Kyle Ferrell1, Timothy Richard Pannkuk1 and Mark J. Anderson2, (1)Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX (2)Agricultural and Industrial Sciences, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX
An increasing number of new and small farm operators in the U.S. are seeking technical information on agriculture and food systems. Yet, many of the new and small farm operators have limited previous agricultural experience. The technical information sought by this group varies from traditional commodities to sustainable farm practices. The purpose of this project is provide community outreach focused on topics needed by non-traditional farm operators, and discovery of problem based research questions to aid this group. This is to be coupled with an educational component featuring a completely online master’s degree in alternative agriculture systems. The initial producer-focused research survey created an opportunity for producers to identify their area of agricultural production, and to voice their perception of the challenges faced in regard to production, marketing, sales, and regulatory processes. The survey was administered through Texas Department of Agriculture’s email marketing service and yielded a 65% response rate. Forty-five percent of respondents reported being located in central Texas. Of survey respondents, 45% were exclusively involved in crop production, while an additional 29% were involved in both crop and livestock production. Seventy-seven percent of respondents reported having more than ten years of experience in agriculture, while only 51% stated they had that same experience level in alternative agriculture practices. The greatest challenges being voiced by producers were in regard to meeting consumer demand, and maximizing production while abiding by certification standards. When asked about organic certification, 36% of respondents reported currently producing under organic certification and an additional 47% of respondents voiced interest in learning more about the organic certification process. These results support the idea that new and small farm operators in Texas are shifting production from conventional practice toward alternative agricultural techniques.