Third-generation farmer Linwood Scott learned everything he knows about growing tobacco, sweet potatoes, corn, soybeans and wheat from his father and grandfather – and that presented a problem.
“Farming has changed a lot from the time my grandfather and father were involved until now,” he says. “What it takes to manage a farm today is totally different – and it keeps changing fast.”
“It didn’t take much of a sales pitch for me to realize I needed to be involved,” Scott says.
N.C. State introduced the Executive Farm Management program to help farmers running large operations that produced high-value, management-intensive crops to address management challenges. In 2017, the pilot program was open to North Carolina tobacco and sweet potato growers; 24 producers signed up representing 17 operations. The program expanded to include growers from South Carolina and Georgia, with gross receipts ranging from $1 million to $100 million in 2019.
Although the program was modeled after The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers (TEPAP), a similar initiative offered through Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, it incorporated some significant differentiators. The six-week program put on by N.C. State is taught across three sessions in three states and, instead of a lecture series, it teaches core business principles through a case-study model. Producers work in teams, using skills from courses in strategic planning, human resources, supply chain, marketing and risk management to address fictional (but fact-based) case studies.
“The case study mirrored the challenges of a lot of operations in our area, including ours,” Scott says. “It gave us the chance, as participants, to work through some real-life issues.”
The N.C. State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences partnered with N.C. State Extension, Poole College of Management, Clemson Cooperative Extension, ECU College of Business and the UGA Cooperative Extension to develop the interactive, highly facilitated curriculum.
By the end of the program, Michelle Grainger, managing director of the Executive Farm Management program at N.C. State, hopes producers have the confidence and competence to take the tools provided in the classroom and apply them on their farms.
“These are farmers who are accustomed to thinking outside the box and pushing the envelope in their operations,” Grainger says. “We are providing the knowledge and skills to ensure that they can continue to grow and be profitable.”
Blake Brown, a professor of agriculture and resource economics and director of the Executive Farm Management program, believes North Carolina was the ideal location to launch the program because the state is home to a large concentration of successful family farms with huge potential for growth – as long as producers have the right tools to address their struggles with human resources, and financial and risk management that could hamper their success.
Putting the Program Into Practice
“These farmers are managing sophisticated operations and want to continually learn how to improve,” Brown says. “They love the hands-on curriculum and see the value that N.C. State can provide to their operations.”
Though the program is still in its infancy, Grainger has heard from multiple past participants who have already put the tools into action. Corbett Brothers Farms in Lake Park, Georgia, partnered with distributors to introduce two new products into stores – a move the producers attributed to their participation in the Executive Farm Management program.
See more: North Carolina’s Top 10 Ag Commodities
At Scott Farms, Scott moved several employees into new roles that played to their strengths and used new metrics to make management decisions, explaining, “As a farmer, our first thought is how to grow better crops and be more efficient, but the program taught us to think outside the box and start to look at our whole operation differently.”
Scott was so impressed with the program that he encouraged others in leadership positions at Scott Farms to attend; in 2019, three managers signed on to participate.
“We all have different strengths and weaknesses, and making it all work together can be a challenge,” Scott says. “The program helped us develop the skills we needed to manage the operation so it continues to grow and prosper for future generations.”