Although I have “termed out” of the Farm Viability Board of Directors, I continue to be passionate about the organization and the value it provides for New York’s farmers. I would like to reiterate why this organization is so important, and why it is the right investment for agriculture research dollars. It’s about the four F’s: Farmers, Focus, Flexibility and the Future.
Farmers. Farmers are built into the entire process. Farm Viability’s goal is to continually connect the real world experience and needs of the New York’s farmers to the tremendous expertise of our project applicants.
As I have said many times, the board is all farmers, and the proposals are evaluated by farmer review panels. It’s important to realize the connection goes much deeper. Within each proposal, grant applicants are asked to share how farmers will be involved in the work. Are they on an advisory board? Will the work be trialed on their farm, or will they participate in the outreach? The evaluation and scoring system favors projects that demonstrate that farmers think the work is important and that farmers will be involved. We call it the producer involvement score.
Focus. The second F, is focus. As an organization, we use an Outcomes focused funding model. This approach, and the structure of our application, leads to proposals that have clear outcomes in mind as the research or education is considered and planned.
It’s easy to develop a proposal that focuses on what you are planning to do. It’s harder to develop a proposal that puts a stake in the ground and offers performance targets that say what the work will achieve.
This model asks researchers to connect their work to the long term economic improvement of New York farmers. In late stage applied research those links are easy to measure. Did the yield increase? Or did the input costs go down?
If an applicant is interested in earlier stage work, a strong proposal will usually include an economic analysis of the production process being developed. This demonstrates that they share our focus on creating profitability in the long term.
Flexibility. And while we’re focused, it doesn’t mean we aren’t flexible, and that flexibility makes us pretty nimble.
Over the years, Farm Viability has demonstrated its common sense approach and ability to move quickly. We’ve helped project leaders respond to emerging threats, such as the recent allium leaf miner, as well as provided the researchers the opportunity to seek federal funds with our matching dollars.
The other aspect of flexibility is our commitment to funding projects—not programs. This means that every year we fund the best proposals we receive. Those proposals are evaluated on six criteria: producer involvement, relevance to NY agriculture, work plan, outreach plan, evaluation plan and its overall value proposition.
We don’t have quotas for commodity areas. So if, for whatever reason, we don’t receive proposals in a certain area, or don’t think the work is outstanding, we simply don’t fund that commodity in that grant round. In the end it all seems to average out, with our historical funding reflecting the size of the industry in New York.
This flexibility, and pragmatic approach is part of the organization’s DNA. It’s been there from the beginning and has helped us through some difficult years.
Future. Over the last several years Farm Viability has proven itself to be pretty adept at thinking about the future. Farm Viability funded precision agriculture work in 2005 our first year as a stand-alone organization.
The Adapt N story, excerpted here, highlights that the Farm Viability Board and Review panels are pretty good at thinking about the future with the work we’ve funded.
It’s not just precision ag where we’ve been ahead of the curve. Other examples include funding food hubs in 2007, funding Pollinator projects in 2015, and funding spotted wing drosophila work in berries and hops disease management strategies before those programs received state appropriations.
In the Farm Viability board room there have been some interesting conversations about the increasing number of line items for agriculture in the state budget. Should we feel good that the seeds we’ve sown are being recognized as important? Or do we run the risk of becoming less relevant?
I take it as a win. I think when others adopt the work we’ve funded it validates that it was important, valuable work. And, it pushes Farm Viability to always be scouting the horizon, thinking about what we can do to create the most value for New York’s farmers.
That’s what we’ve done in the past, and that’s what we did with this grant round with our emphasis on technology and broadening the network of researchers working in agriculture.
To sum it up, I am excited about the future of agriculture in New York State and the value that Farm Viability and its projects are delivering.
Farmers, Focus, Flexibility, and the Future. There’s only one more F to add, and that’s Funding. We hope our stakeholders in Albany remain committed to our shared mission and continue their support.
“New York farmers are fortunate to have NYFVI working to connect research dollars to real world challenges.”Jim Bittner, past chair NYFVI