Conference aims to help small-scale farmers

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 30, 2002

BOUTTE – The LSU AgCenter recently teamed up with farmers, producers and other agricultural professionals on the Hahnville High School campus in Boutte for the Limited Resource Farmers Conference – the first in a series of meetings to help small-scale farmers improve their profitability and success.

During the conference, Dr. Deborah Tootle of the LSU AgCenter’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, who also is leader of the AgCenter’s Community Economic Development Team, said her team’s role is to help strengthen rural communities.

“The new farm bill has a little over a billion dollars dedicated to rural development,” Tootle said. “We have a 25 percent poverty rate in our rural parishes, the highest in the nation.”

Tootle said most of the federal money probably will be distributed in the form of competitive grants. “So what this means is that we have to be ready to go when the grants are announced,” she said.

Dr. Gerald Geisler of the LSU AgCenter’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness told the group how the AgCenter provides farm plan information, such as the Financial Analysis and Resource Management program, which helps farmers make financial decisions and assists in budgeting.

Geisler said his department can help with marketing and is available to help set up farmers’ markets. “We have offices in every parish in the state to provide information,” he said.

The daylong meeting included speakers from nearly all agricultural agencies in the state.

Keith Chapman from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency office in Alexandria told the farmers how the Non Insured Disaster Assurance Program (NAP) program works.

“It mirrors the crop insurance program, but doesn’t pay at the higher levels,” Chapman said. “NAP actually picks up where crop insurance stops.”

He said the program particularly works well for specialty crop producers.

“For producers with less than 25 acres or making less than $25,000 per year, the service fees for the program are waived,” Chapman said.

John Boatman from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service field office in New Orleans described what his agency has to offer to the conference participants.

“Our agency is charged with conservation planning, soil survey information and engineering assistance,” he said, pointing to pond construction as one of the areas in which they work.

Boatman pointed out three major financial programs associated with NRCS – the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, which involves tree planting, pasture planting and erosion control; the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, which replaces native species such as hardwoods; and the Wildlife Reserve Program, which helps reintroduce native animal species.

In addition, Dr. Rex Caffey, an LSU AgCenter specialist with coastal restoration responsibility, said some cost-sharing provisions in the new farm bill have increased from 75 percent to 90 percent on conservation projects for limited resource farmers.

And Harvey Reed, president of the Greater New Orleans Agricultural Coalition, the main sponsor of the conference, said meetings are designed to get needed information to farmers who are least likely to get it.

“What we want to do is make sure that even the smallest farmer in Southeast Louisiana has an opportunity to operate on a level playing field,” Reed said.

Reed said this conference was a pilot, adding that he hopes this type of conference can be held in other areas of the state in the coming months.