How to Keep your Farm Business Organized

About the Project

I am sure that at this point if you are like the majority of normal people on this earth, you will be sitting staring at the pile of documents in a shoebox patting yourself on the back for at least making the effort to shove them into a box.

The good news is that for not much more effort you can have all your financial documents organized and ready to be used at a moments notice.  Its simple, easy and the majority of your time will be spent in the initial set up.

If something should ever happen to the person in your business that takes care or the day to day aspects of your businesses or personal finances this will help other come in and understand where everything is sitting.  So valuable!


Materials and Tools

  • File folder box
  • 13 folders
  • Tax returns for the last 7 years
  • Your individual retirement savings and investment accounts
  • Your children’s education/investment savings plan statements
  • Your will and living will.  (If you need to make one talk to your lawyer, or if it’s quite simple, go to Legal Wills)
  • Your home and auto insurance
  • Your life, disability and critical illness insurance
  • Your group benefits plan
  • Your company retirement plan
  • Your credit card debts
  • Your loans for car, student loan, line of credit, other loans
  • Your mortgage
  • Your bank statements
  • Your lawyer, accountant and financial advisor information

 

General Instructions

Once you have collected all the above personal information, simply file it into individual folders.  Then take a snap shot of all the information for you to update every 12 months after that, using the downloadable chart provided.  Keep a record of this on your computer and also in one of your files in your box.

Judi Graff on why a professional business needs a professionally designed site

Our resident web expert contributor, Judi Graff of the FarmNWife, reviews our members blogs and gives some helpful tips on how to improve communications through social media. Check out her review of John Walkey’s, Bridge Business & Technology Inc. website.

Website Critique – Clean & Uncluttered is a great start

Our resident web expert contributor, Judi Graff of the FarmNWife, reviews our members’ blogs and gives some helpful tips on how to improve communications through social media.  Check out her review of Cara Conroy-Low’s, Clear Sky Farm website.

Pickle vegetables for winter inexpensively with dry salt

Dry salting is a practical and inexpensive way to preserve vegetables. It is essentially a method of pickling that was popular in the early twentieth century. At that time, it was promoted as an alternative to canning, in order to conserve glass, tin, and fuel in time of war.

If you are already familiar with making sauerkraut or kimchi, dry salting is a nearly identical process, except for the amount of salt used. When making sauerkraut or kimchi, vegetables are layered with a low concentration of salt (2 1⁄2 to 5 percent by weight). This low level of salt promotes lactic fermentation, which gives these products their characteristic tangy flavors. Dry salting uses a much higher concentration to prevent fermentation, 20 to 25 percent by weight.

In contrast to sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, dry salted vegetables are preserved in a fresh-like state. However, the heavy salt used in this method is out of step with today’s tastes. Yet, many people familiar with salted vegetables consider them to be superior to either canned or frozen ones. You might want to try preserving a small amount of salted vegetables before preserving an entire crop. You may find that learning to use salted products requires some experimentation.

As with sauerkraut or kimchi, dry salting makes brine, which forms when the added salt helps to leach water from the vegetables. In order to prevent the top layer of vegetables from spoiling and ruining the entire batch, you must make sure that the solids remain completely submerged in brine at all times. Also, you must immediately remove any bloom (also called “scum”) whenever it appears floating on the surface of the brine.

During storage, you must store salted vegetables at cool temperatures, preferably 34°F to 40°F (1°C to 4°C), or no higher than 50°F (10°C). If salted vegetables develop a bad odor or color, green or black mold, or soft or slimy texture, the product has spoiled and you must discard it (without tasting).

Vegetables to preserve by dry salting

Many cruciferous vegetables are easy to preserve by dry salting. These include cabbages, turnips, rutabagas, and kohlrabies. You slice or shred these vegetables and layer raw with salt, just as you would for sauerkraut or kimchi. In addition, sliced okra and green (unripe) tomatoes can be prepared in the same way.

Other vegetable must be blanched before dry salting. These include fresh green beans, cauliflower florets, celery slices, leafy greens (such as spinach, kale, chard, and bok choy), and shelled peas. For best results, blanch these vegetables before layering with dry salt. Corn is another good vegetable for dry salting. Boil ears of corn for 10 minutes, and then cut only the top 3/4 of the kernel from the cob.

