NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Entering the modern farming industry as a newcomer requires specialized training to be successful, and Tennessee State University has answered the call with the establishment of a New Farmer Academy.
On Monday, the academy, organized by the University’s Cooperative Extension Program in the College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Sciences, graduated its first nine candidates after five months of extensive training.
Graduates included new owners and potential owners of small acreages looking for ways to best utilize their land for crops and livestock.
They covered topics such as agricultural leadership and regulations, financial planning, hydroponics and irrigation, organic production, farm equipment selection, Soil fertility and suitability, and value-added agribusiness, among others.
As a newcomer in the farming business, the academy was an eye opener for Alonzo Tate, a 2012 retired serviceman, who is looking for ways to improve his 200 acres in Oakland, Tennessee, where he raises goats, chickens, dairy cattle, and hopes to soon add hogs to the mix.
“In the 22 years I spent in the Navy, farming dramatically changed,” said Tate, “Not knowing that, I jumped in with both feet, buying goats and fencing and equipment, not really having any idea of the amount of knowledge that’s out there today. I could have saved myself a lot of money had I taken this class before I started.”
For farmers like Tate and his fellow graduates, many of whom already have established operations, the New Farmer Academy also presents opportunities to expand into new areas of production, gain access to and knowledge about federal funds and programs, as well as develop new marketing strategies to make them more successful in the long run, organizers say.
Although the program is new, organizers say how engaged the participants were during the course of the academy made a big difference and a great impact on the USDA’s recent call for new policy changes to “improve the financial security of new and beginning farmers and ranchers.”
“This year has been a great success,” said Finis Stribling III, TSU Area Extension specialist and coordinator of the New Farmer Academy program. “We had a fairly small group, and the small class size was ideal in addressing the needs of each small farmer in the program.”
He said because each farmer faces unique and differenct challenges, they visited each participant’s farm to ensure the training was tailored to address their specific needs.
Speaking at the graduation ceremony, Dr. Chandra Reddy, dean and director of Research and administrator of Extension in the College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Sciences, congratulated the graduates for their perseverance and eagerness to develop new skills and improve themselves.
“We are proud of you and will continue to track your progress as you try to convert the ideas, concepts, and practical experiences you learned here into successful businesses,” Reddy said.
Dr. Lesia Crumpton-Young, associate vice president for Research and Sponsored Programs, echoed Dean Reddy’s sentiments of a hopeful future. “I congratulate you, I applaud your success, and, most importantly, I look forward to seeing what you accomplish in the future,” she said.
The Associate Dean for Extension, Dr. Latif Lighari, said the opportunity to train “burgeoning” new farmers and returning veterans was necessary to help them get the education, as well as develop the skills and training that would ensure long-term sustainable success.
“Part of our mission as a land-grant institution is to extend this kind of practical, research-driven information to the people who need it most,” Lighari said. “This group of upstart small farmers is an excellent example of the kinds of people who can partner with Tennessee State University, the CAHNS, and the Cooperative Extension Program to create a better, more prosperous tomorrow.”
Jai Templeton, deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, one of many officials at the ceremony, reminded the graduates about their part in the state’s $67 billion farming and forestry industry, and thanked them for their commitment to the training program.
“I know the six month commitment you made here took you away from your farm but we’re looking to you to take this information back into your communities and be the leaders who help keep agriculture at the top of Tennessee’s economy,” the deputy commissioner said.
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With more than 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 42 undergraduate, 24 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.