Farm Planning, Marketing and Management Online



January 19 – May 5, 2016


Course Overview: This course is designed for students who foresee starting a farming operation in the future or who currently own/manage/work on one. The complexity of whole farm planning is covered in the course through agricultural business planning, organizational design, decision making, leadership and management (emplreneeoyees, systems and record keeping).

Instructor: Renee Ciulla

Learning Objectives: Practical skills such as hand tool use, essential farming techniques, tractor and small equipment use will be emphasized in addition to marketing, market research, selling crops and storage issues. Value-added production, CSAs, selling wholesale (grocery, restaurant), cooperative CSAs, agritourism and farmers market management will also be components of the course. Viable farm models that support the health of the land and owners will be developed. A major portion of the course includes a project that is either conducted in partnership with an existing financially stable farm, or an individual farm business plan.

Course Structure: At the beginning of every week students will be provided with a weekly list of all the work to be completed during the week of class. There will be Discussion Questions which students will post responses to in the “discussion forum” section of Blackboard. These responses are due by 11:59pm on the Sunday of that module’s week. Required Readings are listed with weekly required Homework questions.  Required Readings are listed with weekly required Homework questions. The Final Research Project will be chosen from a list of options and culminate in an in-depth paper. Exceptions for research topics not on the list can be made with the instructor’s permission.


  • Class Participation: 25%
  • Discussion Assignments: 25%
  • Homework Assignments: 25%
  • Final Project: 25%

Required Text: The Organic Farmers Business Handbook: a Complete Guide to Managing Finances, Crops and Staff – and Making a Profit by Richard Wiswall

Technology: According to UMass Online, in order to take this course you must:

  • have access to a personal computer (Mac or Windows)
  • be familiar with basic computer skills
  • be connected to the internet
  • have an e-mail program and account
  • have at least a 56 kbps modem
  • have a Java capable browser (Netscape or Internet Explorer)

NOTE: If you have any problems with technology, please contact the UMass Online Tech Support office for help.


Week One – True Sustainability, Values and Direction

  • Identifying Values
  • Farm History and Current Situation
  • Vision, Mission & Goals
  • Evaluating a Rural Enterprise
  • Farm Business Terms Defined
  • How to Find a Farm

Week Two – Business Planning

  • Business Planning (Key Components)
  • Writing and implementing a business plan
  • Strategic Planning and Evaluation
  • Example of a business plan (bee keeper)

Week Three – Managing Money

  • Evaluating Financial Efficiency
  • Financial Troubleshooting

 Week Four – Farm Efficiency and Organization

  • Record Keeping for Organic Grain, Vegetables and Livestock
  • Typical Records to Becoming Certified Organic:
  • The Clean Desk (Effective Management)

 Week Five – Profit, not Production

  • Crop Enterprise Budgets -vital tools to allow you to analyze and compare different crops side-by-side to determine which crops are more profitable than others and which crops may actually be loosing money
  • Optional Livestock and Poultry Production materials

 Week Six – Production Efficiencies

  • Hand tool use
  • Essential farming techniques
  • Tractor and small equipment use (ex. weed control with tractor, bed forming)
  • Cultivation, seeding, transplanting, fencing, harvesting and greenhouse efficiencies
  • Energy Efficiencies on the Farm (irrigation, wind, conserving fuel, etc)

Week Seven – Employees, Insurance and Conflict on the Farm

  • Human resource management
  • Writing a farm employee handbook
  • Resolving Family and Business conflict
  • Evaluating Performance and Providing Feedback to Employees
  • Farm Safety (machinery, preventing injuries, behavioral health publications)
  • Understanding taxes on the farm
  • Crop Insurance Plans

Week Eight – Marketing

  • Market Research
  • Market Strategies
  • Niche Marketing
  • Direct marketing meats
  • Pricing strategies
  • Value-Added farm products
  • Online marketing

Week Nine

  • Running a CSA
  • Selling wholesale
  • Selling at a farmers market
  • Managing a farmers market

Week Ten – Greenhouse Management and Season Extension

  • Materials of a high tunnel
  • Greenhouse efficiency
  • Greenhouse funding
  • Specialty crops for cold climates

Harvest & Post-Harvest

  • Influence on quality
  • Storage Guidelines
  • Post-harvest handling, pre-cooling and managing produce temperature

Transportation and Food Safety

Week Eleven – How to Retire on Your Farm

  • Estate Transfers
  • Retirement Saving Tips
  • Managing Risk
  • Cultivating the next generation to succeed in farming

Week Twelve – Begin Final Project

  • Initial research outline, questions, resources, etc.

Week Thirteen – Final Project – “The Real Deal”

Students will write a paper on one of the following topics (or their choice with instructor’s permission) based on whether farming is a future plan or a current occupation. Length of report should be 8-10 pages, Times New Roman font style, size 12, double-spaced. Please include at least 5 peer-reviewed references and cite them at the end of the report. Formatting for the paper/citations can be either MLA or APA, but please be consistent throughout paper for whichever you choose.

–          Produce an action plan for how to reach your goals of owning a farm (purchasing land, products grown/raised, where to sell, how to market, etc.) List the logical steps to reach your dream and the start of your business plan.

–          Write a business plan for your new farming enterprise (how can you find better efficiencies through marketing, labor, transport, profit margins, etc)

–          Work with an existing farm to determine where they could increase profit and run their business more effectively. (Consider yourself a farm business consultant


This class is part of the Sustainable Food and Farming Online Certificate Program and will count toward the Associate of Science program which begins in September 2016.   Online classes cost $371/credit.  If you would like to register for the Certificate program, you may apply here.

Other classes available during the spring semester are:

Spring Courses (January 19 – April 27, 2016)

To begin planning for the future, see….

Annual Class Schedule

NOTE: The UMass Sustainable Food and Farming Certificate has been declared eligible for Veterans Educational Benefits. For instructions see: Veterans Benefits.

If you are not interested in earning college credit, there are many non-credited workshops and short courses you can take outside of the university.  For a list see: non-university workshops and courses.


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