Farm Management, Planning and Marketing



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, management (employees, systems and record keeping), and marketing.

Instructor: Renee Ciulla  Email: rciulla@umass.eduIMG_8635[1]

Learning Objectives: Students will take time to reflect on their true goals and values as well as realistic steps forward. Practical skills such as hand tool use, essential farming techniques, tractor and small equipment use will be emphasized in the course, in addition to marketing, market research, selling crops and storage issues. Through the required textbook, the importance of Profit over Production will become clear to students, in addition to why all costs of production must be tracked and whole farm efficiencies considered. Value-added production, CSAs, selling wholesale, cooperative CSAs, agritourism and farmers market management will also be components of the course. After the class, students should feel equipped with the confidence to develop viable farm models that support the health of the land and owners. Lastly, the course finishes with a hands-on project that is directly related to improving farm management/marketing OR a paper in the form of an individual farm business plan and/or research conducted in partnership with an existing farm (please see details listed in Week 13).

Course Structure: At the beginning of every week students will be provided with the reading and assignment content to be completed during the week. There will be Discussion questions which students will post responses to in the “Discussion forum” section of Blackboard. These responses are due by 7pm EST on the Thursday of that module’s week. To receive full Discussion credit for the week, students are also required to comment on at least on peer’s post by Sunday at 7pm EST.  Required readings are listed with weekly Homework questions that are due by 7pm EST on the Sunday of each week. The Final Project will be chosen by student (hands-on project or farm plan research paper).


  • Discussion Assignments/Class Participation: 40%
  • Homework Assignments: 40%
  • Final Project: 20%
Required TextThe Organic Farmers Business Handbook: a Complete Guide to Managing Finances, Crops and Staff – and Making a Profit by Richard Wiswall
Recent Student Reviews:
“I am very happy in this course and I feel like the education is great. I also feel like the connections being made are worth their weight in gold. Thank you for being so involved with teaching us and for providing the amazing materials each week that help us in the development of our dreams.”  –Greg Wortman

“I wanted to give you feedback for this class, I have really been enjoying it and how it is organized. I really like how the homework and discussion questions ensure that you read through, understand and recommunicate back all the material given to us. Every resource given has a purpose and I am learning so much! I am trying to download all the resources on my laptop so I can store them for use on my future farm. And the Wiswall book is an absolute gem, I will definitely be holding on to it and recommending it to other farmers. With every chapter we read, I notice how issues I have encountered in previous farms could be managed, which provides a lot of clarity. I’m super excited for the coming weeks, thanks for all of your hard work!”–Margot Schwarz

Course Content

Week One–Values & Direction and Initial Resources for Finding Land
  • Complex history of farming and land use in the US
  • Considering True Sustainability
  • Identifying Values (What’s Important to You?)
  • Farm History and Current Situation (What Have You Got?)
  • Vision, Mission & Goals (Where Do You Want to Go?)
  • Evaluating a Rural Enterprise and Determining Farm Rental Rates
  • Farm Business Terms Defined
  • Organizations/programs working to help farmers find and hold land
Week Two–Business Planning (Farm for Profit, not Production)
  • Business Planning (Writing a Business Plan and the Key Components)
  • Examples of business plans
  • Writing and implementing a business plan
  • Strategic Planning and Evaluation (Possible Routes to Take to Get Where You Want)
  • Determine the Legal Structure of Your Business (sole proprietorship, partnership, Limited Liability Company, corporation, S corporation, nonprofit, or cooperative)
  • Considerations for size of farm related to potential profit
  • Finances of organic versus conventional production


Week Three–Managing Money (Discovering Profit Centers) and Farm Funding
  • Accounting Basics
  • Evaluating Financial Efficiency
  • Financial Troubleshooting
  • Review the Cost of Production workbook
  • Farm Funding options
Week Four—Crop Enterprise Budgets, Record Keeping and Organic Certification Process
  • 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
  • The Clean Desk (Effective Management)
  • Record Keeping for Organic Grain, Vegetables and Livestock
  • Typical Records to Becoming Certified Organic

