Farming is the world’s oldest occupation, but today less than 1 percent of the U.S. population works in agriculture. In Alabama, the number of farms decreased 11 percent from 2007 to 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2012 Census of Agriculture.
The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SAWG) is hoping to reverse this decline by educating people of all ages on innovative ways to maintain profitability on the family farm. More than 1,000 farmers from states across the Southeast are expected to attend the group’s “Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms” conference Jan. 14-17 in Mobile.
“This is a farming conference where the energy is very high,” said Southern SAWG Program Manager Jean Mills. “The conference presenters are some of the best experts in their fields, and more importantly, they have practical experience. As a result, attendees go home with information they can put to use right away.”
Intense short courses on various topics will take place Jan. 14 and 15, with additional mini courses and field trips on Jan. 15. The regular conference is Jan. 16 and 17 with educational sessions on beginning farming, food hubs, farm enterprise and business management, crop production in high tunnels, and direct and cooperative marketing, among others.
“This event brings people from all over and is a tremendous educational experience for farmers,” said Alabama Farmers Market Authority Director Don Wambles, who will present at the conference. “This conference is about sustaining our agriculture and economy for all generations. Without profitability in agriculture, there is no sustainability.”
While the sessions will provide valuable information, Mills said attendees appreciate the networking opportunities the most.
“It’s inspirational to come here and see that there’s a huge community of people who are staying on the family farm and being successful,” she said. “I really encourage farmers to take advantage of this opportunity while the conference is here in Alabama, because next year, it won’t be.”
Conference registration is $225 through Jan. 7, and $250 on-site. Additional fees are required for attending the short courses, mini courses or field trips.
For a full conference program and registration, visit SSAWG.org.