When most Americans envision a farm or ranch, pictures of lush pastures, ripe wheat fields, and grazing cattle come to mind. Yet for the small percentage of Americans operating a farm or ranch, the images are not always as picturesque. Farmers and ranchers today face numerous challenges such as high input costs, soaring land prices, and economic uncertainty, just to name a few. One group that has especially felt the pressure of these challenges is beginning farmers and ranchers—which is why Custom Ag Solutions (CAS) has created an educational program to help these producers manage risks.

Through a cooperative agreement with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency (RMA), FFA members across the country have received hands on training about risk in agriculture. CAS, based in Cowley, Wyoming, has developed a program called “Farming is Risky Business” which allows students to participate in simulation game that represents actual risks and outcomes that can occur in agricultural operations. CAS estimates they have reached approximately 44,000 beginning farmers and ranchers from the United States through their education efforts. In the Billings Region alone, CAS has completed over 400 sessions since 2004, and reached over 11,000 beginning producers.

At the 2013 Montana FFA Convention CAS held 10 sessions, and nearly 400 FFA members attended. In the sessions, students participated in a competitive farming simulation game. Each student was able to make management decisions and choose between risk management options on a “virtual farm” via a computer program, and after each decision was made, they were able to see how the decisions impacted their operation. Additionally, participants could see the decisions other students made, and how those choices impacted profitability. Each decision was based on real life risk management choices, and allowed students to learn about risk management options available and how they can impact their bottom line. The CAS instructor received rave reviews from the attendees, and the FFA members especially liked the ability to compete with other students from across the state for the prize of “most profitable” farmer. CAS creates a high energy, energetic learning environment, and some students enjoyed the presentation so much, they came back for a second session. Although the virtual farming game was fun for students, there were also valuable lessons to be learned about the importance of crop insurance, futures and options, purchasing land, and mitigating risk.

CAS and RMA are investing in the future of agriculture with their “Farming is Risky Business” program. There are numerous challenges facing beginning farmers and ranchers, and CAS is introducing risk management techniques early so that when FFA students operate their own farms and ranches they think about the importance of mitigating risk. Through strong education programs and collaboration with groups like Custom Ag Solutions, the Risk Management Agency is aiming to take some of the risk out of the “risky business” of agriculture.
Montana Highschool Students