School of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, Mississippi Association of Cooperatives celebrate 28th annual Small Farmers Conference

The Alcorn State University Extension Program, in conjunction with the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives’ Center for Cooperative Development, hosted its 28th annual Small Farmers Conference on Monday, April 1 through Wednesday, April 3 at the Tunica Arena and Exposition Center, Tunica, Mississippi.

The conference exposed interested participants to sustainability models, new and innovative farming strategies, issues affecting small farmers, financial resources, marketing concerns, opportunities for women in business, and more. This year’s event welcomed nearly 325 participants and was centered around the theme, “Innovating Change: Securing Sustainable Agriculture for the Future.”

According to Dr. Franklin Chukwuma, associate director for Extension, School of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, “The key of the Small Farmers Conference is for farmers, USDA agents, and other participants to network and learn about ways to sustain their enterprises.”

The event began with a Pre-Conference featuring a panel of farmers and representatives from the United States Department of Agriculture. Rockeill Woods, Gulf States Regional Director, National Center for Appropriate Technology, presided.

Participants got the opportunity to ask questions and connect with delegates from an array of organizations, including the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA Farm Service Agency and others. Representatives shared strategies for sustainability in production, manufacturing, conservation, and finances.

After lunch, the conference officially commenced with greetings from University, state, and local officials.

Mr. Archie Tucker, director of the Southeast Area, United States Department of Agriculture, served as the keynote speaker. During his address, he gave an informative dialogue about his momentous life’s work and encouraged attendees to discover ways to impact their communities for posterity.

During the span of the conference, participants were exposed to new advancements in the agricultural industry as well as novel approaches to improve their enterprises. Sessions examined areas such as heir property and estate planning, land and property rights, cooperative development, regional marketing, expanding small production for value-added foods, among others.

On the second day of the conference, participants boarded charter buses to travel to various learning sites in Marks, MS, Memphis, Tennessee, and other contiguous locations.

Featured sessions included: Farm Planning; Risk Management; Conservation; Women in Business; and tours of the Alcorn State University Vegetable Processing Center, AgriCenter International, LandMark Farms and Food Pantry, as well as some local small-farm operations. Participants discovered techniques for livestock fencing, row-crop production, growing and harvesting methods, value-added production and much more.

Gregory Smith, Alcorn alumnus and forestry farmer (Farmhaven, Mississippi), attended the conference to network and learn how to apply for financial support from government agencies.

“This is my fourth year attending the Small Farmers Conference. Being a young man just starting out, it’s kind of hard for me to expand like I would like to. I love coming here and soaking up all this information. I want to take advantage of the many opportunities offered to me and take all that I’ve learned back to my community.”

Later that evening, attendees put on their best cowboy hats and boots for the highly anticipated Farmer of the Year Dinner. Primus (Earlene) Wheeler of Jubilee Farms, Jackson, MS was chosen as this year’s honoree.

During his acceptance speech, he and his wife thanked the University, the Extension Program, the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, the USDA and other government agencies, conference sponsors, and their supporters for their nonstop assistance. They encouraged members of the audience to strive to be in their position next year and to “act, think, and farm like an Alcornite.”

Afterward, participants delighted in a succulent meal and culturally significant music as they intermingled with one other and danced the night away.

On the final day of the conference, individuals enjoyed concurrent sessions regarding current issues faced by small farmers. They got a chance to hear from speakers like Rockiell Woods; Dr. Cindy Ayers-Elliot, CEO of Footprint Farms LLC; Liz Broussard, Director of the Mississippi Food Justice Project; James W. Ford, CEO of Square O Consulting LLC; Dr. Martha Alexander, CEO of Leadership Next-Generation Plus; Marlin Foster, Executive Director of Knowledge Quest; Freddie Davis, forester, River City Land Services; and Delmar Stamps, outreach consultant, Square O Consulting LLC.

Participants expressed the rewarding benefits of attending.

Carolyn Jones, director of the Mississippi Minority Farmers Alliance stated, “This conference was truly awesome. This is my third year attending and this is the type of training that our farmers, especially our new and beginning farmers, need.”

According to Charles Houston, long-time conference attendee, “This conference provides a lot of intel for young growers and agriculturalists with whatever diversified operations they’re in.” Houston, who has been attending since the early ’90s, says he enjoyed all of the aspects of the three-day event.

Attendees look forward to applying what they’ve learned in their respective operations. Many expressed a desire to attend next year’s conference, slated to be held in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

According to Gerald Jones, conference chair and director of County Operations for the Alcorn State University Extension Program, the event was a huge success. He showed appreciation to everyone involved, as well as his colleagues in the School of Agriculture & Applied Sciences, for their tireless support.

“The 2019 Small Farmers Conference has been fabulous. The participants have really enjoyed themselves and absorbed all of the educational material. I am very excited, and I want to thank my supporting cast. There is no “I” in team and this could not be done by one person. Everyone chipped in, fulfilled their roles and I’m just very grateful and thankful for that.”

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