Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Farmer A. Greenlee’s amazingly easy steps to planning your first agribusiness

Not into research? It’s OK. A lot of folks aren’t.

Luckily, you don’t have to take traditional and non-traditional educational routes if you’re wanting to develop a lucrative agribusiness.

You don’t even have to dive knee-deep into independent fieldwork to get it off the ground, either. Cultivating top crops and services can easily become achieved if you truly take to heart what those been-there-and-done-that professionals have to say.

For you eager farming entrepreneurs ready to invest into your agricultural endeavors, there are a wealth of programs, resources and experts to help guide you. Alfred Greenlee, an Albany, Georgia, native, farmer and business professional, is one of them.

As a third-generational farmer, Greenlee owns and operates 52-acre Green Oak Farm in Dougherty County, which pasture boards horses and produces “the best hay in the state.”

Currently, Greenlee, 65, serves as president of Southern Farmers Collaborative Group in Albany. The farmer-focused group works to develop marketable farms, increase profits, improve the community’s quality of life and create learning experiences for sustainable agribusiness. He also is an advisory board member for sugar substitute Stevia.

He advocates for land-grant institution Fort Valley State University’s cooperative extension programs; supports the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group; and participates in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service cost share programs. So if you’re in search for a more direct helping hand to achieve immediate farming success, you can take away a lot from Greenlee’s agribusiness advice. Start jotting down these notes now:

STEP 1: DRAFT YOUR FARMING VISION

Whatever you see yourself producing, write it down on a piece of paper using what’s called a business model canvas (click here) to build your business model in 20 minutes.). The vision becomes that more clearer and more attainable, said Greenlee. “This plan also needs to be sustainable,” he said. “Develop an agricultural business plan that can carry over from one generation to the next. That can be accomplished with designing a business with low input that actually increases your output or dollar amount.” 

STEP 2: FORM A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR LOCAL EXTENSION

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service provides local programs and technical information to farmers — beginner to veteran — in addition to helping managers and landowners. “Working through organizations and farmers who have gone down this road repeatedly makes the process a whole lot easier,” said Greenlee. “Take advantage of your county extension agency, because it knows your area and programs that may or may not work for your business model.”

STEP 3: REVISE YOUR VISION INTO A COMPREHENSIVE PLAN

Now that you’ve talked out your business strategies with experts within the agency and understand the challenges, add missing information to your agribusiness plan. Answer questions like: Is this plan realistically possible to sustain? What extension services, programs and grants actually complement your plan? Exactly how will you manage the land financially? What challenges do you need to anticipate with producing crops (ex: land erosion)? “One of the biggest points I want new farmers to know is that not every grant or program will fit your business,” Greenlee said, “so figure out how you can create a business model that’s inclusive, connects to what’s available to help support it and keeps ‘business’ in the forefront, or it isn’t going to work.”

STEP 4: CONSIDER NEW TECHNOLOGY FOR YOUR BUSINESS 

Think about it: You’re about to embark on a venture that has the ability to become a global enterprise. One computer click and your products could receive a bulk order across the planet. “Millennials can definitely put drones, smartphones and laptops to use in this industry,” said Greenlee. “In fact, I started off with a 20-acre watermelon patch, which used field sensors to compute weather and temperature patterns so I knew the specific areas that were the driest. That’s just how powerful technology can work to make running an agricultural business a more efficient operation.”

STEP 5: PARTICIPATE IN AGRICULTURAL CONFERENCES 

A few Southern agricultural conferences speak to a broad range of agricultural topics for new and innovative rural black farmers. Attending annual conferences like the Farm, Home & Ministers’ Conference held in March at Fort Valley State University and Small Farm and Community Conference held in February in LaGrange affords opportunities to learn the dos and don’ts from small to large-size agribusiness professionals. “These types of conferences give you direct access to specialists in this line of work and learn how they’re sustaining their land, products and services,” Greenlee said. “You wouldn’t believe the insight you’re able to gain just by attending rural conferences and engaging in one-on-one talks with guest speakers and participants.”

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