General method for dry salting vegetables

This is the general method that you can use to dry salt almost any type of cut vegetable. Note that other vegetables and larger pieces, such as small whole tomatoes, beets, carrots, or onions are not preserved with dry salt, rather using brine and a slightly different process than the one detailed here.

1. Wash, sterilize, and air-dry a salting container. The traditional container is a glazed pottery crock. However, you may use any non-metallic, non-reactive vessel, such as glass, food-grade plastic (no garbage or storage bins), or wood. Glass jars work well, from 1 quart to 1⁄2 gallon or larger. As a rough guide, a 1 quart (or 1 liter) container holds about 2 pounds (or 1 kilo) shredded vegetables, and a 5 gallon (or 5 liter) container holds 25 pounds (or 5 kilos). For larger pieces (such as celery or okra slices), the yields are about half this amount.

2. Select mature (slightly under-ripe) produce that is in perfect condition. Reserve “seconds” for another preservation method, such as making pickles or relish using vinegar. Wash, trim, and slice or shred vegetables. After preparing, weigh to the nearest tenth of a pound or one gram.

3. Calculate the amount of pickling salt needed, from 20 to 25 percent of the weight of the vegetables. Here are the calculations to use:

  • Pounds vegetables × 0.20 (or 0.25) × 16 = ounces salt for 20 (or  25)    percentby weight
  • Pounds vegetables × 0.20 (or 0.25) × 16 = ounces salt for 20 (or 25) percent by weight
  • Grams vegetables × 0.20 (or 0.25) = grams salt for 20 (or 25) percent by weight
  • For example: 7 pounds X 0.20 X 16 = 22.4 ounces salt for 20% salt concentration
  • For example: 3 kilos X 0.25 = 750 grams for 25% salt concentration
  • Use canning, pickling, or kosher salt (either fine- or coarse-grained). Do not use table salt or sea salt, which contain additives and minerals that may interfere with a successful salting process.

4. Steam-blanch prepared vegetables. It is permissible, but not necessary to blanch cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, turnips, rutabagas, and kohlrabies, as well as okra or green tomatoes. To blanch other vegetables, place cut vegetables in a basket or rack over boiling water, cover tightly, and steam for 5 minutes. After blanching, cool vegetables completely on shallow trays in the refrigerator, or a cool location. Pat dry before packing with salt.

5. Work in batches no larger than 5 pounds. Toss food and salt together in a large bowl until evenly mixed. Pack the salted vegetables into the sterilized container, gently pressing or tamping each layer to draw water from the food. Press using your fist, or some tool such as a meat pounder, potato masher, or the bottom of a bottle. Be sure to scrape all salt from the mixing bowl into the salting container.

6. Cover and weight the vegetables to help brine formation and to keep the vegetables from floating. To cover the vegetables, use a layer of plastic wrap, cheesecloth, Swiss chard leaf, grape leaves, or a cabbage-stem end (a thick slice cut from the base of a cabbage). Be sure to press the cover onto the surface of the food without trapping air underneath. To weight the vegetables, use a brine-filled plastic bag, a water-filled jar, or a can of food.

7. After 24 hours, check for adequate brine formation. If the liquid does not cover the food by 1 to 2 inches, prepare brine of the same strength (20 percent or 25 percent). Use 8 1/2 to 12 ounces (or 200 to 250 grams) salt per quart (or liter) of distilled or boiled water.

8. Store vegetables completely covered in brine at all times, in the refrigerator below 40°F (4°C), or in a cool cellar no higher than 50°F (10°C). Protect the surface of the brine from insects with a plate or paper cover.

9. Check the container one or two times a week for a white bloom (“scum”) and remove it immediately if it appears. It is not harmful, but it can create off flavors and shorten the storage life of the salted vegetables if not removed. Use a clean cover and weight after checking for bloom. If the vegetables develop green or black mold, soft texture, or rotten odors, they have spoiled. Discard spoiled vegetables without tasting. Under ideal conditions, dry salted vegetables may be stored up to 6 months.

