Whole Farm Planning: Combining Family, Profit, and Environment

II. The Four Steps in Whole Farm Planning

Whole Farm Planning involves four steps:

  1. Setting goals
  2. Making an inventory and assessment of farm resources
  3. Developing and implementing an action plan
  4. Monitoring on-farm progress toward goals

Step 1: Setting Goals

The first step in Whole Farm Planning typically begins with developing goals and a long-term vision for:

  • The quality of life you want for you and your family, within the community.
  • Your vision for the future of your farm.
  • How your farm enterprise will provide the income and living environment you need.

These three goals correspond to three resource areas:

  • Human and social resources
  • Environmental and natural resources
  • Economic and financial resources

In this step, you and your family need to jointly discuss and develop short- and long-term goals for all three resource areas outlined above.

Quality of life goals might include issues involving health and safety, education, opportunities to try out new skills and enterprises, finding ways to take more time for the family, and reducing the stress of work. Together, you and your family can work out goals that will make farming enjoyable and rewarding for all the family.

Examples of goals for your long range vision of the farm might include wooded or prairie areas around streams which benefit wildlife and improve water quality; windbreaks for fields, livestock, and buildings; and additional housing for a son or daughter entering the enterprise.

Goals for how your farm will produce the income and living environment you want would include a listing of the enterprises you would like to continue, discontinue, or add to your farm, such as Aa cow, calf, and feeder cattle operation,@ Alocally marketed vegetables,@ or Acash crop corn, soybeans, and alfalfa.

Examples of long term goals include reducing debt, improving soil conditions, and developing a plan to pass on the farm after retirement. Some examples of short-term goals include adopting conservation tillage, diversifying the crops you produce, improving your livestock feeding system, and using a more profitable marketing strategy.

Step 2: Inventory and Assessment

The second step in Whole Farm Planning involves inventorying and assessing your resources, including natural resources, human resources, financial and capital assets, and crops and livestock systems. Information needed to complete the inventory and assessment may include soil maps, soil test results, cropping and animal management histories, and financial data. In this process, you may identify problems with the condition of some of your important assets and their management, like soil erosion in some fields, or livestock manure stored too close to water sources. You may also find weakness in your financial or capital assets, due to excessive debt, large variable costs, or depreciation. Or you may determine that your human resources, labor, or time are being used inefficiently.

Step 3: Action Plan

The third step in the process is to identify and evaluate management alternatives, and to develop and implement an action plan. The number and type of alternatives identified and evaluated is up to you. However, the broader the range of alternatives you consider, the more likely you are to find options that meet your overall vision and address the human, financial, and environmental resource goals you laid out in Step 1.

Ideas for management alternatives may come from discussions with your family, from your neighbors, from planning tools, from farm journals and extension publications, or from agency experts. For instance, you may want to evaluate the effect that a change from a continuous cropping system to a mixed livestock - cropping system would have on your income, quality of life, and natural resources such as soil and water and whether it would bring you closer to meeting your goals in all three areas. You may want to evaluate the impact of adopting soil conservation practices such as reduced tillage, or the income possibilities of direct marketing. You might consider the effect of different manure and chemical management alternatives on the safety of your drinking water and your family=s health, as well as profitability. As part of an action plan you could evaluate the changes required for a family member to take time for additional education.


After you have evaluated your alternatives, use this information to develop your action plan, always returning to the vision and goals you identified in Step 1 to see that your action plan fits. Once you are satisfied with your plan, put it into action.

Step 4: Monitoring Progress

The final step after developing an action plan that is compatible with the goals set by you and your family is to monitor progress toward these goals. As the Whole Farm Plan is implemented, try to evaluate how the plan is working, and make minor corrections and refinements as time goes by. Keep records and check your progress toward the goals you set, so you can see how your plan is working. If the work you're doing isn't helping reach your goals, or if something just isn=t working out the way you expected, it=s time to revisit the plan. Goals themselves may need revision with time and changes in family life.


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