Meeting the Need: A Summary and Evaluation of Ny Farmnet
Brake, John R.; Phelan, Bill
New York FarmNet, a state supported, toll-free, phone help-line for farmers began in March 1986 in response to the farm financial crisis. Its purpose included providing information/refelTal, individualized business/financial analysis and a general safety net for farm families, From March 1986 through March 1991 FmmNet received 3853 calls and assigned 534 consultants to work one-to-onc with fm'm families experiencing severe problems. A summm'y of caller characteristics revealed that slightly over half of callers were males, and nearly all were owners or operators rather than farm workers. Each year caller fmm size averaged between 230 and 320 acres, but the range was from one acre to over 4000 acres. Years of fm'ming experience each year averaged 16 to 23 years, but the range was from I yem' or less to a lifetime. Average debt of callers each yem' averaged between $100,000 and $200,000, and several callers reported debt of over $1,000,000. The main reasons for calling FarmNet were financial or financial/legal problems, but many other reasons were given including need for job information and emotional stress, A 1990-91 phone survey sampled people who had called FarmNet in 1986-87. The survey asked about their recollections of help received from FarmNet. They were generally positive on the helpfulness of the phone operators and remembered considering a number of options as a result of a FarmNet consultant visit. About one third of those callers is no longer fm'ming, and one fifth is in a different type of farming than in 1986-87. Based on five years of the program, several conclusions were offered. 1) A segment of the fm'm population is likely to be at risk each yem'; hence, there is a continuing need for addressing such problems; 2) FarmNet served an audience that would not have been reached by previously existing programs; 3) FarmNet's accomplishments went beyond just focusing on problems of callers to build expertise within Cornell Cooperative Extension staff and networking with other agencies and help sources; 4) The program achieved a positive image under the difficult circumstances of sometimes being the messenger of bad news; and 5) individualized, demand-driven programs such as FarmNet require difficult policy choices in these times of tight budgets.
A.E. Res. 91-3
Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University