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Conference aims to help small farmers make the most of their land

A two-day conference in Dover is trying to help small farmers remain viable.

“Profiting from a Few Acres,” a two day educational forum hosted by Delaware State University, seeks to aid farmers with limited acreage by exposing them to new ideas and opportunities. The conference features speeches by successful small farmers as well as specialists.

“[We do] everything to give everyone who is at the conference an edge so that they can get a little more knowledge to become a little better manager of their own operation,” said John Clendaniel, DSU Agricultural and Natural Resources program leader.

Weather, drought, and pests remain a problem for all farmers, but the sour economy is an additional concern.

“You see the grocery prices are skyrocketing, but [profits] aren’t necessarily skyrocketing for farmers,” said Clendaniel. “They really do have to have a good, decent management style to keep their production and marketing good so that they can afford to keep going.”

On top of those challenges, small farms face their own unique set of problems. Small farms have to find a way to break into a market largely dominated by big farms, while small farms that grow organic food have to adhere to regulations to maintain an organic certification.

“For small farmers to have to really make it into the market place, they need to specialize,” said Albert Essel, DSU Associate Dean for Cooperative Extension. “These kind of things need management experience, and it takes time to do that.”

Clendaniel points out that small farms that do specialize by growing labor intensive niche crops or livestock that would be too much work for larger operations can find their place in the local economy.

“You have a whole plethora of different things you can grow but they require a little extra management,” said Clendaniel. “But for the people who do it, there is profit in it for them.”

Even though it is only in its fourth year, the “Profiting from a Few Acres” conference has changed a good deal since it started, according to organizers.

“We started by looking at marketing and then we went to financial management,” said Essel. “This year we are focusing on alternatives, what can a small farmer do on a small acreage to make a decent income.”