COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The Texas AgrAbility program of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service is introducing a new project to benefit military veterans interested in becoming farmers and ranchers.
“In 2012, Texas AgrAbility developed Battleground to Breaking Ground: A Transformational Journey, a workshop to address four key areas of agriculture business: planning, rural business opportunities, the Texas AgrAbility program and funding sources,” said Dr. Rick Peterson, AgriLife Extension state specialist, family and community health, College Station.
Through these free workshops, Texas AgrAbility has provided education and resources to over 600 beginning farmers and ranchers, 70 percent of them being military veterans, he said.
“In 2016, Texas AgrAbility was awarded the New and Beginning Farmer Rancher Development Program grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to expand our services to veterans and other beginning farmers and ranchers in Texas,” he said.
The new Battleground to Breaking Ground Entrepreneurial Training Project is designed as a holistic training program that will help veteran military members and others wanting to become farmers and ranchers. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)
“With this grant, we are initiating the Battleground to Breaking Ground Entrepreneurial Training Project to increase the number of veteran farmers and ranchers in Texas through face-to-face and online training as well as hands-on experiential training and technical guidance.”
Peterson said he and project staff are looking for prospective beginning veteran farmers and ranchers throughout the state interested in participating in the program. A March 10 deadline has been set for initial applicants.
“Applicants can be from anywhere in the state,” he said. “We’ll coordinate with our partners to provide access to training and hands-on field experience.”
Peterson said organizations collaborating with AgriLife Extension on the project include the Farmers Assisting Returning Military, or FARM, program, Farmer Veteran Coalition, VetAdvisor, Millican Alliance, Texas Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, Texas Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Our formal contract partners are FARM, Millican Alliance, VetAdvisor and the Texas Center for Rural Development,” Peterson said. “The other organizations will act as supporting partners. And thanks to the USDA-NIFA grant, we will be able to expand our offerings to military vets and provide them with additional resources.”
He said the three-phase entrepreneurial training project is intended to enhance the sustainability of new veteran agriculturalists by providing an “innovative, holistic model for education, training, technical assistance and outreach.”
“The program will feature online courses related to business planning, risk management, goal setting, funding sources, recordkeeping, budgeting, marketing, agricultural safety, and crop and livestock production,” said Erin Pilosi-Kimbrough, AgriLife Extension program coordinator, College Station. “It will also incorporate hands-on field trainings, mentorship, individual education planning and transition services, and disability support.”
Pilosi-Kimbrough said one of the most important aspects of the new program will be its mentorship element.
“We’ll be putting vets who want to begin an agricultural enterprise together with others involved in similar operations so they can learn from them and better understand the pros and cons of that particular business,” she said.
A short video on the AgrAbility Mentor Program can be found athttps://vimeo.com/171632433.
Dr. Cheryl Grenwelge, AgriLife Extension specialist in disability transition in College Station, said the project will also address the particular needs of disabled military veterans.
“Statistics show that from 45 to 50 percent of those who complete their service in the military have some physical or other disability tied to that service,” she said, “Additionally, about 45 percent of military veterans live in rural areas where they have limited access to resources.”
A primary goal of the project is to give vets with and without disabilities better access to resources and opportunities — not only in agriculture but in other career areas as well, she said.
“We can connect them with others in similar circumstances who have had success in making the transition to civilian life and, while most of the project help is educational and not financial, we can provide them with a starting point for developing a business plan and getting the technical assistance they need. We can also help point them to the agencies that can provide them with the funding they are seeking for their agricultural operation.”
Coordinators also said the project will make it easier for veterans starting their own agricultural operation and look at options to secure land and equipment.
“We are currently coordinating with other agencies and individuals to make it possible for those who complete the training to facilitate access to land and equipment in the College Station and Dallas area,” Pilosi-Kimbrough said.
She said project launch events are planned April 28 in College Station and in June 23 in Dallas.
“This will give beginning farmers and ranchers the opportunity to see what the project is all about and learn what resources and types of assistance are available to them,” she said.
For more information and to apply for the project, go to http://txagrability.tamu.edu/farm-ranch/.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
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