Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Specialty Crop Block Grants Available

Pennsylvania is abundant in produce, horticulture, and many specialty crops, which is why we, as residents, look so forward to the growing season and what it has to offer.

Now the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has something to offer specialty crop producers. A new grant program, authorized under the Farm Bill, is available to "enhance the visibility of specialty crops."

It is estimated that $1 million will be made available for awards. Fruit, vegetable, tree nut, dried fruit, nursery crop and horticulture producers are eligible. Projects should be centered around product promotion, nutrition and consumption knowledge, distribution and marketing, crop research, and/or enhancing food safety.

Applications are due by 4:00 p.m. on June 12th and may be delivered or mailed to to Lela Reichart, Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Market Development, 2301 N. Cameron St., Room 310, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9408.

To download an application, visit www.agriculture.state.pa.us and select the “Specialty Crop Block Grants” link under “What’s New.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Take 10 minutes, sit back and watch this video. I can't say it any better, nor would I try.

Please think about the Earth in all you do!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Can Your Company Cover the Cash Flow Needed for COBRA Under the Stimulus Plan?

As part of the recently approved federal stimulus bill, eligible terminated employees can obtain a 65% discount on COBRA coverage. COBRA allows former employees to continue their health insurance coverage for up to 18 months after separation with their company.

The problem here lies with the company, who must pay the 65% premium (the employee pays the other 35%) and then get reimbursed through a payroll tax credit. The up to three-month reimbursement wait can leave a solid cash flow problem for businesses who may already be experiencing "down" time.

Depending on how many "separated" employees elect COBRA coverage under the 65% discount program, may mean that some businesses may not be able to pay the premiums. This backlash could actually cause companies to lay off even MORE employees, freeze salaries, or begin eliminating or downsizing health benefits for regular employees who remain with the company...all for the sake of being able to pay the premiums.

Employers were required to mail out COBRA notices to eligible employees--who have been laid off since September 1, 2008--by April 18th, 2009. Those who fail to notify are subject to fines of $110 per day per former employee. This regulation affects companies with 20 or more employees. The coverage is retroactive until March 1, 2009.

How the new COBRA rules work:
• The federal government will provide a 65 percent subsidy for up to nine months of the COBRA premium retroactive to March 1 for certain terminated employees.
• To be entitled to the subsidy, employees must have been involuntarily terminated between September 1, 2008, and December 31, 2009, and must be eligible for COBRA.
• A special election period exists for individuals involuntarily terminated on or after last September 1 who had not elected COBRA. They will have 60 more days after receiving the notice to elect coverage, which is retroactive to March 1 if they lost their jobs before then.
• The employer pays the 65 percent on the employee’s behalf and is then reimbursed through a payroll tax credit. Large companies may be reimbursed either weekly or monthly, but smaller employers must file for the credit with their quarterly payroll taxes.
• The employee must pay 35 percent of COBRA before the employer can request reimbursement of the other 65 percent. Employers that do not charge the full COBRA premium will not be entitled to reimbursement of 65 percent of the maximum COBRA premium. (SOURCE: Workforce Management - April 13, 2009)

For more information, click here. For IRS information on COBRA, click here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Slow Money

No, I'm not referring to the credit/banking situation. I'm referring to a very different outlook--an outlook that considers investing in local food systems.

On April 28th, the White Dog Cafe in Philadelphia is sponsoring a Breakfast Talk on Slow Money, from 8:00 - 9:30 a.m. The talk, entitled "Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered," will be given by Woody Tasch, author of "Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money."

Woody Tasch is chairman and president of Slow Money, a 501c3 organization formed in 2008 to focus the investment of capital to small food enterprises and to support sustainable agriculture.

In the typical world of investments, the investors want fast returns. Can investors appreciate small scale, aesthetically pleasing and healthfully balanced investments, which do not necessarily provide fast returns? Woody Tasch is out to prove they can, particulary among the socially-conscious investor set.

