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even in Texas, the rose blooms.

Posted: May 11 2010

and applications are due May 14!

New Beginnings
TDA grants jump start a budding generation of farmers...
Friday, May 7, 2010; By Matt Felder
Trent Thompson is a fire fighter. Wife Kara is a math teacher. She’s from Amarillo. He’s from Fort Worth. Outside of Comanche lies a patch of land virtually undisturbed by human hands. Until now. Trent and Kara moved here in December, and now find themselves immersed in agriculture.
"When I got out of the fire academy we both looked at the map and said ‘Where do we want to live?’ " Trent says. "I was hired on at the Brownwood Fire Department and we just wanted to come to this location because it’s a great place to have a nice flower and produce farm and it’s a nice community."
Moving vision to reality was no easy feat. Getting a start in agriculture can be costly. Land and equipment are far from cheap. Unless you are born into it, starting an operation can be near impossible. The Thompson’s goal was to start small to cash in on a growing trend—farmers markets.
"It seems that more people are getting into cooking. Some people don’t like to cook, but I know everyone likes to eat," Kara says, laughing. "I just think the trends are going more to support local farmers and it makes sense to support the local economy."
Their part-time venture is a reality thanks to the new Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) Young Farmer Grant program. Kara and Trent were among the first round of grant recipients announced in February.
Grant applications are accepted from people 18 to 46 years old that are engaged or will be engaged in creating or expanding agriculture in Texas. The applicant must be able to make dollar-for-dollar matching expenditures to sustain, create or expand the proposed project. Applicants can receive up to $10,000.
"Thanks to the diligence and dedication of farmers and ranchers, Texas consumers enjoy the safest, most abundant and most affordable food and fiber supplies," says Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples. "For the benefit of all consumers, we need to ensure there is a new generation of farmers and ranchers who continue critical food and fiber operations when the current crop of producers retire."
TDA reports that Texas farms account for $100 billion of the state’s economy and employ one out of seven of its workers. However, concern over those soon-to-be-retirees is mounting. The average age of farmers and ranchers is increasing nationally, even worldwide.
According to TDA, only 15 percent of Texas ag producers are under 45- years-old. Over the past 10 years, the number of producers below that age has dropped by more than 7,000. The average age of Texas producers increased from 56.6 years to 58.9. Over that same period, the number of agriculture producers 65-years-old and older increased by 24,000 to make up 35 percent of the total.
The Young Farmer Grant Program is aimed at curbing that trend.
"The program will provide young farmers some of the resources they need to begin or expand necessary operations," Commissioner Staples says. "In addition, our GO TEXAN program helps to market the very production agriculture we encourage with financial assistance through the Young Farmer Grant Program. We hope this combination of programs will help secure the future of the Texas agriculture industry—an industry that every single Texan depends on."
The Thompsons received a $6,000 grant which they matched. They started from scratch, breaking ground on a seven-plus acre stretch of land. A 1½ acre produce and floral farm is now up and running—greenhouse included.
"Before the grant we didn’t even have a tractor. We had a shovel and a grubbing hoe," Trent says. "I actually made a quarter-acre garden with my hands. Now we have a tractor. We have all the implements and some of the best you can get."
The equipment rolled off the truck in late April, a Massey-Ferguson open cab tractor and plastic mulch and drip tape layer that came from Pennsylvania. Trent and Kara quickly dug in. The wait for the proper tools and ideal weather has been stressful. They know they are a little behind in planting but the future challenges bring nothing but excitement.
It’s a wonder why two people with such demanding jobs would take on another such task as production agriculture. Truth is, the couple is known to come down with cabin fever should the outdoors be inaccessible.
As she waters and tends to the hundreds of seedlings in the family greenhouse, Kara embraces the opportunity to get back to her roots. She has a Bachelors and Masters degree in horticulture.
"It’s fulfilling that interest I have," Kara says. "Hopefully it will grow into a bigger thing for us rather than just a summer job."
A member of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, Kara keeps up with the industry in her spare time. She has florists in Fort Worth and Mineral Wells lined up to buy their cut flower crop.
The enthusiastic pair is already eyeing expansion. A son, their first, will join the family in August. They hope to double their garden size next year and plan to add organic beef and lamb to the operation to be sold alongside the produce.
"We’ve always loved agriculture," Trent says. "It’s a hard business to get into when you’re young. We couldn’t have done it without the grants. You have to start somewhere and these grants made our start a lot easier and made it happen."
The grants will be presented twice each fiscal year this biennium. TDA is currently dedicating $200,000 each year or $400,000 total over this biennium.
The Texas Agricultural Finance Authority Board (TAFA) will determine future levels of funding as appropriate to the budget.
The next round of applications is due May 14. For more information go to www.texasagriculture.gov and click on the Grants/Funding link.


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