How to use salted vegetables

When removed from the brine, salted vegetables will be firm and slightly darkened in color. You can prepare and serve them in the same ways you would if they were fresh, including eating raw in salads. You may want to remove some of the salt, which can be done in one of the following ways:

  • Drain salted vegetables and add to soups or stews. Use 1/4 pound vegetables for every 2 quarts of soup or stew containing meat, potatoes or rice, root vegetables, and unsalted canned tomatoes. Smmer for 1 to 2 hours or more to redistribute the salt evenly throughout the dish.

  • Rinse salted vegetables under running water. Use in salads, or cook in any recipe that calls for fresh vegetables, including side dishes, soups, and stews.

  • Soak salted vegetables for 2 to 12 hours in several changes of water, until saltiness is reduced to a desirable level. Use 1 gallon of water for each pound of vegetables.

  • Boiling salted vegetables for 10 minutes before using is recommended by some sources. This is especially important if exact procedures are not followed, especially by using damaged vegetables, carelessly washing produce, not using a clean and sanitized container, storing the vegetables above 50°F (10°C) for any length of time, allowing vegetables to float above the surface of the brine, and not removing bloom or scum when it appears.

Salted green tomatoes

Unlike their juicy, red ripe counterparts, unripe green tomatoes are dry and sour. Salting is a wonderful way to preserve them, making them ready for everything from salad to pasta.

Makes about 1 quart

2 pounds or about 1 kilo (about 10 small) hard, green unripe tomatoes

2/3 cup (6.4 ounces or 200 grams) pickling salt (do not use table, sea, or iodized salt)

1. Wash, core, and halve or slice the tomatoes thickly (3/8 inch or 1 cm).

2. Layer the tomatoes and salt evenly into a sterilized 1-quart canning jar, pressing lightly to extract liquid from the tomatoes. Cover and weight the tomatoes. Set aside in a cool, dark place.

3. In 24 hours, if the juices do not cover the tomatoes completely, prepare very strong brine by dissolving 1/4 cup (60 grams) pickling salt in one cup (250 ml) distilled or boiled water. Cool before pouring over tomatoes to cover completely by at least 1 inch.

4. Store tomatoes in the refrigerator (below 40°F (4°C ), or in a cool cellar no higher than 50°F (10°C). Protect the surface of the brine from insects with a plate or paper cover.

5. Check the container once a week for a white scum floating on the surface of the brine. Remove it immediately, if it appears. Use a clean cover and weight. Keep the vegetables completely submerged in brine at all times during storage. Under ideal conditions, salted vegetables may be stored in the refrigerator up to 6 months.

Rinse salted green tomatoes for use as a winter salad, dressed with honey-mustard vinaigrette and garnished with roasted nuts. Prepare fried green tomatoes as you would fresh ones for a delicious supper or side dish. Rinse or soak salted tomatoes to remove salt, and dry them on paper towels. Coat slices with flour, egg, and cornmeal, and then fry in oil or fat until crispy and nicely browned. I like to serve these with a chunky tomato sauce. Finally, salted green tomatoes are delicious when tossed with hot pasta, along with fresh parsley, lemon zest, and mild cheese such as ricotta or mozzarella. Add chicken or salmon if you want a little protein, but keep the flavors simple and fresh-the preserved tomatoes already provide a strong, salty accent.

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For more articles like this, please check out Carol Cancler’s blog here.

 

Website Critique – Blog tips for increasing conversions, traffic & sales!

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Keep Your Chicks Happy This Winter

If you live in a colder climate and are busy getting ready for the arrival of winter, don’t forget to make sure your chicks are well prepared for the cold months ahead. When the days are shorter your chickens may require different lighting, heat sources or nutrition to keep them producing well.   Of course no one likes frozen eggs or worse yet frozen wattles and combs that the cold weather can cause. So we dug up these 2 great articles for you which are full of tips to help you keep your chickens warm, healthy and productive this winter

6 Winter Tips for Your Flock

Top 10 Tricks for Keeping Chickens in the Winter

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Homemade Gifts in a Jar

If you are thinking about making a few homemade Christmas gifts for friends and neighbors don’t wait until December to get started!  We have collected our Top 5 “gifts in a jar” from around the web which will help you make easy, inexpensive but unique homemade Christmas gifts.

gifts_in_a_jar_428x281

Christmas in a Jar
Complete with printable labels!

