Final report for LS21-362
The science of growing food is more advanced and technical than methods used even 10 years ago. Agricultural production and the food system have evolved into an industry that relies on information disseminated through digital formats and platforms. Successful farmers have embraced technology for farming operations. Aging and rural farmers either embraced the use of technology or have passed the use of digital farming to the next generation or have chosen not to use it at all. With an increased reliance on information technology, the proposed project will collect data to assess the effectiveness and level of adoption and integration of technology platforms. The project explores the digital disparities that exist for black limited resource and mainly rural farmers. The project will explore factors ranging from lack of knowledge and interest to broader societal problems, such as, lack of broadband, internet access, and equipment due to the lack of financial resources.
Limited-resource farmers complain the movement of information from USDA agencies to online platforms, creates gaps and barriers to their participation in agricultural pursuits. Limited-resource farmers are not aware of all the programs and assistance offered by USDA/NRCS and other supporting agencies. Beginning farmers have not enrolled in USDA programs and are not aware of the steps or protocols for enrolling in FSA and NRCS programs. With limited to no knowledge of USDA programs and resources, limited-resource farmers and their farms are at a great disadvantage. These farmers lack the knowledge and resources to access the conservation and agricultural practices needed to sustain agriculture production and their farming businesses. (Participation in Conservation Programs by Targeted Farmers/EIB 62 Economic Research Service; USDA.) Limited resource farmers have land that is under-utilized due to their inability to access resources. With access to digital information and comparable technology skills, as large-scale farmers, it will allow limited resource farmers to become more competitive.
The proposed project will target Black, limited-resource farmers in Georgia. John Littles, Principal Investigator, is an Outreach Provider with USDA. John has been the Executive Director of McIntosh SEED since 2000. The organization has a program specifically designed to provide outreach to farmers of color in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi.
Project partners include James Ford CEO of Square O Consulting, LLC, Handy Kennedy of HKJ Ranch, LLC in Georgia, and Lamar Berry in Georgia. The partners’ collective experience ensures successful project implementation. The partners are knowledgeable in USDA programs and have farming experience.
Programmatic objectives of the group include:
- Assessing the technological capacity of black farmers in the targeted group. We will be researching both informational and production technologies.
- Identifying the problems and gaps with targeted farmers accessing and using informational and production technologies
- Identify availability of high speed internet in rural communities
The proposed project will:
(1) Measure farmers’ technology education software and hardware capacity, utilizing a questionnaire
(2) Based upon research results, the project will seek to build the agricultural technology capacity of limited resources farmers, with training sessions .
(3) Increase limited-resource farmers’ access and participation in USDA and Agricultural Extension programs and services using technology.
The goal of the proposed project is to examine “How Technology Enhances or Impedes Sustainable Agriculture for Limited Resource Farmers in Georgia."
The project will:
- Assess the technological capacity of black farmers in the target group. The project will research both information and production technologies.
- Identify the problems and gaps with targeted farmers accessing and using informational and production technologies
The project will:
(1) Develop and implement a method to identify limited-resource farmers’ technology software and hardware capacity.
(2) Based on research results, develop a platform to address gaps in the agricultural technology capacity of black limited resources farmers through training, peer-to-peer, USDA partners, and university partners.
(3) Based on research results, develop training programs and outreach that will lead to an increase in the number of black limited-resource farmers’ access and participation in USDA programs and services using technology.
(4) Engage with 100 farmers in Georgia
- - Producer
- - Technical Advisor - Producer
The proposed project will follow basic impact research methods by using quantitative and qualitative data collection. To measure the impact of the project, there are several approaches and methods that will be used for data collection. The proposed project’s approach and methods for data collection will focus primarily on location, demographics, and farmers' knowledge. Some of the approach and methods used will include but are not limited to the following: surveys, interviews (with proper social distancing), training sessions, peer to peer (with proper social distancing), mailings, telephone conferences, bringing USDA/NRCS and USDA/FSA to farmers, questionnaires, observations, case study on the number of people applying based on resources from USDA and Fort Valley State University Extension, field experience and demonstrations with farmers cooperators, pre- and post-assessment, evaluations and self -certification.
