Since it began as the Socially Disadvantaged Audience Project in 1992, Fort Valley State University’s Small Farmer Outreach Training and Technical Assistance Project has helped small and limited-resource producers in twenty-three southeast Georgia counties successfully manage their farming operations and reduce their debt loads.
Although agriculture has always been recognized as an important aspect of Georgia’s economy, limited-resource landowners have realized less profit from their farm enterprises than other landowners. Over the years, small farmers have badly needed financial education and technical support to reduce their debts. Fort Valley State Cooperative Extension Program studies have shown that socially disadvantaged farmers are largely unaware of the resources available to increase their productivity and profitability.
Realizing the severity of the problems facing small farmers today, Fort Valley State University in 1995 entered into a joint cooperative agreement with a federal funding agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, to improve the technical and managerial skills of small and limited-resource farmers. Through county and campus-based activities, Small Farmer Outreach provides education and training about federal programs that farmers can use to improve their farm-management practices and ultimately reduce their debts. Based in four county extension offices, agents work with producers in Berrien, Bleckley, Bulloch, Burke, Candler, Dodge, Emanuel, Evans, Irwin, Jeff Davis, Jefferson, Jenkins, Laurens, Liberty, Long, Pulaski, Screven, Tattnall, Telfair, Toombs, Treutlen, Wheeler, and Wilcox counties.
Small Farmer Outreach agents and specialists help farmers apply for loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency, the Farm Credit Administration, and local lending institutions to secure working capital to cover operating and equipment costs as well as to assist eligible farmers in obtaining federal crop insurance. The agents and specialists visit farms and homes in their service areas, develop publications to help farmers maintain their sustainability and profitability, and distribute publications on subjects ranging from farm planning to alternative enterprises.
At Small Farmer Outreach workshops small and limited-resource producers learn how to develop and maintain profitable farming operations while gaining the technical assistance they need to overcome barriers to obtaining credit, land, and machinery. Participating farmers are shown how to budget their operations, create balance sheets, and prepare crop and cash-flow projection summaries. They also explore methods of dealing with such financial issues as poor credit histories and a lack of credit, as well as means of gaining access to educational, financial, and technical resources. At comprehensive farm-management training sessions across the state, farmers learn basic farm-management skills, as county agents and specialists offer advice on topics ranging from farm planning and federal crop insurance to soil testing and nutrient management. At campus and county field days, limited-resource producers also receive help in identifying alternative enterprises—such as vegetable production, aquaculture, medicinal herbs, wildlife management, and alternative livestock production—that they can adapt to their farming operations.
Working with the USDA, state agencies, private cooperators, and others, Small Farmer Outreach also explores opportunities for farmers to form cooperatives and obtain assistance for such nonfarm needs as health care and literacy.