Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 5, Issue 2 - December, 2012


A Method for Teaching Farm Women to Write Business Plans in the United States

Carleo, J., Agricultural Agent, Rutgers University
Brumfield, R. G., Extension Specialist, Rutgers University
Komar, S. J., Agricultural Agent, Rutgers University
Lippet-Faczak, A., Project Support, Rutgers University
Matthews, J., Project Coordinator, Rutgers University
Melendez, M., Program Coordinator, Rutgers University
Mickel, R., Agricultural Agent, Rutgers University
O'Neill, B., Extension Specialist, Rutgers University
Polanin, N., Agricultural Agent, Rutgers University


In order to tackle the sometimes overwhelming task of completing a business plan, Annie's Project New Jersey takes women through the process over a 7 week training period incorporating the five areas of risk management into the curriculum. Prior to the class, 2 out of 137 women had business plans. After the class 52% of the 137 women educated in 2011 and 2012 have completed their business plans, while 100% have completed components of a business plan.  Completion rates increased with the addition of structured weekly homework assignments and specific homework review time at the start of each class.



Annie's Project, a nationally acclaimed risk management educational program for farm women, is a method used to educate producers on risk management tools.  The base curriculum framework consists of practical risk management education on legal, human, financial, marketing and production risk.  Colleagues at Rutgers University expanded the curriculum framework to include the development of a business plan for each farm.  Annie’s Project began in the Midwest in 2003 and has now spread throughout the country to 31 states in the United States.

A business plan is a written document that details an organization’s objectives and steps taken to meet the company’s goals. Developing and updating a business plan requires looking at a business in its entirety and can be an intimidating process. Breaking this process down over a period of seven (7) weeks into five (5) areas of risk management enables participants to complete this task.

A business plan is essentially a guidebook to your business and is necessary to obtain outside financing.  It is also essential in clarifying business operation’s goals, teaching employees about these goals and objectives and will help organize thoughts.The United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) requires all loan applicants to have a business plan in order to qualify for financing (2012).


Literature Review

Fourteen (14) percent of U.S. farm operators are currently women which is a twenty-nine (29) percent increase from 2002 to 2007, according to the United States National Agriculture Statistics Service’s Census of Agriculture (2010). Farmers not only need to concentrate on production practices but increasingly need to consider legal liability, interpersonal relationships in a stressful economy and estate planning.  In order to stay competitive, producers need more education on risk, business, and financial management. New Jersey has two thousand, two hundred and sixty-one (2,261) women farmers who define themselves as the principal operators on their farms.  This equals twenty-one (21) percent of New Jersey’s principal operators. The majority (ninety-three or 93 percent) of New Jersey’s farms are designated as small farms by the National Agricultural Statistics Service. “Small farms” are described as producing less than $250,000 annually in gross sales. In addition, the median farm size in New Jersey in 2007 was seventeen (17) acres (2010).

United States agricultural producers are not an anomaly concerning their lack of planning.  Perry’s article from the Journal of Small Business Management (2001) reveals that the majority of small businesses (both failed and non-failed) have similar lack of planning. Their study found that small businesses in general rarely took an average of more than one and a half (1.5) steps out of five (5) towards planning the future of their businesses. In regards to the marketing plan component of a farm business plan, a pre-course survey of Illinois farm women revealed that ninety (90) percent of the participants did not have marketing plans (Heins, Beaulieu and Altman, 2010).

Annie’s Project nationally has been successful in providing a comprehensive educational program and support network for women farmers, in helping them to learn to understand and manage their farm business. The curriculum focuses on farm business management. A significant component of Annie´s Project is the opportunity for women to network with other women who are involved in agriculture in their geographical area (McKinney, 2012).


Materials and Methods

The Iowa-based Annie’s Project course-framework consists of basic risk management education information specifically targeting Mid-western producers. The Rutgers designed Annie’s Project New Jersey curriculum focuses on farm and family financial management with opportunities to learn specifics about:

  • Legal aspects
  • Marketing
  • Business planning
  • Estate planning
  • Insurance
  • Social networking
  • Production risks


We tailored the curriculum to our clientele through a constituent advisory group which identified local programming needs. Our target audience is small farms, women producers and traditional commercial producers, new and beginning farmers, and producers of specialty crops. The focus of the course is on preparing individual business plans for each farm.

The Annie’s Project New Jersey course consists of seven (7), three (3) hour classes, each given in the winter months, when farmers have more time for other activities.  The women gathered at six (6) different locations across the state over the course of two years, sharing dinner and common experiences, and forming lasting bonds.  Class discussion was facilitated by Extension personnel at each site. This was an important part of the course to 1) keep the conversations on track and 2) to assist the women in learning more about themselves and their management practices by discussing their specific situations with others facing the same issues.

