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Johnny Barnes, who helped create the Executive Farm Management Program, with his tobacco farm manager Bryan Salmons. Salmons is taking part in the program's inaugural class.

Executive program helps farmers manage complex, large-scale operations

The science, technology and business of farming in the 21st century are changing rapidly, and to compete on a global scale, farmers need to know not just how to grow a good crop but how to effectively lead complex, management-intensive operations.

The science, technology and business of farming in the 21st century are changing rapidly, and to compete on a global scale, farmers need to know not just how to grow a good crop but how to effectively lead complex, management-intensive operations.

That’s why NC State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has teamed with East Carolina University’s College of Business and the Center for Innovation Management Studies in NC State’s Poole College of Management to launch a new Executive Farm Management Program.

Blake Brown, CALS’ Hugh C. Kiger professor of agricultural economics and a specialist with NC State Extension, organized the program and said that the “unique collaboration … creates a strong curriculum” to help farmers build the specialized agribusiness management skills they need to successfully run large-scale commercial farms.

“NC State’s Center for Innovation Management Studies adds new and innovative methods in strategic planning, while ECU’s College of Business brings strong program in human-resources management and family business succession planning,” Brown said. “CALS’ Agricultural and Resource Economics Department brings the strength of agricultural economics and a strong connection to the farm sector.”

The program was funded in part by a grant from the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission and with gifts from farmers Johnny Barnes of Spring Hope and Richard Anderson of Nashville. It started in February with an intensive, five-day workshop on such topics as strategic planning, financial management, human resource and labor issues, and management style. It will wrap up with another five-day workshop in November.

Each month in between the workshops, participants connect with each other and with university faculty through one-hour online sessions on topics ranging from the impact of mergers and acquisitions in the agriculture industry to tax management.

While the first year’s program is tailored to North Carolina sweet potato and tobacco farmers, Brown said subsequent programs will likely focus on different segments of the agricultural industry and be open to farmers from throughout the Southeast.

In addition, participants have the chance to obtain business planning for their farms through the program, Brown said.

Altogether, representatives of 21 farms that grow 31,000 acres of sweet potatoes – a fifth of the nation’s crop – and 11,000 acres of tobacco signed up, Brown said.

Barnes, who has been to farm management programs in other states, said he especially appreciates the targeted focus of the NC State-ECU program.

“Unlike growers in the Midwest and Great Plains, who can have highly mechanized farms with tens of thousands of acres of one or two crops, many of us are managing, financing and running operations based on specialty crops and labor-intensive crops,” Barnes said. “We needed a program targeted to the challenges we face.”

Bryan Salmons is one of two farm managers Barnes sent to the program. Salmons said that business plans weren’t even a consideration when he was growing up on his grandfather’s farm near Swansboro, and while he has a degree in business management from High Point University, he appreciated the opportunity to get a fresh perspective.

“The people who are teaching the workshops don’t necessarily have farming backgrounds – they were mostly in public companies – and that puts a twist on it and makes you think outside the box,” he said. “I also appreciate getting to meet people who are also working on tobacco and sweet potatoes but have a wide range of other crops.”

Salmons said he expects that his participation in the program will go a long way in helping with both his day-to-day management work and with longer-term business planning.

Meanwhile, Bill Teague, chairman of the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission’s board of directors, said he expects that the program will have an impact beyond the farms represented, helping strengthen the state’s rural economy.

“These agriculture leaders,” he said, “will certainly take new ideas back to their farms that will benefit not only all aspects of their farming operation but also the communities they are in.”

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