For the past 16 years, the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has housed the Northeast Extension Risk Management Education Center, a center focused on providing public and private sector organizations with funding for educational projects designed to improve the ability of agricultural producers to effectively manage the complex risks associated with their agribusinesses.
The center — one of four regional centers serving the United States as well as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa — is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and its responsibility spans 12 states from Maine to West Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia.
A key feature of the producer-focused program is that it is “results-based” – awards are made to projects that clearly identify risk management results for the participants.
The results are the specific, measurable and verifiable risk management outcomes that producers will understand, analyze, develop, decide or implement in managing their agribusinesses, and which will ultimately enhance their economic viability.
Laurie Wolinski, center director, said that the center usually funds 12-16 projects a year with $50,000 being the maximum that can be awarded to a particular project.
“We conduct a competitive grant program that awards funds to educators in the region for delivering risk management education to farmers and producers,” said Wolinski. “When the grants are written, the applicants need to demonstrate the type of measurable impacts that will be recognized by producers in the region to ultimately improve their economic viability.”
Projects are funded for an 18-month cycle with a typical timeframe of April 1 through Sept. 30 the following year.
One such project that was funded in 2015 was led by Dan Severson, a Cooperative Extension agent for New Castle County.
Severson led a needs assessment project with Susan Garey, extension agent, for back yard small ruminant farmers in the state to learn how they could help their clientele be better producers.
“First we sent out a survey through the Delaware Veterinary Association to see how many veterinarians are willing to work on small ruminants. Then we sent out a needs assessment to our producers to see what they would like to have more education on, and it came back that they needed basic veterinary skills,” said Severson. “We did a series of lecture-based workshops and then we did some hands-on workshops where producers actually got to work with sheep.”
Severson said that using the funds from the center was a huge help as it allowed him to focus on the workshops and not worry about budget constraints.
“I didn’t have any problems working with the center. After you did your proposal they let you do your thing, so we’re hoping to use the exploratory grant to apply for a larger grant in the future to basically elaborate or put together a curriculum for small ruminants. I’d just say if you haven’t applied for one, it’s well worth your time. I found the application process simple and straight forward,” said Severson.
Wolinski said that the center’s focus and resources are important because of all the uncertainties that are involved with farming.
“The uncertainties involved require all types of risk management. Everything from weather and input prices, to marketing and profitability, changing technology and regulations to farm transition – a topic that can be especially challenging for families to address. There are just so many different aspects of agricultural risk management,” said Wolinski.
In addition to Wolinski, the center is staffed by Susan Olson, program coordinator, and Michelle McCullough, administrative assistant.
The center was founded by H. Don Tilmon, a retired Cooperative Extension farm management specialist and professor.
Article by Adam Thomas
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