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GENDER ISSUES IN FARMING SYSTEMS
RESEARCH AND EXTENSION
RECORD- EEPTING:.DISSEIMINATING TECHNOLOGY ON A PROBLEM
IDENTIFIED BY THE NORTH FLORIDA FSR/E PROJECT
The latest bumper sticker seen on farmers' trucks is, "My
heart's in farming, but my butt's in debt." Farmers' traditional
view of their farm as their "father's old home place" is facing
as debt motivates farm managers to view their farm as a business.
Farming in the United States has become a complexity of
production, financial, and marketing management. As this
intricacy has increased, farmers have been fairly successful at
adopting the latest agronomic technology, but much slower in
employing the financial management practices of the 1980s. As
the saying goes, "tough times don't last, but tough people do."
Thus, it will be up to the "tough" people to apply financial
management practices to survive a future in farming. Management
of financial resources has been identified by lenders and
educators alike as one of the weakest links in the management
complexity. Farmers owe and utilize large amounts of funds, but
fail to keep adequate records for decision-making. Instead,
records, if any, are used for income tax purposes. Even those
who keep records fail to use them fully in asset management and
decision-making. One reason is a lack of training. Producers
need assistance in coordinating a record system and financial
statements, and in analyzing the farm business.
A record-keeping system is one of the most critical and basic
aspects of financial management on the farm. Records, when
properly utilized, provide management with important information.
First of'all, records provide the basis for decision-making on
the farm. As decision-making improves through the use of more
information, i.e. records, the farms become more profitable. As
profits increase, farmers can reduce their debt load or provide a
higher standard of living for the farm family. Secondly, records
help the farm manager project the future in order to plan for
what might happen. One method of contemplating the future is to
complete a cash flow statement which projects cash inflows and
outflows over a specified period of time. This sort of planning
helps relieve the cash flow crises that are occurring frequently
as farmers struggle to survive. In addition, farmers are
currently being required to document repayment capacity of their
farm business to lenders in order to obtain loans. This
information requirement motivates them to keep records. Finally,
records help farmers to evaluate alternatives--both traditional
alternatives and agricultural products "new" to the specific
Farmers in North Florida have not been immune from the
financial crises occurring throughout the United States.
Consequently, farmers and their wives, lenders, and Extension
personnel in the region have identified a critical need for
on-farm financial management skills. As lenders have required
items such as financial statements from farmers, the lenders and
farmers alike have realized a lack of training and education in
farm management. In a needs assessment survey completed in 1985
as a part of the North Florida FSR/E Project, the items
identified as top priority were record-keeping and financial
management. Specific problems identified were farmers':
inability to complete financial statements required by lenders,
lack of budgeting skills, lack of farm and family goal-setting,
attitudes toward farm financial management, and failure to treat
the farm as a business.
In the original Sondeo of the North Florida Farming Systems
Project, initiated in 1981, related problems were identified by
1. difficulties in obtaining credit,
2. insufficient cash flow, and
3. a lack of management time (Schmidt, 1984).
Farmers in North Florida face additional constraints in that they
cannot compete with Midwestern farms in the traditional row crops
such as corn, wheat and soybeans. Production costs in Suwannee
and Columbia Counties, where the project is located, are higher
due to lower soil fertility, increased incidence of diseases and
pests, poor soil moisture retention, and unreliable precipitation
Lack of management time is becoming more severe. Farm
managers are juggling their farm work with off-farm jobs, which
they have taken in order to survive (Gladwin and Butler, 1985).
The pre-test FSR/E survey showed that 47% of small farmers in
Suwannee and Columbia Counties work off-farm. Survey data front a
second statistically valid survey completed in 1984 in the same
counties showed that the principal farm operator works off-farm
on at least a half-time basis on 56 percent of the farms. Fifty
percent hold a full-time off-farm job (Swisher and Smith, 1985).
As farm families have become increasingly dependent on off-farm
income, women have been doing more of the financial
decision-making and farm work (Gladwin, 1985).
At a record-keeping seminar held in Suwannee County in 1984,
78 percent of the participants were farm wives. The wives kept
the records on 58 percent of the farms, the farmer on 22 percent,
and both on 20 percent. Although women do a large part in
record-keeping and other farm work, many simply do not know how
to keep records or how to use them in decision-making. In fact,
the North Florida FSR/E survey showed that only 18 percent of
small farm families keep organized records and only 14 percent
use these records in planning or decision-making. A study done
by Gladwin in North Florida showed similar results where 74% of
the women kept the records on the farm (Gladwin,1984). This
information lead to the development of an eight-week Farmers'
Record-Keeping School where the person who keeps farm records was
targeted for audience participation.
