Okay, all you hard-working and uniquely essential flowers farmers: I received an email through our Nevada Grown Marketing Association and it seemed like a good topic to take up for the Quarterly. There are a lot of good things happening out there in the country even though it’s not what you hear on the news. I hope some of us flower farmers can figure out how capitalize on them to the fullest extent. As a group, I find flower farmers in the ASCFG are extremely innovative and more willing to embrace change than any other farmer group I have been a part of. I know you will continue to push the envelope and consider this opportunity.
The announcement I received (and I hope you did too) was the Value-added Producer Grant funded through USDA’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service. Eighteen million dollars are available in competitive grants to help independent agricultural producers enter into value-added activities. This is how the program was described:  “USDA Rural Development welcomes projects that highlight innovative uses of agricultural products. As with all value-added products generating new products, creating expanded marketing opportunities and increasing producer income are the end goal.   Awards may be made for planning activities or working capital but not both. Grants for planning can be up to $100,000 and for working capital up to $300,000.  Examples of acceptable planning activities include…conducting a feasibility study of a proposed value-added venture, developing a business plan that provides comprehensive details on management, planning and other operational aspects of a proposed venture, developing a marketing plan for the value-added product, including….a possible promotional plan.   Examples of acceptable working capital uses include paying for salaries, utilities, and rental of office space, purchasing inventory, and conducting a marketing campaign.”
If flower growers don’t take advantage of these funds, someone else will. Check out this website if you are at all interested in the details:  ttp://www.rurdev.usda.gov/.  I would be more than willing to help out any way I can if anyone wants to work on such a grant. Applications are due November 30, 2009.
What kind of grant could you apply for? This seems to be a time to take full advantage of being an established flower grower and asking yourself “How far can I take my business and what do I want from growing flowers?”.  Think about how you might partner with a fellow ASCFG member to provide better service to your customers.
I’ve read and heard multiple times in the last months that now is not the time to be scaling back – entrepreneurs need to be gearing up and taking the leap. I believe our customers and potential customers are taking a reflective look at their buying habits and are recognizing the importance of buying local. The ideas are out there and a good brainstorming session with some ASCFG members might be just the ticket to get those creative ideas flowing.
Maybe applying for a grant is not quite right for you now, but fall is the perfect time to be doing long-range planning. Do you want to put up another season extension structure? You know that if you wait, spring and planting season will be here before you know it. If you want to grow different flowers, you need to do your homework so those seeds or stock can be ordered now.
I know we are looking to change our configurations for our beds next year.  We need to get a better handle on weeds and make it easier to get in and harvest our flowers.  We think this change will enhance the quality of our flowers and increase our productivity, so we are not so spread out. It is going to entail equipment modifications and new materials, so it is important to start working on these changes now. When I look back on why we were growing the way we were growing, I couldn’t really remember the reasons for setting up the way we did. I was kind of shocked I hadn’t examined my growing practices for some time.
Maybe now is the time to review your growing practices  Can you be more efficient or more productive or lower costs or cut down on weeding or improve the quality of your flowers?
Rejoice at all your choices and opportunities to be able to grow flowers for your livelihood and see if this is the time for you to take a leap and submit an value-added producer grant or just do some planning to improve your growing.