What is the the Agricultural Viability Alliance?
The Agricultural Viability Alliance increases the number and economic viability of farm and food businesses by bringing together providers and organizations from across New England and New York’s Hudson Valley to address shared challenges, facilitate more uniform high-quality coverage, and more effectively share and expand limited resources.
This project serves business technical assistance providers and organizations that will ultimately support the long-term viability of farms and food enterprises in the region. In addition to our economic impact, our work also fosters a more equitable and inclusive sector that engages traditionally underserved communities, and we support and strengthen entrepreneurs who help conserve farmland and mitigate the effects of climate change for generations to come.
Farm and food businesses feed us, help keep our environment healthy, can mitigate climate change, and support our regional economy—so we need them to be viable, thriving businesses. Business technical assistance ensures they can succeed.
Formed in 2018 and initially known as “the Blueprint,” the Agricultural Viability Alliance is a burgeoning regional group of organizations and individuals united to create a singular regional association of business advisors working for farm and food businesses. Led by longtime sector experts, the Alliance is distinguished by its collaborative, forward-thinking approach to business viability for farm and food entrepreneurs: a unique regional purview, a broad collection of stakeholders, and a specific focus on this critical element of farm and food enterprise viability.
Through our work, participants will be able to deliver more uniform, high-quality services to a larger client pool, as well as share best practices, take advantage of funding opportunities, implement a comprehensive equity framework, and build a professional pipeline. In short, we are creating a more unified, efficient, and productive system.
Together, Alliance members will increase the number and economic viability of farm and food businesses by bringing together providers and organizations from across New England and New York’s Hudson Valley to address shared challenges, facilitate more and better regional service coverage, and more effectively share and expand limited resources. The Alliance also fosters a more equitable and inclusive sector that engages traditionally underserved communities and targets critical resource gaps.
Serving business technical assistance providers will ultimately support long-term farm and food-enterprise viability, enabling an abundant, equitable food system throughout our region.
How do we work?
We envision a thriving regional food system across New England and Hudson Valley, where farm and food entrepreneurs and their employees have the business knowledge necessary to both make an abundant living and contribute to the social wellbeing of their community. We envision this region and our own organization as constantly striving to overcome systemic racism and all other forms of oppression.
Our mission is to increase the number and economic viability of farm and food businesses representing the diverse populations in New England and New York’s Hudson Valley region.
In an environment of uneven access, quality, and knowledge, the Alliance’s purpose is to ensure consistent and equitable access to high-quality, culturally competent business technical assistance for farm and food entrepreneurs.
Goal and Objectives
Our goal is to establish and sustain a strong and diverse alliance of business technical assistance providers that facilitates professional development, networking, and advocacy opportunities for members while cultivating a pipeline of future service providers and securing resources to benefit the entire alliance.
Objective 1: Develop tools, events, and trainings to cultivate a robust pipeline of business advisors who will deliver best-in-class advising to today’s agricultural entrepreneurs, across all business stages, scales, types, and populations. This will include trainings on eliminating individual and institutional bias and providing cultural competent programming.
Objective 2: Develop a strong regional alliance of organizations and advisors that provide one-on-one business technical assistance and that reflect the diverse populations of the region, with opportunities for members to network, develop trusting relationships, and learn together.
Objective 3: Secure sufficient funding and other resources to ensure equitable access to one-on-one business technical assistance across the New England and Hudson Valley region.
Workforce and Professional Development Working Group
The Alliance’s Workforce and Professional Development Working Group (WFPD WG) is composed of key stakeholders who support farm and food business viability in New England and New York’s Hudson Valley. This Working Group is focused on building the pipeline of farm and food business advisors and increasing professional development opportunities for current advisors. The Workforce and Professional Development Working Group is part of the Alliance’s core structure, which includes the Working Groups, the Steering Committee, and the Executive Committee.
Workforce and Professional Development Working Group Roles and Responsibilities:
- Inform the development of a strategy to recruit new advisors and enrich current advisors
- Create a Resource Library of current professional development resources, curriculum, and opportunities
- Identify and define core competencies for business advisors
- Assess the need for and feasibility of a certification program
- Explore strategies to recruit non-agricultural business advisors
- Conduct outreach to potential feeder programs and networks
- Support the development of a community of practice
Resource Development and Policy Working Group
The role of the Alliance’s Resource Development and Policy Working Group (RDPWG) is to guide the development process for the backbone organization and to increase sources for one-on-one business assistance across the region. The Working Group’s plans will encompass philanthropic, federal, and state sources, as well as membership and contributions from businesses. Individual members may focus on only one area and may primarily participate as a member of a sub-working group, or “Task Force.” The Working Group will focus on high-level strategy as well as implementation.
