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Annual Tri-state Farmers Forum

Conservation Showcase


(l-r) Miles Robinson and Audrey Zeigler, Tuskegee University Small Farms Coordinators.
(l-r) Miles Robinson and Audrey Zeigler, Tuskegee University Small Farms Coordinators.

By Alice Love, Natural Resources Specialist, NRCS, Auburn, AL

The Tri-State Farmers Forum 11th Annual Training Workshop was held on February 9, 2013, at the Houston County Farm Center in Dothan, Alabama. The theme was “Knowledge is Power – Power is Knowledge.” 

The attendees consisted of producers, agency, and organization representatives from adjoining states such as Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.

The focus of the workshop was to educate participants on what is needed to compete in commercial agricultural markets.

Guest speakers were from Tuskegee University for Small Farms Initiative, Tuskegee University Extension, USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and Belle Foods.

Tuskegee Extension Representatives covered:

  1. Clarification of extension services based on documented research data

  2. Implementing food safety factors based on production, harvesting, packing, marketing, and record keeping. 

  3. Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) Certification

  4. Soil testing to promote and support healthy plants, soil, and maximum yields.

  5. Use of certified seeds to achieve commercial level marketing.

  6. The use of a spray program in the Production Planning Process to address plant diseases and pest controls.

  7. Benefits of crop scouting for weed and pest control.

Discussions expanded the knowledge of agricultural marketing opportunities for small farmers. The partnership between Wal-Mart and Tuskegee University for the Small Farmers Initiative has received outstanding support. Wal-Mart has 200 stores in Alabama. The goal to supply these stores with locally grown produce is a reality for small producers while embracing and implementing marketing technologies.  Small farmers working together in a cooperative effort has impacted the demand for locally grown produce on a scale outside of local farmer markets and road side stands.

Houston County Extension Coordinator Willie Durr informed participants of the availability of the “Southern U.S. 2013 Vegetable Crop Handbook” at local extension offices.  This informational handbook is available free of charge. 

Lou Malaponti and James Harris, representatives from Belle Foods, informed participants of their desire to market local produce in Belle Foods Stores and Markets.  Belle Food's tentative plan was:

  1. Target growers in a 300 mile radius of Birmingham, AL.

  2. Investigate C&S as a potential distribution center for Belle Foods.

  3. Seek producers that are GAP Certified.

  4. Produce in stores and markets will display labels providing consumers information about producer of product.

NRCS representatives Alice Love (AL) and Odessa Armstrong (FL) highlighted the 2013 Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) based on a regional format instead of variations from state to state.  Participants were encouraged to officially document heir property designee’s.  It was explained that part of USDA's participant eligibility process addresses the participant’s ability to demonstrate control of land (ex: lease, will, power of attorney etc.).  Emphasis was placed on eligibility criteria as outlined in the Farm Bill.  NRCS representatives also addressed participants concerns relating to existing EQIP contracts, i.e., contract extensions, practice completion dates, payment processes, etc.

This successful meeting was closed with an open invitation to attend “The 12th Tri-State Farmers Forum Annual Meeting” scheduled for February 2014. 

(l-r) Alford Jackson and George Hunter, Tuskegee Extension Advisors
(l-r) Alford Jackson and George Hunter, Tuskegee
Extension Advisors

(l-r) Lou Malaponti and James Harris, Belle Foods
(l-r) Lou Malaponti and James Harris, Belle Foods