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Morrisville State College Professor Takes Students on the Road to Gain Savvy Skills, Learn Hands-On About Farm Appraisal Process

MORRISVILLE, N.Y.—Determining agricultural property appraisal values can be a pretty complicated process. So when it was time for Morrisville State College Professor Sheila Marshman to teach the subject in class, she chose a different approach—she took her students on the road.

Seventeen students in her Agricultural Financial Decision Making class became agricultural entrepreneurs for part of the semester, working in the field, most recently at an actual farm, learning hands-on what goes into appraising a dairy farm.

With the help of Kevin Manion, a certified appraiser from First Pioneer Farm Credit, the largest agricultural lender in the United States, students determined an appraisal value of the Taylwind Dairy farm located in Cassville, NY.

Marshman, assistant professor of agricultural business, took on the class this semester, utilizing her own unique approach.

“Given the current economic climate, it is essential that students know how a market value is arrived at for real-estate, farms and homes,” Marshman said. “It is also critical that students know how banks determine the amount a client can borrow based on the appraised value.”

“The concept of conducting an on farm appraisal is consistent with Morrisville State College’s hands-on philosophy of learning by doing,” she said.

Taking what they learned in class, the bachelor degree students from agricultural business development, dairy management, horticulture business management and equine science majors, were tasked to determine values for the land and buildings on the family farm.

Divided into four teams, they set out to classify and evaluate characteristics of the farm to make their final valuation, a complexly detailed process that entailed hours of tedious work.

Among their toils was measuring structures and assessing building values.

“There was so much involved with putting prices on buildings, including determining depreciation, physical deterioration and pricing every building and every stall,” Lene Roberts, of Remsen, an agricultural business development major, said.

They had to dig even deeper to determine if the facilities met new standards and requirements as well as estimate building adaptation and how useful it was to the farm.

On top of that, they collected maps and performed on-site measuring to determine the farm’s total acreage, a figure they broke down further to determine tillable land.

Technology was a strong arm every step of the way.

Students utilized skills learned in Geographic Information System (GIS) and soil science classes to complete the appraisal and laptop computers were an essential tool in their research.

When the appraisal was complete, students walked away enlightened with a breadth of knowledge and experience.

Meg Dineen, of Delphi Falls, an agricultural business development student, was surprised at the scope of the project.
“I had read a lot about the appraisal process, but never really understood what it all meant until we went out and did it for ourselves,” Dineen said. “I never realized there was that much that went into the appraisal process.”

The practical hands-on application was critical in helping students grasp classroom concepts.

“Taking knowledge and applying it in the field is much more effective than sitting in the classroom,” Roberts said. “What I learned will be valuable if I want to build my own barn some day.”

Misty Nicholson had another take on the classroom undertaking.

Nicholson, of Webster, an equine science major, grew up in the equine industry and knew little about dairy and other agriculture-related industries before she took the class.

“When you bring a class of students from different majors together, you find out a lot about the other ag industries,” she said. “It was a great class for me to find that other foot and get experience in everything.”

“The class provided students with exposure to valuation considerations needed to appraise a broad spectrum of agricultural enterprises, not just a dairy farm,” Marshman said.

Students learned much more along the way.

They gained knowledge about the economy, a critical factor in the agricultural industry.

“This class prepares students to start up a good agriculture business and it keeps us informed about the industry, economics and entrepreneurship opportunities and how to survive the fluctuating economy,” Nicholson said.

Chris Mosher, of Crogan, an agricultural business development student with an associate degree in animal science—dairy already under his belt, said the class will help during critical economic times, especially if he takes over his family dairy farm some day.

“My dad never had to borrow anything, but the market is much more difficult today,” he said. “This experience will give me a better idea of what to do and what to expect.”

Learning to appraise farms and land is an important skill to have in the industry, according to Marshman.

The more versed a student is, the more valuable they become in the field, she said.

There were other skills students gained that were also important, including team concept.

“Working as a team helped us broaden our horizons and respect different opinions,” Nicholson said.

Their experience trickled into other aspects of their lives.

“I have been exposed to so much and I have more confidence to enter the field,” Dineen, who plans to work in livestock appraisal or agricultural lending, said.

It’s also helped her in her part-time job in the retail buying office at Stickley Furniture in Manlius.

Overall, the class received a thumbs-up from students.

“Everything we learned in this class will be beneficial to us some day,” Nicholson said. “We all learned about managing our own money—you can’t successfully run your own business without that knowledge.”

Morrisville State College offers agriculture-related bachelor degrees in agricultural business development, dairy management, horticulture business management, equine science and renewable resources technology.

Agriculture-related associate degrees are offered in agricultural business, agricultural mechanics, animal science—dairy, agricultural science, equine science and management, equine racing management, horticulture, aquaculture and aquatic science, environmental and natural resources conservation, and natural resources conservation.

Morrisville State College offers more than 75 bachelor and associate degrees. Considered to be one of the most technologically advanced colleges in the nation for its ThinkPad University program and wireless technology initiative, the college recently became the first in the nation to comprehensively replace landlines in residence halls with individual cellular phones. Morrisville State College was also chosen as one of the top five colleges in the nation for campus activities by Campus Activities magazine.

The Morrisville State College Norwich Campus offers associate degree programs in accounting, business, computer systems technology, office administration, liberal arts transfer, nursing, early childhood, criminal justice and human services to south central New York residents and employers. Students may also apply coursework to other associate or bachelor degrees at the main campus.

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