Professional Development Program






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Unit 1: Planning and Business Development

Planning Options

You may be familiar with several conventional planning terms used in farming today: strategic planning, financial planning and business planning. However, some relatively new methods and accompanying terminology have emerged from the sustainable farming community over the past 20 years. Two of these methods, in particular, have stuck: Holistic Management® and whole farm planning. The major difference between these two planning methods and the conventional planning practices mentioned above is that the new methods place environment/ecological benefits and society/quality of life on equal footing with economics, marketing and operations. Click on each term below to learn more about different planning methods.

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is a problem solving process based on the farmer’s or rancher’s future vision and goals. Production, marketing and financing alternatives are identified to move the business beyond its current situation toward that vision. All plans are thoroughly evaluated for feasibility. Heavy emphasis typically is given to financial feasibility. In short, strategic planning is identified with the “how” questions.

Financial Planning

Financial planning naturally centers on the assessment of financial goals and performance. It includes budgeting for current expenses and forward planning to determine future cash flow, financing requirements, returns on investment, income potential and equity growth. Financial planning places great emphasis on recordkeeping as a risk management and tax planning tool. There are many resources available to assist farmers with financial planning:

Federal Risk Management Agency
Small Business Administration and other state-level small business centers
Center for Farm Financial Management in Minnesota

Business Planning

Business planning is perhaps the most comprehensive and detailed of the three conventional planning practices. It is an on-going process that answers all three questions: What is your current situation? What is your future vision? How will you get there? Elements of strategic and financial planning are fundamental to business planning. However, at the end of the business planning process, the business owner or manager usually develops a written business plan. While business planning has traditionally focused on financials and marketing, it need not be limited to these areas. An excellent resource for farmers on developing a business plan is the publication Building A Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses, available in three formats:

This guide provides text, worksheets and business planning examples from real farms and can be used by individuals or as part of a workshop training.

Whole Farm Planning

There is no one source credited with the origins of whole farm planning and it has been described many different ways. Generally, whole farm planning is similar to business planning in that it is comprehensive. It is most often characterized as a combination of: goal setting, resource inventory and assessment, action plans, and monitoring. However, whole farm planning is different from other planning processes in its emphasis on quality of life and land stewardship. There are a variety of publications and resources that describe whole farm planning. A good summary is presented in:
Introduction to Whole Farm Planning: Combining Family, Profit and Environment. Workshops are offered by several organizations such as the Land Stewardship Project, Cultivating Success, and Growing Farms.

Holistic Management ®

Holistic Management (HM) ® was first developed by Allan Savory in 1984 and is now well-known among the sustainable farming community. HM ® is a comprehensive farm planning tool that addresses the farm, family and community as an integrated whole. The approach begins with defining and working toward a comprehensive family goal, including quality of life, forms of production and a vision of the farm and community. From there, managers develop a plan for reaching their comprehensive goal and conclude by answering seven questions designed to evaluate their ideas and potential for success. Savory has collaborated on several publications, including Holistic Management ®: A New Framework for Decision-Making; Holistic Management ® Handbook and Holistic Management ® Financial Planning Software, all of which are appropriate for individual or group instruction. The Holistic Management ® International organization also offers on-site training courses.

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