Conference caters to small farmers

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SALEM, Ohio – When someone says “farmer,” many people still think of the stereotypical older man in overalls with a barn full of cattle and a life that revolves around milking times.
But that isn’t necessarily true anymore. There are the young farmers, the new farmers, the farmers with 10 head of beef, the farmers with full-time jobs in the city, and the farmers with an extra 40 acres in the country who don’t even know they’re farmers yet.
A conference March 18-19 in Wilmington, Ohio, will cater to these farmers, said Tomika Walker, Natural Resources Conservation Service outreach coordinator.
Small family farmers have different needs, she said, and this conference will offer workshops just for them.
Other topics, like estate planning, are a concern for all farmers but solutions will be geared to the small farmer, she said.
Importance. Small farmers are a large percentage of Ohio’s farming population, Walker said.
“Sometimes they feel like all the attention is directed toward large agriculture,” she said. “But small farmers are just as important.”
They often also don’t realize their struggles aren’t unique, Walker said.
Issues like marketing, estate planning, alternative enterprise ideas and tax issues plague many farmers but the smaller or newer farmers don’t know where to get help.
The conference is meant to answer these questions and also let participants meet the various organizations they can contact for help.
Issues. Two of the biggest issues facing small farmers, as well as larger ones, is retirement and insurance, Walker said.
Farming isn’t the same as working for a company like General Electric with pension and 401(k) and hospitalization. Many farmers, unless they or their spouse work off the farm, can’t deal with high health insurance premiums. And many also don’t know where to begin planning for their retirement, Walker said.
Both will be covered at the conference.
Other states. Although the conference is in its fifth year, this is the first time other states have been invited, Walker said. Invitations went out to Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Michigan.
More farmers mean more chances for people to network and find someone they can learn from, she said.
These networking opportunities also expand to agricultural agencies; small farmers will get to meet the faces behind groups like OSU Extension, USDA’s Farm Service Agency and the Soil and Water Conservation District.
Just as importantly, she said, these agencies will get to hear farmers’ concerns and plan future programs to fit their needs.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)
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Conference: Sustaining America’s Small Family Farms
March 18-19, Wilmington, Ohio

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