Beginning Farmer Webinar Series survey results

Michigan State University Extension educators and specialists at MSU have been conducting webinars for beginning farmers since 2012. A recent survey of past participants indicates the program has been successful.

The Upper Peninsula Beginning Farmer Program started in the winter of 2012 as a six session face-to-face program at two locations: Escanaba and Houghton. The sessions included topics on business management, crop production, livestock production and farm machinery. Later that year, the program was repeated as a webinar. In 2013, the program became the Upper Peninsula Beginning Farmer Webinar Series, and sessions were designed to focus on getting started more specifically in producing a certain commodity or type of farming operation. In 2014, the Upper Peninsula focus was expanded to encompass all of Michigan with many participants also from outside of the state.

From its inception, the purpose of the program was to give prospective farmers a better understanding and tools required to be successful in starting or expand a farming business. As beginning farmers start and expand new businesses, economic activity will increase and new jobs will be created.

The Beginning Farmer Webinar Series has been in existence since 2012 and has provided live webinar sessions that have been recorded and archived. The webinar sessions are designed to assist attendees with production practices, marketing and business management. Each year, the webinar series has been evaluated with post session surveys occurring either immediately following the session or six months after the series. This survey was designed to capture information from farmers having attended these sessions up to five years ago, offering producers more time to have implemented the knowledge they would have gained. Consequently, we hope to observe higher rates of farmers that have actually started or expanded their farming business, increased economic activity and increased the number of jobs.

A survey was designed by Frank Wardynski and Jim Isleib, Michigan State University Extension educators, with the assistance of Cheryl Eschbach, MSU Extension specialist, to capture impact data from the Beginning Farmer Webinar Series from 2012-2016. An online survey tool called Survey Monkey was used to collect responses and analyze the data. The Survey Monkey link was sent to 607 participants of the webinar series, and 105 responded offering a 17 percent response rate.

Survey results

Of the respondents, 53 percent are currently farming, 21 percent want to farm, and 6 percent are a student, educator or work as a resource agency person. Of farmers responding to the acreage question, most are smaller farmers, 12 percent are farming from zero to one acre and 55 percent are farming between 1 and 50 acres. Acreage recorded from 51-200 acres at 23 percent, 201-1000 acres at 8 percent, and 2 percent indicated they were farming 5000 acres.

Gross revenue dollars generated was also relatively small, with 36 percent less than $5000, 19 percent between $5001-$10,000, and 24 percent between $10,001-$50,000. Large revenues recorded were 4.7 percent at $50,001-$95,000, 12 percent at $100,000-$200,000, and 4.7 percent at $250,000-$275,000. Acreage and revenue reported at zero is not included in these percentage figures.

The series was successful in getting farmers started in farming. As to the webinar series contributing to starting a farming business, 57 percent indicated “yes” and 45 percent expanded their business as a result of the program.

The webinar series contributed to producers making change to their farming operation by nearly 70 percent of respondents. Of the respondents indicating they made changes, 78 percent made changes in production, 26 percent in financial management, 34 percent in marketing, 24 percent in equipment purchases, and 19 percent in labor. The webinar series contributed to creating new jobs for 12.5 percent of respondents.

As a result of the Beginning Farmer Webinar Series, 32 percent of respondents developed a farm business management plan and 36 percent made changes to their current plan. Of those indicating having made changes, 45 percent made changes to marketing, 31 percent to finances, 41 percent to the size of their operation, and 53 percent to the commodities they produce.

New farm businesses provide jobs, income, increased economic and social stability, and increased food security to rural and other communities. Providing basic, practical information to people interested in, or already engaging in, new farm enterprises helps these small business develop sound production and marketing plans. 

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