For the past 15 years, members of the Morehouse Parish Black Farmers Association and the National Black Growers’ Council, along with others interested in agriculture have braved torrential rains as well as sweltering heat in order to hear information about agriculture.
The 2017 Black Farmer’s Field Day at Harper Armstrong’s farm was held in late July.
Southern University Extension agent Odis Hill, who is also the field day coordinator, said this event is a way to let people know there are still African-American farmers who are doing great work with row crops and beef cattle production.
“This field day is also a great opportunity for us to provide the latest information on equipment, technology, seed and chemicals to growers in this area,” Hill said.
The focus of the field day was to show off new technologies, provide information on the latest government programs and to encourage the next generation of minority producers, he said.
Before the farm tours, participants heard about a flood recovery grant available from the federal government and administered through the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
LSU AgCenter associate vice president Rogers Leonard reminded the producers to attend the informational meetings and to ask questions.
Career in agriculture
Leonard also charged the young people in attendance to seriously consider a career in agriculture and said there is a growing demand for jobs in agriculture.
He also said universities are not graduating enough students to fill the needs at the professional level.
Leonard thanked Armstrong for allowing the LSU and Southern University Ag Centers to have demonstration plots on his land to show how things should be done.
During the field tours, Armstrong displayed his mechanical pea picker.
“I believe we are at a point where growers can start looking at some alternative crops, and this mechanized pea picker can be very beneficial to growers who are looking to produce a crop other than soybeans, corn and cotton,” he said.
The tour included a look at a herd of Red Poll cattle owned by Morehouse Parish cattleman Michael Seay.
Seay said this breed was perfect for his operation because research has shown that the breed does well in less-than-ideal conditions.
Efficient with feed
“This is a breed that thrives on low-quality forage. They normally calf every year and are known to have low calving difficulty,” he said. “They also are a mild-mannered breed and are very efficient with feed.”
As part of the row crop tour, AgCenter agent Bruce Garner, of West Carroll Parish, discussed the effects of soil compaction in soybean production, and LSU AgCenter cotton specialist Dan Fromme gave an update on the cotton situation in the state.
Fromme said 12 million acres of cotton are planted in the United States this year with 180,000 acres in Louisiana.
“This is the largest acreage in the state since the 2010-2011 crop year, when there were over 200,000 acres planted,” he said. “In the old days when prices were good, the average was anywhere from 700,000 to 900,000 acres in the state.”
In 2007, Fromme said, 54 cotton gins were in operation in Louisiana. Only 16 are left.
“I recently attended a cotton ginners meeting in Rayville where only nine people attended,” he said. “Back in the day, 90 people would have been the average.”
Nematodes in soybeans
The meeting ended with an indoor program where Morehouse Parish agent Richard Letlow and AgCenter nematode specialist Charles Overstreet discussed problems caused by nematodes in soybeans.
Overstreet displayed two soybean plants and explained the amount of damage that can be caused by the pest.
“With a heavy infestation of the root knot nematode, a grower can lose over 30 percent of his crop due to galls on the plants roots caused by the nematodes,” he said.
Leigh Allen, the executive director of the National Black Grower’s Council, explained some of the work that is being done by the council to ensure that black producers don’t become extinct.
“We’re trying to prepare students from 1890 schools as they move from the classroom to the workforce,” he said.
Initiatives of the council include an apprenticeship program and a model farm series to show young people what’s involved in farming operations.
“Our mission is to improve the efficiency, productivity and sustainability of the black row crop producer,” he said.