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- Show Notes
On this episode, Johanna Rohrer interviews Raechel Sattazahn, Knowledge Center Director from AgChoice Farm Credit. She introduces the AgBiz Masters program and discusses the benefits of enrolling in the course. Raechel also gives an overview of the program components and identifies key farm financial skills participants can expect to takeaway.
Raechel and her husband operate a dairy in partnership with their family in Womelsdorf, PA. She is a proud mom, dairy farmer, and agricultural enthusiast known for developing farm business tools to help support the future of agriculture.
This is our first episode in our Young, Beginning, Small (YBS) Farmer Podcast Series, where we’ll explore helpful resources and different types of agriculture! Subscribe for email alerts to stay in the know at mafc.com/podcast.
Welcome to the Farm Credit AgVocates Podcast. I'm your host, Johanna Rohrer, Outreach and Educational Program Specialist here at Farm Credit. Joining me today is Raechel Sattazahn, Knowledge Center Director from AgChoice Farm Credit.
Rachel and her husband operate a dairy farm in partnership with their family in Womelsdorf, PA. She's a proud mom, dairy farmer, and agricultural enthusiast. As the Knowledge Center Director, she develops farm business resources and tools to help support the future of agriculture. Please help me welcome Raechel to the podcast.
It's great to chat with you here today.
It’s great to talk with you.
We're going to talk about all things AgBiz Masters. Can you give us a little insight on what is AgBiz Masters?
What is AgBiz Masters?
AgBiz Masters is one of my favorite topics to talk about, so I am glad that we can discuss it here today. AgBiz Masters is a learning series for young and beginning farmers. It was actually created back in 2010 and is still going strong 12 years later. The program itself teaches young and beginning farmers business and financial management concepts. It includes everything from business planning, putting together a balance sheet, and communication tips.
The main program content is offered through online modules with supplementary webinars and meetings. We invite speakers to the meetings and walk through case studies to further expand on the content from the modules. The program is offered through a network of agricultural organizations across Pennsylvania and other Mid-Atlantic states with Farm Credit providing the main program administration and support.
Each year we probably have between 150 to 200 or more young and beginning farmer participants in the program. That really showcases the need to teach the business aspect of farming.
We see that a lot with young and beginning farmers. It's not only learning the production piece, but also learning the farm business management piece as well.
I'm curious who can participate in AgBiz Masters?
Who can participate in AgBiz Masters?
The program is targeted for young and beginning farmers. We consider young to be 35 years old or younger, and beginning to have 10 years or less farming experience. We’ve been pretty flexible in those definitions. If you're a farmer and you think you could benefit from business and financial management education, we'd encourage you to enroll. We've had other farmers that don't fit those definitions participate and it's okay. It’s geared toward that audience, but we're open to anyone that could benefit from the program.
I think it is important to share that the program itself is open to all commodity areas and all aspects of agriculture. We were actually very deliberate about that when we created the program many years ago. There's a lot of benefits to having all facets of agriculture represented and you can learn from one another.
I know a lot of programs are more segmented by your commodity area, but when it comes to business and financial management concepts, it doesn't matter what commodity you have. A lot of those principles are still the same. I think a strength of the program is that our dairy farmer participants have an opportunity to speak with someone who is a logger or has an orchard. They are all able to learn from one another.
I think when you work with young and beginning farmers, one of the things that they enjoy is actually learning from each other. It’s cool to see a diverse group of commodities and participants from across the region represented in the program. I think that's something that's really special about the program.
Why should a new and beginning farmer decide to enroll?
I think we need to recognize that running a farm is much more than just the production aspects of farming. There’s certainly a lot of classes and course work out there on how to milk the cows or how to grow the crop. AgBiz Masters has its niche by teaching business and financial management concepts. The program is suitable for any educational degree because it really takes a hands on approach to the application of the concepts.
