By MICHELE F. MIHALJEVICH
DANVILLE, Ind. — Purdue University extension officials will host the first Indiana Small Farm Conference next month in Hendricks County. The conference is March 1-2 at the county fairgrounds in Danville.
Small farms are the fastest growing segment of agriculture in the state, according the 2002 and 2007 Censuses of Agriculture, said Steve Engleking, the state’s small farms coordinator.
“Some people (starting a small farm operation) may not be familiar with Purdue extension and we want them to understand Purdue extension is a resource,” he said. “We also want them to come away with enthusiasm and excitement about their own small farm operations or the potential for their small farm operations.”
The conference will feature presentations in five areas – marketing and processing, livestock production, crop production, energy and small farm management. Attendees may choose seminars in any of the categories.
Each category will have a minimum of eight presentations over the two days. Topics include writing a food safety plan, understanding animal behavior, urban agriculture, solar and battery storage for the farm, licenses and permits, no-till vegetable production and on-farm biofuel production.
Several crop and livestock farmers will also participate in the seminars and as part of producer panels.
“We have packed a lot into two days,” said Engleking, also LaGrange County extension educator for agriculture and natural resources, and economic and community development. “This is their conference for their needs.”
The conference also includes three keynote speakers. David A. Swenson, of the College of Agriculture at Iowa State University, will be the March 1 lunch speaker.
Michael W. Hamm, a professor of sustainable agriculture at Michigan State University, will speak during dinner that evening. Ed Bell, a disability consultant and farmer from Hagerstown, Ind., will be featured during lunch March 2.
The number of small farms is increasing for a couple of reasons, Engleking said.
“We’ve seen people in urban areas who move to the country, and they want their small estate,” he said. “They buy their seven acres. They see the country as a place to raise their kids and as a place to maybe retire in a few years. You also see people buy maybe 20 acres of woods so they have a place to hunt.”
Large farms are rarely sold intact anymore, he noted. More often, they’re sold in tracts that may allow someone to buy a few acres, build a house and have some land.
Owners of small farm operations tend to have a different philosophy than those who own larger farms, Engleking said. Larger farm managers seek maximum efficiencies and maximum yields while employing the commodity market to get the best prices, he explained.
“Small farms aren’t going to be marketing through commodity channels,” he pointed out. “They’re going to be direct marketing to consumers, restaurants and institutions. They’re more labor-centered and they’re not going to be as mechanized as much as large farms.”
Small farm operations tend to offer more value-added products, such as jams and jellies, he noted.
Engleking said he hopes the conference becomes an annual event. “This is a ‘back to the future moment’ for Purdue extension,” he said. “Extension was started over 100 years ago to teach people how to farm. Now we want to create a buzz with this first conference.”
The cost for the conference is $150 for both days, or $100 for either day. Early registration ends Feb. 15. After that date, add $50. The fee includes three meals.
For more details on the seminars and to register, visit www.ag.purdue.edu/ smallfarms