Writer: D'Lyn Ford
ALBUQUERQUE - Like all entrepreneurs, small-scale farmers need to estimate costs and returns to make good business decisions, but many don't have the computer and management skills to develop detailed spreadsheets.
To make the job easier, University of Hawaii specialists developed a 42-inch wall posterthat allows growers to rapidly track costs, estimate revenues and organize business data-without a computer, a calculator or even basic math skills.
"Most small-scale producers are uncomfortable with doing the math, so we developed the Easy Profit Estimator to do the work for them," said James Hollymer, program manager with the university's Agricultural Development in the American Pacific (ADAP) program. "It's basically a comprehensive spreadsheet contained in a poster. The grower jots down the amount of a product to be produced and then, just by following the lines on the chart, the poster will give cost and revenue estimates at a glance."
The poster is one of 72 educational exhibits on display at the Third National Small Farm Conference going on at the Albuquerque Convention Center from Sept. 17 to 20. New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service is hosting the event, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) every three years.
"Agriculture and technology constantly change and evolve, so the conference, especially these educational exhibits, provide people who work with small-scale producers good exposure to a broad range of programs, services and new ideas to keep on top of things," said Bill Neish, a retired Extension agricultural agent and exhibit organizer. "Large farming operations have so many companies that cater to their needs, but small-scale producers really don't have that, so the folks here are filling that gap."
The conference has attracted nearly 600 agricultural educators, specialists, program managers and producers from around the country. Participants are attending train-the-trainer workshops that reinforce skills and knowledge to better provide assistance and support to small-scale farmers.
The exhibits include educational booths from USDA agencies, nongovernment agricultural programs, land-grant universities, private companies and cooperatives. Exhibitors come from about 25 states, including a booth on small farm pest management techniques by the University of Tennessee, on-farm food safety advice from the University of Hawaii and efforts to boost women's role in agriculture by the Women's Agricultural Network of Maine.
New Mexico is well-represented, with some 21 public and private sector exhibits. Booths include colorful photo collages from the Santa Fe Farmers Market and the New Mexico Livestock Board, a milk processing display by Socorro Consulting and Engineering LLC, and an overview of the programs and services that NMSU's Northern New Mexico Small Farm Task Force offers to producers.
Among the USDA exhibits is an overview of the Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, a Maryland-based service that does custom searches of agricultural libraries, data bases and research institutions upon request by growers.
"We research and compile whatever information is out there about alternative agriculture, such as organic and sustainable growing methods," said program coordinator Bill Thomas. "If somebody wants to know about growing blueberries in Tennessee or growing snails organically, we'll help them get the information they need free of charge."
The University of Hawaii's Easy Profit Estimator drew a lot of interest. "I work with beginning farmers and do business planning with them, so this poster can really help me a lot," said Eric Toensmeier, program manager at the Massachusetts-based New England Small Farm Institute. "It puts simple, basic information on production costs at farmers' fingertips. I'm going to order a bunch of the posters and start using them with clients."
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