Our research, in partnership with Fort Valley State University, will focus on methods of information transmission, instruments used for reception, methods to respond to information, and inquiries on how user-friendly it is for small, limited resource farmers. Critical to this research is discovering what digital disparities exist for limited-resource farmers. Technology access and usage supports a holistic farming approach. For example, farmers can respond to requests from institutions, such as Land Grant Colleges and State Departments of Agriculture, in real time. They can also apply in a timely manner for loans and enroll in commodity and conservation programs and communicate with extension specialists and farm suppliers regarding farm production.
Objective 1) Research, develop and implement methods to identify black limited-resource farmers’ technology software and hardware capacity.
A questionnaire will be implemented that will help to identify the technological resources available and those needed for expanding sustainability efforts for black farmers.
Collaborators and Project Directors will develop the pre-assessment. The pre-assessment will be designed to be “farmer-friendly,” meaning, Collaborators and farmer advisors will implement the pre-assessment in more of a conversational-type method versus an impersonal, structured, and formal interview. All project Collaborators have been intentional in creating a project implementation plan that focuses on supporting the farmers. Because Project Directors have a history and wealth of experience in working with farmers and farmer groups, the project team’s approach is to provide the targeted farmers with an experience that is non-intimidating and rigid, but one that is more aligned with coaching and peer-mentoring.
Interviews will serve as the lead approach in obtaining information. Interviews are one on one. Speaking directly with participants through interviews will provide a direct correlation to whether they have access to participation in USDA programs using technology. The number of interviews and locations will be determined using the Census of Agriculture, the existing database, and contacts from universities. Teleconferences will be used to generate conversations with a group of participants.
- Telephone interviews
- face-to-face interviews
- focus groups (with masks/social distancing as necessary)
In addition to questionnaires, assessment of farmer current technology resources, as well as their gain in technical knowledge, skills, and abilities, will also occur through the use of pre- and post-assessments administered to target farmers. Tools such as the Fort Valley State University mobile unit can be used to take technology to the farmers and their hands-on abilities can be assessed before and after training. The mobile unit is a tractor compartment with 20 computer stations that can be set up and used at any rural location.
The information obtained from the survey and pre-assessments will be used to develop educational events. Results from both the pre- and post-assessments will be shared with all cooperators and project participants.
. Objective 2 – Develop a platform and outreach programs to address gaps in the agricultural technology capacity of black limited resources farmers through training by peers, USDA partners, and university partners.
Due to changing times, innovation and up-to-date technology are becoming necessary. Various segments of the agricultural-based entities, including co-ops, USDA partners, and Fort Valley State University are operated by individuals with varying knowledge bases.
For example, when person meetings are not possible, conversations can occur through conference calls and zoom calls which should stimulate participants to realize the value of the use of technology in their farming operations. Participating in the conference calls and workshops will be USDA officials to provide information that relates to limited-resource farmers and their access to programs using technology
- Peer to peer approach
Regardless, studies have indicated that farmers prefer to receive information via a peer-to-peer approach (i.e. word-of-mouth from others in the business). The success of peer educators has been attributed to identifying with the educator, trainer use of appropriate jargon/teaching styles, and a lack of formal educational training which, in essence, makes the educator more relatable (Chambers, 1997; Hassanien, 1999; Bunch, 1995). This approach allows demonstration techniques that require a paradigm shift from methods currently used in the farm/ranch operation.
- Farmers workshops
Farmers value workshops for the dialog and networking with other farmers sharing their experiences in discussion learning (preferred by 87% of farmers in a Franz et al., 2010 survey. In-person training will be provided (with masks and social distancing as necessary) that allow for hands-on training and demonstrations which were among the top methods of learning preferred by farmers (99% and 96% preferred respectively; Franz et al., 2010). At workshops, peer demonstration of technology occurs. For instance, one farmer contacting another farmer via smartphones by utilizing the transfer of information through texting. Technology has the power to improve limited resource farmers' lives and their livelihood.