The objectives of the Record School were:
1. to investigate the receptivity of farm families
2. to investigate the success/failure of this type of
3. to provide appropriate technology to small farms on
record-keeping, financial statements, and financial
analysis to help producers better manage their farms.
Hildebrand identified appropriate technology as that which can be
put into practice immediately and under farmers' present
agro-socioconomic conditions (Hildebrand, 1980). Thus, the
School started with the "basics" where participants were given
simple, hands-on exercises and supervised homework assignments in
order that they might start their own record system. The
technology was one which they could put into practice
immediately. The School was purposely targeted to start at the
beginning of a year and during a season when farmers are not busy
with field work.
Preregistration was required of participants in order to
facilitate both ordering of supplies and the conduct of a survey
of participants. A total of 54 persons preregistered and paid to
attend the school. The survey indicated that most clientele were
from diversified farms. Again, it was found that the farm wife
or both the farmer and wife kept the records on most of the
attendants' farms. The farmer alone kept the records on only 11
percent of the farms. Ninety-six percent of the families
participating used records for tax purposes. Percentages showing
other uses decreased drastically: 33 percent used records for
loan purposes and 45 percent used records for management
purposes, although specific management uses were not cited.
Two additional surveys were conducted to test knowledge and
attitudes of participants both before and after the program.
Results of these surveys have not yet been tabulated and
The organization of this Extension program was different
than most in three major aspects: environment, motivational
factors, and cost. Tablecloths were purchased with funds
provided by sponsors and flowers were donated by a local florist
shop. These items were intended to provide an environment
similar to that often provided for business executives and
professionals. Also, the School was held in a large room with
good lighting and temperature conditions.
Motivational factors included refreshments, door prizes, and
certificates. Approximately 15 local businesses within the
five-county area targeted for the School donated from $15 to
$150. Refreshments over the 8-week period included juices,
coffee, nuts, chips, dip, cheeses, sausages, pastries, cookies,
chicken drummettes, and several other party-type foods. Many
participants commented on the delicious refreshments. Door
prizes were given away as an incentive to attend and as an
additional motivation for starting a record system. A filing
cabinet, electric pencil sharpeners, a desktop calculator, and
staplers were among the door prizes given away. Each week a
person attended, he/she could put his/her name in the drawing
box. The drawing was then held the final evening. Certificates
were also given the last evening for attending and successfully
completing the School.
For the benefits received, a relatively minor charge was
assessed those attending. The fee was $20 for the first person
in a family, and $5 for each additional family member or
bookkeeper. The majority of those attending were two-person
families generally consisting of the husband and wife. The cost
covered supplies and a Barbeque Dinner held on the final evening.
Funds were handled through the Small Farms Advisory Board, the
committee which advises the FSR/E team on the needs and problems
of small farms in the Suwannee/Colunbia area.
Publicity was the most important aspect of the School in
terms of attracting both men and women. A program was
professionally printed and 3,500 copies were distributed through
bulk mailings, at sponsor locations, and at Extension offices in
the five North Florida counties. The program included a picture
of both a farmer and his wife on the front cover. The theme used
was, "Farming is YOUR Business." This theme was intended to
develop the attitude that farming is a business, not just a way
of life. Radio and newspaper were the other media for publicity.
Darcy Meeker, professional newswriter for IFAS Editorial, wrote
two articles intended to promote interest in the School (Meeker,
December 1985 and January 1986).
Dr. van Blokland has said that better recordkeeping could
save some 700 Florida farms from the bankruptcy expected for
2,000 of them by April, 1986. It was the intention of this
program not only to help prevent bankruptcy and reduce debt on
farms in the North Florida area, but to assist farm families in
becoming top managers of their farm businesses in order to
survive the farming of the future.
Gladwin, C. and J. Butler
1985 How Not to Lose Your Shirt Gardeninj Circular 601
Florida Cooperative Extension Service, University of
Gladwin, Christina H.
1985 A Women's Farming Systems Research/Extension
Project in Kenya and the U.S.. 1985-88, University
Gladwin, Christina H.
1984 How Florida Women Help the Farm and Agribusiness
Firm Survive, Circular 613, Florida Cooperative
Extension Service, University of Florida.
Hildebrand, P. E.
1980 Motivating Small Farmers. Scientists, and
Technicians to Accept Change, Socioeconomica
Rural, Instituto de Ciencia Y, Guatemala, C.A.
1985 Economist: Resolve to Keep Better Records to
Make Better Deceisions, various newspapers, IFAS
Editorial, University of Florida.
Help Coming for Florida Farm Families' Record-
Keepin., various newspapers, IFAS Editorial,
University of Florida.
1984 Synthesis of North Florida Farming Systems
Project. 1981-1984, University of Florida.
Swisher, M. E. and H. F. Smith
1985 The Best Little Programming Tool in Extension:
Audience Identification, University of Florida,