Friday, June 11, 2010

Beginning farmer workshops bolster basic knowledge

Upcoming workshops aim to give budding farmers the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

University of Missouri Extension specialists will lead short courses to explain farm basics and the ins and outs of establishing moneymaking produce operations.

“You’re truly a beginning farmer for the first 10 years of having your own farm, and we expect that people who come through our project are beginning to think hard about stepping or even stumbling further into the joys of farming,” said Mary Hendrickson, associate director of MU’s Community Food Systems and Sustainable Agriculture program. “We will be really digging into important topics in things like tractor basics and taking produce from planting to market.”

A three-year, $730,000 grant from the USDA’s Beginning Farmers program has funded training offered as a partnership of MU, Lincoln University and the nonprofit Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute.

“We expect participants with a wide range of ages and farm sizes, including part-time farmers,” said Rob Myers, director of programs for the Jefferson Institute and MU adjunct associate professor of plant sciences.

Each session offers an opportunity to expand farming expertise.

Kicking off the series will be a pair of berry production and marketing workshops, June 22-23 at the Bradford Research and Extension Center near Columbia.

Participants will learn about which berry species can thrive in the various regions of the state, along with techniques for growing plants like strawberries, blueberries and blackberries. MU horticulturist Patrick Byers will talk about costs, labor needs and marketing options. The program includes tours of a pick-your-own farm and the Jefferson Farm, an educational farm with demonstrations of almost 100 fruit varieties.

Later in the month, other produce will enter the limelight.

“Growing Produce for Local Markets,” June 25-26 in Springfield, will highlight the pros and cons of growing particular vegetables in Missouri’s soils and climates. The program includes a stop at a Springfield farmers market, visits to two private farms and a talk by Hendrickson on marketing options.

“It takes a lot of unique skills to sell to local markets,” Hendrickson said. “You’ve got to be a good producer, a great marketer and know what’s making you money. Farmers need to understand where customers are coming from and what they are looking for in terms of quality, taste and appearance of products.”

Further sessions, including a July 14-15 workshop in Columbia on the basics of tractors, will accompany the more horticulture-driven workshops.

If you didn’t grow up on a farm you might not have a clue about using mechanization usefully on your farm,” she said. “Soil management, tractor hydraulics and crop selection are all concrete topics these beginning farmers need to know.”

To register for workshops, contact Sharon Naylor at 573-882-3776. For more information, contact Mary Hendrickson at 573-882-7463 or see

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