I went to Penn State, took a lot of agribusiness classes and even have my master's degree, but I still enjoy sitting through the AgBiz Masters classes. It’s different when you're operating your own business and have your own numbers to apply to the concepts, rather than conceptual terms in a classroom setting. I can feel the hands on application, meeting the young and beginning farmers and encouraging learning the business side.
A lot of our participants may be in a family farm business and haven't had the opportunity to see the books yet. We've had a number of participants that have said the course actually has helped them to ask their parents to see the books. Applying what they are learning in AgBiz Masters to their real life books helped to get experience and exposure with the finances of their family business.
Besides the technical aspects, the program does offer a lot of networking opportunities. The class has participants from across the industry. You hear about other challenges and learn that everyone experiences similar challenges as well. If you are interested in loans from Farm Service Agency, the program also meets the FSA borrower training requirements in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. It offers the opportunity to check the box for the borrower education training requirements that are required through FSA.
They are certainly some strong selling points as to why you might be interested in enrolling in a program like this. It's a unique program that offers farmers the opportunity to come together for instruction, then apply it to their home operation and open up conversations within their farm businesses.
Is there an enrollment fee?
Is there an enrollment fee?
There is an enrollment fee to the AgBiz Masters program. Each year we've held that steady at $225. The program is structured as a two years at $225 for each year. Any young or beginning farmer can have their enrollment fee reimbursed due to the generous support of Farm Credit.
Once the program is fully complete, AgChoice Farm Credit and MidAtlantic Farm Credit will reimburse the participants. It's Farm Credit's way of supporting young and beginning farmers doing the education, but also having them have some skin in the game as well. They pay the $225 fee up front, but get that back when they complete the program.
It’s important to remember that you do get reimbursed once you go through the program and fulfill all of the objectives in the program, that even though there is a fee. It’s really a win-win for young beginning farmers.
What topics can participants expect to learn?
What can participants expect to learn?
The program is separated into two years of the programs that spans a wide range of important business and financial management topics. We’ve had people in the program who are not part of a farming operation yet, but want to want to get started. AgBiz Masters is a great place to start for business exposure.
The main program content is 10 actual modules. They cover everything from mega trends in agriculture, strategic business planning, preparing for your lender, constructing a balance sheet, income statement, cash flow projection, and understanding lending decisions. Farm Credit shares a lot of information about that, which is very eye opening to the participants. There's a module about farm business management factors and benchmarks. We cover growth and transition management, personal financial management, vacations, ethics and leadership. A lot of different areas that cover all aspects of agriculture, no matter what type of farm business that you might be operating.
Lots of good topics that are spread out. This helps to navigate the learning process on the online modules and in-person learning navigates the application process.
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What is the commitment like to successfully complete the program?
What time commitment is required to be successful?
I tell prospects that are interested in AgBiz Masters that it is not a huge time commitment, but you need to make it a priority. I think that goes for any educational program that you might take. You need to take the time for it. The modules and activities take one to two hours apiece. If you’re doing five modules throughout a single winter, it’s not a huge commitment. We know it's easy to put it off and farm life happens, so setting aside the time to do it can be a challenge.
The great part about the modules themselves is they're available online, so you can access them whenever works for you. We host webinars and meetings that tend to be partial day events. Participants are invited to attend in person, but we have an online option because we know it can be hard to get away. It’s important to make the program a priority and set time aside for the coursework. The program is very doable and achievable.
I know you've been involved with the program for a really long time.
What do you hope participants will gain from the program?
What do you hope participants will gain from the program?
I really hope participants gain confidence in managing the business side of their farm operation. It's hard even when we're going through the modules, some of our participants don’t really fully grasp making the accrual adjustment. That's one of the things that we talk about in one of the modules. They get the concept, but don’t feel that they can do it themselves each year. Once you get the general concept, you will gain the confidence as well.
That's another thing that the course teaches you is you don't need to know everything. Learn who you can lean on and who your network is. Engaging with an accountant, a loan officer, other consultant types or industry professionals teaches you what questions to ask. The exposure of knowing what questions to ask and what they would be looking for is extraordinarily beneficial. Our businesses run best when we leverage others to help us and farming is no different than that. I really hope that participants gain confidence and exposure from the program.