Bath Snowballs in a Jar
You can’t go wrong with this lovely jar from Martha Stewart.

cowgirl_cookies___440x293

Cowgirl Cookies
This is a fabulous idea complete with cool printable labels from Bakerella.

Peppermint Stick Cocoa in a Jar
Yummy and pretty at the same time !  This mix will fill a 1-quart jar (12 servings), but if your containers are different sizes, just keep the ratio of ingredients constant.

Lemon Hand Scrub
Say goodbye to dry, chapped farm hands !
I have been using this simple mix for a few years and it is the best recipe to rejuvenate your skin and bring your fingertips back to life.

How to Market Farm Products to Restaurants

Written by Debbie Roos, Agricultural Extension Agent.

Crop and Variety Selection

1. Don’t try and offer something that the buyer already gets locally, unless you are offering it at a time when local supply is low (see below). Carve out a niche for yourself by being the first to offer a new product. Some farmers find it helpful to have a lead product that buyers will know you by – later on you can add products.

2. New farmers should look at where and when they can break into the market. Try and provide crops when no one else has them, like at the very beginning or very end of the season, or during the winter. These are times when farmers’ markets are closed and most established farmers take a well-needed break. Instead of trying to compete during the busy spring and summer, look at what you are able to produce during the much less crowded off-season. There are huge opportunities for seasonal cold weather product.

3. Look at market demand and supply to identify opportunities and determine what you can produce that’s not currently being grown locally. Everyone is growing tomatoes and squash – try to provide a product that no one else has. Think outside the box. Ask chefs what they need. You can definitely charge more if the chef can’t get it anywhere else.

4. Flavor, not yield, should be the primary consideration in determining what variety to grow for restaurants.

5. Some crops in high demand and short supply locally include baby squash, baby leeks, beets, fava beans, heirloom varieties, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, figs, field peas, lima beans, purple-hull peas, sweet corn (especially heirloom varieties). Again, communication is important. Talk to each chef to determine their individual needs.

6. Crop diversity is important. If you are growing something successfully, resist the impulse to overproduce it. For example, if you are growing 1/4 acre of broccoli and selling it to a restaurant, instead of doubling your broccoli acreage and trying to figure out where to market it, grow 1/4 acre of cauliflower in addition to the broccoli because there’s a good chance the restaurant you already sell to will want it, saving you the effort of finding another buyer for the extra supply.


Harvest and Post-Harvest Handling

1. The easiest way to remove the field heat from produce is to not have it there in the first place! Pick early in the morning, and take advantage of whatever shade you have. Store product in the shade while you are working in the field. Store in the cooler if it won’t be delivered until the next day.

2. Many farmers grow an excellent product but they kill it before they deliver it through improper post-harvest handling and storage. Quality starts in the field and can only decrease after harvest. One of the most common mistakes is over-handling. As one experienced farmer said, “they need to quit messing with the product!” Streamline procedures to decrease handling time. Bunch and pack directly in the field.

3. Beginner farmers or any farmer growing a new crop often don’t have a good understanding of “units”. If the buyer asks for 20 bunches of basil, you need to know what a bunch is, and how they want it bunched. Again, communication is extremely important. Work this out in advance with the buyer.

4. Communicate with the buyer about packaging requirements and expectations.Ask for their preferences. Make it as convenient as you can for the buyer. Label bags or boxes of produce with the name of the crop and the date of delivery.

5. Harvest vegetables at the appropriate stage. Overly mature vegetables will be rejected. There’s a difference between “baby” and “young”. Some chefs don’t like baby vegetables – they look cute on the plate but have no taste. However, all chefs appreciate young vegetables. The vegetable should be mature enough to have developed a nice flavor, but young enough to have snap and not be woody or fibrous.

6. Harvest and pack intelligently. What you do to your produce after harvest has a big impact on its shelf-life. Follow proper post-harvest handling and storage procedures to ensure a long shelf-life for your crops. Chefs won’t buy from growers who don’t know how to handle their product. It may look great coming in the door but if it wasn’t handled properly, it will lose quality fast. Don’t bring tomatoes in still hot from the sun unless you literally just picked them!

7. Trim inedible parts off anything you are selling by the pound. Chefs don’t want to pay for something they can’t use.

8. Get the product as clean and bug-free as possible, with no bruising. Most chefs prefer that products are not pre-washed since this handling shortens their shelf-life and increases spoilage. Discuss this with the chef in advance.

