Hemp attracts younger generation of farmers

Artist, sound engineer and adventure traveler Blu Fortner is adding “farmer” to his resume with his first commercial crop of hemp seed.

The Idaho native moved across the state line to Oregon five years ago in his pursuit of growing medicinal hemp.

His attraction was the plant’s potential to provide relief to people suffering from various ailments.

“I moved to Oregon because the laws here were more cannabis-friendly,” he said.

He started with a small, organic, medicinal grow but soon found there wasn’t a market for his production.

With his limited agricultural experience, he was fortunate to meet Clint Shock, a plant physiologist and agronomist. Shock, who was the director of Oregon State University’s Malheur Experiment Station, was interested in medicinal plants.

“I wanted to learn about non-cannabis medicinal plants, and he wanted to learn about hemp,” Fortner said.

It made for a good partnership, he said.

The two teamed up in a teacher-student relationship and did a four-plant, hemp test in Shock’s back yard last year. Three of the plants were successful females that produced high-level CBD oil.

CBD is a non-psychoactive compound in hemp thought by many to offer numerous health benefits.

This year, Fortner and Shock planted hemp in two fields and a total of 5 acres to produce feminized hemp seed for growers. They also partnered in a new business — Medicinal Botanical Seed.

If the crop is successful, they plan to expand production next year.

At 38, Fortner is one of a growing number of “brand new farmers” drawn to agriculture by the allure of hemp, a newly legal crop that produces CBD and a variety of other products ranging from the edible seeds to clothing material. Hemp production was legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill.

Both THC — the main psychoactive compound in marijuana, which is also thought to have health benefits — and CBD found in hemp have a lot of value, he said.

“But THC is limited by state and federal regulations, and CBD is legal nationally and internationally,” he said.

He thinks younger people’s attraction to hemp farming is connected to their belief that it should be legal. But it also provides a niche for farmers who don’t have a lot of resources when it comes to land, equipment and capital.

“For farming in general, there isn’t easy access. There are almost insurmountable hurdles for young farmers,” he said.

But with demand for hemp currently higher than the supply, a small-scale farmer can grow 1 acre and make a living, he said.

Legal boom
Michael Bowman — widely known as “Mr. Hemp” — has been a driving force in the legalization of hemp production in the U.S.

He’s farmed his entire life on the eastern plains of Colorado above the declining Ogallala Aquifer. Twenty years ago, he was researching crops that would use less water than corn and alfalfa.

“The hemp plant captured my attention and imagination,” he said, listing the plant’s other environmental benefits.

That started him on a path of advocacy, and he became the founding board chairman of the National Hemp Association.

The association had a state-by-state strategy to get hemp legalized and build support for federal legalization. It resulted in progress in the 2014 Farm Bill and victory in the 2018 Farm Bill.

The 2014 Farm Bill legalized hemp research in states where its production was allowed, and the 2018 Farm Bill took hemp off the controlled substance list and redefined it as an agricultural crop.

According to Vote Hemp, a nonprofit advocacy group, 46 states have now legalized hemp.

The 2018 Farm Bill also lifted restrictions on interstate commerce and lending by financial institutions and authorized crop insurance.

But the new rules guiding those issues won’t be in place until 2020, making 2019 the industry’s “teenage years,” Bowman said.

“It’s been a little awkward, but there’s been significant growth under that awkwardness, he said.

Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp cultivation in the U.S. has grown rapidly, according to Vote Hemp. The organization estimates 230,000 acres of hemp were planted in 2019 compared to 78,176 acres in 2018.

Moving the needle
The U.S. hemp industry is driven by CBD oil, both because of the potential profits and the current lack of infrastructure to produce other hemp products, Bowman said.

Economic models show a net return for growing hemp for CBD oil from $20,000 all the way up to $80,000 an acre for someone “who really knows what he’s doing,” he said.

“It gets a lot of farmers’ attention,” he said.

But contrary to what most people believe, it’s not an easy crop to grow for high production, he said.

“There’s certainly a community of first-timers that didn’t make any money,” he said.

