Grower experience affects business education needs for a profitable specialty crop farm operation in the central United States
Keywords:beginning farmers, specialty crop, educational needs, online focus groups, small farms, business education
Beginning and small-scale growers face significant challenges to maintain their economic sustainability, including maintaining a sufficient level of income. Despite this growing problem, there is little information currently available on what kind of education and/or skills beginning farmers need in order to make their operations profitable. The primary objective of this study was to conduct a needs assessment based on grower feedback to inform business education curricula for beginning small-scale specialty crop producers. We also compared the business skills, resources and obstacles that experienced and beginning small-scale specialty crop farmers viewed as necessary to be successful. A mixed-methods design was conducted in Kansas and Missouri. Electronic survey (n=106) results suggested that farmers place high emphasis on all standard business education curricula. However, perception of resources surrounding these skills were mostly neutral to unsatisfied. Responses differed among the types of farmers, indicating years of experience, status and ownership can impact the perception of skill importance and satisfaction of resources. Furthermore, a series of four asynchronous and synchronous online focus groups (n=24) revealed themes on business skills, obstacles to profitability, resources and desired courses surrounding business education. These findings can help provide educators a better idea of what beginning small-scale specialty crop farmers need for business education. Curricula developed from this data could promote farmer business literacy and ultimately improve farm business viability.