Finances

Risk Management Tools: Helping Connecticut Farms Grow

Horsebarn Hill at UConn
A view of Horsebarn Hill at sunrise on July 20, 2017. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

“Agriculture is inherently a risk filled profession,” says Associate Extension Educator Joseph Bonelli. “Utilizing risk management is a tool for farmers to minimize the impacts of threats they can’t completely control by reducing the impact of certain dangers on their farm business.”

UConn Extension has a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Risk Management Association (RMA) grant for farmers and growers, specifically focusing on crop insurance and its options. USDA offers fewer disaster assistance funds, and wants farmers to take a greater interest in managing their risks and related financial impacts. The program is designed to create a safety net for operations through insurance for weather incidents, pests, or a lack of market.

The beauty of the programming is that Extension educators can weave in other topics of interest in areas of risk management for farmers. Examples include production risk, plant diseases, or labor. RMA covers any practice that mitigates risk on a farm operation.

“I enjoy helping farmers develop solutions to problems,” Bonelli states. “I ask them what keeps them up at night. For many farmers its problems that risk management can help them mitigate. Extension helps farmers understand the tools that are available, and grow the farm for the next generation.”

Mary Concklin, Visiting Associate Extension Educator for Fruit Production and IPM, is the co- principal investigator on the RMA grant with Bonelli. An advisory board of 12 people meets annually to provide input on programming. Members of the committee include Extension educators, Farm Bureau, the Department of Agriculture, and industry organizations.

Programs offered include workshops and one-on-one sessions with technical advisors. The RMA program has a suite of educational resources. A video series was created featuring farmers from different sectors of agriculture discussing how crop insurance has helped their operation. A monthly e-newsletter was recently introduced. Each issue showcases a farmer, and provides tips that farmers can immediately put into practice.

Agricultural producers appreciate that RMA programs have an impartial approach, and are not trying to sell anything. Program instructors serve as technical advisors and a sounding board.

UConn Extension is part of a network of information through our association with other land grant universities and Extension systems, and brings in outside expertise as it’s needed by our farmers. Risk management is also incorporated into other UConn Extension programs for agricultural producers.

Connecticut farmers have experienced a tremendous shift from wholesale to retail marketing. The demands on farmers and growers to understand how to promote and market value added crops has added another level of responsibility, where before farmers only focused on production. Direct marketing brings another whole area of risk through product liability and competition.

Not all national crop insurance programs fit Connecticut agriculture. Farmers need to make an informed decision
based on the facts as to whether or not a policy fits their business, and should be purchased. Bonelli and Concklin provide feedback to USDA on the reasons why Connecticut farmers choose not to purchase insurance, with the goal of improv- ing federal programs available.

“We try to be on the leading edge of what’s new to help farmers be more productive and financially viable,” Bonelli concludes. “It’s rewarding that UConn Extension is part of the success and resiliency of farmers in our state. No one organization is responsible, we’re part of a team working with the farmers to grow their businesses.”

Article by Stacey Stearns

Spotlight – Farm Labor Shortages: Years in the Making

Spotlight – Farm Labor Shortages: Years in the Making

Article by Evan Lentz

For some time, concerns regarding the availability of reliable farm labor have reached the ears of UConn’s Risk Management team. When considering the vast range of risks that agricultural stakeholders face throughout the year, labor shortages may very well be the most detrimental to the industry in the long term. Even weather, which presents itself as a risk without any control measures, cannot compare to the impacts that large-scale labor shortages would have on agriculture and in turn the rest of the country. But how did we get to this point? Many people may wish to blame certain policies, citing the need for labor reform, others may point to the modernization of society and a general trend away from agrarian living. To understand how American agriculture has arrived at this juncture, one must examine the basic nature of the farming process, labor trends over the past 50 years, and challenges faced by the current farm labor force.