9. Pack the produce in a user-friendly, environmentally friendly manner. Recycle containers if possible and label your product as to what it is and when it was delivered. The cooks at a restaurant might not recognize a bag if they are used to another form of packaging.

10. If you aren’t sure how to pack your product, ask the chef what their expectations are.Use reusable/recyclable packing containers when possible.

11. Keep the chef’s needs in mind: provide trimmed, clean produce that is convenient as possible to the chef. This may include value-added products such as mesclun mix with micro-greens, cleaned and ready to go.


Produce Quality

1. Small growers generally can’t compete with larger suppliers on price or volume, so you have to compete on quality and service. Price, quality, and service are all important, but you can’t have all three – you can’t provide the best price, the best quality, and the best service. If you have the lowest price, then you are most likely sacrificing quality and service. Provide excellent quality and service at a fair price, and the buyer should have no reason to look for another supplier.

2. Appearance of product can be very important to chefs, who have a vision of what they want the plate to look like. Sometimes they want a particular size vegetable because that’s what will look nice on the plate.

3. There is more flexibility in restaurants for accepting off-grade produce since it is going to be processed. Communicate with the chef about aesthetic expectations for produce. Some items may need to be visually appealing, but for others it won’t matter.

Communication

1. Communication is extremely important in establishing and maintaining a good relationship with the buyer. Start off on the right foot and stay on the right foot. Maintain communication during the off-season, letting buyers know what you are planting, and when and how much you expect to have. This can be done by phone. As harvest time approaches, follow-up with more phone calls to remind them of what you have, how much you have, and when it’s coming in.

2. If there’s a problem (deer, weather, disease, etc.) and it becomes evident you won’t have as much product as you predicted, give the buyer as much notice as possible. Buyers understand that risks are inherent in crop production, but it’s important to keep the line of communication open – surprises are not welcome! Buyers need a chance to line up another supplier.

3. During the growing season, give as much advance notice as possible of when you will have a product and when you expect to run out of a particular item. The more notice you can give, the better, generally 7-10 days. Buyers need to know in advance when your supply will come in so they can stop ordering from their larger suppliers and let their current stock run out. Likewise, they need to know ahead of time when you expect to run out so they can line up another supplier.

4.Start communicating and building relationships with chefs before the growing season begins, in January and February. Tell them what you are planning to plant, ask for ideas of what they are looking for, and then follow-up with reminders as the season progresses.

5. Be consistent about when you take orders and when you will bring them. A restaurant is a system that has deadlines and cut-off times for when other sources must be contacted. For example, if you normally provide lettuce and the chef hasn’t heard from you by 3:00 p.m. and their large supplier has an order cut-off time of 4:00 p.m., then you may lose a sale and damage your credibility.

6. Give a bit of warning as to when you expect the current crop to stop and what is coming up, especially with odd products that might take time to figure out a dish to use it for.

7. Let the chef know if you can not deliver the product when you said you would.

8.Treat all employees in the restaurant as you would a potential buyer. Staff turnover in restaurants is high, and if someone you know moves to a new restaurant, they may can help you make a sale.

9. Most chefs prefer that you call before you show up at their back door. Do not call or visit during meal rush times. It’s best to contact them between 9:00-11:00 a.m. and 2:00-5:00 p.m., avoiding the 11:00-2:00 time slot if the restaurant serves lunch.


Service

1. Buyers expect professionalism from farmers. You must think and act like a business person. Call when you say you will, understand pricing, provide a high quality product, show up on time, and be reliable. Use a receipt book, not a scrap of paper or the corner of a box. The importance of professionalism cannot be overstated.

2. Don’t promise more than you can deliver. Be conservative in estimating how much product you will have.

3. Offer the chef a small amount of a product that you have a hard time selling. They may be able to use it on their day off and find a new use or recipe for it.

4. Consistency and quantity are important. Be able to provide an estimate of weekly quantities for the following couple of weeks. Don’t promise more than you can deliver!

5. Any written background information you can provide about your farm is welcome. Chefs usually spend time out in the dining room talking with customers, and the more they know about your farm, the more they can tell your story to customers.

