March 29, 2017
A series of workshops designed to help North Carolina's sweet potato and tobacco farmers maintain and improve sustainability kicked off last month with assistance from East Carolina University.
Instructors from ECU's College of Business joined event organizer N.C. State University in developing and delivering content to help large family-owned farmers strengthen their business management skills, meet the demands of the global market and gain a competitive advantage. Key topics during the five-day workshops included strategic planning, succession planning, human resources (HR) and labor management, financial management and risk management.
Curriculum for the sessions came out of a series of focus groups that included eastern North Carolina farmers.
The North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission helped fund the program.
Meeting ENC's Agricultural Needs
Dr. A. Blake Brown of N.C. State initiated the program after receiving feedback from local farmers who attended similar programs out of state. Following the support from N.C. State leadership, Brown developed this pilot program to focus on the "specialized needs of large commercial farms in the southeast."
"Southeastern agriculture is very diverse, and farms grow many specialty crops, most of which are labor and management intensive," said Brown.
"Our goal was to bring farmers together," said Sharon Justice, an instructor with ECU's business leadership and professional development program. "The program wants to provide the tactical tools and resources so our farmers can compete, be sustainable and grow their business." David Mayo, an instructor with ECU's Miller School of Entrepreneurship, joined Justice as a representative from the university.
"By collaborating with ECU's College of Business and the N.C. State Poole College of Management, I was able to leverage their strengths in management for farmers," said Brown. "Their management capabilities complement what agricultural economists from the N.C. State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences have to offer farmers."
Steven Archie Griffin, chief operations officer for Griffin Farms Inc., of Washington, attended the program because he wanted to gain insight into how other farms operate. With this new insight, in combination with materials learned during the week-long program, Griffin has already put these new lessons to work.
"We have been able to properly take a much deeper look into how our company is performing from a financial standpoint, our financial solvency and how we stand compared to others of a similar scale," said Griffin, who is a current MBA student in the College of Business.
Pattie Mills, co-owner of J.P. Davenport & Son Inc. of Greenville, also participated in the program. She was hoping to "sharpen" her business skills in areas such as finance, accounting, human resources and economics, as well as to learn about issues and changes in the local agricultural industry. Like Griffin, she quickly implemented what she learned.
"I immediately came back to the office … and began to benchmark our company financials against the data that was provided about the agricultural industry," said Mills. "I have started to reevaluate several of our HR programs and document them to make sure we are compliant in various areas."
Justice says organizers of the program, as well as farmers statewide, recognize that strengthening farming business skills will strengthen the area's economy. All involved agree that maintaining and improving the economic sustainability of these farms is critical for North Carolina's rural areas.
Looking Beyond Agriculture
According to Dr. James Kleckley, director of professional services and research for ECU's College of Business, the approach the university took in helping shape the Executive Farm Management Program is emblematic of how the university can benefit the many industries that call North Carolina home.
"The College of Business is much more than academics," said Kleckley. "Our faculty has the professional expertise to work with any industry that needs help in making an impact on their customers and their community."
No matter the size of the company or the market that company serves, the college's professional services capabilities, said Kleckley, can certainly complement any organization's needs when it comes to conducting its business.
The program will continue with a series of webinars and meetings, and a second five-day workshop is being planned for November.