There’s huge demand for hemp and CBD products, and the new legislation that legalized hemp farming has really opened up the market, Jessica Manly, communications director for National Young Farmers Coalition, said.

“I do think it’s something that’s attracting younger farmers,” she said.

From what she’s hearing, a lot of beginning farmers are becoming interested in growing hemp and some young farmers are experimenting with it on some of their land.

In addition, a lot of commodity farmers are transitioning their operations to hemp because prices are much higher than the crops they’ve been growing, she said. Many commodity crop prices have remained low in recent years.

There are some concerns, however, about regulation, permitting and interstate trade, she said.

“That’s still getting sorted out because it’s such a new industry,” she said.

There is also concern about whether this is a bubble that’s going to burst — whether demand will hold up over time or whether the market will be over-supplied, she said.

On the flip side, vegetable growers are worried about competition for land. Hemp growers might be able to pay more for land and crowd them out, which also raises a food security issue, she said.

“It’s definitely a concern,” she said.

Youthful appeal
The legalization of hemp farming has created a “hemp Wild West” that’s bringing new farmers and younger farmers into the industry, Bonny Jo Peterson, executive director of the Industrial Hemp Association of Washington, said.

She’s talked to several conventional farmers who say hemp is getting their children and grandchildren interested in farming.

Some who were looking to sell their operation because they had no interested successor now find they do have a succession plan, she said.

“Hemp is more exciting than corn or hay. A lot of millennials are jumping in full bore,” she said.

It’s something they find interesting. They see the potential hemp brings to the table when it comes to climate and the environment. On the CBD side, the attraction is its potential as an alternative medicine, she said.

The interest in hemp extends beyond the farming end of things. It’s also in processing, consulting, soils, pesticides and machinery, she said.

“Just about every aspect of agriculture is being tapped into for this new experience,” she said.

Peterson helped write the bill that fully authorized hemp production in Washington. Gov. Jay Inslee signed it into law last April.

The legislation spurred growth in the state’s industry from one grower with about 140 acres to more than 100 licensed businesses and about 7,000 licensed acres, she said.

The majority of those businesses are growers, and at least one-third are new farmers, she said.

Rural resurgence
Hemp is attractive for a lot of reasons, including its role in the country’s history and U.S. agriculture, Bowman, the Colorado advocate, said.

Hemp is used in more than 25,000 products, giving anyone with an imagination and an entrepreneurial spirit a “lane to swim in,” he said.

Growing crops like corn, soybeans, cotton and rice is robotic, he said.

“There’s nothing to tickle the right side of the brain, everything is prescribed,” he said.

Millennials and Generations X, Y and Z have little interest in systems like that, he said.

“The point of it is … the plant has come out of prohibition, and they want to show you what can be done,” he said.

Hemp is absolutely bringing young people into agriculture, he said. Colorado, for example, is seeing a tremendous number of young people entering the field, he said.

That includes people who don’t have an agricultural background and an influx of young people coming back to the farm and rural communities, he said.

“I’m really excited about that. We are seeing a resurgence, and it’s all due to the plant,” he said.

But it’s going to take leadership to keep that momentum going, he said. People who see the opportunity, embrace it and develop policy to support it are going to do well and “create an ecosystem of bringing kids back” to agriculture, he said.

At 60, he’s about the average age of U.S. farmers today. The industry needs a younger generation to take up the reins, he said.

“This is our one chance, generational chance, to reset the clock,” he said.

Dairy Margin Coverage Program benefits small farms

USDA, American Farm Bureau and National Milk Producers Federation are all encouraging dairy producers, big and small, to take a look at the new Dairy Margin Coverage Program.

Established in the 2018 Farm Bill, the program replaces the Margin Protection Program — which most agree did not live up to expectations.

DMC is a federally subsidized program to insure dairymen’s margins between a national all-milk price and a national feed-cost calculation. Sign-up began June 17 and is open until Sept. 20.

While the program is geared for producers with 200 cows or fewer — producing 5 million pounds of milk or less annually — it can offer some benefit for larger producers.

USDA is projecting an indemnity payment of about $24,000 this year on a producer’s first 5 million pounds of annual production history insured at a $9.50 margin at a cost of $7,600.