The Resource Development and Policy Working Group is part of the Alliance’s core structure along with the Steering Committee and the Executive Committee. A Steering Committee member will serve as chair or co-chair of the Working Group, or serve as a liaison between the Working Group and the Steering Committee. The Working Group will include at least one person from each of the Task Forces, as needed, to help ensure a coherent strategy.
Resource Development and Policy Working Group Roles and Responsibilities
- Provide feedback into the long-term and annual philanthropic resource development plans and membership
- Expand state and federal resources for business and technical assistance to farmers in addition to supporting the backbone organization
- Open doors and provide connections to prospective philanthropic funders
- Serve as ambassadors for the Alliance
- Make connections with capital providers and private investors
- Identify potential corporate and business partnerships
- Coordinate action on the inclusion of farm viability language in federal legislation
- Explore and identify alternative federal funding for farm viability
- Align work with the Communications Working Group and with the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion framework
Alliance Advocacy Efforts
Federal support for business technical assistance (BTA) has been piecemeal to date through a variety of programs including:
- USDA’s Rural Business Development Grants, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program,
- The Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (the 2501 Program), and
- Others through the Small Business Administration and the Northern Border Regional Commission.
With no funding source dedicated specifically to BTA, service providers primarily rely on inconsistent, small, and short-term grants that limit their ability to deliver services and meet growing demand.
Farm and food businesses are subject to the same challenges faced by other entrepreneurs, in addition to unique concerns like the technical aspects of production and the need to adapt to a changing climate.
A set-aside of $300 million for multi-year BTA grants by USDA using American Rescue Plan Act funding would lay the foundation for a more resilient food system.
The Coronavirus pandemic has thrown into stark relief the longstanding systemic weaknesses of our food system, including the lack of these fundamental business skills. Business technical assistance can serve as a critical tool for building these businesses back better than ever.
Alliance Advocacy Case Statement
While some additional funding has been made available for BTA as part of COVID-19 relief, demand for BTA is still far greater than the available supply. According to a 2019 survey, Maine farmers “expressed the greatest desire for support to meet their day-to-day business needs,” including business planning, marketing support, and professional services such as financial planning and farm transition. A recent Alliance survey found that regional BTA offerings were not uniformly available, with some services, such as succession planning, being offered only by a single provider. Additionally, of 37 providers surveyed, the majority dedicates less than half their budgets to one-on-one services, and 73 percent were only able to provide one-on-one services to 50 or fewer clients annually. Across the region, the demand for BTA strongly outpaces the supply.
Federal support for BTA has been piecemeal to date through a variety of programs including USDA’s Rural Business Development Grants, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (the 2501 Program), and others through the Small Business Administration and the Northern Border Regional Commission. With no funding source dedicated specifically to BTA, service providers primarily rely on inconsistent, small, and short-term grants that limit their ability to deliver services and meet growing demand. A robust, dedicated source of federal funding could enhance the capacity of service providers to meet more need and better support the farm and food businesses that bolster rural economies, protect the environment, and stabilize our food system.
Alliance Statement: Climate and Technical Assistance
Regardless of sector, farmers report a significant need for expanded one-on-one business and technical assistance to ensure they can weather the economic storms created by climate impacts. Less than half of farmers from any sector in the studies cited believed they had the business or technical knowledge to implement effective farm adaptation and mitigation strategies and plan their finances accordingly. Access to microloans and capital investments, with one-on-one advising to ensure successful implementation, was listed as a key need for future farming success. If we want to ensure that our farmers in New England and the Hudson Valley not only survive but also thrive in the face of climate change, we must use policy to expand one-on-one advising resources—especially to farmers who have been historically shut out of resources.
2019 State of the Sector Report
In 2019, the Alliance sought to learn more about our sector—specifically, what business development services for farm and food businesses are available in New England and New York’s Hudson Valley, who provides them, and who benefits. We also wanted to learn more about the entities doing the work to better understand how the Alliance can support expansion of one-on-one business technical assistance throughout the region. Our resulting survey received 37 responses from nonprofits, cooperative extensions, state agencies, private consultants, capital providers, and more. Services were provided to small and mid-size family farms, as well as other food enterprises, and these services included feasibility and planning support, marketing, accounting and taxes, legal and estate planning, and access to capital. The availability of specific services, however, varied by stage of business as well as by geography. This report summarizes our findings.
● Business advisors offer a wide range of types of assistance, but many of the available options are not uniformly available across the field or to businesses at every stage.
● Most respondents offer less than 21 total hours of one-on-one business technical assistance to each client in 2018.
● Nearly half of the organizational respondents have an annual budget of $1 million or more; however, among all respondents, most use less than half of their budgets for one-on-one business technical assistance. In fact, 41 percent use less than a quarter of their budgets for this purpose.
● Tracking of demographic information about their clients and program participants varies across respondents and offers an incomplete overall view of clients’ races, ages, incomes, and genders.
● Respondents track a diverse array of outcomes to assess their programs’ and their clients’ successes.