With a grant from the Kellogg Foundation, Woody is looking to establish a Slow Money Fund. This fund would be used to invest in early-stage sustainable food enterprises. A venture capitalist, Tasch sites the difference between traditional investments and Slow Money investments as the difference between a 20% profit return in 10-12 years on typical investments, to a profit return of 5-14% in possibly 15 years going the Slow Money route. (For more information on sustainable investing, click here.)

Tod Murphy started Farmers Diner in 1999 in Barre, Vermont. He spends 65 cents of every food dollar with farmers who work and live within a 70-mile radius of his diner. Tod's goal is a national franchise of diners following this model. A Johnson School of Business, Cornell University Social Venture study in 2001/2002, calculated significant social returns from this type of diner establishment as follows: "Every 1,000,000 in annual sales at a diner translates into 350 acres of farmland in production, 15 farmers with gross sales of $50,000, 13 new farm jobs, and $1,200,000 in land conservations costs saved. Local production and shortened delivery routes saves at least 10 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually." (For more information on Farmers Diner, click here.)

If you have the chance to attend the Breakfast Talk, let us know what you thought in the comments below. Here's more information on the event: $15, includes a buffet breakfast with farm fresh eggs, French toast, granola, and more, tax, gratuity and program. Reservations required: 215-386-9224.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Industry Specific Tax Information

Whew! We just got through another tax year this week. Hopefully all of you diligently mailed your taxes on April 15th, or applied for your extensions as needed.

In looking through some of the tax information on the IRS website I found some interesting information I thought I would share, which is good for the WHOLE year and not just at tax time.

The IRS has an area called Industries/Professions which provide you with materials for specific industries. For example, you can find an entire menu of items related to the Agricultural industry, which answers questions such as: How do I report farm income and expenses? Are crop insurance and crop disaster payments taxable? When do I deduct the cost of livestock and other items?

There are various industries covered in this way including: automotive, manufacturing, and the newly revamped construction industry. Check it out.

We also receive many questions on the difference between a C corporation and an S corporation in Pennsylvania. The IRS website not only explains this very well, but has the actual forms available for you to get a good idea of the types of documentation required both during and at the end of each tax year. To read through this information, click here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Common Sense Management

Today features the final blog entry from student submissions. It's written by Caleigh Conahan, an Operations Management Major from Hazleton, PA. Caleigh is a Junior.

The economic conditions have unveiled to the public what I like to call "the two faces of management."

First, there is the 9-5 manager who is not concerned with his/her employees or the betterment of his/her company, rather he/she believes by showing up to the office his/her job is done and pay deserved.

Second, there is the manager who has always been--or developed into--the innovative leader.

It is obvious that what management needs, especially in these current economic conditions, is a manager that is willing to go above and beyond to drive his/her company through the recession. Despite all the selfish and negative aspects that have been surfacing in the news these past months, I have been able to witness a manager of a small company that has devoted his full effort to becoming an ideal manager. The manager I know runs a small air freight company here in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and although the company is not booming, as in past years, they are surviving by "common sense" management.

First, the manager accredits cost saving by asking employees to pitch in and help the company. The manager asked employees if they would mind cutting their paid lunch breaks by a half-hour (on a voluntary basis), once or twice a week, if the employer would buy the lunch. This has proven effective because, not only is the company getting more work accomplished, but the employees are also saving because they do not have to buy their lunch.

Second, management has cut back on redundant meetings with employees which involved tasks lists. Instead management hosts a monthly meeting and asks employees to dtrop any suggestions to improve the work environment into the suggestion box. Management was surprised to see not only suggestions in the suggestion box, but encouragement to keep up the improvements and changes.

Third, management realized that they must make cutbacks. Management executed the cutbacks by limiting the number of conferences employees attend to two for the year, and will only send one employee per conference. The employees are chosen to attend by those who have the least days called off and the best customer feedback. This incentive, of being able to go to a conference, has encouraged employees to work harder.

Overall, these are examples of three simple things done by management in this particular company to improve the workforce. I think that simplicity will become even more apparent in these economic times. Once managers realize that it only takes a few simple steps to improve the workforce, maybe our economy will see the start of a turn around.