That is likely to attract interest from larger producers who lost faith in MPP after paying substantial premiums and seeing little to no payout despite dismal margins.

Joaquin Contente, who milks 850 cows in Hanford, Calif., said MPP was a “miserable failure” but he’s going to sign up 5 million pounds of his production at the $9.50 margin level.

“It’s going to give me a little bit of insurance. The market is so cyclical, I should get something out of it,” he said.

Indemnity payments on the first 5 million pounds at the $9.50 coverage level have already been determined for the first four months of 2019. As of June 20, USDA is forecasting the program’s calculated margin will only rise above $9.50 in October and November.

Contente won’t be purchasing buy-up coverage above the no-cost, $4 insured margin for the remainder of his production, however.

DMC is an improvement over MPP, but it’s just not geared for larger producers, he said.

About 94% of California dairy farmers produce more than 5 million pounds annually, according to data from the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

That number is close to 80% in Idaho, 60% in Washington and 72% in Oregon, according to state dairy organizations.

“The last four years have been really rough for dairy farmers across the country,” Tami Kerr, executive director of Oregon Dairy Farmers Association, said.

Oregon producers will definitely be looking at new tools available to see if they make sense for them, and they are aware that DMC offers a positive return for 2019, she said.

“They’re very astute when it comes to their finances,” she said.

DMC seems to fix some of the problems that existed in MPP, making it a better and more attractive product for farmers, Scott Dilley, communications director for Washington State Dairy Federation, said.

“I’m sure our producers will take a close look at DMC to see if it will work for their operations. We are hopeful that DMC will provide the type and amount of coverage that our dairy farmers would like and need,” he said.

Western United Dairymen isn’t hearing a lot of interest from producers in California, but sign-up is just starting, Annie AcMoody, WUD director of economic analysis, said.

Rick Naerebout, CEO of Idaho Dairymen’s Association, said he suspects there is interest in DMC among IDA members but Idaho producers typically rely pretty heavily on hedging programs for risk management.

U.S. organic sales top $50 billion

The U.S. organic market hit a record $52.5 billion in 2018, up 6.3% from the previous year and breaking through the $50 billion mark for the first time.

New records were made in both food and nonfood categories. Organic foods sales at $47.9 billion increased 5.9% year over year, and organic non-food sales jumped 10.6% to $4.6 billion, according to the 2019 Organic Industry Survey released May 17.

Almost 6% of all food sold in the U.S. is now organic, and growth in the organic sector continued to outpace gains in overall food and comparable nonfood sales in 2018.

Total food sales in the U.S. increased 2.3% and nonfood sales rose 3.7%, according to the Organic Trade Association, which commissioned the survey performed by Nutrition Business Journal.

“Organic is now considered mainstream,” Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of OTA, said.

Organic products can be found in every aisle of the grocery store and in box stores, club warehouse and convenience stores and are increasingly available on the internet she said.

The organic seal is gaining new appeal as consumers realize not only that certification is monitored and supported by official standards but it’s the only seal that encompasses the spectrum of non-GMO and free of pesticides, chemicals, dyes and preservatives, she said.

The survey found sales of organic fruits and vegetables, which now account for 36.3% of all organic food sales, grew 5.6% to $17.4 billion in 2018. Organic represented nearly 15% of all produce sold in the U.S., nearly doubling market share in the last 10 years.

Sales of organic dairy and eggs, the second-largest organic sector, were $6.5 billion. Those sales increased just 0.8% due to slower dairy sales. Organic egg sales, however, increased 9.3% to $858 million.

The strongest growth in the organic nonfood sector came from fiber, which accounts for 40 percent of the organic nonfood market. Organic fiber sales in 2018 increased 12.5% to $1.8 billion.

Women farmers better represented in Census of Ag

GOODING, Idaho — When Stacie Ballard signed on with a local processor in 1995 to sell milk from her fledgling dairy, the company put the contract in her husband’s name — even though he was working full-time off the farm as a diesel mechanic.When she tried to get the paperwork changed, she was told her husband would have to do it. His name also came first on a business loan for the dairy.

