In 2013, the Community Food & Agriculture Coalition developed Planning for On-Farm Success, a business planning curriculum for Montana’s farmers.  Since then, with help from MSU Extension, the National Center for Appropriate Technology, and other partners, the curriculum has been improved and enhanced, becoming a great tool for beginning farmers and ranchers across the state. last updated 2018

This curriculum is targeted for producers selling through direct markets. This could include farmers and ranchers selling through typical direct markets like farmers’ markets, Community Supported Agriculture, stores, or restaurants, as well as producers selling through wholesale venues that allow them to participate in price setting or adding value. This could include producers of vegetables, fruits, dairy, meat, fiber, grain, and other products.

Use the links in the headings below to access specific modules of the curriculum. For a digital copy of the full curriculum, email Mary. In each module, worksheets are provided to assist with thinking through the various topics covered. All of these are enhanced by “Stories from the Fields,” real stories from Montana producers who have encountered these same challenges and questions.

Module 0: Introduction

Module 0 includes considerations that may encourage you to go through the business planning process, along with a worksheet to help you think through your motivations and goals in the planning process.

Module 1: Strategic Planning

Module 1 walks through the process of identifying why you want to farm, including clarifying your values and goals – key tools in decision-making and planning. Module 1 also includes a Business Model Canvas that can help you to get the basics of your plan onto paper, as well as sections that will walk through some of the details not covered elsewhere, such as considering your production practices, resource needs, and workforce needs.

Module 2: Researching Your Market

This module is focused on three primary market issues: your customers, competition, and the channels you’ll use to get your product to market. It also contains helpful tips on conducting market research and analyzing your competitive advantage, as well as the pros and cons of various marketing channels.

Module 3: Farm Marketing & Promotion

Once you know your customers, competition, and channels, how will you demonstrate what makes your product unique?  This module covers ways to identify your products’ unique characteristics and market based on those qualities. It also covers pricing and includes a Marketing Implementation Planning tool.

Module 4 Managing Your Finances

This module gets in depth on the essential financial statements and how and when to use them, including a glossary of financial terms. It also includes tips on estimating your costs and income, and setting up effective record-keeping systems.

Module 5: Financial Decision-Making

Module 5 covers ratios that you can use to evaluate your financial performance, break even tools that help you identify the balance point between your production levels and your prices, and partial budgeting and ROI tools to assist with decision-making.

Module 6: Financing

This module includes a thorough discussion of where to start when planning for financing your farm, with a glossary of a wide array of conventional and alternative financing types. It also notes specific funding opportunities available in Montana, tips on what to expect when meeting with a lender, and tools for making decisions on your financing options.

Module 7: Risk Management

Module 7 includes a broad assessment of agricultural risks that you may face and tools for planning for and around those risks. It also includes discussions on insurance, food safety, organizational structures, and the steps to starting a business in Montana.

Module 8: Land Access

This module includes tips and ideas on how to find and evaluate land, including a wide array of alternative land arrangements. The module concludes with a section on writing a good lease and calculate fees, along with a sample lease to get you started.

Appendix: The Business Plan

The Business Plan Appendix outlines the parts of a business plan and includes tips and common pitfalls to be avoided in the business plan writing process. Once you have completed modules one through seven, you will have a start in each section of the business plan, and the appendix shows you how to put it all together.