Change is continuous in farming.
Prices, farm programs, trade policies, technology, markets, and consumer preferences all change continuously, just to name a few. Some farm enterprises benefit from these changes and some are harmed, so the search for profitable alternatives is a continuous challenge. There are seven important questions that should guide the search for alternative enterprises. Answering each one of these is important to achieving success:
— Why are you interested in alternative enterprises?
— What are consumers interested in buying and who will be your customers?
— What are you planning to sell and how will you sell it?
— Will your product require processing, and if so, how will you sell it?
— What business and legal issues apply?
— What resources will you need?
— Will it be financially feasible and worthwhile?
Through North Carolina’s two land-grant institutions, North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University, Cooperative Extension is able to provide the latest research findings on new and alternative enterprises to farmers through fact sheets, field days, and tours.
Recently more than 300 farmers attended the 16th annual North Carolina A&T Small Farms Field Day at the N.C. A&T University farm in Greensboro. They received information on the latest research and new technologies to help them become more profitable and sustainable. Some of the demonstrations included small-scale pecan production, pasture pork production and management, and converting agricultural and food wastes into energy. Poster displays included industrial hemp in North Carolina, testing soil biological activity, and staying productive and injury-fee after a disability.
N.C. Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, has a workshop and tour scheduled for fall to provide farmers with research-based information on several new enterprises and opportunities. A high-tunnel greenhouse workshop will be conducted to provide produce growers with the latest research-based information and the basics of high-tunnel production.
An alternative farm tour will be conducted to give farmers opportunities for diversifying their operations and show there is no one recipe for sustainable agriculture in our region. Look for more details on the workshop and tour once plans are finalized.
Realize that enterprise selection is a complicated and demanding process. It should be considered no different than evaluating any other business opportunity. The amount of time and energy spent in research should be related directly to the amount of capital at risk and the potential rewards. All of this takes a lot of work, but it is well worth taking time to make sure the ideas you are considering will work and to avoid problems or disappointments down the road.
Nelson Brownlee is the extension area farm management agent for Robeson County. Reach him by phone at 910-671-3276, or by email at: Nelson_Brownlee@ncsu.edu.