“I was the one milking the cows,” she said, still incredulous.

Wanting a fresh herd, she had started with 23 springers she obtained through the American Jersey Cattle Association. Those springers started calving two to three weeks later.

She milked, fed and tended the cows alone for the first eight years, albeit with help from the couple’s three children. Her husband, Steve, didn’t come into the operation full-time until 2001.

It wasn’t all that long ago, either, that anyone coming to the dairy on business and wanting to talk with the boss assumed the person in charge was a man.

Women have always been part of most farming operations as partners, sharing the workload and helping make decisions. Farmers recognize that, but agriculture is still perceived as a man’s world — by the public and the industry, she said.

“People assume men are running the farm,” she said.

But the reality is women have just as much involvement on the farm as men, she said.

A better picture
Ballard wasn’t the only one struck by the incongruity. USDA was also concerned that women, as well as younger farmers, were underrepresented in the Census of Agriculture — a survey of producers taken every five years by the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

After each census, USDA solicits feedback from stakeholders. Input after the 2012 census led to changes in the census questionnaire to better capture the roles people might play on the operation — particularly the involvement of women and younger people, said Ginger Harris, a NASS statistician and demographer.

“It’s important to know who those people are so (USDA) programs can be targeted across whole communities and reflect the roles of all people,” she said.

The 2017 census added questions about who the decision-makers were in different areas of the operation and allowed respondents to identify additional producers and principal producers (those making decisions) on their operation, she said.

That led to a 6.9% increase in the number of all producers and a 26.6% increase in the number of female producers compared to 2012, she said.

In addition, the changes led to an increase of nearly 70% in USDA’s calculation of the number of female primary producers. Among female producers, 65% identified as a principal producer and nearly 40% were reported as the primary producer on the operation.

USDA defines a principal producer as a senior partner in a farm. There can be several principal producers on any given farm. The primary producer is defined as the person making the most decisions for that farm.

In the bigger picture, women represented 36% of all producers in 2017 compared to 30% in 2012. They also represented 24% of all primary producers compared to 14% in 2012.

Changing the count
Doris Mold, immediate past president of American Agri-Women, served on two expert panels guiding the changes to the census questionnaire.

“We knew there were a lot more women farming,” she said, they just weren’t being counted.

Some of it was cultural, with women who were involved in bookkeeping and marketing not claiming the farmer hat. The panel’s recommendation was to open up the demographic section and add questions to capture shared decision-making and management, Mold said.

That ultimately affected the number of women reporting involvement. While the number of women in agriculture is increasing overall, the census results more reflect that women who have been involved all along are also being counted, she said.

“It’s pretty exciting … we are finally getting the acknowledgement that women have played a role,” Mold said.

It also shows women producers are becoming more confident, considering themselves a farmer and not just a “farm wife,” she said.

“I think women have always played an important role. … That role has not always been recognized,” she said.

The recognition in the latest census is “tremendous,” Mold said.

For a long time, the census didn’t count gender at all, she said.

The census began in 1840 and was conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau until it was shifted to USDA in 1997. It didn’t include a question about the gender of farm operators until 1978.

The important take-away from the latest census is it’s important to count everybody. It gives more information on who’s involved, what they contribute and what their needs might be. Hopefully, that influences agricultural organizations, their boards of directors and how other aspects are designed, she said.

“In general, there are gender differences as far as the skills women bring to the table in all careers” and they need to be taken into account, she said.

In a wider sense, more women are becoming involved in agriculture, and their role is changing. More are studying agricultural curriculums and going into careers in science and technology, Mold said.

A driving force
The higher number of female producers in the latest census is likely a combination of better questions and more women being involved in farming, said Mandy Minick, Washington state president of Northwest Farm Credit Services.

“Farm families have been a two-person operation for a long time,” she said.

In that regard, the census is just capturing the real traditional picture. But now with the younger generation coming back to the farm, there are as many daughters as sons taking over the operation, she said.

The farming business has gotten more complex, and more unique managers are needed. It’s great that the census changed to better measure what’s really going on in operations, she said.

Many women are good at relationships and working with people, and they are involved in all aspects of the business — human resources, employee relationships, financials, marketing and distributing, she said.

