More than 700 agricultural leaders from across the country will gather in Virginia Beach September 20-22 to identify ways to secure the future success of our nation’s small farms and ranches, numbers of which have been dwindling for decades, while the number of very large farms has seen rapid growth.
The conference specifically focuses on small farmers because of the vital role they play in the national economy, environmental sustainability, local (agro-) biodiversity, and landscape and cultural heritage. Yet they face unique challenges that set them apart from mid-size or large farming operations.
According to the USDA, a small farm is any farm whose gross cash farm income is less than $350,000. Farms who generate more than that annually are considered commercial farms. A whopping 89 percent of U.S. farms are considered small and operate nearly half of the country’s farmland, however those farms account for only 22 percent of agricultural production in the U.S.
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VSU becomes first HBCU licensed to teach USDA/FSA Agribusiness Production and Financial Management Program
Ettrick, Va. – Until last year, Virginia farmers applying for a USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan were required to take an on-line Agribusiness Production and Financial Management Program offered by private companies for $300-$600. The program offers valuable financial management and crop production skills aimed at boosting farm profitability and income, but many farmers find it costly and inconvenient to take online.
Three years ago, representatives from FSA and Virginia State University’s Small Farm Outreach Program, a Virginia Cooperative Extension program, met to discuss a better way to assist Virginia farmers in meeting the mandatory FSA financial and production management borrower training requirements. Both organizations agreed that the current process could use improving.
“Many farmers don’t like the idea of taking online courses, let alone in the evening after putting in a day in the field,” said Mike Wooden, assistant director, VSU Small Farm Outreach Program. “It was hard for them to wrap their minds around balance sheets, cash flow and marketing principles after putting in a full day’s work.”
As a result of that meeting, Virginia State University (VSU) applied to FSA to be a licensed program vendor, or teacher. The University met the criteria and was approved two years ago to administer the course, making it the first Historically Black College and University (HBCU) to be certified in teaching the FSA’s Agribusiness Production and Financial Management Program. In addition, VSU applied for and received from the FSA a three-year grant in the amount of $250,000 to administer the program, which is designed especially for limited resource farmers.
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This introductory workshop is designed for beginning farmers and ranchers to establish and sustain viable agricultural operations through whole farm planning programs.
Instructors from Virginia State University’s Small Farm Outreach program include agents Derrick Cladd, Alvin Adkins and Patrick Johnson. Together, they are very familiar with most agricultural education opportunities across Virginia and can show new farmers where to get the help they need for any farming enterprise.
The 7th National Small Farm Conference, “Creating and Sustaining Small Farmers and Ranchers,” will be hosted by Virginia State University’s College of Agriculture, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Sept. 20 – 22, 2016, at the Virginia Beach Convention Center.
This conference will consist of short courses, oral and poster paper presentations, exhibits, success stories and educational tours in and around Virginia Beach and the Chesapeake Bay.