Effort to increase profitability of Wisconsin farm businesses

MADISON – An initiative to build profitable farm businesses in Wisconsin is launching with events this summer and fall.

Financial management boot camps and customized consulting for farm-based entrepreneurs will be provided by the Food Finance Institute (FFI) and the Wisconsin Small Business Development (SBDC) Network. Both programs are part of the University of Wisconsin System’s Institute for Business & Entrepreneurship.

To broaden the impact, the initiative will start by creating a pool of specially trained farm-focused consultants who have the skills and expertise to address complex farm financial situations and diverse business models. These consultants will be trained in July and August to provide one-on-one consulting to farm-based businesses across the state.

Additionally, on Sept. 22, FFI Executive Director Tera Johnson will conduct the “Farm-Based Business Sector Opportunity and Trends” webinar that will showcase the scope and impact represented by farmer entrepreneurs. The target audience is consultants and economic development professionals, but registration is open to all.

“Diversified farm and farm-related enterprises are emerging out of a changing farm economy,” Johnson said. “Often with a next generation of family members involved, these farms are adapting their farming practices and business models to include things like grazing, agritourism or direct sales to consumers. These new enterprises have unique and often complex financial needs.”

As a result, farm entrepreneurs need targeted financial technical assistance to reposition for profitability and prepare to successfully raise money from banks, investors and grants. “This initiative will help us work with these farm entrepreneurs and build out the technical assistance infrastructure we need to support this important driver of rural economic development in our state,” Johnson added.

The farm industry, historically vital with over 40 percent of the state’s land, has been transforming for decades. Agriculture contributes over $104 billion to the Wisconsin economy and employs 435,700 (or 11.8 percent) of the workforce – 154,000 of those jobs are related to on-farm production, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Where the opportunity lies: Of the 64,000 farms, 60,000 make less than $499,999 and 48,913 have sales less than $99,000, indicating strong growth potential for the majority of small farms and farm-based businesses. Farmers are making tough decisions to transition or close down farms when they would prefer to stay in business or pass a profitable enterprise on to the next generation.

The first farm financial management boot camp will be Nov. 17 to 20, combining industry-specific training, peer networking and one-on-one consulting. The curriculum and approach were developed by Johnson, with support of this grant, using her decades of experience working with farm businesses and organizations across the country. Sessions include instruction and one-on-one consulting to help participants optimize their business model, fix their financial infrastructure, and develop a financial and financing plan.

The Wisconsin SBDC Network offers no-cost, confidential consulting and business education to new and existing businesses. In 2019, the SBDC served 4,658 clients, resulting in $91.3 million in capital investment, 300 new businesses and 19,717 jobs supported.

This farm initiative is funded through the U.S. Small Business Administration. The network also offers other niche initiatives: Go Global, Food Businesses and Restaurants.

To learn more, go to or contact Shelbie Blank at 608-890-0780 or .

About the Wisconsin SBDC

The Wisconsin Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is a nationally accredited statewide network supporting entrepreneurs and business owners through no-cost, confidential consulting and business education. Regional SBDC experts facilitate improvement and growth for small and emerging mid-size companies and help launch successful new enterprises. The Wisconsin SBDC is hosted by the University of Wisconsin System Administration under the Institute for Business & Entrepreneurship. It is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

About Food Finance Institute

The Food Finance Institute (FFI) leverages and supports a collaborative network of professionals focused on building and funding profitable businesses in the food, beverage and value-added agriculture sector. Through training, resources, tools and mentorship, FFI fulfills its mission of making sophisticated financial technical assistance available to growing enterprises. FFI is also home of the Edible-Alpha® podcast, insights newsletter, and a suite of digital training and resources. FFI is part of the University of Wisconsin System Administration’s Institute for Business & Entrepreneurship.