“Women are very good at taking care of aspects like that. I think that women are very good at seeing how all the pieces fit together. They have a clear picture of what’s working and what’s not,” she said.

Many are also meticulous and detail-oriented and bring good skills to bookkeeping and financial management, she said.

They are also running whole operations, especially local food operations and urban farms. They are studying more traditionally male types of disciplines such as animal husbandry and range management, she said.

Regardless of the size of operation, what’s produced or the location, there’s a real surge in women being part of production, lending and supply and inputs, she said.

It’s about teamwork
It’s all about teamwork at the Ballard Family Dairy & Cheese, which has grown its herd to 106 cows. Steve is now in charge of the animals, son Travis calls the shots in cheesemaking and Stacie is CFO — handling everything else.

Her responsibilities include banking, loans, taxes, compliance, invoices, vendors, marketing, workers compensation and payroll.

“I tend to be the paperwork pusher,” she said.

Everyone has individual responsibilities, but everything is discussed and the three come to a mutual decision — although there’s been a time or two when she’s insisted on a certain conclusion.

“I think women always have brought different priorities and perspectives to decision-making. I think we’re always trying to do a balance, trying to look at all sides,” she said.

Women have always been involved on the farm, and it’s good that the census is getting a better picture of what’s been going on for years, she said.

But “I still think society is way behind on what women do. The industry and society still give the man the pat on the back,” she said.

Steve is involved in state and national dairy organizations and travels a lot for the dairy industry. He’s normally only at the dairy on weekends, she said.

“But people assume it’s his dairy,” she said.

Herbal interest turns into full-time business

BUHL, Idaho — Just like a puzzle, all the pieces in Mickey Young’s life fit with him becoming an equine and canine herbalist. But also just like a puzzle, it was hard to see the big picture until the pieces interlocked.

Today, that picture is a successful business promoting the health of horses and dogs through herbal nutrition.

But the story started even before Young was born.

His father, LaVern, grew up in Utah, picking up tips on doctoring animals with medicinal herbs from the Navajos who lived in the area. He later had a career with Bureau of Land Management as a range rider and wild horse and burro specialist, learning more about the plants those animals chose to graze.

Young’s mother, Ruth, was a successful naturopath at a time when naturopathy was little known.

“I learned some from each of them,” Young said.

And as a professional cowboy, champion bareback rider and stock contractor for the National Finals Rodeo, Young knew horses and the dogs that are inevitably a cowboy’s companion.

His parents moved to Idaho, where Young had settled during his rodeo days and opened a health store. His mother helped people with herbs and when they asked for help with their horses or dogs, she’d send them to Young.

“It grew from there, but it didn’t happen overnight,” Young said.

After selling his rodeo stock company, he was looking for something he could do to make a living.

“I had done the herb thing for many years, but I didn’t know there was a living in it,” he said.

A chance meeting with Heather Mack, a veterinarian who practices holistic horse health, would change his way of thinking.

Mack was impressed with the health of Young’s horses and started referring clients to him for his herbal mixtures. That gave Young the confidence to start telling people about the benefits of herbs.

Later, Mack started carrying his mixtures and was his first large, consistent client.

Word spread quickly due to the quality of the herbs and the effectiveness of Young’s formulas. Everything from wounds and digestive issues to kidney and liver ailments seemed to benefit from the herbs, Young said.

He and his wife, Lori, officially started Silver Lining Herbs 20 years ago.

Back then, “people weren’t that accepting of herbs for horses. It was a hard sale, but Mick started educating people,” Lori said.

The business went from mixing herbs in his mother’s shop to outgrowing a basement, then a garage and then a large shop to building a commercial facility.

It kind of started by accident but grew little by little into a full-grown business, Lori said.

Silver Lining Herbs produces about 30 herbal combinations for horses and 20 for dogs, ranging from daily health maintenance and early wormer to joint and lymphatic support. The company uses 80 to 100 different ingredients, sourced from five main suppliers in North America, Chance Schuknecht, the company’s sales and marketing manager, said.

