The Oklahoma Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program was a three-year project which began in late 2011, supported by a grant from the USDA’s NIFA Beginning Farmer Program.
The purpose of the program was to assist beginning farmers and ranchers with training, resources, and mentoring. It helped beginning farmers and ranchers in Oklahoma:
- develop successful ag enterprises
- operate financially viable farms/ranches
- be good stewards of their land
Participants received in-depth training in sustainable horticulture or livestock production (see course topics for more information). In addition, they learned how to create a business plan, practice conservation, and increase profits. By the end of the course, each participant had a plan to establish or improve farm enterprises, as well as the resources to move forward and be successful.
To conduct the training and mentoring, the Kerr Center partnered with:
- the Oklahoma Farmer and Rancher Association (OFRA)
- the Rural Smallholder Association (RSA)
- the Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Initiative (MFSI)
- OSU Cooperative Extension Service
Scholarships were available to beginning farmers and ranchers to attend each year, and course materials were (and remain) available to all on the Kerr Center website.
During the first year, training was held at the Kerr Center in Poteau. Year two expanded to include horticulture training at both the Kerr Center and the MFSI offices in Okmulgee, with presentations at the center being shown via webinar at MFSI. Year three included both horticulture and livestock tracks at both locations.
This project was supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2011-49400-30525 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Workshops included presentations, discussion, and demonstration of important techniques and equipment.
The 2014 Beginning Farmer horticulture training program concentrated on small-to-intermediate scale market gardening, with a specific focus on vegetable crops for both fresh produce and seed crop sales. Organic production was emphasized, though most of the information and techniques covered are appropriate for conventional management as well.
Topics included business and field planning, acquisition of supplies, organic certification, ground preparation and fertility management, irrigation, weed and pest control, harvest and post-harvest handling, and marketing.
The training was balanced between classroom education, field demonstrations, and hands-on activities. This program was intended primarily for those with little or no experience in growing horticultural crops.OKBFRP Horticulture Materials
The livestock track for the 2014 Beginning Farmer and Rancher program had three full day workshops and one half-day workshop.
The first workshop addressed the importance of grazing management as it relates to the productivity of forage and livestock. It looked at designing a controlled grazing system that promotes healthy plants and increases forage utilization. Topics included water development, the importance of livestock shade, and the use of permanent and temporary electric fence.
The second workshop took place at Dr. David Sparks’ ranch near Porum. He addressed all aspects of small ruminant management. Dr. Sparks is employed by OSU extension, and, along with his wife, runs both goats and cattle on their ranch.
The third workshop addressed the basics of forage growth and soil fertility. Also, this workshop focused on pasture plant identification. The last workshop was a half-day session addressing agroforestry, forestry, and riparian management.OKBFRP Livestock Materials
Business planning was a component of both tracks and introduced the basic concepts of a business plan. Students developed a simple plan during the course of the class. The plan covered goal setting, marketing, operations, human resources, and finances.
The business planning took place in the first class. A short follow up training was included in the first livestock and horticulture programs to focus on business planning concepts unique to the different tracks.
Kerr Center specialists led the Saturday workshops. Guest speakers were also an important part of the sessions. Instructors had expertise in agronomy, animal science, agricultural economics, horticulture, natural resource management and organic production and certification.