LONDON, Ohio – It started three years ago as a small table on the west end of the Farm Science Review grounds.
This year, the Center for Small Farms had a roof over its head and no more room at the inn.
The center, coordinated by American Small Farm magazine and Ohio State University, targets an unfilled niche – a place at the Review where farmers with smaller acreage can visit to see the latest small farm equipment and ideas.
“It allows the farmers, the small farmers, to focus on one area of the Review,” said Marti Smith, vice president and co-owner of the magazine.
“I think it’s been very, very successful.”
Equipment and education. In addition to a new 30-by-30 building to house educational exhibits, the Center for Small Farms lot features tractors, tillage equipment and implements geared for smaller acreage producers.
Several of the manufacturers with larger exhibits elsewhere on the Review grounds display pieces on the center’s lot and visitors can see them, pick up literature and get more details at the main exhibit.
Smith might have been able to squeeze a few more pieces of equipment in, but the lot was full.
Implements are hot right now, Smith said.
Manufacturers showed scapers, pint-sized manure spreaders and tillage equipment.
Seminars. Last year’s small farm seminars proved so successful – some drew standing-room-only crowds – that a larger tent housed the center’s sessions this year.
Experts addressed everything from hoophouses to freshwater shrimp, every hour on the hour. Ohio State Extension’s sustainable agriculture team coordinates the seminar schedule.
“The seminars are just a bonus, frosting on the cake,” Smith said of her efforts to get the small farm center going.
Many visitors came to the Review just for the seminars, she added.
Why the boom? Ohio is not unique in the growing interest in all things small, or ideas for small acreage, Smith said.
A similar center on the site of Georgia’s Sunbelt Ag Expo occupies a huge chunk of that show’s exhibit ground, Smith said.
“It’s just a growing area,” she explained. “More people are hanging on to their family farm and people are retiring to a farm.”
Others work off the farm to “support their farming habit.”
These nontraditional farmers are looking for nontraditional ways to farm.
Smith also said there is a growing awareness of the value of land and open space.
“They’re realizing it’s diminishing and are thinking ‘if I don’t save it, where’s it going to stop?'” Smith said.
Not easy. Ohio State ag economist Robert Moore observes that many smaller acreage farmers do not rely solely on farming for their income, so they’re more inclined to try something new.
Moore and others in Ohio State’s ag econ department have created budgets for many enterprises so would-be entrepreneurs can put some numbers to their ideas.
The budgets are available online at http://newfarm.osu.edu and at http://aede.osu.edu/people/moore.301/ or from county extension offices.
Moore said, however, that even traditional farmers are looking to alternative crops to make more money per acre, and not get bigger.
“It’s more acceptable,” he said, “but it’s also more necessary.”
“It’s getting harder and harder to have a big livestock operation,” Moore said. “There’s less tolerance for livestock.”
What’s next? Smith expects the Center for Small Farms will continue to grow. She’s even had several exhibitors stop by during this year’s Review inquiring about bringing equipment next year.
But what would really make her day is if she could get Review coordinators to allot some field demonstration room to smaller equipment.
“I would love to have small field demonstrations,” Smith said. “I think that would be awesome.”
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