Farm Business Management Education (4/29/2022)

In case you have forgotten April is Financial Literacy Month. The Footnotes for the month have revolved around this theme and we have one more to go after this Footnote. This Footnote focuses on one facet of agricultural education of which you may not be aware.

Figure 1. Financial Literacy Month Graphic.

Similarities and Differences

An interesting fact about agricultural teachers is that we are similar in many aspects. If we talk about lesson plans, using teaching technology, maintaining order in the classroom, etc. most of us can relate. However, depending on where you teach you may have missed out on certain aspects of agricultural education. Does your state have a FFA camp? Not all states do. Are you familiar with the CASE initiative? Some might think CASE is a brand of pocket knife while in other states that is the primary curriculum model. Middle school agricultural education programs are the norm in some states while they are rare in others. Does your school operate a community cannery? Several schools in Georgia do. And the list of differences could continue. A typical teacher may not be aware of the extent and complexities of agricultural education.

Do Farm Business Planning and Analysis (FBPA) programs exist in your state? I was an agricultural education student at both the high school and college level in Texas and started my teaching career in Kansas. When I moved to Ohio to be near family and to teach, I first encountered FBPA programs. Prior to this time I did not know such programs existed in the world of agricultural education.

So What are Farm Business Planning and Analysis Programs?

While teaching high school in Ohio during the early 1970s I was also working on a Master’s degree. Professors from Ohio State would travel to various locations in the state and teach graduate classes. One of the courses I took was in Farm Business Planning and Analysis. Not only did we learn the intricacies of record keeping we also learned how to use those records to make needed changes in farming operations. The idea was that we would take what we learned and use it with farmers in our community.

In Washington County, where I taught, there were five high school agriculture programs plus an area vocational center. All the high school agriculture teachers had full plates with our existing students and adult classes (I typically conducted 20-25 adult night meetings a year). I didn’t have time to operate a full-blown FBPA program.

The decision was made to employ a dedicated FBPA teacher and station that person at the area vocational center in Marietta. Each of the five schools that fed into the Washington County Career Center would recruit five farmers annually to be in the FBPA program.

During the first year of the program the emphasis was on record keeping. During the second year the records from the first year were analyzed and farmers had extensive printouts that showed how their farms compared with other farms in the school district and state. The third year was spent on making adjustments to the farming operation based on the records from the previous two years.

Each year 25 additional farmers were enrolled. During the day the FBPA teacher made farm visits and assisted the farmers in record keeping and related tasks. A lot of teaching occurred over the kitchen table. This program was popular across the state. At the height of the program there were 40-50 full-time FBPA instructors in Ohio.

Figure 2. Article about the FBPA program from the Piqua (OH) Daily Call, September 28, 1977. Ctrl + to enlarge the article.

In the early 2000s the FBPA programs in Ohio started to disappear. I don’t know why. It could have been budget cuts, politics, or something else. To the best of my knowledge the one remaining program in Ohio is in Washington County and I understand that it is funded locally. Perhaps the reason it remains is because of the dedicated teachers in the program. Marty Clark, who has been the instructor for the 20+ years, is retiring today (April 29. 2022). His predecessor, Doug Mercer, was the instructor for 27 years but continued to teach on a part-time basis for an additional 10 years. The good news is that a replacement for Marty has been hired.

A Good Idea Doesn’t Care Who Has It!

During the 1950s Purina supplied agricultural education programs with cardboard inspirational signs like the one featured below. One of the signs said, “A Good Idea Doesn’t Care Who Has it!” This certainly applied to farm business management educational programs. Numerous other states had/have similar programs to the Ohio program but there were some differences.

Figure 3. A typical Purina motivational sign found in vocational agriculture departments in the 1950s.

Today farm management education programs are found in numerous states. Many programs are in the upper Midwest. Seven Minnesota State Colleges have 68 instructors who teach Farm Business Management. Farm Business Management programs have operated in Minnesota since 1953 (or 1952 depending upon the source) and serve over 5,000 farm families annually (and I thought Ohio was on the forefront).

The YouTube video Farm Business Management in Minnesota ( does a great job of explaining the program. A companion video about the importance of managing finances in farming is also good ( A detailed history of the Farm Business Management program in Minnesota can be found in this document published in 2003 to celebrate 50 years of FBM in Minnesota.

In the neighboring state of North Dakota four community colleges and one high school (Glen Ullin) employ 13 instructors who provide farm management education. A 2021 report about the program found that half of the program enrollees reported an economic gain of $10,000 or more from being in the program.

Ron Egli, a ND farm management instructor, is based in the Glen Ullin school district (K-12 enrollment is 151 students). The program has been at the high school there for 35+ years. Ron teaches only adults. The school administration views the program as a community service. If the program results in one farmer staying on the farm and has one child enrolled in the school, that is viewed as a win-win situation. Ron works one-on-one with the farmers.

The North Dakota farm management program has been in operation for decades. They started in local high schools but have migrated to local community colleges. In North Dakota the community colleges are considered LEAs (Local Education Agencies) and receive Perkins funding. Thus the community colleges receive CTE (Career and Technical Education) funding plus tuition from the farmers enrolled in the program. The ND Farm Management Education web site has several excellent videos, reports and other resources that would be of value to any teacher who teaches about farm management.

Figure 4. The ND Farm Management Education logo

There are similar programs in several other states. Many of the programs started as a joint venture with the state level agricultural education leadership cooperating with the university agricultural education and agricultural economics departments. That is how the farm management programs in Ohio and Minnesota were started. In several states the Cooperative Extension Service now play a major role in providing farm management education.

There is even a professional organization for teachers of farm business management. The organization is the National Farm and Ranch Business Management Education Association. They have a seat on the National Council for Agricultural Education. According to their website “The mission of the National Farm and Ranch Business Management Education Association is to promote and support farm and ranch management education. We accomplish our mission by providing in-service education to our members and by communicating and cooperating with others. NFRBMEA, Inc. brings the best ideas and techniques in farm and ranch business management education to its members.” It is interesting that the Board of Directors all reside in Minnesota.

Concluding Remarks

I felt somewhat inadequate to write this Footnote. Our discussion of similarities and differences earlier in this Footnote certainly applies to me. I must admit I have limited knowledge of farm business management programs and that was from fifty years ago. However adult farm business management was and still is an important component of agricultural education.

While adult education in agriculture in many states is not as robust as it once was, it is still important. Now, more than ever, our adult farmers and agribusiness people need sound financial literacy knowledge and skills.