Farming at its most basic level is a biological process, more specifically a diverse group of biological processes with human and other influences (UC Davis). Whether the products of an operation are fruits and vegetables harvested from plants or the meat of animals, all agriculture is at the mercy of the biological processes that have evolved over time. These processes, such as growth and development, abide mainly by the rules encoded in their DNA. Many of these processes are slow, intricate, and beyond the scope of everyday farmers. When combined with other highly variable factors such as weather, these processes become somewhat cumbersome to predict or manage. The high variability and seasonality of agricultural operations present a fundamental issue in finding reliable labor. Set schedules are often nonexistent. Workload and the duration of jobs is determined not by farmers/employers but rather the above-mentioned biological factors. This is what distinguishes farm labor from most other sectors and vocations. The very nature of the business is highly variable, volatile, and require a particular type of worker – one who not only understands the job and its limitations, but one who incorporates the job into the entirety of their everyday lives. Therefore, the first limitation on farm labor is that there are only certain types of individuals who want to perform such work.

The second limitation on farm labor has come through the development and diversification of modern job markets. When looking at low-income or developing countries, the majority of their labor force is agricultural (UC Davis). As nations progress and developed technology, other types of jobs become available and draw workers away from agriculture. High-income countries not only have a more diverse job market, but many of these jobs now require more human investment to perform (UC Davis). Jobs in medicine or technology often require schooling or training which is up to the potential laborer to pursue. In contrast, 43% of the farm workforce lack high school diplomas or equivalencies (USDA, 2017). This need for more human investment in the job is often accompanied by increased wages. This is the incentive. People are willing to invest more of their time and money in a job that requires a different set of skills because they will in turn be able to earn more. As job markets continue to expand and progress, there are more options for those seeking employment. Where farming used to occupy the majority of our nation’s labor force, now only 11% of jobs reside in agriculture and related fields (USDA, 2017). There are simply more jobs that need doing.

Employment in Agriculture (Left); Age of Farm Laborers (Right) – USDA ERS

 

Due to the first two limitations which greatly influence those willing to pursue jobs in agriculture – first by appealing only to a certain type of individual and second by creating a wide range of job alternatives – most of the farm labor force has occupied a relatively narrow demographic for quite some time and this demographic is aging. The median age of the farm workforce is now at 40, up from 36 only ten years ago. Only 16% of farm workers are under the age of 25, suggesting a general disinterest in the industry by young people (USDA, 2017). Still, history demonstrates that where there is work that Americans won’t perform, immigrants will. Looking at the current farm workforce in America, 50% are unauthorized foreign-born individuals, mainly hailing from Mexico. These individuals have historically fallen under the migrant work category, with influxes during the growing season. However, this trend is also changing. The migrant farm workforce has now shifted to a semi-settled workforce (USDA, 2017). It appears that the need for more reliable farm labor has appealed to the migrant workforce enough that they are willing to seek permanent residences in the US. And yet, this demographic faces its own set of concerning limitations that continues to threaten the stability of farm labor in America. 

Without getting into the politics of immigration and labor, it is safe to say there are a number of barriers facing our farm workforce, which seems counter intuitive considering how much American agriculture relies on these individuals. To stabilize the farm workforce and stave off further labor shortages, there are three possible arenas to focus attention. The first would be to remove barriers that face the current migrant workforce, taking advantage of the fact that there are people willing to do the jobs that most Americans no longer wish to do. The second would be to incentivize younger Americans to participate in agriculture, through increased minimum wages and other benefits. The third option, which is not so far off, is eliminating the need for a farm workforce by automating agriculture on a large scale. Below are some links to more information on the farm labor issue. You may also contact your local Extension office.

https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/farm-labor/#laborcostshare

https://arefiles.ucdavis.edu/uploads/filer_public/ad/74/ad7450e7-80ab-4cf7-a147-6b80c2e614a7/chapter_1_the_farm_labor_problem_4-4-17.pdf

Saving for the Unexpected

In Celebration of America Saves Week and Connecticut Saves Week February 25th through March 2nd, 2019

shutterstock money treeHave you ever been taken by surprise by an expense such as a car or home repair, a refrigerator that needs to be replaced immediately, or school expenses? Often we need to act quickly so that we can get to work, keep a small problem from getting bigger, or make it possible for a child to participate in school activities. Managing regular bills can be hard enough without shock of additional bills. In one of the professional development workshops I teach, I ask the participants work together in small groups to list examples of unexpected financial events in their lives and those of their clients. As you might guess, once they get started, they have no trouble creating very long lists.