The company has strict quality-control practices and is audited by the National Animal Supplement Council, which has awarded the business its Quality Seal.

The formulas are meant to provide the variety of healthful vegetation horses and dogs had when they could range freely to improve their quality of life, he said.

Young said his goal is to help as many horses and dogs as possible.

“There’re a lot out there that need it, and owners don’t know it,” he said.

He knows of cases where a horse or dog was euthanized because the practitioner or the owner didn’t think a problem could be fixed. In many cases, herbs are the answer, he said.

“I have seen what people would call miracles (using herbs) many years now,” he said.

And he hears it all the time from his customers — animals in advanced stages of illness completely recovering with herbs, he said.

“It’s pretty cool when you see it happen, and it happens a lot,” he said.

Silver Lining Herbs has hundreds of testimonials, but is unable to print them or advertise with them under Food and Drug Administration regulations, he said.

“I’ll always be an advocate for what it does. We’re all pretty passionate about this at Silver Lining,” he said.

Unfortunately, people have lost a lot of the knowledge they had before modern medicine, but it’s pretty hard to improve on nature, he said.

“God put everything we needed here; all we have to do is access it,” he said.

Bioengineered food label rules draw criticism

While farm groups are pleased with USDA’s new disclosure standard for bioengineered foods, others are not.

Some public interest and environmental advocacy groups contend the standard is deceptive and doesn’t go far enough to identify genetically modified foods and inform consumers.

They take issue with the term “bioengineered,” the permitted methods of disclosure and the omission of foods they say should be labeled as genetically modified.

“This deceptive rule will keep people in the dark about what they’re eating and feeding their families,” Wenonah Hauter, director of Food & Water Watch, said in a statement.

“It is meant to confuse consumers, not inform them. This deception is a tool being utilized to maximize corporate profits, plain and simple, she said.

The use of “bioengineered,” rather than GMOs, is a deceptive strategy because consumers don’t know what that means. In addition, the use of digital codes and other technology makes GMO disclosure more difficult for consumers, and the definitions of what triggers labeling are far too limited, she said.

Options for disclosure include text, symbol, electronic or digital link, text message and a phone number or web address where consumers can access information.

The standard does not apply to foods such as meat, milk and eggs derived from animals fed forage or grain developed through biotechnology. It also does not apply to highly refined products such as sugar or oil derived from biotech crops.

The Environmental Working Group said the disclosure rule fails to meet the intent of Congress to create a mandatory disclosure standard that includes all genetically engineered foods and to use terms consumers understand.

It also fails to address the needs of consumers who don’t have expensive phones or who live in rural places with poor cell service, EWG said.

Report finds opportunity for small dairy operations

A structural shift in the U.S. dairy industry driven by consolidation to larger farms will challenge smaller farms and the cooperatives that serve them. But the changing dynamic is not without opportunity for those smaller operations and their co-ops, according to a new report from CoBank.

“Consolidation on dairy farms in the U.S. has driven the dairy industry to what might be a new era of longer, more drawn out prices cycles than the three-year pattern the industry has come to know,” Ben Laine, senior dairy economists with CoBank, said in a video accompanying the report.

The three-year cycle emerged in the 1990s as the federal Dairy Price Support Program was phased out. In the years that followed, the magnitude of price cycles increased as dairy exports picked up and exposed the industry to the volatility of the global market, he said.

To withstand the ups and downs, many farms looked to expand to take advantage of economies of scale and lower their costs, he said.

“Now, most of the U.S. milk supply is driven by these large, efficient farms that are much less responsive to near-term price changes,” he said.

Dairy farms with 1,000 cows or more now comprise nearly 50 percent of the dairy industry, up from 29 percent in the previous decade, the report notes.

These large farms are in the best position to survive extended periods of low milk prices during the new longer cycles, and the lack of supply response will likely mute the traditional three-year cycles, Laine said.

Milk prices have been stuck in a sustained pattern of lower prices since 2014, and the prolonged period of low milk prices have strained most small-scale farms without the relief of the expected peak year of price recovery, he said.

“Smaller farms and the cooperatives that serve them will have a difficult time competing with their larger counterparts on a commodity basis due to the higher costs they face,” he said.