- Fort Valley University Mobile Technology Lab
Fort Valley State University Mobile Technology Lab and stationary sites with technological access (i.e. extension offices and universities will be used for training farmers to use hardware and software. During Field Days, farmers will be introduced to technology that may be beyond current capabilities such as Global Positioning Systems on tractors and drones to reduce pesticide /herbicide use as well as chemical use.
- Virtual Meeting and training
Virtual training can be offered with project staff and extension staff hosting the training for those not comfortable with handling it themselves. Upon seeing the value and ease of this type of training, it is expected that more farmers will utilize these opportunities.
Objective 3 – Evaluate the increase in the number of black limited-resource farmers’ access and participation in USDA programs and services using technology.
- The project will interact with 100 black limited resource farmers.
Engaging farmers is always important, but it is even more crucial to foster this type of relationship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although face-to-face contact is posing a challenge, communication methods should be executed through online forums, virtual lectures, and support groups. With ongoing conversation, farmers can feel supported, while still providing peer-to-peer learning to boost sustainability and profitability.
- The project will assess the number of black limited resource farmers accessing USDA relief programs and services.
Project participants will be administered an evaluation instrument to collect data that is qualitative to garner the impact of the project on the participants' quality of life and the
diffusion of innovation through their willingness to disseminate information to other farmers.
- Self-certification is a method that provides self-determination of limited resource farmers' progress and accessibility to different programs using technology.
USDA will not release information regarding the methods used for Limited Resource farmer's participation in programs. Self-Certification will provide an element to our research that serves as a benchmark to help solidify the information gained through the various approach and methods.
As with the technology and self-certification surveys, the satisfaction evaluation will be developed as a group with Project Directors and collaborators. The methods of evaluation will include phone, written, and one-on-one interviews.
Due to the changing times, innovation and up-to-date technology are becoming increasingly necessary as a means of “safe” communication. Various segments of the agricultural-based entities, including co-ops, USDA partners, and Fort Valley State University, should work together to deliver effective training. Minority farm operations are operated by individuals with varying knowledge bases. Studies have indicated that farmers prefer to receive information via a peer-to-peer approach (i.e. word-of-mouth from others in the business). This approach allows demonstration techniques that require a paradigm shift from methods currently used in the farm/ranch operation. Farmers value workshops primarily for dialog and networking with other farmers sharing their experiences. For instance, one farmer contacting another farmer via smartphones by utilizing the transfer of information through texting. Technology has the power to improve limited resource farmers' lives and their livelihood.
Interviews will serve as the lead approach in obtaining information. Interviews are one on one. Speaking directly with participants through interviews will provide a direct correlation to whether they have access to participation in USDA programs using technology. The number of interviews and locations will be determined using the Census of Agriculture existing databases and contacts from universities. Teleconferences will be used to generate conversations with a group of participants. Conversation in a conference should stimulate participants to realize the value of the use of technology in their farming operations.
Participating in the conference call will be USDA officials to provide information that relates to limited-resource farmers and their access to programs using technology.
Self-certification is a method that provides self-determination of limited resource farmers' progress and accessibility to different programs using technology. USDA will not release information regarding the methods used for Limited Resource farmer's participation in programs. Self-Certification will provide an element to our research that serves as a benchmark to help solidify the information gained through the various approach and methods.
An important method used to evaluate the project will be the use of a pre- and post-assessment that will be administered to targeted farmers. The results from the pre-assessment will be documented to measure the increase/decrease in project participants' technology knowledge and utilization capacity. Results from both the pre and post assessments will be shared with all cooperators and project participants. Project participants will also be administered a post-assessment instrument to collect data that is qualitative in order to garner the impact of the project on the participants' quality of life and the diffusion of innovation to disseminate information to other farmers.
