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Cooperative Extension aids rural profitability, sustainability and success|
By Karen Tuohey Wing
| In the rural areas of Pennsylvania, Thomas Alva Edisons famous 1 percent inspiration/99 percent perspiration ratio applies not only to genius, but also to new agriculture business ventures. Penn State Cooperative Extension agents Steve Bogash in Franklin County and Lynn Kime in Adams County are trying to help take ideas from inspiration to success through a program titled Income Opportunities for Rural Areas: A Program to Invigorate New Nontraditional Agriculture Business Ventures.|
This project is designed to expose farmers and those interested in developing new agriculture-related enterprises to a number of nontraditional rural ventures, along with the tools to make them viable. Business and market planning, as well as financing methods are important facets of this program.
For the last two years, Lynn Kime, myself and representatives from Small Business Development Corporation in Kutztown, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agricultures rural development programs and Ben Franklin Technology Partners have been driving this program primarily through an annual conference, Bogash said.
Our services are tailored to entrepreneurs, he added. We discuss marketing contracts, production information, how to get your Web site off the ground, zoning issues, how to write a business plan and government regulations. We look at the harsh realities of owning a business.
Kim said, When somebody wants to start a business or diversify, they should have a business plan to see if it will be a viable plan and, if not, they can try a venture that will be more profitable.
Bogash added, I would estimate that out of every 100 people that approach us, only 3 to 5 percent start a business. We look at both groups as successful, because the ones who did the research and decided the opportunity wasnt there were able to hold onto their capital, so they can seek another enterprise that better fits their needs and resources.
Three principal groups constitute the target audience for this program. The first group consists of farmers/growers/producers. This group is seeking opportunities to diversify to remain or regain profitability.
The second group is comprised of people who were raised on farms, but have left for other opportunities and now express a desire to get back to a rural lifestyle.
The third group is made up of new landowners who are seeking productive use for land they may or may not currently live on, but may be planning to retire on in the future.
Bogash and Kime plan the conferences to touch upon issues relevant for all of these groups. During the first two years, the conference was held at the Adams County Cooperative Extension Office in Gettysburg. This year, it was moved to the Clarion Hotel in Carlisle to enable them to accommodate additional attendees. This years session featured special sessions on marketing, financing, livestock, greenhouses and other field production opportunities.
After the conference, Bogash and Kime continue their work with personalized follow-up activities, as needed, from their Cooperative Extension offices.
Were now trying to take the program to the next level by offering full enterprise support services for these new emerging businesses, Bogash said. We are working on getting grant funding from a combination of sources and hope to begin to have a full-time enterprise consultant.
Bogash and Kime also are getting more visibility for the program. They have been asked by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to attend the AGRO 2003 International Trade Show.
The programs larger goals focus on improving rural profitability and sustainability in Pennsylvania. Kimes specialty is agricultural economic development, and he brings a personal level of experience to the job.
For 15 years, I was a fruit grower in Adams county, Kime said. I know what theyre going through, because Ive been down that road.
Bogash credits much of the success of the program to the depth of resources available at Penn State.
It goes beyond the horticulture specialists to agricultural law at The Dickinson School of Law, entomology, pathology and Penn State Outreach, which provided the seed money for the program, Bogash said. Theres an awful lot within Penn State that makes this possible.
Dr. Michelle S. Rodgers, regional director for the Capital Region of Cooperative Extension and Outreach, agrees. She said, This is a great example of the multiple and varied resources that Penn State can bring to a community. This outreach effort exemplifies the unique niche that Penn State as a land-grant institution fulfills.