But they might have an advantage in being able to tap into higher value products and capitalize on consumer segments that place a premium on local, smaller scale production, he said.

It will be critical for cooperatives and producers to position themselves for a scenario of prices remaining lower for longer without the peak years to provide relief, he said in the report.

In some regions of the country, smaller scale family operations have found success by pooling resources to build larger, more efficient operations. In addition, smaller farms are better able to quickly adapt to tap into niche markets such as organic, grass-fed, local and other options for premium dairy products, he said.

Cooperatives that have historically only pooled and marketed members’ milk will also need to investigate opportunities for adding value. Entering into branded business requires different management and marketing skills, as does investing in and operating a manufacturing plant, he said.

“But while challenging strategies and entering new markets may be challenging and risky, the risk of maintaining the status quo may be even greater,” he said.

Good records are a key to successful farming

TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Keeping accurate and timely financial records is a key characteristic of successful farms, and using a cash flow spreadsheet is a helpful tool in farm financial management, according to speakers at this year’s Women in Agriculture conference sponsored by Washington State University Extension.

The conference took place Saturday in 35 locations across the Northwest and Alaska, combining simultaneous broadcasts and onsite sessions to pump up the financial success of women in agriculture.

“Farm financial management really doesn’t mean anything without keeping records,” Robin Reid, an extension farm economist with Kansas State University, said.

Some people just throw receipts in a shoebox to take to an accountant to file their taxes. Instead, they need to develop a habit of keeping up to date, she said.

That means routine record keeping, reconciling records with bank statements, having appropriate accounts for the farm business and personal activities and having sufficient details to understand and analyze their business.

“Record keeping takes time and effort. Once a year won’t get it done effectively,” she said.

While a balance sheet shows net worth and an income statement shows profitability, a cash flow spreadsheet evaluates feasibility. It’s the recording of actual dollars coming in and going out of the business, and it can be used to project inflows and outflows on a monthly basis, she said.

The importance is in being prepared for what’s coming throughout the year, and the projections are valuable in managing the business, she said.

“Cash flow gives you a picture of your yearly budgeted expenses and income. It evaluates feasibility and indicates if, when and how much you will need to borrow,” she said.

Having cash flow projections can help producers adapt as changes occur during the year. Farm managers can also use it to compare actual expenses and income with projections and monitor discrepancies, she said.

Good farm records are critical to build cash flow projections. For someone who has never done it, a good place to start is with the line items on the Internal Revenue Service’s Schedule F form. But it is important to add in family living expenses, she said.

A lot of times, struggling farms are just spending too much on family living expenses, she said.

LaVell Winsor, extension farm analyst at Kansas State University, agreed, saying living expenses often catch farm families off guard.

“This is a place we see folks getting into trouble with cash flow,” she said.

She recommends making a family budget and sticking to it.

Cash flow is a working document that can be used to anticipate shortages, and family living is one place to decrease expenses, she said.

Other ways to cover a shortfall could be savings, borrowing from another business the farm owns, microloans through the Farm Service Agency or a bank or selling unused or underutilized assets, she said.

Another method is using a credit card, although it’s not preferred and often comes with a high interest rate, she said.

In addition to keeping good records, she recommends meeting with an accountant regularly and keeping key people such as lenders in the loop for overall financial health.

OTA continues efforts for organic checkoff

Down but not defeated after the USDA nixed an official organic research and promotion program, the Organic Trade Association is forging ahead with efforts to establish a voluntary checkoff program.

The organization last week pledged not to walk away from an industry-invested program and has formed a steering committee to coordinate and lead the efforts.

“The Organic Trade Association recognizes great demand for coordinated organic research and promotion, and the organic sector is ready to work together on innovative solutions that will have key benefits for organic,” Laura Batcha, OTA executive director and CEO, said.

There is a critical need to educate consumers about organic, to provide more technical assistance to help more farmers transition to organic and to promote the organic brand, she said.

OTA lost its long battle for an organic checkoff when USDA pulled the plug on the formal process to establish a checkoff in May.