The research project seeks to address the awareness and adoption of technology by black farmers in the Southeast Black Belt Region. The project sought to address the following:
1-Measure farmers' technology education software and hardware capacity, utilizing a questionnaire
2-Build the agricultural technology capacity of limited resource farmers with training sessions
3-Increase limited resource farmers access and participation in usda and Agricultural Extension programs and services, using technology
The project seeks to identify technological equipment, tools, and/or platforms that are barriers for black farmers.
The project accomplished the following goals:
1-Assessed the technological capacity of black farmers in the target group. The project researched both informational and production technologies
2-Identified the problem and gaps with targeted farmers accessing and using informational and production technologies
Research for the project involved quantitative and qualitative data collection. Approaches and methods used included surveys, interviews, training sessions, peer-to-peer, mailings, telephone conferences, meetings with USDA/NRCS agencies, questionnaires, observations, field experiences and demonstrations with farmers and cooperators. During the survey design and development phase, the survey was shared with USDA/ NRCS local, state and national offices and FSA, who expressed excitement regarding the survey and provided input and feedback. The survey was then condensed into twenty questions and distributed to the targeted audience. Results were recorded in writing, verbally and electronically. Personnel at Fort Valley State University tabulated, analyzed the data, and shared the results with the targeted audience and provided recommendations to address findings.
Surveys were physically mailed, sent via email, or administered during in-person visits to over 100 targeted participants. Responses were received for 85 respondents and/or participants.
The Survey questions are below:
Thank you for participating in the technology assessment survey below! The results of the survey will be used to determine if the use of technology helps or impedes Black farmers and results will be shared with you in the Spring of 2022.
Please fill out the survey and return in the self-addressed envelope. Again, “Thank you!”
Email, if applicable____________________________________________________________
Please circle your response to the following questions.
- Do you have access to a laptop, desktop computer or smartphone? Yes (82) No (1)
- Does your county have Broadband? Yes (67) No (13)
- Do you have access to the Internet? Yes (82) No (1)
- Do you have access to high-speed Internet? Yes (69) No (14)
- Do you know how to navigate the Internet? Yes (77) No (6)
- Do you know how to use Zoom for meetings? Yes (74) No (9)
- Do you know how to use other virtual platforms (i.e. Facebook)? Yes (61) No (21)
- Do you know how to use WORD, Excel, Google, Adobe, PowerPoint? Yes (67) No (16)
- Do you need help using technology? Yes (57) No (27)
- Do you know how to access webinars and trainings that are
only available or offered through the Internet? Yes (65) No (18)
- Do you use technology in your farm operations and/or production? Yes (20) No (54)
If yes, which technology listed below:
GPS (Global Positioning System)? Yes (5) No (10)
DRONES Yes (4) No (11)
Computerized Production Systems (Feeding/Watering) Yes (4) No (12)
Computerized Production Systems (Herbicides, Nutrients, Soil testing) Yes (4) No (11)
Electronic Livestock Record Keeping Yes (2) No (12)
Solar Technology Yes (2) No (13)
Electronic Soil moisture sensors Yes (1) No (13)
Precision Agriculture Mapping Yes (1) No (14)
Other Yes (0) No (13)
- If you answered no, would you like to use technology in
your farm operations and/or production? Yes (73) No (7)
- Do you receive notifications and/or information from USDA
via the Internet? Yes (65) No (18)
-Are you familiar with Farmers.Gov? Yes (40) No (20)
-Do you utilize Farmers. Gov? Yes (39) No (43)
- Do you access and submit applications to USDA via the Internet? Yes (51) No (31)
- Would you like to receive training on technology tools? Yes (67) No (15)
- If you answered, “Yes,” what training would you need?
