Many producers have already met Bruce virtually. He started running during Delaware Agriculture Month in January. Although the sessions were not the person-to-person interactions that Bruce prefers, he took the opportunity to learn more about the research conducted in Delmarva and the local challenges facing farmers.
During his studies, he completed an internship at Mountaire, one of the largest poultry companies in Delmarva. The Hudson, Ohio native clearly remembers driving on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. He was mesmerized by the acres and acres of flat farmland along the eastern coast of Maryland and southern Delaware.
“It was a great experience for me to learn the ins and outs of the poultry industry,” said Bruce.
While in graduate school at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, he worked as a research assistant in agricultural and resource economics.
“It was actually my first experience with Extension,” Bruce said. “I quickly discovered that Extension was my calling.”
After graduating from Tennessee, Bruce specifically sought out an extension position; he found a home in Caswell County, a small rural county in the Piedmont region of North Carolina.
“I was very lucky in my two years there,” Bruce remarked. “We have helped many producers with innovative grants.
When a recent trade war with China upended tobacco’s success, Bruce worked with farmers to find alternatives.
“We’ve found great success with the products,” Bruce remarked. “One of the things I’ve learned is that farmers are very resilient. Looking at how they work, those who are struggling are usually lacking in one or two key elements, either in management or in financial decisions.
After two years at North Carolina Extension, Bruce worked for a small, family-owned agronomic operation, expanding his customer base, contracting and buying from suppliers. Three years in the private sector gave him valuable insight, but he missed Extension and decided to return to outreach.
“I looked at the description and said, that’s me,” Bruce remarked upon seeing the new post at UD. “I needed to come back.”
And that meant a return to the Extension and Delaware, the region that had intrigued him seven years earlier. Bruce’s arrival in the First State comes with his summary of successful case studies, each unique.
“Not everyone’s case is the same. I have to listen to the clues they give me. Farm business management planning is very personal,” observed Bruce. “What I offer is individual training. The information is confidential to me. I do not share it. I am not a regulator.
In a typical agronomy meeting, farmers raise their hands to ask questions about problems with a pest or disease. But for a financial matter, they are not so willing to talk.
Bruce plans to offer the financial analysis tool FinPack® to help producers in the region.
“If they’re considering buying a big piece of equipment, buying or leasing new land, the tool will help them assess their decisions,” Bruce explained. “Having this service is good for growers in the long run. When they go to lenders like Farm Services Agency (FSA), they will have more success with their applications.
From his experience, Bruce said most knowledge about family farming businesses is passed down from generation to generation. He sees his formal expertise in business management and planning as a complement. One of Bruce’s top priorities is to improve farmers’ knowledge of marketing their products and incorporate value-added products. Cost accounting is also high on his list.
“It’s important to know what you have in a crop, how much it costs to produce, and what you need to do to recoup the costs,” Bruce added. “It’s definitely overlooked.”
With the lingering effects of the pandemic, growers will face their most stressful year yet. The prices of almost everything have gone up – in some cases by 300%. Essential materials are more difficult to obtain and all labor is required.
“It’s been a very tough year, overshadowing the tough farm crisis of 1981 to 1985,” Bruce noted.
Still, Bruce sees hope in these troubling times.
“I’ve seen dramatic turnarounds,” Bruce said. “Financial holes turned positive.”
Bruce can’t wait for this to happen in Delmarva.
“I’m here to assess what makes the most sense,” Bruce concluded. “What we do at Extension is like missionary work. We really make a difference.
Delaware farmers can contact Nate Bruce at firstname.lastname@example.org or 302-362-7619.