- Agronomic: corn, cotton, sorghum (milo), soybeans
- Fruits: figs, peaches
- Nuts: pecans
- Vegetables: greens (leafy), sweet potatoes
- Animals: bovine, camelids, goats, poultry
- Animal Products: meat
- Sustainable Communities: community development
The purpose of this project was to investigate the degree of interest that farmers, community leaders, and agriculture and community development technical assistance providers in Northern Louisiana have: (1) in enhancing and developing local markets for produce grown in Northern Louisiana, and (2) in engaging in value-added activities such as processing and agritourism. We convened a steering committee of area technical assistance providers and community leaders and surveyed area farmers in order to develop a database of area producers who were interested in adding value to agricultural products or direct marketing.
As a result of this grant there has been an increase in the capacity and collaboration of area technical assistance providers around direct marketing and value added agriculture. We have also been able to develop a better picture of the current state of direct marketing and value-added to agricultural products in north Louisiana than was previously available.
Agriculture and forestry are the traditional economic backbone of this region. According to the 1997 USDA Census of Agriculture, there were 5832 farms in the 16 parishes to be served by this project. 308 farms were owned by minority farmers (predominantly African-American).
Cotton, corn, sorghum, soybeans, poultry and beef cattle are the predominant agricultural commodity crops produced but agriculture is still very diverse in the region. In addition to the main commodities in the region, farmers are raising such crops as pecans, mayhaws, peaches, collards, sweet potatoes, figs, goats, and horses.
Increasingly, there are few steady, full-time jobs in production agriculture. Fewer large farms are producing the main commodities, and these large farms are increasingly mechanized, reducing the need for year-round farm labor. However, many of the farms in the region are small, very small (the median farm size in the region is about 200 acres), and provide only a subsistence or supplementary income. In half of the parishes, over 60% of all farms and over 80% of minority farms had sales below $10,000. Part-time farming is apparently one strategy that many individuals in the region are using to supplement their income. Almost half of all the farms surveyed by USDA for the 1997 Ag Census were headed by individuals whose primary occupation was not farming and in 10 of the 16 parishes more than half of the farmers reported that farming is not their principle occupation.
Because improvements to small-scale, diversified farming operations are unlikely to add large numbers of new, high paying jobs, these farms tend not to be a high priority for state policy makers. However, these farms are important to the economic viability of many rural communities in the region as in many very rural communities there are simply not, and probably will never be, enough full-time, steady jobs to go around. Some jobs are inherently seasonal, some depend on contracts, and some small employers simply do not have the need for full time workers. In a recent focus group in the region of wood products manufacturers, one recurring problem that came up was their inability to retain good employees because they could not provide a full-time steady job for them, but they need access to good employees periodically in order to grow their business. Therefore, improving the financial returns to part-time farmers may raise the overall standard of living for a significant segment of the rural population as it may encourage people who otherwise might leave the area for lack of work opportunities to stay in rural Louisiana and also work part time at other local businesses.
One area where we believe that income improvements in agriculture might be gained is through increasing the capacity of farmers in the region to add value to their crops and their farms, through improved marketing, processing, and agrotourism. Louisiana’s farmers have not tended to aggressively pursue value-added enterprises and direct marketing. Much of the produce that is grown by area farmers is sold at small road side farm-stands and off the backs of trucks.
There are currently farmers and technical service providers in the region who are interested in value-added agriculture and developing local markets. For example, a goat marketing association is forming in Northern Louisiana, there are three farmers markets in the region and more are being planned, LA Tech is currently developing websites for local small businesses, many of whom are ag products based, and when the Center for Rural Development issued a press release about the USDA Value-Added Producer Grant program it received calls from over 20 producers in the area who interested in applying. However, most of the work that is being done has been on an ad-hoc basis with little intentional coordination among service providers, farmers, and community leaders. The purpose of this grant is to begin a formal process to coordinate assistance efforts to make it easier for farmers and communities who want assistance in developing value-added processing capacity and markets to get help and for organizations to identify and collaborate on projects.
The objectives of this project were:
1.To identify and develop a database of producers in the region who are currently engaged in or are interested in direct marketing, adding value to what they produce, or agritourism. In particular we will attempt to identify and include minority farmers who traditionally have been under-served by agriculture assistance programs.
2. To hold three farmer-focus groups that will identify the barriers faced by small and limited resource farmers in the region who are engaged in direct marketing and value-added enterprises, to examine the opportunities that they perceive in agriculture, and hear what assistance they believe would improve their situation.
3. To bring together individuals in the region who have the interest and capacity to work on value-added agriculture and a desire to enhance the productivity and numbers of markets of small farms in the region four times.