Cooperative Assistance for Farm Owners

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Credit: Thinkstock

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Merriam-Webster defines agriculture as: “the science, art or practice of cultivating the soil, producing crops and raising livestock and, in varying degrees, the preparation and marketing of the resulting products.” By definition, equine businesses are agricultural businesses, and cooperative extension programs offer ag-business resources that apply to equine business as well as to men and women in equine businesses, too.

In case you're not familiar, the cooperative extension [http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/] has been offering business, home and agricultural assistance through American land-grant universities since 1914. The services are often free—paid for by your tax dollars—or offered at a nominal charge and include 4-H programs, dissemination of breaking research, soil tests, land-management advice and a whole lot more. Women in agriculture—and agricultural business—is a growing area of emphasis for extension, sprouting these programs:

Annie's Project [http://www.extension.iastate.edu/annie/] On the surface, this looks like a business program for commodity- and food-production farm women, but “our program really focuses on management, so it cuts across all kinds of agriculture,” said Madeline Schultz, co-director of the national Annie's Project program with Iowa State University Extension. Plus, Kelly Heckaman, Purdue University Extension educator with Purdue Women In Agriculture, said, “If you're in an area where there is a group of horse people, we can create an Annie's Project that focuses on topics related to horse businesses.”

Annie's Project classes are held in communities across the country with five areas of focus: finances, human resources, legal topics, marketing and production (including land stewardship and production costs). “Almost every decision that a farm manager makes is going to fall into one of those five categories,” Schultz said.

Apart from the business benefits, attending an Annie's Project in your area lets you meet other women in agriculture who have diverse backgrounds. “Maybe these people are farming in our very communities, and this gives us a chance to talk about our businesses,” Schultz said.

Annie's Project sessions are usually financially supported in part by ag groups or sponsors and have low program fees for participants—often $50 to $75 for the six-session class.

Managing for Today and Tomorrow [http://www.extension.iastate.edu/annie/mtt.html] Using Annie's Project as a starting point, this program is “helping women to understand what's involved in transitioning the farm to the next generation, whether it's family or not,” Schultz said. Succession planning, business exit strategies and retirement planning are topics that cannot be addressed enough and can easily go overlooked in day-to-day business work. These concepts and more are covered in the five-session program.

Like Annie's Project, Managing for Today and Tomorrow is usually supported in part by an ag-related organization and offered for a low cost.

Women In Agriculture Regionally, these groups—such as the Midwest Women in Agriculture [https://ag.purdue.edu/extension/WIA/Pages/default.aspx] and the Mid-Atlantic Women in Agriculture [https://extension.umd.edu/womeninag]—bring together women involved in ag businesses both to strengthen their businesses and to create community. You will find more production/food farmers here than horse farmers, but you will also find business advice and support in the form of conferences, webinars and additional resources for low costs.

Of the Midwest Women in Agriculture Conference, Heckaman said you won't generally find topics that are specific to equine business, but you won't find topics specific to other kinds of operations, either “We try to hit a whole gamut of ag-business topics,” she explained.

Look to state and local women-in-ag groups, too—many are organized through your state's cooperative extension—to see if these are inclusive of equine-agriculture pursuits.

National Women in Agriculture Learning Network [http://www.extension.org/womeninag] A piece of the eXtension web network, the free resources found online here “improve [women 's] quality of life by providing them with resources to make better business decisions while maintaining a balance with family and personal obligations,” according to the website. Webinars, publications and news of women in agriculture provide business and farm-technical support.

Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network [http://blogs.usda.gov/2015/02/19/a-new-network-for-women-in-agriculture/] Launched with less of a business mindset and more of an idea for woman-farmer-to-woman-farmer support, this U.S. Department of Agriculture group was just started as of February 2015. Email agwomenlead@usda.gov to be added to the network.

If cooperative extension programs interest you, but you're not sure where your equine-agriculture business fits in, contact your county extension agent and ask. As Heckaman stated above, if enough horse folks get in on extension ag programs, resources will be offered to them.