Skip to Main Content
HomeAbout UsGrantsFormsNewsroomHelpContact Us
Search NIFA
Advanced Search
Browse by Subject
Agricultural Systems
Animals & Animal Products
Biotechnology & Genomics
Economics & Commerce
Environment & Natural Resources
Families, Youth & Communities
Food, Nutrition & Health
Pest Management
Plants & Plant Products
Technology & Engineering



Empowering Small Farmers in Rural Communities

Media Contact:
Jennifer Martin, (202) 720-8188

By Stacy Kish
July 20, 2009

Operators of small and mid-size farms are suffering from low economic growth.  As a result, many of these limited-resource farmers have begun hitting the books in order to compete with the larger, more economically stable farms.

With funding from USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES), the Small Farmer Agricultural Leadership Training Institute at the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Baton Rouge, LA, promotes small and family farm sustainability by enhancing business management skills and leadership development.

Dawn Mellion Patin, agriculture specialist at the Ag Center, developed the Small Farmer Agricultural Leadership Training Institute, which brings its services to minority and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.  “By developing leaders in local communities, we will enhance the participants’ business and farm management skills,” Mellion Patin said.

The institute assists minority, socially disadvantaged, and limited-resource agricultural producers from 10 Southern states – Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri.  Participants are selected through a competitive application process.

The 2-year course consists of training seminars, video lessons, and study tours.  Students participate in interactive, experiential learning workshops where they take part in small and large group exercises to broaden and enhance their communications skills. 

“The impacts from this initiative have been immediate.  Four of the graduates serve on regional or local advisory committees and three have been selected as ‘small farmer of the year’ in their states,” Mellion Patin said.  “The skills learned in this course have empowered small farmers to become key decisionmakers in their small, rural communities as well as in the larger agricultural community.”

The institute’s curriculum covers knowledge of agricultural infrastructure, state and federal government, agricultural economics, and the effect of global agriculture on the U.S. economy.  Participants develop the leadership skills they need to improve their ability to manage farm businesses in a competitive global economy.  In addition, course materials introduce participants to public policy and help them prepare to participate in this process.

The project builds unity and confidence to a formerly isolated group of agricultural producers – the leadership skills they develop provide confidence and self-esteem and their new business management skills build capacity and improve opportunities needed to grow this agricultural sector.  As a result, participants bring increased revenue and prospects to rural communities.

Willonese Tillman-Adams, an educator-turned-farmer, participated in the program after retirement.  “The number one problem facing us [with the farm] was record keeping,” Tillman-Adams said.  “When tax time came, we had no system in place [to handle the] deficiency in records. The Small Farmer Agricultural Leadership Training Institute [provided] all of the risk management training and was the best thing to happen to me since I became a farmer.”

CSREES funded this research project through the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers program.  Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, CSREES focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people’s daily lives and the nation’s future.  For more information, visit or