GUELPH– Ontario farmers who are thinking about growing a non-traditional crop have a valuable new tool to assess whether it’s a profitable idea. Making a Case for Growing New Crops is an online learning resource recently developed by the Agri-Food Management Institute (AMI) to help farmers engage in business planning before planting.
“This resource will help you decide if that new crop is right for your farm at this time,” says Ashley Honsberger, Executive Director of AMI. According to Honsberger, farmers are increasingly looking at non-traditional crops to meet new customer preferences, realize higher value per acre, or for crop rotation and other environmental benefits.
The resource was developed in partnership with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), who surveyed members earlier this year to gauge interest in growing new crops, as well as the best method of delivering information. “We know Ontario farmers are interested in growing new crops, and are looking for timely information on marketing a crop, finding buyers and locating processors,” says OFA President Keith Currie. “We appreciated providing AMI with industry input on a resource that will ultimately support farm business management and reduce the risk of expanding into a new crop.”
Making a Case for Growing New Crops – the new free online resource available in the Resources for Farmers section of www.takeanewapproach.ca features five interactive modules that users work through on their own schedule to develop a business case for diversifying their farm. Through a series of videos and worksheets, users can determine whether the crop is an agronomic fit, identify customers and markets, analyze their cost of production and develop a budget. In the end, they will have a personalized and confidential report that includes a business model canvas (a one-page visual business plan) as well as an action plan to share with their team and use to communicate with their advisors and lenders.
“Whatever the reason, taking time to build a business case for growing new crops makes sense,” says Honsberger. “While we encourage farmers to take a new approach, we also want them to really evaluate the opportunity and manage any potential risks associated with growing new crops.”
Of the 402 farmers responding to the online survey about new crops – as part of the Making a Case for Growing News Crops project – about 20 per cent had tried a new crop in the past five years. The main reasons farmers chose to trying something new included: changing markets and emerging opportunities (29 per cent), crop rotation and environmental benefits (24 per cent), and reducing overall risk through diversification (24 per cent). And 27 per cent of farmers said they develop a business plan before beginning a new crop opportunity.
For growers who had not introduced a new crop in the last five years, 7 per cent plan to in the next two years, 49 per cent do not plan to, and 44 per cent were undecided. These results suggest farmers are open to new crop opportunities, but are hesitant and unsure of how successful they may be.
The survey findings also contributed to OFA’s submission for the Bring Home the World: Improving Access to Ontario’s World Foods consultation by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.