I need assistance with: All mentioned above, All of the farm operations technology, Artificial insemination, learning pad pro, precision AG mapping, computerized production systems, nutrients and soil testing, feeding and watering, electronic livestock recordkeeping, solar tech, soil moisture sensors, herd management, accounting, how to operate a computer, computerized soil testing, farmers.gov, apps for USDA, ph balancing, drones, and GPS ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Project evaluation included analysis of data from surveys and interviews with farmers. Project investigators and cooperators met with the project evaluator from Fort Valley State University to discuss the disparities in the survey results. Results from the surveys and interviews indicated the following:
- Eighty-two respondents have access to a laptop, desktop computer or smartphone and have access to the internet.
-Sixty-seven respondents live in a community that has Broadband.
-Seventy-seven respondents know how to navigate the Internet.
-Seventy-four respondents know how to use Zoom for meetings. (Note. As a result of the pandemic, most of respondents cited they are familiar and/or use Zoom for virtual church.)
-More than 70 of the respondents indicated they are comfortable with using technology, either personally or have a family member who can assist them with accessing media platforms.
-Seventy-three (73) respondents indicated they would like to use technology in their farming operations and/or production.
-Thirteen (13) of the respondents reside in communities that do not have access to Broadband.
- Fourteen (14) of the respondents reside in communities that do not have high speed internet.
-Forty (40) respondents are not familiar with Farmers.Gov.
-Forty-three (43) respondents do not use Farmers. Gov.
-Sixty-seven (67) respondents need training on technology tools.
-Fifty-seven (57)respondents need help using technology tools.
-Thirty-one (31) respondents cannot submit applications using USDA's online platform.
*Based upon the above results, more than half of the respondents are facing challenges with using platforms that are designed to assist farmers, due to their lack of knowledge of Farmers.Gov, inability to access the platform, inability to navigate through government websites, and lack of knowledge of how to apply for resources through USDA website.
*Based upon the above results, it was easy to draw a conclusion that the respondents were skillful in their use of informational technology; however, when asked, "Do you need help using technology?" fifty-seven (57) of the respondents indicated they needed help and sixty-seven (67) would like to receive training on technology tools.
This project asked the question "Does Technology Enhance or Impede Sustainable Agriculture for Black Limited Resource Farmers in the Southeast Black Belt Region?" The results from the research are two-fold: Informational technology can enhance sustainable agriculture for Black Limited Resource Farmers; however, production technology impedes sustainable agriculture for Black Limited Resource Farmers.
Seasoned farmers have relied heavily on traditional growing methods and techniques and there is an increase in the transition and approaches of growing food using scientific-based methods that also rely heavily on the use of technology. With the increase of more technology-based production methods, there is a prevalent need for limited resource farmers to gain knowledge of technology-based production tools and practices.
With more climate and weather-related impacts, it is imperative that Black limited resource farmers learn and implement technology based production practices or begin the process of transitioning into climate-smart production practices.
The results could be applied to all races of farmers; however, these results are more amplified with BIPOC farmers due to historical barriers that these farmers are already trying to overcome. With a history of discrimination from USDA, the move to electronic dissemination of vital farming information and resources widens the resource access gap of limited resource farmers and producers; thereby increasing the risk of sustainable agriculture amongst BIPOC farmers.
Economic disparities amongst farmers was an issue that surfaced during the post-survey meetings. Respondents highlighted the cost of implementing technology-based production practices. For example, during the irrigation workshop, the presenter stated that a small irrigation system begins at $26,000.00.
Informational and production technology will impede limited resource farmers role in sustainable agriculture, if they are not able to access the capital and human resources that are available through USDA.
Project partners and collaborators designed, developed and conducted the farmer technology survey. Results from the survey will used to design workshops for the targeted population.
-The project seeks to build the agricultural technology capacity of limited resource farmers through the implementation of trainings and webinars to improve knowledge and awareness of technology tools that are available to improve farms and farming practices.
-An educational workshop will be presented to limited resource farmers on the topic of the "Basics of Computer Literacy." Project partners have engaged with a computer technology specialist to conduct the workshop(s) for the limited resource farmers.