Each week lecturers utilized PowerPoint presentations, handouts and group discussion that focused on a specific area of risk management and corresponded with a specific portion of their business plan. The team located multiple lecturers from all around the state, including regulatory personnel from the Department of Agriculture and other farmers, University professors, Extension agents and rural service providers.  We utilized farmer speakers in as many classes as possible due to the practical knowledge and experience in facing the topics of discussion.  Homework assignments were given at the end of each session on preparing a portion of participants’ business plans. The homework was intended to use the knowledge gained in each class in order to construct specific aspects of the personalized farm business plan. Time was then given at the start of class to share this homework with others as well as get help from the project team. The presentations in 2012 were professionally recorded, sponsored by funding from the USDA Risk Management Agency. The presentations were uploaded to the Annie’s Project New Jersey Website at and linked to the Annie’s Project New Jersey Facebook page at

During the first class in the course the women are introduced to an online business plan development database and website from the University of Minnesota called “AgPlan” (2010) The women log onto the site and enter portions of their business plans each week. Reviewers, such as the project team, are authorized to view the plans at the writer’s request.  

Pre- and post-course surveys were conducted on various aspects of the program including the components of a business plan. A sample of the post-test is included in Figure 1.


Figure 1.



Seventeen (17) participants (which is a forty-two point five percent (42.5) response rate) surveyed nine (9) months after participating in Annie's Project New Jersey 2011 indicated that as a result of the course:

  • Fifty-nine (59) percent completed their mission statement component of their business plan.
  • Fifty-three (53) percent completed their goals and objectives and their company descriptions.
  • Forty-seven (47) percent were in the process of completing their net-worth calculation, and eighteen (18) percent had completed this task.
  • Thirty-five (35) percent designed and completed a Facebook page for their farm business.
  • Thirty-five (35) percent of the women plan to participate in in-person meetings with other participants, have phone conversations with other participants, and e-mail other participants.
  • Forty-one (41) percent were already in process of conducting these networking components.
  • Thirty-one (31) percent of respondents evaluated their farm transfer plans, estate plans, personnel management and farm liability policy.


Forty-two (42) participants) out of the one hundred and thirty-seven (137) women in the Annie’s Project New Jersey programs 2011-2012 were surveyed within a year after the coursework to determine adoption of practices that will help to improve their farm business operations:

Components of a business plan completed:

  • Ninety-seven (97) percent developed a mission statement.
  • Ninety-two (92) percent developed their business description.
  • Sixty-four (64) percent wrote a farm description to be used for marketing (or another purpose).
  • Seventy (70) percent have developed a management plan.
  • Sixty-eight (68) percent have developed a production plan.


Figure 2 illustrates the increased percentage of participants who are in the process or have completed portions of their business plans from 2011 to 2012.


Figure 2.


In 2011, the completion or “in process” rate was much lower than that of the 2012 course. Table 1 includes the percent change column indicating the number of survey respondents as well as the percentage of change between the years. 

Table 1.  Percentage change from 2011 to 2012 on Components of a Business Plan "In Process" or "Completed" as a Result of the Course.





Percent Change

Components of a Business Plan





Mission Statement






Goals and Objectives






Farm Description






Production Plan






Marketing Plan






Financial Plan






Executive Summary






Management Plan






An Estate Plan






Table 1.


In addition, several participants of the Annie's Project course conducted in southern New Jersey have used their business plans as part of their applications for funding from the USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA). As of March 2012, seventy (70) of the one hundred and thirty-seven (137) women completed business plans as a result of the course. All participants have completed portions of their business plans. The presentation page of the recorded sessions on the Annie’s Project New Jersey website has been viewed seventy-one (71) times as of June 2012 indicating that even more women are becoming educated on risk management and writing business plans through our website.



  • Financial Planning and Estate Planning were the limiting factors for developing a completed business plan. It appears that the women need more in-depth information on this material and possibly some one-on-one consultations due to the complexity of the subject matter. Therefore, we have secured future funding to bring more in-depth estate planning topics to farm women in New Jersey.
  • Business Plan component completion rates increased when we added specific homework and twenty (20) minutes of discussion time on completed homework to the beginning of each class day.  This is the most plausible reason for the increase in completion rates from 2011 to 2012.
  • Participants expressed a desire to have more discussion time and a higher number of farmer speakers throughout the course.


Literature Cited

Center for Farm Financial Management, AgPlan, University of Minnesota. (2010)

Heins, L.H., J. Beaulieu, I. Altman. (2010). The Effectiveness of Women’s Agricultural Education Programs: A Survey from Annie’s Project. Journal of Agricultural Education, v. 51(4). pp 1-9.McKinney, L. (2012) Annie’s Project Website. Iowa State University Extension

National Agricultural Statistics Service. (2007) Census of Agriculture for New Jersey. 2010.

Perry, S.C. (2001). The Relationship Between Written Business Plans and the Failure of Small Businesses. U.S. Journal of Small Business Management, 39(3), pp 201-208.

United States Department of Agriculture – Farm Service Agency (FSA), ( 2012), Your Guide to FSA Farm Loans.