Clemson University awarded $595K USDA grant for farmer program

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded $595,133 to Clemson University for its South Carolina New and Beginning Farmer Program, which provides business education and training to early-stage farmers across the state.

“The focus of this program is to help new and beginning farmers be successful, productive and innovative members of their local agricultural communities,” said Dave Lamie, lead instructor for the program and agribusiness specialist at the Clemson Sandhill Research and Education Center.

The program is held in Columbia, where participants learn about farm business management, business plan development, financial management, regulatory issues, marketing strategies, personal assessment and agricultural resources. Participants also attend regional workshops throughout the state that provide additional production topics related to their region as well as peer and resource networking.

The October to May program is offered as two courses. The first, “Exploring Farming as a Business,” focuses on farmers with less than three years of experience. The second, “Taking Your Farm Business to the Next Level,” focuses on farmers who have three to nine years of experience.

The application for this year’s program is closed, but interested residents can sign up on a waiting list. The program is open to emerging farmers and South Carolina residents who are 18 or older and have farmed less than 10 consecutive years.

Clemson started the program in 2011 to address the shortage of emerging farmers.

“With the average age of South Carolina farmers now up to 59 years, we put our state’s largest industry at risk if we do not invest efforts into encouraging and training the next generation of successful agripreneurs. At a time when consumer demand for local, high-quality, nutritious farm products is on the rise, there is tremendous opportunity for rural economic development through a thriving local farm and food system,” Lamie said.

According to a USDA census, 3,447 South Carolina farmers out of 8,544 are younger than 45. And despite a recent surge of younger farmers, many don’t have “the knowledge networks, the personal and professional relationships or many of the capacities necessary to take advantage of the myriad programs and services available to help make them successful,” Lamie said in the grant application.

The program has produced a large number of successful farming operations across the state. Since 2011, more than 200 participants have graduated. Some of those graduates include Homestead Acres, a Newberry farm that started in 2013 and now sells pasture-raised eggs, meats, organic vegetables and herbs.

Enrollment has grown in recent years. Forty-five participants graduated in May, and many of those participants plan to continue their farming operations.

Pageland resident Lisa Rees enrolled in the class to revive a family farm, Five Forks Sustainable Farm. During the class, Rees learned how to grow tomatoes using a high tunnel, a solar heated, plastic covered frame that is used to lengthen the traditional growing season for crops by increasing the average daily temperature.

“We have been very successful,” said Rees. “This [high tunnel] could be the key to growing tomatoes. The potential in our area is great for locally grown produce.”

Through the three-year USDA grant, Clemson hopes to continue that growth by partnering again with the S.C. Department of Agriculture, Richland County Soil and Water Conservation District and other agencies.

“The grant brings much needed support and resources together that will allow the program to continue and expand with the growing interest in farming in South Carolina, particularly related to local foods,” said Nathan Smith, Clemson Extension Agribusiness program team leader.

Clemson University also plans to continue its partnership with Annie’s Project, a University of Illinois program that educates women in modern farming and ranching techniques. Clemson’s New and Beginning Farmer Program “has a strong track record of attracting women participants,” according to Clemson. Clemson estimates that about 50 percent of participants are women, African-American or limited-resource farmers.

Sign up for the waiting list at: http://bit.ly/2cbYMjX.

For more information: http://www.clemson.edu/public

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