Lincoln University Cooperative Extension’s Innovative Small Farmers Outreach Program (ISFOP), along with producers, agribusiness owners, and industry leaders from around the state, came together on November 16 and 17, 2023, in Osage Beach for the 50th Missouri Governor’s Conference on Agriculture. The two-day conference brought together all segments of the agriculture industry to address pressing farm issues and provide invaluable insights and networking opportunities.
Agriculture remains the backbone of our state’s strong economy,” said Governor Mike Parson. “At this conference, you will hear firsthand how our administration’s priorities are making a lasting impact and bringing greater opportunities to farm families and communities. Together, we are moving Missouri forward, and we are not done yet.”
With a growing interest in farming, Lincoln’s ISFOP served as an exhibitor to promote awareness of the program. Focused on providing small-scale farmers and ranchers with research-based information on various topics, ISFOP is instrumental in helping them enhance their operations and navigate the challenges unique to their sector.
Mary Bolling-Keeter, an ISFOP Farm Outreach Worker in east-central Missouri, highlighted the importance of recognizing small farmers. “We’re here because it’s so easy for an event like this to focus on commodity farmers. But there are thousands of small farmers across the state, and they grow differently, their market is different, and they contribute to the local economy.”
Bolling-Keeter underscored the multiple benefits of cultivating local food sources, pointing out the positive impact on both farmers and consumers. As local businesses thrive from the exchange of goods and services, the local community experiences enhanced economic growth. This model not only strengthens economic ties but also promotes a sense of community resilience. She also noted a rising interest in ISFOP services, attributing it to increased consumer awareness of the origins of their food sources. Additionally, Bolling-Keeter highlighted the environmental sustainability inherent in small farming practices.
The conference covered various aspects of the agriculture industry, including a U.S. farm commodity outlook report and a panel discussion moderated by Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe on the Show-Me Entrepreneurial Grants for Agriculture (SEGA), a program that helps farmers, small businesses and higher education institutions add value to agricultural products in Missouri or provides educational opportunities to those seeking to do so. Governor Mike Parson highlighted the state’s achievements in on-the-job training, the low cost of doing business, business taxes, and new manufacturing facilities at the Missouri Agriculture Awards Luncheon.
During the Agriculture Industry Panel, leaders from the dairy, soybean, cattle, forestry, corn, and pork associations and the Missouri Farm Bureau discussed pressing ag issues ranging from drought impact to recruiting next-generation farmers, farm sustainability, and protecting the agriculture industry through legislation. Resilience emerged as a common theme, demonstrated by the various sectors reporting good yields in the face of back-to-back years of drought. Panelists noted technology, research, and education as playing key roles in growing and maintain resilience.
The drought hit the cattle industry hard, forcing mass liquidation of cows. Mike Deering, Executive Vice President of Missouri Cattlemen’s Association stated, “We are resilient. We will move forward . . . But hopefully, we can wake up as an industry and start planning ahead because this is going to happen again, and so we have to take advantage of those programs and opportunities that are available, whether it’s forage management or whether it’s risk management tools.”
In addressing the aging workforce challenge within agriculture, industry leaders are implementing strategic initiatives to attract a new generation of workers. A noteworthy example includes the Missouri Cattlemen’s Leadership College, a program dedicated to the leadership development of young professionals in their 30s and 40s navigating the agricultural industry. Collaborative efforts between the Dairy Association and the University of Missouri are paving the way for innovative solutions in marketing agricultural businesses. Beyond these, various sectors are actively engaged in building markets that illustrate the economic sustainability of farming for younger workers. Additionally, concerted efforts are being made to ensure access to affordable health coverage, recognizing the importance of comprehensive benefits in making the agricultural sector more appealing to the next generation of the workforce.
On the educational front, representatives from leading technical schools shared innovative approaches to preparing young people for the agriculture workforce. State Technical College of Missouri, Moberly Area Community College, and State Fair Community College discussed two-year technical degrees, internships, and job placement programs. College leaders emphasized that employers can enhance their appeal to students by showcasing their various benefits and providing internship opportunities. Furthermore, these institutions are actively engaged in outreach to high schools, aiming to inform students early in their academic journeys about the myriad career opportunities within the agriculture industry. This outreach includes hands-on experiences, particularly in urban and suburban areas where students may be unaware of available agricultural jobs.
During the Missouri Agriculture Awards Luncheon, the Missouri Department of Agriculture recognized Dr. John Tummons of Columbia as Missouri Agriculture Education Leader, Dr. Adam Acklin as Missouri Food Animal Veterinarian, and ADM Deerland Probiotics and Enzymes as Missouri International Exporter of the Year. Missouri Grown, the state’s branded program for agriculture products, recognized the following businesses: Hedge Holler Harvest LLC in Mexico—Membership; Carrie Merries in St. Louis—Marketing; Turtle Gulch Gardens in Bradleyville—Farm to Table; Boonville Farmers Market in Boonville—Education and Outreach and Beggs Family Farm in Sikeston—Agritourism.
PHOTO CAPTION: Agriculture Industry Panel leaders from the dairy, soybean, cattle, forestry, corn, and pork associations and the Missouri Farm Bureau discussed pressing ag issues at conference.