As the average age of U.S. farmers continues to slowly rise and fewer new generation farmers are available to replace them—many are opting to leave rural areas in search of career opportunities in larger cities—some agriculture economists and industry officials are voicing concern over who will be meeting tomorrow's rising demand for food and commodities.
But a coalition of farm groups, state and federal officials and representatives of Texas AgriLife Extension are reaching out to U.S. veterans, many of whom are searching for a new start following military service, as a way not only to help the men and women who have served their country well but also as a way to spread new interest in farming and ranching in Texas and other parts of the nation.
About 65 veterans and family members gathered at Millican Reserve in College Station on Saturday, May 7, to learn about everything from agriculture business start-ups to identifying sources for funding to individuals interested in farming or ranching.
The workshop is the latest in a growing number of similar workshops being staged around the country designed to inform and educate veterans and other individuals about existing opportunities in agriculture and to help identify funding resources for those who are ready to put together a business plan for farming or ranching.
GROWING INTEREST FROM VETERANS
The workshops, called "From Battleground to Breaking Ground," usually attracts fewer participants than Saturday's event in College Station, but event sponsors say interest is growing as more veterans become aware of the program.
Cheryl Grenwelge, a Texas A&M associate professor working with Texas AgriLife Extension, says the workshop was designed to assist both veterans with and without disabilities. In addition to assisting with new startup operations, she says the scope of the program is broader and includes helping new veteran farmers to acquire special equipment they may need on the farm.
She said one recent application included helping a disabled veteran acquire a mechanical lift to help him climb on to his tractor.
Officials say the program has helped 600-plus veterans reintegrate into civilian life since its launch five years ago, and with continued state and federal support they expect that number will continue to grow.
Army Desert Storm veteran Doug Havemann was on hand at the workshop to share his experience with the program. He says he has been operating a successful farming startup near San Antonio for more than two years, thanks to support from the program. He raises cattle and grows produce among other things, and also helps other veterans by bringing them to his farm for hands-on experience and to acquire farming skills. He targets vets suffering post-traumatic stress and believes the experience also serves as an effective tool for therapy.
A half-dozen of the 25 or so veterans who have lived and worked on his farm have since launched their own successful agricultural operations.
A number of farmers, veterans, Texas AgriLife Extension specialists and state and federal officials talked with or made presentations at the workshop over the weekend, and officials say more workshops are being scheduled in other parts of the state and across the nation to spread the word.
More information about the "Battleground to Breaking Ground" program.