-The project seeks to increase limited resource farmers' access and participation in USDA and Agricultural Extension programs through workshops that are specifically designed to help limited resource farmers access online tools and programs available through these agencies. A representative from each of the agencies will present a session on how to access their site and programs. The workshop will be interactive and will utilize guided-instruction to introduce and help navigate limited resource farmers to and through the Farmers.Gov website and other online tools and resources.
In order to gain the information needed for the project, collaborators implemented a strategy to build trust and relationships with participating farmers. Project collaborators conducted outreach to limited resource farmers to gain information about the level of technology use on their farms. Outreach was conducted through churches, phone calls, flyers, emails, farmer-to-farmer referrals, and through attendance at other functions.
Outreach efforts focused on providing farmers with education and skill-building opportunities, access to resources and access to USDA personnel. Outreach efforts also included USDA/NRCS personnel, FSA Offices, and to specialized private industry.
-Respondents indicated that they have basic informational technology skills. However, the impediment for the Black Limited Resource Farmers in the Southeast Black Belt Region and major threat to sustainable agriculture, is the lack of knowledge, skills and awareness of production technology.
During the sharing of survey results, the respondents prioritized production practices and shared their challenges with accessing farming resources.
Based upon the survey results, the following workshops were held:
1- Technology Survey Results Sharing and Discussion with BIPOC farmers
2-Technology-based Irrigation Systems and Drones
3-Accessing Farm Service Agency
4-Using Technology to Increase Access to USDA Programs, How to Access and Use Farmers.Gov and How to Submit Applications online
5-USDA/NRCS Conservation Programs: Eligibility Criteria and How to Apply
6-Artificial Insemination, Vaccinations Training and Record keeping
Educational & Outreach Activities
Key to the success of this project will be in the effectiveness and impact of the project team’s outreach efforts. Those efforts are impacted by the global Covid-19 pandemic. The project’s traditional outreach implementation plan will depend upon the variable of Covid-19. Outreach methods, outlined below, will reflect traditional and non-traditional outreach strategies.
Project Collaborators acknowledge the project is not a “one-size” fits all project. The outreach strategies used in the project will be tailored to take into account the diversity of the targeted audience, which goes beyond race, age, ethnicity, gender, culture, and geography.
The outreach efforts of the Project Collaborators will assist farmers with gaining information and knowledge of the impact technology has on farming and farming practices.
Outreach and training workshops will utilize culturally appropriate educational materials, presentations by agricultural, conservation and community development professionals and “hands-on” experiential field training sessions. All project team partners will work together to educate and nurture targeted populations’ understanding of technology and conservation programs (with a particular focus on EQIP) and will assist the participants to implement appropriate conservation practices on their properties.
In partnership with project collaborators, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, Fort Valley State University, and other conservation agencies, the project proposes to identify, survey, and provide technical assistance to 100 participants, over the 2-year project period.
Project partners will utilize their existing databases, farmer referrals, census data, data from SARE and Fort Valley State University, listservs, farmer cooperatives, non-profits, and “word-of-mouth” to identify the targeted number of project participants. Outreach methods will include phone calls, flyers, text messages, face-to-face (using social distancing guidelines), radio advertisement, posts on social media, online forums, virtual lectures, and support groups.
Project Collaborators understand the importance of the dissemination of information and outreach in the long-term sustainability of this work and as part of its farmer network. Peer learning exchanges and the sharing of best practices are key strategies that will be utilized to reach a greater number of landowners, farmers, new and beginning farmers, ranchers, and/or veterans. Project Collaborators will use the social capital within communities to engage farmers and new and beginning farmers and veterans.
An important strategy of this project will focus on building relationships, establishing trust, and making connections with farmers and members of the community and partnerships. Building the level of trust is essential to obtaining the goals of this project.
