Learn farm business skills from Richard Wiswall at Practical Farmers’ 2016 annual conference – Jan. 22-23 in Ames

For Release: December 22, 2015

AMES, Iowa — Many farmers struggle to run profitable farms, and think working harder or finding better production methods will eventually lead to success. But according to experienced farmer Richard Wiswall, those ideas are harmful myths that could result in unnecessary labor, frustration, avoidable losses – or even the decision to quit farming.

The real key to success, he says, is farming “smarter,” by treating the farm as a business and learning better financial and business management techniques.

“Production techniques rarely limit a farm’s success,” says Richard, who has been farming near East Montpelier, Vermont, for 35 years. “Rather, it is the lack of dependable profitable returns. You can be the best farmer, marketer or innovator – but if you can’t keep your business afloat financially, you won’t succeed.”

Richard Wiswall and his wife, Sally Colman, own and operate Cate Farm, growing and selling organic produce, seedlings and medicinal herbs. Richard likes to share his knowledge with other farmers, and wrote “The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook” to help farmers better handle the business end of farming.

Richard will teach several financial literacy and farm business workshops at Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2016 annual conference, “Farmers Teaching Farmers,” taking place Jan. 22-23, at the Iowa State Center Scheman Building, on the Iowa State University campus in Ames. Richard will lead three sessions:

• In one in-depth workshop (“Farming Smarter, Not Harder: Financial Literacy and Business Management”), learn about a range of business planning and analysis tools to help you operate a profitable farm. You’ll learn about the language of business, being an effective manager and how to use financial tools to help you.
• In another session (“Effective Farm Mentorships: Training the Trainer”), Richard will cover key issues involved with being a good farmer mentor. You’ll learn about underlying dynamics between farmer mentor and mentee, do’s and don’ts of interactions, the structure of visits – and more.
• In a third session (“Farm Mechanization Efficiences”), learn about tools you can use for greater farming efficiency, from cultivation and harvest tools, to packhouse and greenhouse innovations. Richard will share cost-benefit analysis details that reveal how long it takes for a new tool to pay off.

Register online at https://www.practicalfarmers.org, or contact Erica Andorf: erica@practicalfarmers.org or (515) 232-5661. Those who pre-register by Jan. 14 will save $10 per day. Special rates are also available for students and PFI members.

This year’s conference celebrates the farmer-led approach to learning, teaching and sharing information that has been Practical Farmers’ hallmark for 30 years. Attendees will learn from their farming peers about land and soil stewardship; building community; creating viable farms, farmers and food systems; farm transfer; and more.

Additional horticulture sessions at the conference include:


  • Tackling Fruit and Vegetable Diseases, Weeds and Pests
  • High Tunnel Vegetable Production
  • Managing Nutrition for Plant Health and Yield
  • Practical Tips for On-Farm Pollinator Habitat
  • The 10-Year Journey
  • Management of the Spotted Wing Drosophila Using High Tunnels – *(Part of the SARE Farmers Forum)
  • Top 10 Cover Crp Species for Iowa – 2016 Edition – (In partnership with Iowa Learning Farms)
  • Introduction to Government Programs for Farmers
  • Chickens and Trap Crops: An Integration of Sustainable Approaches to Insect Pest Control in Vegetable Production – *(Part of the SARE Farmers Forum)
  • Developing Commercial Elderberry Production in Minnesota – *(Part of the SARE Farmers Forum)
  • Ask an Expert: Linda Naeve – *(Part of the SARE Farmers Forum)

Orchard Management Short Course: In addition, those who want to learn more how to start and successfully manage an orchard over the long-term can sign up for a pre-conference short course – “Successful Establishment and Management of Orchard Trees” – on Thursday, Jan. 21, from 1-7 p.m., and Friday, Jan. 22, from 8-11:30 a.m., at the Scheman Building.

In this in-depth course, Tom Wahl will discuss his experience and best practices for establishing and managing an orchard, from pruning and care of the orchard floor, to pest and disease management. Tom Wahl and his wife, Kathy Dice, own and operate Red Fern Farm, an agroforestry farm and nursery specializing in nut and berry crops as well as producing tree nursery stock and medicinal forest plants.

Keynote Address: The conference will also feature a keynote address on Friday, Jan. 23, by John Kempf, farmer and founder of Advancing Eco-Agriculture. His keynote – “Common Characteristics of Successful Farmers” – will explore characteristics of farming operations he views as “extraordinarily successful,” and how farmers can work those same principles into their decision-making.

Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2016 annual conference is supported by several major sponsors, including: Albert Lea Seed; Grain Millers; Iowa Learning Farms; Iowa State University Department of Agronomy and Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture; Natural Soy Products; Natural Way Feeds; Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area; Sunrise Sheds; USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; and WeedGuard Plus.


Practical Farmers of Iowa strengthens farms and communities through farmer-led investigation and information-sharing. Our values include: welcoming everyone; creativity, collaboration and community; viable farms now and for future generations; and stewardship and ecology. Founded in 1985, farmers in our network raise corn, soybeans, livestock, hay, fruits and vegetables, and more. To learn more, visit https://www.practicalfarmers.org.

Liz Kolbe | Practical Farmers of Iowa | (515) 232-5661 | liz@practicalfarmers.org
Tamsyn Jones | Practical Farmers of Iowa | (515) 232-5661 | tamsyn@practicalfarmers.org