Business Development Workshops Serve Farmers in and Around Tioga County

Through summertime visits to farms in Tioga County, Barb Neal from CCE Tioga County, Zack Baker from Tioga County Economic Development, and I identified a general need for information related to farm business development – specifically business structure, legal issues, and grant writing. In response, we hosted a pair of workshops to address this need.

Grant Workshop for Farmers

Our Grant Workshop for Farmers, held on October 30 in Candor, was a successful meeting that exemplified the power of collaboration across the CCE system and with county partners. Responding to needs and interest articulated by farmers, I worked with Barb and Zack to develop a workshop that would review various grant opportunities for farm business, and provide tips for developing a successful application.

As the primary presenter, Monika Roth, from CCE Tompkins County, shared her extensive experience working with farms to produce successful grant applications. Zack coordinated logistics with the Candor Fire Hall and recruited additional presenters from the Tioga County Soil and Water Conservation District and the local NRCS office. Barb’s actions were instrumental in promoting and evaluating the event.

Nineteen farmers from six counties attended the workshop. In addition, seven agricultural service providers came, which created opportunities for informal conversation, networking, and referrals. Student evaluations indicated that the program was extremely well received, and 100% of participants said that they would apply what they learned in their own farm businesses. Monika offered to provide one-on-one consultations for any attendees who wanted to receive more specific guidance on their individual grant proposal ideas.

Basic Legal Agreements for Farm Business Management

On November 27, we hosted a workshop covering legal agreements that are commonly used in farm business management. Presenter Anna Richards, from Cornell University’s PRO-DAIRY program, shared her knowledge and experience with an audience of 10 farmers gathered at the Tioga County office building in Owego, NY. Anna made a strong case for using written agreements, instead of oral or “handshake” agreements, to protect the interests of a farm and its owners. Then she introduced lease agreements, buy-sell agreements, promissory notes, operating agreements, wills, and even prenuptial agreements.

The discussion turned to business entity structure, and the role of operating agreements in the formation and function of Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs). An operating agreement provides a framework for how a farm business is to be run. This legal tool helps farm families to set clear expectations about ownership, allocation of profits and losses, and other requirements of members, which all serve to protect the business and mitigate conflicts down the road. An operating agreement is a key document used by LLCs as part of a broader strategy to minimize liability risk.

We received excellent student feedback on the session. In particular, attendees appreciated the small group setting that allowed for lots of individual Q&A. The farmers valued Anna’s technical expertise and her real-world stories that illustrated why legal agreements are so important for farms.