For some additional information on this topic visit the following sites:


Not Documented, Not Done

Today's blog features Nicole Cruciani. Nicole is a Junior Marketing Major from Clarks Summit, PA.

The title of this blog represents everything I do every day at my job. "Not documented, not done"--so simple, yet so complex. Seems so formal and time consuming, however, the time and money that it can save is tremendous, and unfortunately, constantly overlooked. At the young age of 21, I've already been exposed to some of the realities of life, one being that documented support of an argument--whether it be a research paper, or dealings with an insurance company, is crucially important. The practice of "not documented, not done" can essentially save many managers in today's recession economy.

What can four silly words do to bolster the reputation and integrity of managers? Simply put--everything! Managers should be tracking and recording everything that's essential to the company, their employees, and employee performance. When it comes time for reports to be given, or employees to be laid off, these managers should have detailed, documented information to support their decisions.

Sadly enough, many managers do not keep their notes updated and are reaping the negative effects. It's almost an ironic situation, because (in a way) managers are mismanaging themselves. (For more documentation to support this claim, see the article from Workforce Management.)

I've seen what becomes of undocumented information. Companies today need to enforce within their management staff how important it is to have clear, concise evidence as to why certain decisions were made, especially when it comes to laying off employees, as has been the trend during this recession. Like the health profession, when a medical malpractice law suit is filed, doctors and staff need to have been staying on top of the documentation! (Instructor's Note: The medical profession, specifically the nursing field, is responsible for the "not documented, not done" mantra, a staple of their industry for years.)

"Not documented, not done." Repeat it to yourself a few times and it will stick with you forever. Let's get our managers out of a rut by incorporating this simple phrase into everyday business. If an inexperienced college student, such as myself, can manage documentation, let's hope the real managers catch on. If not, we'll most likely continue on down this spiral path of loss, turmoil, headache, and essentially being "not done."

And The Winners Are...

A few blog spots ago I mentioned the fact that 41 University of Scranton Management 351 students had submitted potential material for this blog, based on an assignment entitled: Management Issues in an Economic Downturn. The top three, which best "fit" the style of this blog, as well as stuck to the topic, have now been selected and will appear over the course of the next three days.

Today we feature Christopher Baginski's blog entry. Christopher is a Junior Accounting Major from Wallington, NJ.

I am quite sure that we all know about the devastating economic recession that has recently plagued our country. The stock market has taken a tremendous tumble, at one point falling 50% below its previous peak. This has caused terrible problems throughout the world. These problems extend to each and every one of us personally. In addition, this downturn has greatly affected businesses, especially in the areas of management and human resourcs.

Businesses measure success by production and profit. Production here is the key. Production leads to profit. So it comes as no surprise that many business leaders dedicate much time, energy and thought to find ways--or to create situations--where productivity can be enhanced. One such way to enhance productivity and profit is to increase employee morale.

It is a commonly held belief in many companies and amongst many executives that happy employees work harder and more efficiently. The task of increasing employee morale falls to the managers and human resources departments of companies. In the past, when the economic outlook was much brighter, managers didn't have to do a great deal to make employees happy. They were to show employees respect, build friendly relationships with them, and perhaps compensate them (increase/bonus) for good work.

However, we are no longer in good times and the demands of employees have shifted. Managers must now face different issues and work much harder to maintain employee morale. The results of a poll about employees' concerns in the downturn done in November 2008 were featured in the February 2009 edition of Workforce Magazine in an article entitled "HR in the Downturn."

The poll listed the impact of the recession on retirement plan investments as the most significant concern of employees. Also mentioned as concerns of employees were the impact on the organization overall, job security, and the impact on employee merit increases in the coming year.

(Instructor's Note: To add to Chris' blog entry, follow up with a trip to this on-line article on the impact of recession on employee communications.)

While in my Intermediate Macroeconomics class the other day, my teacher said that when people worry about their nest egg, they stop spending, start saving, and the economy goes into a stall. This statement is supported by this poll. People are afraid that they will spend their "golden years" at work. They are also constantly afraid of losing their jobs. Without income steadily flowing into the household, what will they save, and more importantly, how will they survive?

