Research | Extension | Outreach
Over the past several years, a growing number of individuals and organizations have been informally discussing the need for increased opportunities and development of small farms, a term we envision broadly.
USDA defines a small farm as any farm business grossing $350,000 or less annually. In Texas, 89% of farmers gross less than $50,000 on their farm or ranch operation. While our focus is small and mid-sized producers, we're interested in providing outreach, training, and extension for farms and ranches of any size, production method, organization, etc. We're focused in Texas, and we're especially interested in young, beginning, minority, and veteran (i.e., historically underserved) farmers and ranchers.
The Small Producers Initiative (SPI) was formed through a stakeholder meeting in 2015 hosted by Dr. Ken Mix and Robert Maggiani (NCAT), and attended by our Advisory Team members. The meeting generated ideas for training opportunities, topics and speakers, and a funding strategy. We conducted our first conference in August 2017 and conducted a Needs Assessment of approximately 70 small producers (the majority of conference attendees).
The top 5 challenges identified by small producers were:
Access to capital (84%)
Aversion to acquiring debt to finance operation (84%)
Organic certification requirements (76%)
Access to equipment (72%)
We're continuing to research and analyze the needs of small producers. Our graduate research assistant is conducting a statewide needs assessment of small farmers and ranchers in Texas, which includes a statewide survey and four focus groups.
Why small producers?
More often than not, historically underserved (e.g., young, beginning, minority, veterans) producers start small. Texas has the greatest number of Hispanic, African-American, and beginning farmers, the second largest veteran population, and three (almost four) of the fastest growing cities in the United States.
Texas has 180,626 farms grossing $10,000 or less annually and 223,569 farms grossing $50,000 or less annually. These small farms make up 89% of the Texas farmer and rancher community.
Texas is a growing state, with Central Texas (between Austin and San Antonio) being one of the fastest growing regions in the nation. Texas State University is nestled in the midst of this growth, which offers small producers new markets and consumers with a rising interest in local, organic, and sustainable food options.
SPI wants to aid producers in accessing these growing markets. SPI exists to clarify the needs of small producers through academic research, and to provide sought after training in financial management, marketing, food safety, certification programs, soil health, crop production, pest management and much more. SPI will meet the extension and outreach needs of small producers through webinars, in-person workshops, and an annual conference.
Meet Our Team
Ken Mix, Ph.D., Program Director & Associate Professor
Ken is a former vegetable producer from central Indiana. He operated a 20 acre commercial produce farm outside of Indianapolis in the 1980’s and 1990’s. He currently teaches and has active research in entomology, soil health, crop production and agriculturally related climate and water resources. He oversees several projects with graduate students; including multispecies intercropping, variety trials, soil water, climate change and Central Texas fruit crops, novel crops, Soil For Water project in the Hill Country in collaboration with NCAT and more. He also oversees the Texas State University Students’ Sustainable Farm. He is involved in multiple USDA programs.
Katie Tritsch, Graduate Research Assistant & Program Contact
Katie is the graduate assistant and point of contact for SPI. She is currently pursuing her MS in Integrated Agricultural Sciences at Texas State with a focus on agricultural policy and economics. She spent several years managing diversified organic vegetable farms in both Texas and California. She brings with her practical production farming knowledge, strong writing and organizational skills, and a genuine love of food and agriculture.
Drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prasanna Surathkal, Research Associate
Prasanna Surathkal is a Research Associate at the Department of Agricultural Sciences at Texas State University. His work involves writing grants and researching issues related to agricultural economics. He has a Bachelors degree in Fisheries Science and a Masters degrees in Aquaculture/Fisheries and Agricultural Economics.