Extension Small Farms Program among nation’s best

Many people, especially younger “agripreneurs,” start a farm as a way to make the world better than they found it. But not all new farmers are ready for intensive business planning. They soon find out how difficult it can be to make a profit in farming — especially when they are growing dozens of different crops for many different markets, nearly all year long.

The number of small farms in Oregon has steadily grown in the last few decades, with the help of the OSU Extension Small Farms Program. The program works toward improving small-farm horticultural production and small-scale livestock, poultry and forage production. When it started in 2005, the program featured four Extension agents, including Garry Stephenson, the program’s founding director. It has grown to 15 OSU personnel working on small farms in some capacity, including 11 full-time equivalent positions. With a nationally recognized annual small farms conference held each February, OSU Extension’s Small Farms Program today rivals any in the country.

To date, 18 of Oregon’s 36 counties participate in OSU’s Small Farms Program. The program provides multiple benefits for a wide variety of farm communities, including everything from helping small-scale commercial farmers improve their bottom line to helping landowners, who have off-farm jobs and aren’t looking to earning a living off their land, manage their holdings.

The program offers several classes to the general public, including a Living on the Land series, which is designed for landowners new to managing small-scale farms. Class topics for the series might include weed management, soil health, managing water resources and pasture and grazing management. Courses for more advanced farmers might look at recordkeeping or designing financial strategies for tightening up a business model.

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