Extension provides help for farmers in transition
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. There's a saying in Indiana that if you don't like the weather, just wait awhile, it will change. The same could be said of farming. Unfortunately, the winds of change blowing across farmlands are stirring up a whirlwind of uncertainty.
In response to the current business climate on many family farms, Purdue University Cooperative Extension has stepped up efforts to give farmers greater access to pertinent information on how to deal with the changing circumstances in agriculture. Among the efforts: a new Internet site and the creation of five Extension transition teams across the state.
Low commodity prices, pork production contracts and genetically modified seeds are just a few of the issues that farmers are asking serious question about these days. For some, the answers aren't easy to take.
"I haven't been asked a question about pigs in a long time," says Carroll County Extension Educator Steve Nichols. "I'm dealing more with people problems these days and the pig problems were a lot easier."
Nichols, who has been an active community member in Delphi, Ind., for 22 years, says the farmers he is watching go through these tough times are also his friends. "It's hard for them to talk about the situation, but in some cases families not only farms are breaking apart."
Information on farm finances, strategic planning, family concerns and available resources are provided at Purdue Extension's new World Wide Web site called "Indiana Agriculture in Transition". The site offers a variety of publications, finance worksheets and links to additional resources that are geared toward helping farmers make decisions about the future of their farming operations.
Among the resources found at the site is "Measuring & Analyzing Farm Financial Performance," the title of a publication (EC-712) and a new Web site developed and maintained by Purdue's Department of Agricultural Economics. Farmers can access worksheets for calculating a farm's current business position and analyze how changes would affect the financial picture. Farm record summaries are also provided as tools for benchmarking farm-operation success.
Much of the additional information provided at the Web site is from a series of Extension publications called "Charting a Course for the Family Farm." Janet Bechman, Extension specialist and coordinator of the Agriculture in Transition effort, says that topics covered by the nearly 40 publications in the series include ways to maximize farm profits, grow alternative crops, renegotiate contracts and manage under times of stress.
Designed to be of help for the entire farming family, the publications also deal with family communication and ways to build bridges between farm families and their nonfarm neighbors. The publications are also available from the Extension office in each Indiana county.
In addition to the Web site and publications, teams of Extension educators have been formed across the state to provide specific resources for area farmers. Bechman says the educators are being trained to deal with a variety of concerns. "Problems on the farm affect the whole family. Each team consists of not only educators with knowledge about agriculture, but also those specializing in youth and family concerns," she says.
With a team in each of the five districts of the state, local Extension educators can contact team members on specific issues. The teams may also do programming or provide resources targeted to local concerns.
To reach the teams or for more information on the Indiana Agriculture in Transition effort, contact the Extension office in any Indiana county or Purdue Extension at 1-888-EXT-INFO.
This effort continues Extension's "Knowledge to Go" axiom, according to Purdue Extension director David Petritz. "Extension has been providing farmers the most relevant and accurate research information available since its beginning. And we always try to provide the information via the most accessible and user-friendly means possible," he says.
Petritz says helping Indiana's farm families is complicated, given the nature of farming. "We know that not everyone is in trouble and we know this is about more than dollars and cents," he says. "Farming is a way of life, and it gets tricky when your business and family are so intertwined."
Sources: Janet Bechman, (765) 494-8309; firstname.lastname@example.org
David Petritz, (765) 494-8489
Steve Nichols, (765) 564-3169
Writer: Beth Forbes, (765) 494-2722; email@example.com
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; firstname.lastname@example.org