the feasibility of a business endeavor in advance.
The Business Development Files include:
1. Evaluating a new business idea
2. Estimating income and cost: Calculating a price
3. Researching your market: Identifying your customers
4. Researching your market: Evaluating the competition
5. Estimating market potential: Is there a market?
6. Legal, regulatory and insurance: Checklist for North Carolina
7. Product, price, place and promotion
Extension agents are integrating the Business Development Files into public workshops and training seminars for farmers across North Carolina.
The events are presented by extension personnel like Amy-Lynn Albertson, extension associate horticulture agent in Davidson County, and are often localized to meet the needs of the region’s farmers.
“As extension agents, we have to help farmers in our regions market effectively,” Albertson said. “They know how to grow it; not necessarily how best to sell it.”
Individuals from five farms have completed Albertson’s Business Development Files-inspired trainings.
Farmers should contact an N.C. Cooperative Extension agent in their county to review the program.