Fort Valley State University’s (FVSU) Cooperative Extension Program is assisting a group of beef cattle producers through the FVSU Extension-AgriUnity Beef Cattle and Pasture Management Series.
The series is a virtual, two-part educational collaboration program. Its purpose is to provide information to limited resource and African American beef cattle farmers to improve their cattle production and management. It began fall 2020.
Handy Kennedy, owner of HKJ Ranch LLC. and HK Farm LLC. located in Tattnall and Candler Counties, founded AgriUnity in 2019. “We decided to start AgriUnity to address the root causes of the fast-declining rate of African American farms and farmers,” Kennedy said.
To reduce the loss of minority and limited access farmers from agriculture, Kennedy turned to FVSU’s Cooperative Extension Program for assistance. “I believed that AgriUnity and FVSU have shared interests to enhance marginalized farmers in operations. Also, we share common goals to develop sustainable processes and practices that will help farmers to remain viable in the farming industry,” Kennedy said.
According to Kennedy, some of the factors forcing African American farmers to give up the trade include low or no profit margin from the farm’s income and lack of access to essential resources. This includes finances, education, up-to-date training and technology.
Part one of the series concluded in December 2020 and part two of the series began January 2021. A variety of subjects featured presentations from Extension agents and specialists from FVSU and the University of Georgia (UGA). Some of the topics covered included forages, reproduction and genetics, herd health, cooperative relations, beef cattle, pasture and grazing management.
On average, more than 38 farmers log on to the virtual sessions from several states including Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee and Texas. Kennedy said these virtual sessions make it easier to reach AgriUnity members, farmers and ranchers during the COVID-19 pandemic who want to improve their beef cattle production.
“One of the advantages of the virtual sessions is that they allow ranchers to join throughout the country. Also, because most minority farmers work full-time jobs, these virtual evening sessions provide them an opportunity to participate,” Kennedy said. However, the Georgia farmer emphazied that some live demonstrations and farm workshops are essential to the learning process.
Dr. Niki Whitley, animal science Extension specialist for FVSU, serves as a moderator for the sessions. She briefly shared the importance of teaching the AgriUnity Series participants about managing an efficient beef cattle operation.
"Small farmers can participate at a higher level in the industry and demand a greater share of the profits with the utilization of cost-efficient production methods to develop low-risk, high value cattle for live animal sales. Participation in the retail side of the industry (i.e. meat sales) is also a goal worth pursuing and benefits from efficient production methods as well,” the FVSU Extension specialist said.
Dr. Ralph Noble, dean of FVSU’s College of Agriculture, Family Sciences and Technology (CAFST), said that FVSU’s relationship with AgriUnity is creating numerous opportunities for the college.
“This is a fantastic collaboration on many fronts. It has resulted in FVSU’s Cooperative Extension (CE) being able to to reach out and make new contacts with individuals and landowners in various parts of middle and southern Georgia as well as neighboring and distant states. We have also expanded the presence of FVSU in rural parts of the state through our agricultural and natural resources program staff,” Noble said.
Additionally, the FVSU dean said virtual programming is allowing CAFST’s CE to expand its footprint in select distant areas of the Southeast without the need for FVSU staff or interested parties to travel, thereby reducing expenses. “People can save on costs by participating in virtual programs from the comfort of their home, office, car or even their tractor,” Noble said.
Despite the hurdles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Kennedy said the AgriUnity group is very pleased with the service they’ve received from FVSU’s Cooperative Extension’s faculty and staff, and its collaborative effort with UGA’s Extension is very instrumental.
The AgriUnity founder said he is looking forward to working on future projects, including those concerning hemp, with FVSU Extension. “As Martin Luther King said, ‘He who gets behind in a race must forever remain behind or run faster than the man in front.’”
For more information about AgriUnity, contact Kennedy at (770) 375-1655 (HKJRanch@gmail.com) or FVSU’s Cooperative Extension Program at (478) 825-6296.