SIKESTON -- Local farmers will have a chance to weigh their business options at the Sixth Annual Entrepreneurial Agriculture Conference scheduled for Dec. 5 at the Ramada Inn in Sikeston.
"The bottom line is if farmers are even thinking about other alternatives, they should attend," said Dr. Van H. Ayers, natural resource engineer at the Stoddard County University Outreach and Extension Office.
Essentially the purpose of the conference is to provide both agriculture alternatives and methods to finance the alternatives, Ayers said.
"It's a very excellent conference. There's a lot of alternatives for farmers, and good contacts are made," said Jeff House, agronomist specialist for the New Madrid County University Outreach and Extension Office.
Once an alternative is chosen, markets must be established, House said. Before any of this can happen, contacts must be made first, he reminded. It's just a lot easier to make contacts when everyone's all together in one place, he concluded.
House is scheduled to speak about the fall decorative market because he has a small wheat straw business near Portageville. Many farmers have also been selling pumpkins, stalks, etc. and making decent profits from them, Ayers said.
Other issues to be discussed at the conference are grapes and wine production, organic production, freshwater shrimp and crawfish, financing issues, USDA Rural Development financing programs, agriculture marketing service and produce auctions.
It seems like every year farmers must increase their acreage to be able to stay in the business, Ayers noted. Also, within certain farming alternatives, the margins are fairly small so by attending the workshop, farmers will have the opportunity to look at some of the different options in farming and other ways to earn income, he added.
Approximately 120 farmers attended the conference last year, and 175 farmers the year before that. Ayers is hoping more farmers will attend this year.
"One thing that's currently happening is that farmers are coming together and forming businesses such as a new generation co-op," Ayers explained.
Members of the Central Missouri Produce Auction from Versailles are scheduled to present information about the produce auction -- something that could be of interest to Southeast Missouri farmers, Ayers said.
"I'm not exactly sure what it (produce auction) is, but I'm just as intrigued by this topic as anyone else." Ayers said. "I think it's a commercial-type auction where supermarket chains come and purchase the produce. For example, if you had a crate full of sweet corn, you could sell it to the chains at the auction."
Registration begins at 8 a.m. Three concurrent sessions are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Session one is about financing and cooperative development; session two is about specialty agriculture; and session three is on vegetables and fruits. Peter Hofherr, deputy director of agriculture at the Missouri Department of Agriculture, will be the guest speaker.
Three workshops addressing the topics of establishing a produce auction, freshwater shrimp and crawfish and funding from the Delta Regional Authority will begin at 1:15 p.m. and conclude at 3:30 p.m.
Within the concurrent sessions and workshops, Ayers said conference attendees are free to visit the workshop or session of their choice.
Conference sponsors include the Missouri Department of Agriculture; USDA Rural Development; University Outreach and Extension, University of Missouri; Stoddard County Extension Council; USDA-NRCS; and Delta Land and Community.
Ayers said: "I think that most farmers are looking at different options these days. They have to be. When they attend the conference they can pull the information they want and use it as they wish."
Preregistration by Nov. 30 is recommended, and cost of the conference is $20. Registration fee includes lunch and breaks. To register, farmers should send their name, address and fee to: Entrepreneurial Agriculture Conference, University Outreach and Extension, P.O. Box 169, Bloomfield, MO 63825.
For more information, call the Stoddard County Extension Office at (573) 568-3344.