I think it's good to be reminded. I think the program does a good job at surrounding participants with resources. As the program grows over the two year period of time, you might start to reflect and realize that you need to connect with an accountant or you need to ask for help or expertise. I think that's a good reminder that we don't need to know everything, but making sure we have resources of people there to help us is important.
What's your favorite participant story or success story from the program?
What's your favorite success story from the program?
We’ve had a number of participants over the years that the program has really helped them either get started or transition into a family business. The one that I want to share with today's listeners is a participant that we had several years back who actually started a nonprofit organization for youth. That nonprofit helps to expose youth to agriculture. She brings students from inner city Harrisburg out to the farm. The students learn how to grow, prepare, and market food, and the business aspects behind it. Hearing her story and the greater impact that she's having on agriculture is just so inspiring.
She has said a number of times how AgBiz Masters helped her really understand the importance of the business side of an agricultural operation. In turn, she has then turned that into helping her students understand as well. As part of a nonprofit, she has the students understand the numbers, costs and what the income is. She is teaching them all aspects of farming. She just really sticks out in my head as an AgBiz Masters alumni.
The other great thing about the program is that participants can go back and improve their operation and grow their business. To me, that’s what gets me excited about AgBiz Masters and why I love sharing about the program and the impact that it can have not only today, but down the road as well.
What a great, impactful story.
The program's been running for a number of years and has had many alumni that have graduated from it. They're able to go back into their communities and be better farmers and business owners. That's really exciting. It makes such a great impact on their communities. I love that story. Thanks for sharing that.
If somebody's interested in participating in the program, where can they find more information?
Where can you find more information?
The information is on the program website, agbizmasters.com.. We typically host the classes through the winter months when we hope farmers have a little bit more time on their hands. We are actually wrapping up a class right now. We intend to kick off the program again later this year with kicking off recruitment in the late summer timeframe. The program will be held again next year.
Farm Credit is who Johanna and I work for, are huge supporters and sponsors of AgBiz Masters. Loan officers or others that you might be interacting with from Farm Credit are very familiar with the program too, so I encourage you to talk with a Farm Credit loan officer about it. We also have a number of partner organizations, so other agricultural organizations who help promote the AgBiz Masters program and have done so for years. They are also great resources too, but really the main program website is agbizmasters.com to learn more information.
As young and beginning farmers make their start, what's some good business management practices that you encourage?
What are some recommended business management practices?
I encourage all farmers, but especially young and beginning farmers to network and learn from others. There's so much good that others are doing. I don't think we take enough time to learn from others and how we can adjust that to our operations. I really think making connections is really important. AgBiz Masters also supports that concept of pulling folks from across the industry and learning from one another.
The other recommendation I would have for young or beginning farmers is to set time aside to work on the actual business aspect of farming. The paperwork, managing employees and some of those other pieces all go along with farming that are so critical to your farm business. It’s important to dedicate time and resource to the business side, as well as the production side.
Great advice. As we wrap up today, we ask all our guests our sign off question.
What do you advocate for in agriculture?
What do you advocate for in ag?
I advocate for agriculture because it's really what I love. I was born and raised on a farm. My husband and I now farm with his family. I believe that all of us in agriculture really do have a role and a responsibility for advocating for our industry. There are so many people out there that are unaware of agriculture, what we do, what's involved, and how their food is grown. I think we all need to carve out more time to figure out what more you can do. If we don't do it, who else is going to advocate for us? I think there's opportunity there in sharing our story.
I appreciate joining you here today to talk about AgBiz Masters, but more importantly, how all of us collectively in agriculture really work together for this greater purpose.
I know you and I share a common bond growing up and being still involved with family farm operations. I find this conversation so valuable for our young and beginning farmers. I appreciate you taking time to join me today. For more information about AgBiz Masters, visit ww.agbizmasters.com.
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