Starting in October, a new training program will offer beginning and young farmers crash courses in business planning, vegetable and fruit production and goat husbandry to provide them with a strong foundation to help grow their new businesses.
The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, UGA Small Business Development Center, Georgia Organics, Fort Valley State University and AgSouth Farm Credit, along with other partners, are developing the training and mentoring program to help beginning farmers become successful and sustainable farmers. The partnership will provide training to 70 new farmers, focusing on minority farmers and farmers with limited means.
The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture announced Feb. 2 that the partnership would receive a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Grant of $652,000 to establish an innovative training program that can be presented throughout the state.
"Many of the young people interested in farming don't come from a farming background," said Julia Gaskin, director of UGA's Sustainable Agriculture Program. "We have been very interested in developing a comprehensive training program to help this group and those currently farming that want to improve their operations."
The statewide partnership also includes UGA Extension's county agents, the Department of Agriculture and the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association.
"We think this collaborative approach will give us a good foundation for a strong program for the state's beginning farmers," Gaskin said. This grant is part of more than $18 million in NIFA funding to support beginning farmers.
The core of the training program is business planning. The UGA Small Business Development Center — a unit of the Office of Public Service and Outreach — and AgSouth Farm Credit will provide business planning and financing workshops to the farmers.
"To assure a continued sound agriculture industry in our nation, it is essential that we provide financial literacy and risk management training for the next generation of farmers," said Van McCall, director of the AGAware program for AgSouth. "AgSouth Farm Credit has made a commitment to the future of agriculture through the development of our national award-winning AGAware program. We are very excited for the opportunity to partner in this program."
AgSouth Farm Credit launched a young and beginning farmers training program in 2013 with AGAware, a series of business skills workshops focusing on business planning, marketing and Farm Services Agency and Small Business Administration programs.
Georgia Organics will help develop training for farmers interested in small fruit and vegetable production and coordinate the hands-on training that will offer internships and/or mentoring experiences.
"Beginning farmers face many obstacles, and successful, established farmers offer a wealth of expertise to help them succeed," said Alice Rolls, executive director of Georgia Organics. "We look forward to connecting these new growers with producers who have been there, and to the rewarding work of feeding their communities."
Tom Terrill, a small ruminant expert at Fort Valley State University will lead the development of the small ruminant training. The training is based on the highly successful Master Goat Producers classes that have been run in north Georgia. The demand for sheep and goat products has been growing, and this training will teach new farmers the basics on how to be successful with their herds.
"Goat production is an ideal enterprise for beginning farmers because of (growing) demand for goat meat in the United States and because they do not require an intensive system," Terrill said. "Goats can utilize brush, broadleaf weeds and grasses on marginal land and still be productive."
The UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences will lead the grant and provide additional training in small fruit and vegetable production.
For more information about Georgia's Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, see www.SustainAgGA.org.