January 2017
Farm & Field

Extension Corner: Opening Doors

Beginning Farmer Program provides information for people of all ages and backgrounds.

 

Farming was a way of life for Americans in the New World and on the Great Frontier. Over time, many families traded in country life for life in the city. While there are still family farms in operation, many young people today are more than three generations removed from family farms.

This generation gap has provided avenues for growth and expansion in urban areas, while posing problems for young people – and others – interested in agriculture.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System has partnered with Farmscape Solutions, Crotovina, the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network and the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group to implement the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program in Alabama.

Dr. Ayanava Majumdar, an Extension entomologist and one of the co-chairs of the program, said the number of young people entering farming continues to decline, but numbers of farmers and ranchers over 35 continue to climb – as does the number of small farms and ranches nationwide.

 

BFRDP Provides Customized Services

The BFRDP was developed to provide education, mentoring and technical assistance initiatives for those interested in the agricultural sector.

"There was a specific need to be met," Majumdar said. "There are many people in the state who would like to be involved in agriculture, but don’t know where to start. Our goal is to provide them with support and resources to be successful."

Jayme Oates, director of Farmscape Solutions and a collaborator on BFRDP, said it offers comprehensive assistance customized to the needs of the individual.

"Folks getting into farming often have education, experience or long-term careers in other disciplines," she said. "For instance, an accountant or retired bank executive will have the confidence and skills to make financial decisions and structure their business to be profitable, but may need assistance with crop management."

 

BFRDP Open to All

 

A group discussion during the Beginning Farmer stakeholder meeting held in February 2016.

Majumdar said veterans and underserved communities are two of the areas the BFRDP hopes to assist.

"There are over 400,000 veterans in Alabama," he said. "Veterans are a motivated group, interested in farming and learning more about agriculture. Before we began our program in-state, many veterans were traveling great distances for training."

The BFRDP is not a program set in stone. In fact, Majumdar said this is one of the main draws for participants.

It is a multistep program providing basic information, assistance in securing funds and technical information. The information garnered through the program is catered to the needs of participants.

Majumdar said participants have a wide variety of interests – from organic production to livestock. Much of the interest in the Beginning Farmer program stems from local food movements and a desire to know where food is coming from.

Extension agents throughout the state are the face of the Beginning Farmer program, working to provide resources and guidance.

Oates said the agents, or Technical Assistance Providers, work to meet each farmer where they are physically, mentally and culturally to prepare them for a quality farming experience.

 

BFRDP Funding Opportunities

Farmer 101 class in Cullman with an Extension agent teaching.

 

Oates said working capital and cash flow are challenges to most farmers, regardless of their levels of experience.

"There are incentive programs, grants and loans available through local, state and federal agencies targeting beginning farmers and ranchers," Oates said. "It is important to make beginning farmers aware of these funding opportunities. More importantly, this information must be complemented with training regarding the contractual agreements involved with each opportunity."

"Because many of the people interested in farming have no agricultural background, lots of them are not aware of the costs associated with farming," Majumdar added. "One of the resources we are happy to provide is a direct link to available funding."

Oates said it is in the farmer’s best interest to have a solid understanding of further obligations before pursuing or committing to a contract. BFRDP work focuses on assisting farmers with growing farm profits rather than farm debt.

 

Information and Assistance

For more information about the Alabama Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, visit www.aces.edu/beginningfarms. Work on an electronic curriculum and an app for mobile devices is underway. Updates on progress will be posted at www.aces.edu/beginningfarms.

 

Katie Wendland is a writer for Extension Communications.