This is where the effect on the field of management can be seen. Managers are spending more and more time assuring their employees that their jobs and their pensions are safe. Several human resource departments are holding seminars for employees designed to educate them about financial planning, focusing specifically on managing retirement plans. With extra time being dedicated to allaying fears of employees, managers are now faced with the difficulty of maintaining production levels and employee morale. These challenges are a direct product of the economic recession and a perfect example of how the management field has been affected by it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

What is rBGH and Why Should You Care?

Genetically engineered Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone is a mouthful, and that's just what you could be getting a mouthful of if you don't have clear and concise labeling on your milk products.

Both the General Accounting Office and the Consumer's Union have warned of potential hazards to human health caused by consuming products from rBGH-treated cows. BGH is banned in Europe and Canada. If you'd like more information on this hormone, you can find it here and for a more technical look at the issue, go here.

So why are we bringing it to your attention? As you know we run two Agribusiness and Food Specialty Centers and have become a part of a wide network of farmers across the Commonwealth who truly care about your health and knowledge of how to stay healthy. An entire movement dedicated to local food and growers, the Buy Fresh Buy Local initiative, also promotes putting a face on your food, knowing whom you buy it from, and taking advantage of local produce and commodities in season. For more on the Buy Fresh Buy Local effort, visit: http://www.buylocalpa.org/, then click on the region you are interested in on the map provided.

Recently we were made aware that the Kansas State legislature passed a bill restricting how much information consumers get about the milk they buy. The legislature in that state wants to restrict rBGH-FREE labeling. A bill in Kansas may not mean much to you right now, but could easily become a part of our own state's agenda at some point down the line. Governor Kathleen Sebelius can still veto the bill. The Governor is President Obama's nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, the agency that houses the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has national rules for rBGH-FREE labeling which have worked well in the past. It has been suggested by Food and Water Watch that the new bill would "water down existing national labeling by requiring a misleading disclaimer on all rBGH-free labels" and that the legislation would place "a financial burden on small dairy producers." It would also "force national producers to have different labels for Kansas, than the rest of the country."

Our job is to keep you informed, so we present this issue here for all of our PA Dairy farmers, who are already struggling with milk pricing issues. 95% of U.S. Dairy farmers have boycotted use of rBGH.

We will keep you posted on what transpires in this area in the future.

Monday, April 6, 2009


All U.S. employers are required to complete and keep a file copy of the Form I-9 for every person hired within the United States, whether a citizen or non-citizen hire. This form allows the employer to examine the eligibility for employment within the U.S., and verification documents as presented by each person hired.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, has a great blow-by-blow of the I-9 requirement, including access to the form itself.

The I-9 Form was recently revised on 2/2/09 in order to revise the list of acceptable documents submitted as part of the I-9 process. From this point forward any documents which have expired will not be acceptable to the process. Previous forms of the I-9 can no longer be used.

Remember that the I-9 process takes place AFTER you have made your selection in the hiring process and an offer has been accepted. On the employee's first day of work, all HR paperwork is completed, with the I-9 being a part of that paperwork. You must retain the I-9 form in your files for three years.

Friday, April 3, 2009

American Recorvery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

It's been a bit of time since we first heard this Act title mentioned. I thought I'd surf the web and see what's being said about the Act.

Senator Harry Reid, from Nevada, has the best explanation of the monies funneled to different areas and how that specifically affects the State of Nevada. My hat is off to him and his staff for being proactive, and getting this out in an understandable way for all concerned.

The SBA's Kansas City District Office has a great PDF piece--which is succinct, concise and understandable--which you can read through here (note, it is very general--so what you read there applies to PA as well).

I highly recommend the umbrella site RECOVERY.gov which is updated regularly and has a wealth of information for all affected by the stimulus and business stabilization programs.

Finally, here is a good outline of what faces SBA as it creates its new Business Stabilization Loan program as mandated by Congress.

I am hoping one of our own legislators takes on the task of putting out a "How ARRA Affects PA" document. I could not find a single source for this information. If you do, please let us know in the comments section.