After reviewing nearly 15,000 comments from industry stakeholders, including farmers, USDA terminated its proposed rule for a checkoff citing a “split within the industry in terms of support” for a checkoff.

The No Organic Checkoff Coalition, representing 6,000 organic farmers across the country, led the charge against a checkoff — contending a federal, mandated checkoff was not the right solution for the growing domestic industry.

The coalition found many faults in the OTA proposed checkoff, primarily that it was more likely to promote the needs of large processors over those of family farmers.

Jim Gerritsen, an organic farmer and president of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association — which was an early member of the coalition — told Capital Press on Wednesday OTA represents large-scale corporate processors.

“So that’s who was going to benefit from the checkoff anyway. So they might as well go to them directly,” he said.

“OTA is becoming pretty inconsequential. Their direction has nothing to do with organic agriculture. Their unwillingness to stand up for organic integrity is the real cutting-edge issue here,” he said.

The organization just wants to see an increase in organic sales and doesn’t care how that comes about, he said.

He doubts OTA’s efforts for a voluntary checkoff will get any buy-in from organic farmers.

“I can’t imagine any organic farmers earning their living from organic farming signing up for this. It’s going to be the corporations,” he said.

And with corporations paying for the program, he doesn’t think much of the funding will go to research for organic production, a priority for farmers, he said.

If those corporations wanted to support domestic organic farmers, they could make a pledge to buy U.S.-produced organic crops and not import dubious, so-called organic crops, he said.

Organic lawsuit against USDA can proceed

A U.S. district judge has ruled a lawsuit against USDA over its withdrawal of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule can proceed. The rule included new standards for raising, transporting and slaughtering organic animals.

The lawsuit, brought by seven nonprofit organizations led by the Center for Food Safety, seeks to reinstate the rule on the grounds USDA’s action violates the Organic Food Production Act and failed to comply with the Administrative Procedure Act.

USDA moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing plaintiffs do not have legal standing.

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg last week ruled the plaintiffs do have legal standing, but sided with USDA on two other issues.

He dismissed, without leave to amend, the plaintiffs’ claim that USDA did not have the authority to withdraw the rule based on alleged costs to producers.

He also dismissed their claim that withdrawing the rule without involving the National Organic Standards Board exceeded USDA’s statutory authority. He did, however, give plaintiffs leave to amend that claim.

“We are very gratified that the court agrees we can challenge the unlawful withdrawal of these hard-won animal care protections in organic production,” George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety legal director and counsel in the case, said in a press release.

USDA’s motion to dismiss did not address two other claims by the plaintiffs, regarding the agency’s two main rationales for the withdrawal.

Those claims will proceed, Amy Van Saun, a staff attorney with the center, told Capital Press.

Those rationales are that USDA doesn’t have authority to set organic standards that relate to animal welfare beyond the substances used and that there must be significant market failure in order to change the organic standards and justify the associated costs, she said.

The center will challenge the withdrawal based on those rationales, she said.

The lawsuit, which was filed in March, also includes plaintiffs Center for Environmental Health, Cultivate Oregon, International Center for Technology Assessment, National Organic, Coalition, Humane Society of the U.S. and the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

The Organic Trade Association filed a lawsuit against USDA in September 2017. It originally targeted USDA’s failure to implement the rule finalized in the waning days of the Obama administration. OTA amended its original complaint in February to reflect USDA’s announced intention to withdraw the final rule.

In a statement to Capital Press on Friday, OTA said: “The Organic Trade Association welcomes the decision of the Northern District of California U.S. District Court that recognizes our colleagues’ standing to challenge the USDA’s handling of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final regulation.

“On the issues that were lost in the California case, however, the Organic Trade Association believes our case is different and will be handled on its own merits. We look forward to working together to undo the administration’s refusal to implement the OLPP. “

Conventional livestock and poultry groups have fiercely opposed the rule, citing health threats to animals and the public. They have argued the animal-welfare standards aren’t based on science and are outside the scope of the OFPA, which limits organic to feeding and medication practices.

They have also argued that it would vilify conventional livestock practices, open the door to activists’ lawsuits and create barriers for existing and new organic producers.