[Ok-sus] Beginning Farmer and Rancher Training Scholarships Available Now

mauramcdermot.kerrcenter mauramcdermot.kerrcenter at ecewb.com
Tue Oct 9 17:16:48 CDT 2012

If you've been farming or raising livestock for fewer than ten years, the
Kerr Center has got a deal for you: a year-long in-depth course in
sustainable farming and ranching, with tuition and materials covered by

The second year of the Oklahoma Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program (BFRP)
is set to begin in January. The program's purpose is to provide "beginning"
farmers and ranchers with training, resources, and mentoring. Application
deadline is Nov. 1. To learn more or apply online go to
http://www.kerrcenter.com/beginning-farmer/index.html Or you can call the
center at 918.647.9123.

Participants choose either a livestock or horticulture track. All learn
about business planning and natural resource management.

The course consists of Saturday training sessions at the Kerr Center's Farm
and Ranch. The classes will be a mix of classroom instruction and time in
the field with a focus on real-life problem solving and hands-on skills. The
center also provides extensive resources for students to study on their own
time. These are all available to the public, too, free on the Kerr Center

The training is supported by a three-year grant from the USDA's National
Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher
Development Program. The center was one of 36 programs across the country to
receive the funding. 

When she announced the grants, Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen
Merrigan said that now is a critical time to train the next generation of
American producers.

"Beginning farmers and ranchers face unique challenges, and these grants
will provide needed training to help these producers become profitable and
sustainable," she said. "American agriculture supports one in twelve jobs in
America. But our farmers are aging, and more of our young people are looking
outside of farming for their careers." 

The first year's class of beginning agriculturists will "graduate" in
October. The group braved both frigid temps and record-breaking heat during
a couple of the outdoor sessions, but evaluations have been overwhelmingly

Course instructors agree the biggest challenge is covering everything that
needs to be covered in the limited time frame that is available. To address
this, the center provided extensive resources. 

The program also encourages class members to keep in touch and keep learning
from each other. Each class allows time for sharing experiences and asking

In fact, the program encourages this "multiplier effect." The center's
partners in the grant are grass roots farmer/rancher groups: the Mvskoke
Food Sovereignty Initiative (MFSI), the Oklahoma Farmers and Ranchers
Association (OFRA), and the Rural Smallholder Association (RSA). Each of
these groups had students in the first year's program and has already begun
to pass on what they have learned to other group members and to the public.
OSU Extension is also a partner. 

The BFRP has also formed a Yahoo email listserv just for participants and
teachers, so they can exchange news, advice and information. 

Mohammed Khalkan who farms with his wife Debbie near Norman cited
"networking" as one of the most valuable things about the course. 

"I have been extremely surprised and impressed with the enthusiasm of this
class and their ability to take the information presented and use it to
improve their farms/ranches", said Kerr Center's Erin Campbell-Craven who
helped teach the livestock classes. 

Horticulture assistant Luke Freeman echoes her sentiment. "It is great to
see how this program is already making a direct impact on the participants."

A case in point: Mike Oakley. He has a place near Taft, where he raises
livestock with his sister. "The class supports what I have been working on,"
he said at the August meeting. He is keeping better records, has put in a
handling pen, and is in the process of putting in electric fencing and water
lines from his ponds to bring water to more areas of his pasture. He is
going to try strip grazing. 

"I have plans," he says. But, he adds, "They are subject to change."

Such flexibility is a virtue that Kerr Center staff cultivates. Resilience,
the ability to bounce back from setbacks and respond effectively to change,
may be the most important lesson any prospective farmer or rancher can

Agriculture is always risky, and the risks seem compounded in recent years
in Oklahoma by the record-breaking heat, drought and all-round extreme

The best-laid plans can be thwarted, as one Hort student put it about his
cover crops: "no rain, so everything on hold." 

Others have put in drip irrigation and increased mulching as positive steps
to combat the drought. Christina Roberson says she is "planning now for crop
rotations next spring." She is also studying markets with an eye on
expanding her planting area.

Mike Bear says he learned the importance of timing and something equally as
fundamental to sustainability: "use what you've got." 

Horticulture Manager George Kuepper says he has been "blown away" by the
enthusiasm and seriousness of participants, their willingness to try new
techniques, and their hopes for the future. 

He and Freeman both note that students particularly enjoyed the outdoor
demonstrations. The Hort program set up a nearly 300-foot-long market
farming demo plot for the class to show students an eight-field rotation of
vegetables and cover crops. The livestock crew set up a real-life rotational
grazing demo that showed students how to do it from scratch. 

"I have learned so much about how to best present information... and how to
stress the ideas that we at the Kerr Center believe are most vital for
farmers/ranchers to learn," remarks Campbell-Craven, "while at the same time
allowing the skills and interests of the class to influence what we teach
and how we teach it."

Kerr staff are evaluating what worked best and incorporating what they have
learned into plans for next year. Kuepper is looking forward to working with
the next crop of beginners. His goal: "I want them to have as good an
experience as possible." 

See photos and descriptions of the first year's class experiences in the
fall "Field Notes," Kerr Center's free newsletter at





Maura Ann McDermott

Communications Director

Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture

PO Box 588

Poteau, OK 74953

 <http://www.kerrcenter.com> www.kerrcenter.com



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