Price and Payment

1. Local growers should get a higher price than California growers because local products have usually been harvested within 24 hours and so have a longer shelf-life, and therefore less “shrink”. Shrink is the amount that is never sold and is thrown away. For example, a box of lettuce has 24 heads. If it was shipped from California to North Carolina, it was harvested a minimum of 4-7 days before arriving at the store or restaurant. The buyer will most likely end up throwing away 6 out of those 24 heads. Buyers may pay more per head for local lettuce but end up with less shrink.

2. Some farmers will have an oversupply of something and then drop the price drastically as they scramble to dump it somewhere; you are not doing yourself any favors and you are hurting other farmers. Rarely does a buyer purchase more when you drop the price. It’s better if you plan carefully to avoid oversupply.

3. Use a receipt book that produces duplicate copies, and always get someone to sign it when you make a delivery.

4. For restaurant sales, most farmers aim for a price somewhere between retail and wholesale, about 20% less than retail. Chefs may expect a discount for higher volumes or contracts. Know ahead of time what price you want, because most likely the chef will expect you to name your price. Chefs are willing to pay more for high quality specialty vegetables, especially when local supply is low.

5. Payment schedule is something you work out with the chef. Most chefs prefer not to pay on delivery. Keep in mind that if you get paid on delivery, it can double the time you spend at the restaurant – time that could be spent on the farm or developing relationships with other buyers.

Contributors: Ben Barker, Chef and Owner, Magnolia Grill, Durham; Bill Dow, Farmer, Ayrshire Farm; Stefan Hartmann, Farmer, Black River Organic Farm; Gwen Higgins, Executive Chef, Aurora’s, Chapel Hill; Alex Hitt, Farmer, Peregrine Farm; Bret Jennings, Chef Proprietor, Elaine’s on Franklin, Chapel Hill; Devon Mills, Chef and Owner, Babette’s, Durham; Sam Poley, Executive Chef, The Weathervane Café at Southern Seasons, Durham

Increase Profitability by Adding Value to Farm Products

Published with permission from guest author Brenda Reau, Michigan State University Extension, MSU Product Center

The term “value-added agriculture” gets tossed around a lot, but what does it really mean? Many farmers want to increase profitability and adding value to raw agricultural products in one way to accomplish that goal. To achieve this however, farmers need to think in new and different ways and break away from focusing all of their efforts on production. There are two ways to add value: by capturing value or creating value.

Capturing Value

Capturing value relates to capturing some of the value that is added to a product by processing or marketing. The farmer’s share of every dollar that consumers pay for food has been shrinking over the years. It was about $.33 per $1 in the 1970s and in recent years has dropped to about $.16 per $1.  The farmer continues to get less and the rest goes to processing, distribution and marketing. These figures sound discouraging but clearly illustrate the potential opportunity to attain more value.

Farmers can capture value by entering the processing arena—turning farm products into food products adds significant value. This involves risk and requires a new skill set. Often farmers can create alliances in cooperatives or limited-liability companies that can combine resources to achieve common goals. One very successful example is the Michigan Turkey Producers Cooperative.

Direct Marketing is also a way to capture value and can be done in a variety of ways on both a small or large scale. On-farm stores, farmers’ markets, CSAs, mail order and Internet sales have proven to be beneficial in capturing value. Many farmers are also now achieving a bigger profit margin by direct sales to the food service industry serving restaurants, schools and hospitals.

Creating Value

Creating value is another strategy that involves developing products that are differentiated in some way. The product difference may be real or perceived.

The key to success is that the consumer feels there is added value to the product and is willing to pay for it. Creating value can be accomplished with branded products or those with special certification. One product that combines both of these attributes is Certified Angus Beef. Products produced using special methods such as organic or environmentally friendly practices also create value. The current consumer trend of preference for locally produced foods fits with creating value. In this case the production practice is not different but methods of marketing the products become key in creating the perception of value to consumers.

If you are interested in exploring the development of value added agricultural products, contact the MSU Product Center. Specially trained innovation counselors are located throughout Michigan and can assist producers in developing value added products and businesses.

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension.
Interested in adding value to your farm? Take a look into agritourism: “How to Get Started in Agritourism“.

Do you practice any value added techniques?