Presidential Award of Excellence
UNH Cooperative Extension
“In a business like ours, with such tight profit margins,” says Gordon, “you can't afford to backslide.”
Mike Sciabarrasi (left) with farmers Gordon and Edie Barker. Mike has always had an interest in agriculture. As an animal science student at UMass, he worked on farms and found agricultural economics appealing. Subsequently, he earned his master's degree in agricultural economics from Virginia Polytechnic Institute. After a brief stay with Virginia extension, he applied for a job at UNH. "That was 25 years ago," he says.
Want to know about agribusiness in New Hampshire and the region? Talk to Mike Sciabarrasi, UNH Cooperative Extension Specialist. First he'll tell you that a farm in New Hampshire can be a profitable business, despite development pressures on usable land. Don't let the cute farm names - Butternut, FirstLady, Saltbox, Green Dream - fool you. The annual value of New Hampshire's agricultural products and services exceeds $935 million when fairs and agricultural tourism activities are included. The 3,400 commercial farms in the state manage more than 450,000 acres of land in crop, pasture, maple and Christmas tree production, and other agricultural uses.
Furthermore, Sciabarrasi emphasizes, "Three of New Hampshire's southern counties rank in the top 100 counties in the nation in terms of value of retail sales to consumers. That's nationwide."
Because those farms are near profitable markets, farmers can sell at retail prices directly to consumers, notes Sciabarrasi, who also teaches Business Management for Natural Resource Firms to UNH undergraduates.
Farmers, he emphasizes, can also process products and add value (think pies). Not all of New Hampshire's farmers are so lucky. He cites rural and northern dairy farmers who must sell their milk wholesale. But these producers have options as well. One dairy farmer, who consulted with Sciabarrasi, has combined his farming with a golf course. Another plans to add beef production.
As an extension specialist, Sciabarrasi meets with individual farmers and their families, presents programs, and teaches courses. During the last five years, he has identified and successfully competed for grants that brought in $500,000. These financial resources were leveraged into professional development opportunities and programs for farmers regionally.
Two other areas in which Sciabarrasi has done extensive work are risk mitigation and farm transfer and estate planning. With the region's farmers aging - their average age is mid-50s and more than four times as many farmers are over the age of 65 as under 35 - transfer and estate planning is critical.
Gordon Barker is a third-generation farmer in Stratham, N.H. In 1992, when the family was preparing to transfer the farm to Gordon and his wife Edie, Sciabarrasi provided some initial information. A few years later, Sciabarrasi helped out with employment issues. Then when the tax and estate transfer laws changed, Gordon took an evening workshop taught by Sciabarrasi and others in extension. "In a business like ours, with such tight profit margins," says Gordon, "you can't afford to backslide."
- Carrie Sherman