Several recent studies have indicated that many of us are not prepared financially to deal with the unexpected events in our lives. The Federal Reserve Report on the Economic Well-Bing of U.S. Households in 2017 (https://www.federalreserve.gov/publications/files/2017-report-economic-well-being-us-households-201805.pdf) pointed out the 40% of households could not cover an unexpected $400 expense. DataHaven’s 2018 Community Wellbeing Survey (www.ctdatahaven.org/reports/datahaven-community-wellbeing-survey) found that 50% of Connecticut adults estimated that their savings would last less than 6 months. As challenging as it can be to deal with unanticipated bills, there are steps we can take to improve our ability to weather such events in the future.

Create an Emergency Fund

Having a cash cushion can help increase your family’s or household’s financial stability. Knowing you have money available can help reduce financial stress and give you more options for how to handle different situations.

How do I get started?

Make it your goal and develop a plan to achieve it. Even a small amount of money saved over time adds up. If you could save $10 a week for a full year, you would $520. Will you be receiving a tax refund? Plan to save at least a portion. A review of your current spending can be helpful in identifying opportunities to save money. Many of my workshop participants have suggested setting up a separate savings account specifically for this purpose. Direct deposit is an excellent way to make saving a habit.

How much money do I need in an emergency fund?

While the best answer to this question really depends on the specifics of your situation, here are a couple of suggestions. If you currently do not have money set aside for emergencies, set a goal with a dollar amount such as $500 or $1000 and timeframe by which you plan to achieve it. Identify the steps you are going to take to help you move closer to that goal. If you already have some money set aside, calculate how much money you would need to cover basic living expenses for a period of six months or possibly longer. If that amount of money seems like more than you can possibly save, do not let that be a deterrent. Break it down into a series of short-term goals. For example, focus on what you feel you can reasonably do over the next three months and keep track of your progress.

Anticipate the Unexpected—Plan!

It is human nature not to want to face certain realities. However, we could likely prepare better if we anticipated some likely events and planned how to deal with them effectively. For example, appliances have a limited life expectancy and will need repair or replacement. Tires for a car anticipated to last for an approximate amount of mileage. A home will require maintenance to its various systems. Just as a weather forecaster keeps track of different conditions to anticipate what is likely to happen with the weather, we can also do that in regard to our finances. Though we will not be 100% correct all the time, we can develop a plan to help us be better prepared.

For more information, contact Faye Griffiths-Smith, UConn Extension Personal and Family Financial Educator at faye.griffiths-smith@uconn.edu or visit www.financialliteracy@uconn.edu.

Connecticut Saves Week February 25 through March 2 is a great time to assess your savings and make plans to improve your financial security. Part of the national America Saves Campaign, the Connecticut Saves Coalition is coordinated by the UConn Extension Financial Education Program with the support of these partnering organizations: the Connecticut Department of Labor; the Connecticut Department of Banking; Connecticut State Library; Hartford Job Corps Academy; the Better Business Bureau Serving Connecticut; Human Resources Agency, Inc.; the Connecticut Association for Human Services; Chelsea Groton Bank; and others. Visit www.connecticutsaves.org.

Article by Faye Griffiths-Smith

Take the Connecticut Saves Pledge!

3 steps for saving moneyCT Saves Campaign February 24- March 2nd
Take the Connecticut Saves Pledge by texting “CTSaves” to 877877 or pledging online at www.ConnecticutSaves.org.

Save with a plan. Did you know savers with a plan are twice as likely to save successfully for things like retirement and their (or their children’s) education?

Save the easy way…automatically. Never miss a beat when it comes to saving. Make it so easy that you never have to think about it. Set aside money automatically.

Save for the unexpected. Putting aside a few dollars a week into a savings account for unexpected costs can build financial security—and relieve a lot of anxiety!