Project Collaborators will conduct outreach through churches, phone calls, radio, television, flyers, emails, co-workers, farmer-to-farmer, and family and friends to share information regarding meetings, workshops, and training sessions and other outreach methods.
Project Collaborators will capture and utilize the learning from this project so that it may be replicated in other communities and programs. To this end, Project Collaborators will implement the following strategies to promote sustainable agriculture:
- Advertise and promote meetings and project objectives in local media and social media outlets to identify existing and potential new farms and farmers
- Host local county meetings with farmers in partnership with local Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency offices
- Host multi-county meetings with farmers for input and information gathering
- Host multi-county meetings to share knowledge and resources from all local and state agencies.
- Help farmers identify and develop strategies for accessing USDA resources
- Host one-on-one meetings, conference calls, and follow-up with farmers to assess technology usage capacity
- Provide on-going and consistent technical assistance for farmers with application submission processes and updates on the Farm Bill
Outreach efforts will utilize traditional means; however, with the uncertainty of Covid-19 and social distancing guidelines, the project will utilize outreach methods that will keep Project Collaborators, farmers and partners safe; therefore, there may a heavy reliance on phone calls, flyers, text messages, radio advertisements, social media, online forums, virtual lectures, and support groups.
Project partners will share findings with SSARE, USDA, Non Profits, Farmers Cooperatives, Extension Services, 1890 Land Grant Universities and other entities who work or provide services to black limited resource farmers.
Education and outreach activities were conducted via virtual meetings and included representation from NRCS, FSA, Fort Valley State University, Georgia Forestry Commission and Conservation agencies.
Project Partners and Collaborators conducted the following education and outreach activities:
-Consultations were held with 80 limited resource producers regarding identifying markets and marketing strategies for produce and livestock.
-On-Farm demonstration was conducted at the Copeland's Living Waters Farm in Shiloh,GA. Educational topics included Cattle Reproduction, Hay Quality, Pasture Management, Cattle Supplements: Vitamins and Minerals, VitaFerm and Cattle Assessments. Educational session was conducted by Dean Ralph Noble of Fort Valley State University.
-On-Farm demonstration was conducted at HKJ Ranch.
-On-Farm demonstration was conducted at the Coastal Georgia Small Farmers Cooperative in Glennville, GA
-On-Farm demonstration was conducted at the Berry Farm in Long County
-Online sessions and Webinars were conducted by Dean Ralph Noble of Fort Valley State University.
-Agricultural Professionals from NRCS, The Georgia Cattlemen's Association and Fort Valley State University presented sessions to forest owners, vegetable and livestock producers.
-Agricultural Professionals involved with the project are as follows:
Director Arthur Tripp- State Director of Farm Service Agency
Dean Ralph Noble- Fort Valley State University
Terrance Wolfork-Fort Valley State University
Dr. Nikki Whitley- Fort Valley State University
Perry Hollingsworth- Harplyn AG
Terry Oldenburg- Wise Conn Engineering
Cedric Lewis- Black Hawk Aerial
Theresa Windhan- District Director- Farm Service Agency
Garrett Morris- Area Resource Conservationist (NRCS)
Chelsea Cutler- District Conservationist (NRCS)
Farmers reported changes in knowledge in the following areas: Informational Technology, Production Technology, Farming Methodology, Access to Resources utilizing technology, How to access USDA programs, How to navigate USDA website, Purpose of Farmers.Gov, and How to access resources through Farmers.Gov
Farmers reported changes in skills in the following areas: Use of Informational Technology, Production Technology: Irrigation and Drones
Farmers reported changes in awareness in the following areas: Farm Bill, Resources through USDA, Technology methods to improve farms and farming practices and application processes for disaster relief programs and importance of succession planning
This project will contribute to the future agricultural sustainability through the narrowing of the informational technology knowledge gaps with limited resource farmers, which limits their access to innovations in agriculture technology. In this digital age, society has a heavy reliance on technology. Technological advancements have helped farmers to produce greater yields on less land which increases the dynamics of scale, economy and environmental impacts.
