Johnny Morgan, Coreil, Paul D. | 3/20/2009 1:06:54 AM
ALEXANDRIA, La. – About 100 minority farmers and other small-farm operators heard about marketing, estate planning, financial planning and other legal issues at an informational meeting on March 12 at the LSU AgCenter’s Charles Dewitt Center here.
“The Louisiana farm population is dwindling, and the minority and small farmers play a critical role in the state’s agricultural industry,” said Dr. Mike Strain, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
“As the average age of the American farmer goes up, we have to do everything in our power to make sure we look at programs that encourage the small and minority farmer,” Strain said.
“Education, outreach and the development of farmers markets are some of the ways we can keep small and minority farmers in business,” he said. “New ideas and ways must be found to make agriculture sustainable and profitable for our small farmers.”
Dr. Paul Coreil, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor, said these producers, though they operate on a small scale, can have a major impact on their local economy.
“People are now more conscious about where their food is coming from, and they are willing to pay more for the value of knowing who produced their food and how it was produced,” Coreil said.
Dr. Gina Eubanks, vice chancellor for extension at Southern University, said she has a vested interest in helping to sustain small farms and minority farmers.
“This has been a priority of the Southern University Ag Center for many years,” Eubanks said. “We realize the value these producers provide to the state, and we strive to help them to remain productive.”
State Rep. Roy Burrell of Shreveport authored legislation during the 2008 session to address the decline of small businesses and minority-run businesses in the state.
Burrell said he’s interested in a way to bring the producers together so they can go to market with more leverage than they have as individuals.
“This conference should serve as a beginning of how we can deal with this most serious problem within the state, since the basis of our state’s economy is still agricultural,” he said.
Burrell said he hoped that the meeting would provide the producers with the information they need about property rights and other rights as they relate to government.
“I also hope they will see the importance of building a market for their products – not only on a local or national level, but also on an international level,” he said.
Burrell said nonminority small-farm operators need to recognize they have the same problems as minority farmers.
John Pierre, from the Southern University Law School discussed in-depth the important legal issues that face these farmers.
“Many of our small-farm operators don’t have a real good understanding of the laws regarding land ownership,” he said, “They need to understand how to preserve their inherited property by having a plan for secession of their property, and a plan to deal with issues like adverse possession and dispute resolution.”
Coreil and Eubanks agreed that though these farmers don’t produce the same volume as many of the state’s larger farmers, they are no less important to the state as producers of high-quality products.
The small and minority conference was sponsored by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry; the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development, Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service agencies; the LSU AgCenter and Southern University’s Ag Center and Law Center.