Save to retire. Studies show few Americans have adequate savings for retirement but it’s never too late or too early to start saving.

Save the extra. Did you know you’re more likely to save a windfall than a small amount consistently over time? Hack that psychology by saving your bonuses, raises and tax refunds.

Save as a family. Good saving habits start at home. Model good financial habits for your children, and teach them to do the same. Help them open their own savings accounts!

For more information please visit https://financialliteracy.uconn.edu/.

Cooking Matters

The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) helps families learn about healthy eating, shopping on a budget, cooking and physical activity. EFNEP staff strive to empower participants, providing knowledge and skills to improve the health of all family members. Participants learn through doing, with cooking, physical activity and supportive discussions about nutrition and healthy habits.

EFNEP classes will help you to prepare delicious, low-cost, healthy meals for you and your family. Some of our past classes are highlighted in this series. Contact the office near you for more information. 

EFNEPChild First Groton funded a Cooking Matters Families program open to all school age children and parents. The plan was to improve family relations and learn a skill together. UConn EFNEP worked in collaboration in the planning, marketing and executing this successful program. We were overwhelmed with responses and had to start a waiting list for further programs. The Groton Elementary School supplied a staff member who was an asset to this program in education and facilitation. During our first class we had 13 people attend: 6 parents and 7 children, ranging 4-8 years of age. The children were very involved and one boy said “This is the best day of my life,” setting the stage for the next 5 weeks of out program. The cooking facility was very small to accommodate this large group of 13 with 4-5 staff. But everyone who participated worked together to ensure safety and fun.

At the conclusion of the program the group had really grown and come together. The comments we received from the families were “The kids are helping more in the kitchen,” “We are closer as a family,” “When is the next class, we want to sign up?” ” I never thought they would eat those things.” Hearing these comments help volunteers, teachers and staff motivated to keep doing what they are doing. Watching the children eat their creations each week is a complete success in itself. ” I didn’t think I would like it but I did,” “I have never tried ground turkey before! I will use it at home.” The families were each sent home with ingredients to make the recipe again and the stories were very interesting. “We froze the ingredients so they wouldn’t go bad and made it 2 weeks later,” “We took the ingredients and some extras to make it ours.” Each week seeing the families working together as a team meant we were doing the right thing. One obstacle that occurred included fitting the class into the families’ busy schedules, with conflicts with school, work, and health issues. Working to find times that best fit everyone’s schedules helped the participants, and they felt valued by the adjustments that were made. In conclusion all the participants stated that they would attend another session, they had fun and benefited from getting to know each other better.

Improving Nutrition in New Britain

The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) helps families learn about healthy eating, shopping on a budget, cooking and physical activity. EFNEP staff strive to empower participants, providing knowledge and skills to improve the health of all family members. Participants learn through doing, with cooking, physical activity and supportive discussions about nutrition and healthy habits.

EFNEP classes will help you to prepare delicious, low-cost, healthy meals for you and your family. Some of our past classes are highlighted in this series. Contact the office near you for more information. 

dairy smoothieThe New Britain Mount Pleasant Program was a collaboration between the Family Resource Center and Housing. The program collaborators were skeptical about participant attendance and follow through. On our first session only 5 people had signed up for the nutrition class, and 18 people showed up. Each week we had a great turn out with 10 graduates attending 10 hours of education. The amazing part of the class was how many students started to make changes. For example, B, was a student who immediately began eating more vegetables. He also changed his morning bacon and sausage routine to oatmeal. He stopped drinking soda. Instead he showed up to class with his own fruit infused water. He followed my mantra of only drink water or 1 glass of milk. Another student wrote a heartfelt note thanking me for the class. She said she “suffered from depression, and had a hard time leaving the house and being around people, and class gave me something to look forward to.” She also mentioned purchasing a blender to make healthy smoothies for breakfast (another one of my recipes). The students did not want the class to end, and vowed to come back as experts in the fall when we hold another class, and made comments like ” I was inspired by your first class” and There should be more classes like this.”

