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Blair to headline and Harris to be honored at Small Farmers Conference

Blair Gary

Gary A. Blair

Gary A. Blair, vice-president, branch and relationship manager for Southern AgCredit, ACA, formally known as Land Bank South, for 50 counties in southern Mississippi, will serve as the keynote speaker for the 21st annual Small Farmers Conference slated for March 26-28, 2012, at the Natchez Convention Center, Natchez, Mississippi. Mr. Blair will speak during the luncheon at 12 noon on Monday, March 26, 2012.

“Bridging Yesterday’s Traditions with Future Trends” is this year’s conference theme. The conference is co-sponsored by the Alcorn State University Extension Program (ASUEP) and the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives (MAC).

“The Small Farmers Conference’s purpose is to assist small and limited-resource farmers whose issues are different from their larger counterparts. They deal with issues of sustainability, financing, marketing their products and other issues,” Anthony Reed, ASUEP interim assistant extension administrator said. “This venue is also needed to provide USDA an opportunity to remind farmers and introduce to others programs and services available to help them meet various challenges and to encourage new producers into agriculture.

Reed added, “However, the biggest need for this conference is to make sure small farmers are aware of the latest information, programs and services that will enable them to make a sound, research-based business decision about their operations.”

The conference highlights include the welcome address by Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Cindy Hyde-Smith at the opening session on Monday at 8:00 a. m., a learning site tour to a local farm in Natchez on Tuesday, March 27, a “Let’s Talk” Forum of state and federal agency personnel and farmers and ranchers that will be broadcasted live on the Alcorn State University Campus Radio WPRL 91.7 FM “The Gold” at www.wprl.org Wednesday, March 28 from 10:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and a Women in Business awards ceremony in which Victor Harris, owner and publisher of the Minority Landowner magazine will be honored. In addition, over 30 vendors and exhibitors will showcase their products for farmers and women entrepreneurs throughout the conference.

“The conference aims to facilitate solutions-based collaboration by encouraging networking and an open dialogue among small scale alternative and traditional farming enterprises. Farmers will also be provided with up-to-date, research-based, in-depth educational information on a number of different enterprises that are low input cost and a greater return on the back in,” Reed said. “Additionally, the conference is an excellent vehicle for increasing awareness of Mississippi’s locally grown products, access to local, state and national vendors that the support small farms industry, and an open opportunity to talk one on one with USDA officials about small scale farming and their support to the farming industry.”

Gary A. Blair 

Mr. Blair is a 1977 graduate of W. H. Kirk Academy High School in Grenada, Mississippi, and a 1981 graduate of Mississippi State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with degrees in agribusiness and general business administration.

Blair has served as president of the Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce, United Way, Lions Club, Council Chairman for the Lions of Mississippi, and the national president of the Mississippi State University Alumni Association.

Blair currently serves on the board of directors of the Mississippi State University Development Foundation, Bulldog Forest Advisory Committee, Mississippi Baptist Foundation, Mississippi Kids Count, Mississippi Association of Conservation Districts, Mississippi Forestry Association and is the Mississippi State University representative on the Council for Agricultural Research, Extension and Teaching (CARET) for Land-Grant Universities. In addition, he has been named Mississippi State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Alumnus of the Year.

Victor L. Harris 

Victor L. Harris, a native of Athens, Georgia, completed the Forestry Program at Tuskegee Institute and earned a bachelor’s degree in forestry at North Carolina State University, with a concentration in economics.

Harris has over 20 years experience in forest management and urban natural resource management, and he was the first African-American to work as a forester with the Virginia State Department of Forestry. He also served as the assistant state forester for administration with the North Carolina Forest Service.

Harris resigned from the North Carolina Forest Service in 2005 to re-establish Cierra Publishing Company, a company he first started in 1993. He began publishing the Minority Landowner magazine and serves as its publisher and editor. The Minority Landowner chronicles the challenges and successes of minority farmers, ranchers and forest landowners across the country with a mission of providing information to help them improve productivity of their land management operation, which can lead to increased profitability, thus, increasing the chances they will be able to maintain ownership of their land.

Harris is a North Carolina registered forester, a fellow of the Natural Resources Leadership Institute and a certified public manager. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, an organization that supports over 20 local land trusts across the state.

“Through concurrent educational sessions led by industry experts and noted researchers, the annual Alcorn Small Farmers Conference provides opportunities for attendees to leave the conference with groundbreaking research and access to educational support about topics such as operating sustainably and profitable enterprises, integrating cost-effective methods to meet state regulations, and applying the latest research to real-world problems,” Reed said. “Attendees also will participate in workshops, hands-on demonstrations, and organized networking activities, enabling them to share experiences while interacting with their peers from all over the state.”

To register for the conference, please visit www.smallfarmersconference.org or contact Anthony Reed at 601-877-2305, the ASUEP at 601-877-6128, or call toll-free 877-427-9536.