Investing In The Future Of Agriculture
In south Montgomery County, veterinarian Will Carter climbs into a dusty pickup truck on his way to pregnancy check cows at a nearby beef cattle farm. At the other end of the state, Eric Hoge is completing his coursework at Snead State Community College in Marshall County before transferring to Auburn University in the fall.Although more than six years and 200 miles separate the two young men, they share a common bond. Both are pursing rewarding jobs in agriculture thanks to scholarships from their respective county Farmers Federations.”I’d like to think I would have gone to college and become a vet anyway, but I can’t say for sure,” said Carter, as he swallowed a candy-bar lunch between farm visits. “The (Montgomery County) Farmers Federation means a lot to me. It’s nice to know you have the support of the people you want to help.”Carter, 26, was the first student to receive a Montgomery County Farmers Federation scholarship, said Jane Russell, who chairs the county’s scholarship committee. Today, the farm organization awards $25,000 in scholarships each year, and during the past eight years, the group has helped more than 80 students realize their dreams of earning college degrees.”Our county felt like the best way to promote agriculture in our county was to support our young people who wanted to get a degree in agriculture,” Russell said. “We felt like the scholarship program was a wonderful way for us to give back to the community. It’s especially rewarding when students like Will decide to come back and become a productive part of the agricultural industry in our county.”Stanley Sumners, who chairs the scholarship committee for the Marshall County Farmers Federation, said the scholarship program helps expose young people to the diverse career opportunities available in agriculture.”We’re trying to get across to the kids that there is more to agriculture than getting out there on a tractor and raising a crop,” Sumners said. “We are trying to get more students involved in the technological side of agriculture. Hopefully, they will come back and help us right here in the county.”Although Hoge has at least two years of school to go before he completes his degree in biosystems engineering, Sumners said past scholarship recipients already are making contributions to the farm community in Marshall County. “The ag teacher at Douglas High School, Kevin Williams, went through the program, and he’s teaching school right here in Marshall County,” Sumners said. “Jamie Brothers also went through the program, and now he works with First South Production Credit here in the county.”Sumners said the Marshall County scholarship program started 12-15 years ago when the Federation board of directors decided to award a full-tuition scholarship to an agricultural science student at Snead State Community College.”We did that for three or four years, and it got to where we could afford to continue the program on into Auburn (University),” Sumners said. “It ended up that, at certain times, we had four kids on scholarships each year. We would have a freshman at Snead, a sophomore at Snead, a junior at Auburn and a senior at Auburn.”Hoge was awarded his full-tuition scholarship to Auburn University earlier this year. He will be allowed to renew the scholarship for his senior year, provided he remains in an agriculture-related major and makes good grades. Hoge, who is a 2002 graduate of Kate Duncan Smith DAR School in Grant, Ala., said he became interested in agriculture during high school.”I always liked agriculture in high school,” Hoge said. “I was secretary of our FFA chapter for two years and president for one year. I was also on the forestry judging team for three years and land judging team for four years. This scholarship gives me a little relief, so maybe I won’t have to work quite so hard to pay for college.”Sumners said students (or their parents) must be members of the Alabama Farmers Federation in order to receive scholarships. Hoge applied for the program after reading about it in one of the Federation’s membership publications.”I just read about the scholarship program in Neighbors magazine and stopped by the Alfa office to get an application,” he said. “They gave me one for the state program and one for the county scholarship.”Carter, who practices large animal medicine in Montgomery, Butler, Crenshaw, Elmore, Lowndes and Pike counties, said the Montgomery County Farmers Federation kept him on scholarship from the time he entered Auburn University as a freshman until he graduated from vet school. As a result, he wasn’t saddled with a huge debt when he started his practice.”Most of the people that graduated with me who had loans owed $100,000 to $120,000,” Carter said. “I was fortunate that–with family support, me pitching in and the Farmers Federation scholarship–I didn’t have any debt when I graduated. That’s one reason I was able to start my own practice. I didn’t have to work to pay off my debts.”Montgomery County Farmers Federation President Garry Henry said the beef cattle producers and horse owners in the county were proud to see Carter return to the community to practice large animal medicine.”The number of students going into ag-related fields has diminished. Our infrastructure is basically falling down–not just with vets, but in other areas, too,” Henry said. “The scholarship program is giving us some inroads with students who may be interested in coming back and filling the gaps that are being created as older people retire. “Cattle numbers are significant enough that we can’t depend on a vet that’s a hundred miles away,” Henry added. “We’ve learned how to do a lot ourselves, but there are some things a cattle producer can’t do. It’s comforting to know that we’ve got another generation coming on.”Carter is engaged to be married to Monnie Carol Powell of Mississippi. She will finish vet school in about a year, and the two plan to open a veterinary clinic together in the Montgomery area. Carter said their decision to focus on large animal medicine is uncommon among recent vet school graduates.”When I was in school, the majority of my classmates were going into small animal medicine,” Carter said. “Only two or three were strictly large animal, and there were another six or seven who wanted to do a mixture of small- and large-animal work.”Carter, however, was drawn back to large animal medicine by a love of agriculture that outweighed any monetary benefits he might have received from working with cats and dogs.”My family had farmed in the past, and although we leased our land to another fellow when I was growing up, I spent a lot of time around folks like the Henrys. I wanted to come back and work with the people I respected most,” Carter said. “The farmers, and especially the beef cattle people, always had a special place in my heart.”Today, Carter is a cattleman himself. His herd includes 150 Angus-crossed beef cows, which he is breeding to Angus bulls. He plans to market his calves next year through one of the state’s board sales, and he hopes to expand his herd as time and money permit.Russell said it is rewarding to see former scholarship recipients like Carter succeed in business. “Will was our perfect candidate,” Russell said. “He has such a loyalty to agriculture, and he showed such promise. At the time we gave him his first scholarship, his father had died, and he was working his way through school. He always worked so hard and kept his grades up, even while holding down a job.”In addition to Auburn University, the Montgomery County Farmers Federation has awarded scholarships to students attending Troy State University, Mississippi State University and Tuskegee University.Thirty-two county Farmers Federations in Alabama have scholarship programs. The Alabama Farmers Federation also awards several state scholarships each year to students majoring in agriculture- and forestry-related fields at Auburn University. In most cases, the scholarship recipients are selected by the college or university with input from the county Farmers Federation board of directors or scholarship committee.