The program was centered on grocery shopping – each lesson had a grocery shopping component. Students reported saving money on their groceries through the use of mobile apps we learned about in class. They also reported changes in their grocery shopping habits. As mentioned above, a direct benefit was improved dietary habits as a result of the lessons. An unintended indirect benefit was the benefit of social support from a peer group, which helped one participant with her depression. The improvement in her depression made such an impact that it motivated her to make changes to improve her dietary intake and overall health.

Online Course Catalog of Extension Programs

course catalog imageThere are more than one hundred UConn Extension specialists working throughout Connecticut. These educators are teaching and training in local communities, sharing their experience and knowledge with residents through a variety of programs. These instructional activities now will be easily accessible with the creation of an online extension course catalog.

Extension classes address a wide range of topics, including issues related to agriculture and food systems, the green industry, families and community development, land use and water, nutrition and wellness as well as numerous 4-H and youth activities. The website uses these groupings and an A to Z index so finding offerings is simple and straightforward. Each program links to a page with information on the objectives, goals, components, intended audience, the time of year and how often programs run and a link to the program’s website, that provides additional information.

As part of a nationwide network through the University of Connecticut College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, Extension professionals and trained volunteers engage the state’s diverse population to make informed choices and better decisions. The partnerships enrich our lives and our environment.

View the course catalog online at http://s.uconn.edu/courses.

Join Us for America Saves Week

America saves photoUConn Extension has partnered with America Saves Week again this year, and we are celebrating from February 27th through March 4th. Connecticut Saves Campaign is a statewide initiative to encourage Connecticut residents to take positive financial actions and save regularly to turn their dreams into reality. Here you will find workshops and events around the state, tools to help you set goals, develop strategies, and start saving. Join others from around our state in working toward achieving your financial goals. You can take the pledge online.

Let America Saves help you reach your savings and debt reduction goals. It all starts when you make a commitment to yourself to save. That’s what this pledge is all about. And it doesn’t stop there. America Saves will keep you motivated with periodic information, advice, tips, and reminders sent by email or text message to help you reach your savings goal. Think of us as your own personal support system.

UConn Extension Hosts Fall Open House

New Haven officeNorth Haven—UConn Extension’s New Haven County Extension Center invites the public to a Fall Open House on Thursday, September 15, 2016 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at 305 Skiff Street, North Haven.

The New Haven County Extension Resource Council, Inc. (NHCERC, Inc.), a volunteer organization supporting the educational outreach programs based in this center, is hosting this event. Faculty, staff, and volunteers will be available to discuss Extension outreach programs offered via this Extension Center. Brief spotlight presentations will be made on “4-H STEM Activities to Do with Kids”, “Your Garden in Fall” and “How we sometimes get sick from the food we eat”. Educational displays and materials will also on hand. At 5:45 pm there will be a very brief Annual NHCERC, Inc. Meeting followed by The Extension Volunteer Recognition Ceremony. The public is welcome to attend all or any portion of this event. Light refreshments will be available. Call 203. 407. 3160 for more information. RSVPs are appreciated.

The New Haven County Extension Center, one of eight county-based UConn Extension Centers, provides a wide variety of educational outreach programs for families and individuals, youth, staff, farmers, professionals, businesses, and social service and public agencies, among others, in New Haven County and beyond. UConn Extension faculty and staff, based in the New Haven County facility, work in fields such as 4-H youth development, food safety, master gardening, financial literacy, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), and Connecticut Fitness and Nutrition Clubs In Motion (CT FANs IM) and coastal storm preparedness. For more information, visit http://www.extension.uconn.edu/extension-centers/newHaven.php.

UConn Extension connects the power of UConn research to local issues by offering practical, science-based answers to complex problems. UConn Extension enhances small businesses, the economic and physical well-being of families and offers opportunities to improve the decision-making capacity of community leaders. Extension provides scientific knowledge and expertise to the public in areas such as: economic viability, business and industry, family and community development, agriculture and natural resources. UConn Extension brings research to real life.

UConn is an equal opportunity employer and program provider.