IMG_9841[1]Winter greens

Week Five—Production Efficiencies and Energy Efficiency on the Farm
  • 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
  • Projecting Farm Yields & Crop Planning for Continuous Harvest
  • Energy Efficiencies on the Farm (irrigation, wind, conserving fuel, etc)
Week Six—Employees, Insurance, Farm Safety & Conflict on the Farm
  • Human Resource Management
  • Employee Handbook Development Guide
  • Evaluating Performance and Giving Feedback to Employees
  • Risk Management
  • Resolving Family and Business Conflicts
  • Occupational Health and Farm Safety (preventing injuries, farm equipment safety, etc)
Week Seven—Office Management,  Insurance Plans, Taxes & Regulations for Small Farms
  • Office Paper Flows and Leaky Finances
  • Overall office management
  • Understanding Taxes & Regulations for Small Farms
  • Insurance Plans
  • Obtain Business Licenses and Permits (federal, state, and local licenses and permits required for your business)
  • Register Business Name (with your state government)
  • Tax Identification Number (from the IRS and state revenue agency)
  • Register for State and Local Taxes (register with your state to obtain a tax identification number, workers’ compensation, and unemployment and disability insurance)
Week Eight—Marketing Strategies, Branding and Pricing
  • Market Research & Strategies
  • Niche Marketing
  • Direct marketing meats
  • Pricing strategies
  • Value-Added farm products
  • Cultivating Customers (tell your farm story!)
  • Online marketing
  • Social Media and staying connected to customers


Week Nine – Selling via CSAs, wholesale & farmers markets
  • Farmer Professionalism (maintaining great relationships with your buyers)
  • What is a CSA, history & how to start and manage a CSA (different models)
  • Establishing, managing and selling at a farmers market
  • SNAP and EBT benefits at farmers markets
  • Selling wholesale (tips, online tools, national movements)
  • Selling direct to schools, restaurants and other institutions (examples and tips)
Week Ten—Emphasizing Equity & Justice in Farm Plans and Farm Case Studies
  • Consider the intersection of agriculture, race and land (Agri-culture)
  • Farmworker Justice organizations and migrant worker justice
  • Ways to promote access to health care and safe working conditions for workers, fight for workers right and empower farmworkers
  • Explore how farmers are incorporating their commitment to justice and implementing equity into their business models
  • After 10 weeks of contemplation, students re-consider their personal interests in the following:
    • Types of crops, animals, herbs, flowers, seeds and value-added products to produce
    • Types of services on farm such as a veteran farmer non-profit, agricultural education for youth, horticultural therapy, agritourism, etc.
  • Review several farm case studies
Week Eleven–Transporting & Storing Products and Retiring on Your Farm
  • Storage Guidelines and Conditions for vegetables
  • Transportation of produce
  • Successful Farm and Ranch Family Estate Transfers
  • Preparing for Retirement
  • Defending Your Assets
  • Retirement Saving Tips
  • Matched savings accounts for beginner farmers from non-profit organizations
  • Examples of Farmland Advisors Programs across the country
Week Twelve– Begin Final Project

Initial research, paper or project outline, interview questions, resources, materials etc. See description of final in Week 13. Students are actively communicating with instructor this week about their research direction, professional contacts and topics of interest.

Week Thirteen—Complete Final  

Students will choose either a hands-on project that is directly related to improving farm management/marketing OR a paper in the form of an individual farm business plan and/or research conducted in partnership with an existing farm. As part of the Week 10 homework, students will submit idea(s) for final and instructor will provide feedback and suggestions. All topics must be approved. See details below about each option:

Hands-On Project: Students who choose this option should have a project in mind for their own farm operation or a farm that they are actively involved with. Keep in mind this is 20% of the overall grade so it should be fairly significant. Examples include building a farm stand, putting in drip irrigation, building a walk-in cooler, creating more efficient shelving, re-organizing/building a storage area for tools, seeds or crops, building something that makes deliveries more efficient, creating a new/improved farm business website, moving location of something on farm for increased efficiency, building new/better greenhouse tables, etc. Report should show photo/video documentation and describe steps of the process, including lessons learned and challenges faced.

Paper: 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 current occupation:

  • 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.)

Length of report should be at least 8 pages, Times New Roman font style, size 12, double-spaced. Please include at least 12 references (at least 4 of them as academic, peer-reviewed articles) and properly cite throughout paper and include Works Cited at the end. Formatting for the paper/citations can be either MLA or APA, but please be consistent throughout paper for whichever you choose.


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.


This class is part of the Sustainable Food and Farming Online Certificate Program and will count toward the Associate of Science degree as well as the Online B.S. degree.  Online classes cost $482/credit.

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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