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The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program

Started as a 3 year grant project funded by USDA-NIFA in 2011. The project was developed to build a consortium to assist and advise minorities and others in historically under-served populations of Alabama, producers affected by global competition and increased imports, Native Americans, Hispanic Americans and other immigrant producers and transitioning farmers and workers, urban and peri-urban producers and sustainable and organic producers. The consortium for agricultural newcomers access to learning (CANAL) was a collaboration between Alabama’s 3 land grant institutions (Alabama A&M University, Auburn University, and Tuskegee University), producer and marketing associations (Alabama National Young Farmer Association and Alabama Green Industry Training Center) and CBO’s  (Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network). The idea was to provide researched based education, disseminated using the “Jesup Wagon” concept, to under-served limited resource and minority beginning farmers, and the development of farming assessment tools for decision making by farmers. 

Project Objectives:

• To enhance the viability and sustainability of beginning farmers and ranchers by providing individualized technical assistant
• Strengthen the effectiveness of mentorship of beginning farmers and ranchers
• Improve market and competitiveness for beginning farmers and ranchers through strategic planning

Project Team: 

Tuskegee University, Management Team
Leonard Githinji, Project Director
Robert Zabawa, Co-PD
Decetti Taylor, Project Manager
Alabama A&M University
Duncan Chembezi, Co-PD 
Auburn University
Deacue Fields, Co-PD
Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network 
Alice Evans, Co-PD
National Young Farmer Education Association 
Gordon Stone, Co-PD
Alabama Green Industry Training Center 
Fredd Kapp, Co-PD


Access to fresh nutritious food is critical to human life; however, according to the US census 2012, the total number of farms in the US and in Alabama continues to decrease as the average age of these farmers are increasing with a considerable number close to the retirement age.  The next generation of farmers are facing many obstacles, access to land and capital limited access to training in effective farming techniques, lack of business management and marketing skills, changing regulations, labor issues, and competition with foreign commodities at lower prices.  It should be noted there is a slight increase in the number of farmers under the age 25 in the state and country.

Who should participate?
• Any prospective farmer or rancher
• Any farmer or rancher who has been in operation for 10 years or less
• Any farmer or rancher transitioning from one enterprise to another
How to participate?
Click here to contact us

Beginner Farmer Assesment

Farming is one of the most difficult businesses to start. Unlike many other careers farming is not cut and dry. You do not just go to school and come out ready to farm. Farming requires the acquisition of land and investment capital, it will also require you, the farmer, to assess your physical abilities and stress points. You will need a solid foundation in business, financial management, plant pathology, crop production, food safety, and critical thinking. You also need to become familiar with current environmental and conservation practices, as well as, have a willingness to invent new products and techniques (ie agriculture engineering). Lastly, to become a successful farmer you will need a thorough understanding of marketing.  The assessment below has been created with all this in mind. It can be used to help you assess your strengths and abilities to become a successful farmer.  

1. Why do I want to farm? The answer here is objective there is no right or wrong answer.
2. What life goals have I set and do they correspond to my farming idea? If your life goals and farming idea do not correspond, you should probably stop here and reassess why you want to farm. 
3. What skills and knowledge do I have to tackle the challenges of becoming a farmer? If you are unable to list any training workshop that you have attended related to the  farm industry you desire to work in, it is strongly recommend that you seek out and attend a variety of workshop and seminars related to your farm industry. 
4. Am I willing to learn on the job? Farming is a variable business, things change often and more so than not, we do not have control over how or when things change.
5. I understand that farming requires long work hours and can be physically demanding.  Loading and unloading several 50lb sacks of feed or fertilizer, stooping and bending, and walking several 500’ rows are not adjactly casual exercises. 
6. I have selected a mentor to guide me in becoming a successful farmer? The best way to learn to farm is from another farmer. 
7. I have been to the Farm Service Agency and Natural Resource Conservation Service offices? Farming is expensive, it good to know where your resources are. 
8. I have studied my local market and my farm will address an identified need? Farming for a hobby is one thing but farming to support your lifestyle requires a market. 
9. I have developed a farm plan? Farming is a business; you should have some idea of where you are going and how you are going to get there. 
10. I am currently planning for retirement.  At some point in life everyone slows down, you should be prepared. 
11. I have considered how I plan to get my product to market. Nothing is more frustrating than growing a product, having a buyer and not being able to get the product out of the field.
12. I have developed a food safety accountability plan that will be acceptable in the food industry. Food safety is critical and traceability is key.
13. Do I have a support system? In all things you should know who is for you and who is against you. 

Basic Farm Planning

Something to Consider Before Starting a Farm

1. Decide whether you want to garden or farm. Ask yourself this question, am I getting into this because I want to make money (farm) or because I like to see things grow (garden). 
2. If you decided you want to farm -meaning it matters if you turn a profit, identify your market. Decide who you are going to sell to, where are you going to sell it, when will you be able to sell it. 
3. Now, that you have identified a market, you must identify the needs of the market. You must go out and ask the buyer what it is they need, want, and desire. You also have to know how they want the product, how often they want the product.
4. Identify your resources. Whose going to help with labor, what is your financial capacity for the farm, where can you borrow funds, what sources are available to improve my operation, do you have access to the necessary equipment, where can you obtain farm insurance, where can you obtain crop insurance,  whose going to sell the product, whose going to keep the books, is there a buying cooperative you can become a part of, who are the mentor farmers in your area, and what trainings can you attend?
5. Develop a farm plan. When, where, and how are you going to plant, do you need to apply for resource before starting, when will you need several laborers and when will you just need one. In developing your plan also consider pest management, plant disease, the budget, break-even price, quantity and quality. 
6. Implement your plan.
7. Harvest the fruit of your labor and enjoy.


1. Soil Management Guide (Download Newsletter)

2. Applying Poultry Litter as Fertilizer
The benefits of poultry litter as a fertilizer far outweigh the smell. Many farms are making the switch to this much more cost feasible fertilizer. Beyond cost, poultry litter is high in macronutrients that are immediately available to plants... (Download full document)

3. Transplanting Blueberry
Blueberries, one of the most important commercial berry crops in the United States, is highly sought after not just for its taste but also for is nutritional value. Blueberries are small round dark blue and sweet berries grown for fresh consumption, for culinary use in muffins and pies, pressed for fresh juice, or later processing....(Download full document)

4. Trellesing Muscadine (Grape) Vines
There are generally, two types of trellis systems in the southeast, the Single curtain and the Geneva double curtain. The single curtain is probably the easiest and least expensive of the trellising systems....(Download full document)

5. Solarization of a Hoop House (Tunnel House)

Other Resources

Financial Management  Training (Coming soon)

Production Training Videos (Coming soon)

Other Resource Opportunities
1. Cooperative Extension Program/System
i. Tuskegee University
ii. Auburn University
iii. Alabama A&M University
2. Alabama Ag and Industries
3. Alabama Farmers Market Authority
4. RC & D Council
5. Black belt Community Foundation
6. Natural Resource Conservation Service
7. Farm Service Agency
8. Southern Agriculture Research Education
9. Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network
10. Small Farm Programs
i. Tuskegee University
ii. Alabama A&M University
11. National Agriculture Sustainable Information Service
13. Agriculture Risk Management Service
14. Agricultural Market Service
15. Online listing of Small Farm Funding Sources