Cooperative, agency striving to grow future farmers

The Arkansas Delta Agricultural Enterprise Cooperative is providing opportunities for youth to learn about agriculture through hands-on projects.

Created in 2011, the cooperative includes farmers, landowners, tenants and producers of agricultural products who united to enhance their farming opportunities and to explore options for producing alternative enterprises.

Rita Conley, a University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff agriculture instructor, and Henry English, UAPB Small Farm Program director, assisted the group in organizing. Youth are an active part of the cooperative, which strives to offer them learning opportunities.

“Gerry Harris, a member of the cooperative, is working with several youths who reside in Lincoln, Desha and Jefferson counties,” English said. “Each youth obtained a youth loan from the USDA Farm Service Agency. With Gerry’s help, they bought cows with their loan funds.”

Harris allowed the youths to use his pasture to raise their cow and calves. He also taught them different beef cattle management practices. The youths sold their calves and made their first payments on their loans in December 2012.

“It’s an educational project and at the same time, it teaches them some money management skills,” said Beverly Burkett, Jefferson County FSA loan officer. “It also sparks an interest in agriculture and the hope of pursuing a career in agriculture or similar fields of study.

“And maybe some of them will become future farmers. There’s one youth involved in the project who desires to be a veterinarian. This hands-on training and experience will provide beneficial assistance to anyone who wants to pursue such a career.”

Burkett, along with Beverly Edwards, Lincoln County FSA loan officer, made the loans to the youths. FSA makes loans to rural youths to operate agriculture related income-producing projects of modest size while working with a sponsoring organization such as a 4-H Club or a cooperative.

The youths who are working with the Arkansas Delta Agricultural Enterprise Cooperative are looking forward to taking care of their cows and calves in 2013 and to selling the calves this year, Burkett said.

“They’re excited about it,” she said. “We love to support young people and give them something meaningful to do.”

The maximum loan amount is $5,000, and it is available to ages 10 and 20 years. Funds may be used to buy livestock, seed, equipment and supplies; buy, rent or repair tools and equipment or pay project operating expenses.

Those who are interested in the youth loan program may contact the UAPB Small Farm Program, their local FSA office or USDA Service Center for more information.