Alabama has a booming fruit and vegetable production industry which generates more than $160 million in revenue and provides employment to thousands of residents. The growth in the industry is also representative of the growth in local food movement and organic farming in the south. If you are a beginning farmer with ambition to grow food crops for clientele you know, you’ve come to the right place. This bulletin highlights the first few steps that all beginning farmers should take to get started in their business. Below are some steps that have evolved into a consistent system for beginning farmers to network and and find support for over five years. Remember, together we do more for the betterment of your business and society.
The first thing to consider as a beginning farmer is the “Four P model.” This includes Purpose, Plan, Product, and People. You must consider the opportunities and risks of farming as a business, plan the resources you need for success and know the regulations. It is also important to determine what you are going to grow and how to market to the right clientele. A great place to start is https://newfarmers.usda.gov/. It helps farmers step-by-step to think about the Four Ps and other important aspects of running a business. Eventually, the steps will connect you to resources in Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Step 2).
Congratulations on thinking through your new farming business. It is now time to connect to local resources and make new friends. Bookmark the website Alabamabeginningfarmer.com and explore the various ADA-compliant resources listed below. These resources are not only for providing technical information, but to also network with our knowledgeable team of regional Extension agents (REAs) and Extension specialists. Also seek out on-farm assistance from Technical Assistance Providers (TAPs) in the network. Contact information can be found below. Search REAs and TAPs on the internet or use the Farming Basics Phone app for immediate assistance.
- Farming Basics Online Course is a four-hour curriculum with narrative, printable text pages, and hyperlinks that anyone can complete from the comfort of their home. This curriculum generates a customized certificate of completion that provides 4 continuing education credits (CEUs) from the American Agronomy Society and the American Society for Horticultural Science. Beginning Farmers seeking on-farm assistance from the Alabama BFRD program at Auburn University must have this certificate on file before they approach TAPs and REAs. Taking the course provides much-needed introduction to basic crop production and pest management, marketing and food safety regulatory information which saves effort when you are ready for on-farm help.
- Farming Basics Mobile App, available for both Apple and Android phones, is another critical resource that stays with you all the time. Currently it has information on all major fruit and vegetable crops grown in Alabama along with their frequent disease and insect pest issues. The app also provides information on USDA market prices and news alerts by connecting you to our social media public news channel. You can also choose your location which automatically brings up all the Commercial Horticulture REA contact information. You can also ask us questions through the app and social media pages. If you love watching short educational videos on YouTube to stay informed of major farm topics, then the app connects to the Beginning Farmer Project video channel (or you can independently find the training videos at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLkNoAmOtt___MKj6IBxvWzOdWP0btBq4D).
- Alabama IPM Communicator/Beginning Farmer E-newsletter is a year-round newsletter including something from everyone. This digital publication is distributed twice a month with links to blog articles (major news stories) and educational events statewide in a mobile-friendly format. You can self-subscribe to the newsletter by visiting the webpage. Read through the online archive and social media channels to stay abreast of recent advances in agriculture.
- Make sure you add yourself to the email contact list of your local county office and the regional Extension agent so that you don’t miss out on hands-on training opportunities.
- Commercial Horticulture Distance Education Series (COVID-19 Special Programs for Producers): Are you looking for something to do during or after-hours for self-improvement from the comfort of your home? Look into these major distance-learning resources that need a reliable internet service. These are free events open to all beginning and experienced farmers, educators, gardeners, and other professionals. All times are in Central Standard Time.
- Monthly webinar series occur on the last Monday of each month from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and are open to the public. Check out http://www.aces.edu/anr/beginningfarms/webinars.php for detailed listing of topics. Zoom link to join https://auburn.zoom.us/j/590217859.
- ‘Q&A Fridays!’ is a biweekly interactive show that takes place on Fridays starting in March-October at 11:30 a.m. on the Alabama Extension Commercial Horticulture page on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/AlabamaExtensionCommercialHorticulture. You can ask questions live to a panel of REAs and specialists and meet a special guest from the horticulture industry. Questions can also be submitted anonymously at https://auburn.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_2nr6AreXGYAnmPH.
- Alabama Virtual Farm Tours are a great way to learn about farming from mentor farmers from the comfort of your home. These tours occur biweekly on Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Watch it live on https://www.facebook.com/AlabamaExtensionCommercialHorticulture.
- The 2020 archive of 68 online events listed above can be found at https://www.aces.edu/blog/topics/crop-production/digital-commercial-horticulture-resources/.
Looking for funding opportunities for farm businesses. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Service Agency (FSA) provide various kinds of financial assistance or loan packages for beginning and experienced farmers. Contact the agency directly using the links or contact a TAP to help you understand the regulations.
Get help on your farm! Once you have familiarized yourself with online resources, completed the Farming Basics Online Course, and done some thinking on the 4Ps – then you are ready for an on-site visit from your friends in Alabama Extension. Both REAs and TAPs receive many hours of annual technical training from universities and national agencies to stay abreast of the latest information and local regulations making them invaluable both on and off the farm. REAs can provide research-based production information and connect you to the researchers directly for rapid assessment and resolution of crop issues. Use the Farming Basics Mobile App to find REA information and connect with an REA via the app.
Partnerships are available with NGOs for on-farm assistance. Many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) within Alabama are helping beginning farmers with their preliminary needs in collaboration with Alabama Extension’s Commercial Horticulture Team. Together this forms the “Farm Community Cluster” model funded by two USDA BFRD grants (2015-present) and several Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Specialty Crops block grants. Growers needing help with extensive paperwork and consultation for farm business development, NRCS programs, organic certification and such, please contact Farmscape Solutions (334-740-8515, firstname.lastname@example.org), Crotovina Inc. (256-520-2400, email@example.com), and The United Christian Community Association (TUCCA, 334-216-1344, firstname.lastname@example.org). Check the contact information for NGOs online and connect with them.
Acknowledgement: The Alabama Beginning Farmer, Alabama SARE, and Alabama IPM activities and publications are funded by many grants from the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Specialty Crops Block Grant, USDA-SARE, USDA-OREI, USDA-NIFA CPPM, and USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Programs. Thank you to all our funding agencies and program partners.