Farm Viability: Small Organization, Big Impact

At its core, Farm Viability’s mission is to help New York farms become more viable. We do this through strategic management of our grant program, seeking farmer input at every step in the process to ensure the projects we fund will create and share knowledge that will quickly and directly benefit farmers.

This article was developed for the NYFVI 2018 annual report.

Farm Viability currently runs three programs and is managing around 75 active projects worth almost six million dollars.

Our core program, known as “FVI” is a competitive grant program.  The request for proposals (RFP) opens in September, and the grants are announced in the spring following the NYS budget cycle.  Projects are between $25,000 and $125,000 and have two years to complete their work.

The RFP is open to all organizations with ideas that will improve the economic viability of New York’s farms. It is not restricted to any specific commodity group, nor are the funds awarded by quota. This allows us to fund the work that is considered to have the most potential in any given year. 

Our core program seeks to fund work that will create economic impact for New York farmers. A few years ago we developed five strategic priorities for our program. They help us consider how close to near term impact a project might be. Work in the “Improving Operations” and “Route to Market” priority areas should deliver a return within the life of the grant. Other areas, such as “Incubating New Ideas” are for earlier stage work. A full description of each of the five priorities accompanies the project lists throughout this report.

To evaluate how we and our projects
are performing we track our “return on investment”.

As part of the final report, project leaders tell us:

Did the farms that participated in the project show an increase in gross revenue, a reduction in operating expenses or did they make new capital investments?  If so, how much?

Now, we know that not every project is going to have a great pay-off, and that’s okay.  Sometimes research needs to play defense against pests, and sometimes the work is at an earlier developmental stage. That said, overall the most competitive proposals are going to be the ones that are able to deliver and measure farm level economic impact.

So how are we doing? We think the system is working.
For every dollar invested in a project that has completed, seven dollars and fifty cents has gone back to the agriculture community.

The total economic return from the last 14 years of funding is now just over 140 million. That’s why we have such confidence in our program.

287 farmers are actively involved in one or more of our FVI projects across 47 counties. They could be part of the project advisory board or the trials could be taking place on their farm. (as of November 1, 2018)

A new statistic to share this year is a look at our active projects.  This map is a snapshot in time as of November 1, 2018.  It shows the 287 farmers from across the state that are actively involved in one or more of our currently active core FVI projects.  The color highlights how many farmers in each county are part of one of the research projects we’ve funded.  They might be an advisor to the project, or trials could be active on their farm.  It’s important to note that this is not a map of where one of our projects educated producers — these are the farmers that are actively involved in the project.

In case you’re wondering what’s going on in Long Island — where we have 35 producers involved — it’s a wide range of work.  GrowNYC is working with producers on how to expand into wholesale marketing, potato farmers are working with Suffolk County’s Nora Catlin to manage nitrogen, there are two projects researching vineyard management practices, a NorthEast Hops Alliance project working with a grower on developing NYS hop varietals, an IPM project working on pest management in Christmas trees, and a number of fishermen who worked with Suffolk County Cooperative Extension to build a program around increasing consumer demand for local fish.  Also at Suffolk County is a critically important project by Faruque Zaman, at work to identify alternatives to chlorpyrifos. That story is available here.

NYFVI Dairy Profit Program
We also have a dairy program providing direct service to New York dairy farms on a wide array of topics.
More information about it can be found here.

Specialty Crop Block Grant Program
Since 2014, Farm Viability has worked in partnership with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets to administer the competitive grant component of New York State’s USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

In 2018 the Farm Viability review panels scored and evaluated 20 proposals, seven were selected for funding. Currently, 18 specialty crop projects are being administered by NYFVI, utilizing funds from multiple Specialty Crop Block Grant years. More information about that program can be found here.