Oklahoma program training new farmers and ranchers receives federal grant

by Bryan Painter Published: October 24, 2011

The Black Angus cow whisked the tail at some flies and then returned to grazing.

Ruby Tucker watched and chuckled, not at the cow but at herself. She laughs at the thought that she has embraced farming and ranching.

A few decades ago, Tucker finished school and took off down the dirt road, away from the family farm near Oktaha in eastern Oklahoma. She'd grown up chopping cotton, gathering firewood and tending to a garden. But enough was enough.

“I left from here because I didn't want to live in the country,” she said.

Now Tucker is back, and she and her brother Mike Oakley are among those who have enrolled in The Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture's Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, beginning Nov. 12 near Poteau.

“Ruby and Mike are good examples because even though they grew up on the farm, both of them went away and didn't do any farming at all,” said Ann Wells of The Kerr Center. “I've been working with them the last five or six years. I've seen how they have taken advantage of all the learning opportunities and then implemented that.

“Ruby was absolutely petrified about being around cattle. Now she comes out and she feeds them and she takes care of them.”

The project

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded 36 grants totaling $18 million to organizations that will provide training and assistance to beginning farmers and ranchers to help them run successful and sustainable farms.

The average age of those who are the primary operator of an Oklahoma farm has increased from 54.8 years old in the 1997 Census of Agriculture to 56 years old by 2002 to 57.6 years old in the latest, taken in 2007.

In Oklahoma, the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture will received $742,526 for a project that will provide an in-depth, yearlong training course, beginning with business and whole farm planning, along with two tracks in livestock and horticulture.

Each track of The Kerr Center course consists of six sessions.

Those in the horticulture track will cover numerous areas including weed management, equipment maintenance and insect and disease management. Individuals choosing the livestock course will cover many topics including grazing/forages, fencing and birthing.

Participants in the Kerr Center course are those who have been operating a farm or ranch for 10 years or less, and have a gross farm income of less than $150,000 annually. Although they hope to bring in young farmers and ranchers, they are also striving to help those who may be retired, but want to be involved in agriculture.

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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U.S. Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, in a U.S. Department of Agriculture statement, said the sheer productivity of the nation's farmers and ranchers has given Americans access to a cheap and wholesome food supply. But Merrigan adds that producers are aging, and more young people are looking outside of farming for their careers.

Merrigan said it is time to reverse these trends and help young farmers and ranchers thrive in their careers.

For more information about The Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture's Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, go to www.kerrcenter.com or contact Ann Wells, (918) 647-9123.

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