Sustaining farmers and agriculture are vital to the broader system of environmental preservation, local food systems and economies, and healthy and resilient communities. By doing this research and finding what technological gaps exists, we hope to discover if black farmers use technology to farm more sustainably, can they become more financially viable; consequently, leading to an increase in healthier rural black communities.
With project implementation, data will be collected to examine the impact of information technology on the ability of Black farmers to access USDA/NRCS programs and resources. Farmers will be surveyed regarding the current level of technology use. After identifying technology barriers, the proposed project will focus on closing the digital divide by providing training and access to technology, utilizing various means, such as webinars, video conferencing, emails, and other agriculture software. We believe that identifying these gaps and addressing them can make our black farmers more sustainable
This project will determine whether increasing technological capacity will make black farmers more sustainable by increasing the number of farmers applying for USDA programs and increasing the number of farmers using production side technology. With increased access to resources, farmers will be able to stay up-to-date with provisions in the Farm Bill, access agencies for agriculture sustainability, such as risk management: crop insurance and natural disaster assistance, food production, farm succession, and legacy planning. The project will also target the next generation of black beginning farmers for farm viability and agriculture sustainability. Since COVID- 19 has limited person-to-person contact with agency personnel, this limited contact may become the norm. It will be important for us to document the impact of COVID- 19 on the implementation of our project and the potential long-term effects on sustainable agriculture and share those findings with SARE and our project evaluator.
A key to sustainability is the conservation and improvement of soil resources. A major push by USDA is soil quality. Farmers know the basics for conservation and soil quality, but there are constant changes in maintaining soil quality due to changes in climate, seed technology, machinery, and discoveries regarding the relationship with plant cover, rainfall, and temperature relationships. Using technology or the lack thereof, may have an impact on soil quality and sustainability. Knowledge and skills can be obtained through a continuing education process from various sources. The usefulness of this information to farmers is dependent on the source it is originating from, what mechanism the farmer can receive it, and the ease of navigating the application process.
Sustainable farms are also dependent on the farm's ability to make a profit, reinvest in improvements to the operations, and being able to create wealth for the next generation. Successful farms are using the best management practices and are taking advantage of available government programs.
In small rural communities in the south agriculture is what drives economic value. A dollar spent at a local owned store is usually spent 6 to 15 times before it leaves the community. From $1 you create $5 to $14 in value in a community. (Tim Mitchell. Northwest Earth Institute, Choices for Sustainable Living). Sustainability for farms are important in the economy of Georgia. Agriculture contributes approximately $73 billion annually to Georgia’s economy. The Gate Value for the state was $13.75 billion. One in seven Georgians work in agriculture, forestry or related fields (Georgia Farm Bureau) Additionally Georgia have a Conservation Use Value Assessment (CUVA) that was designed to protect property owners from being pressured by tax burden to convert their land from agriculture to other qualifying use to residential or commercial. (Georgia Forestland Protection Act.)
If agriculture can be sustainable, it will help communities to become sustainable. In the south, farms vary in size, by the commodities they produce, and the race, gender, and ethnicity of operators. Farmers have the opportunity to become economic change agents in their communities. If farms are sustainable, productive, and profitable, the economic benefits for communities can increase exponentially. Farmers can influence and drive the local economy by putting under-utilized land into production, create jobs, increase production and supply to meet growing market demands, which can result in an income to boost the local economy.
The results of this project could be applied to all races of farmers; however, these results are more amplified with BIPOC farmers due to historical barriers that these farmers have faced. For agriculture to be sustained in the communities of Black and BIPOC limited resource farmers, it is imperative that technology-based production practices become a priority or focus of USDA, private farming entities, and the farming community.
This project makes the following recommendations:
-Farmers need access to more technology tools for farming practices and production
-Farmers need access to capital
-Farmers need continued outreach and capacity-building support
-Farmers need access to production experts for implementing on-farm technology tools, platforms, and practices