Small-scale farmers finding that help is on the way
FLORENCE — For small-scale farmers, hard work and long hours come with the territory — and that doesn’t even include their “day jobs,” without which many could not support themselves and their families.
Sacrificing weekends off, vacations and even sleep, small-scale farmers grind away like marathoners running a race without a finish line. And to make matters more difficult, most are in charge of all facets of their operations: production, delivery, sales, marketing. You name it, they do it.
But these farmers are finding that assistance is increasingly available from a support system that is continuing to develop. The recent “small farmer mini-conference” at the SC AgriBiz & Farm Expo is just one example of a venue where valuable information is being shared and distributed, not just to farmers, but between them.
“Clemson University Public Service and Agriculture has dedicated the Sandhill Research and Education Center as our center for agribusiness and the New and Emerging Farmers Program,” Clemson Extension director Tom Dobbins said at the expo. “This is a clear indication of the value we are placing on agribusiness throughout South Carolina. It is our goal to develop a model program for our state and region.”
Dave Lamie, a Clemson Extension specialist for economic development, hosted the event, which was held in a jam-packed conference room at the Florence Civic Center. The standing-room-only gathering sent a clear message that weary farmers want all the help they can get.
“The last cost that farmers keep track of is their time,” said Lamie, who has directed the South Carolina New and Beginning Farmers Program for the past several years and who will be devoting even more of his time in the future to leading Clemson’s Emerging and Small Farmer Programs. “What could farmers do if they get some of that time back? Produce more. Do a better job of marketing. Find better production alternatives. Get some sleep. Take a vacation. Spend more time with their spouse and children — a lot of those things that are precious to us as people.”
Lamie and many others are working hard to see to it that the days of small-scale farmers doing everything on their own are coming to an end.
“There are a lot of things going on in agriculture markets,” said keynote speaker Debbie Tropp, a branch chief for the USDA. “There is a real-time exchange of information, which encourages greater responsiveness across the supply chain. Producers benefit because this is giving them a lot more negotiating power.”
Dobbins listed several Clemson University programs that benefit small-scale farmers. These include certification to sell produce to schools and restaurants, market analysis, evaluating return on investments, risk management and education for female farmers.
“We are excited about the programs we have at Clemson, especially involving the Extension Service,” said Dobbins. “We are committed to farming programs, whether small or large. We offer a variety of opportunities to assist with business startup and continuing education so that we can make sure you market your product successfully.
“One of the big budget requests Clemson has this year involves agribusiness and emerging farmers,” Dobbins continued. “We are requesting funds to boost our ability to do research in vegetable and fruit production. And one of the things that I want to make clear is that whatever work we do on vegetable and fruit production — whether on a large or small scale — is to help the farmer. Whether you’re growing 10 acres or hundreds of acres, we want to help South Carolina farmers feed the world. The research we do is designed to benefit all.”
Ahman Abdullah of Scranton came to the expo looking for ways to better handle his ever-increasing workload.
“I am looking into additional markets for my products,” said Abdullah, who is in the midst of ramping up operations at his farm. “I need to diversify because I can’t do all this myself. If I continue to just market for myself, it’s going to become an overload. But if I put some of the work into other hands, it will help me maintain the quality I expect of myself. I’m learning that there are resources to help you reach the markets that you want to reach.”
Here are some resources that are already available: