“Biological diversity is the key to the maintenance of the world as we know it.”
~ E.O. Wilson, Biodiversity
From wineries to row crops and fruit orchards to livestock, Missouri’s agriculture is diverse and rich. And if you live on one of Missouri’s 107,000 farms, you are especially aware of the importance of good land management to improve productivity and to care for the land entrusted to you. Today’s modern farmers are looking for new ways to improve the bottom line while conserving the land. Native grasses and wildflowers could be an answer to filling a gap in your farm or ranch productivity and profits.
The Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA) has many programs and services, including domestic and international marketing assistance, to support you. Here are just a few that may be of interest, especially if you are interested in using native plants as a product or tool, with examples of how native plant materials could play a role in your management and productivity goals.
Helps develop niche markets for small farmers and opportunities to promote and add value to their products. Example: Market specialty native crops like hazelnuts, soaps made with plant extracts or wildflower honey.
Finances independent livestock and poultry producers’ waste treatment systems at below conventional interest rates. Example: Native grass buffer strips to filter stormwater runoff.
Provide tax credits or grants for projects that add value to raw agricultural products and improve the economy of rural Missouri communities. Proven products may receive additional grants for marketing, business planning and operational consulting. These programs include:
• Beginning Farmer Loan Program helps beginning Missouri farmers acquire agricultural equipment, buildings, land or livestock at reduced interest rates. Example: Special planting or cleaning equipment for native plant crops.
• Buy and Sell Forage – Missouri was the first state to install a hay hot line in 1988, which provides small farmers with a direct link to sell or buy hay. Example: Find or market native hay.
• Missouri Value-Added Grant Program provides grants for projects that add value to raw agricultural products and improve the economy of rural Missouri communities. Proven products may receive additional grants for marketing, business planning and operational consulting. Example: Native hay for pharmaceutical uses or wild birdseed mixes that include native seeds.
• New Generation Cooperative Incentive Tax Credit Program offers tax credits to encourage private investment in new generation processing facilities to process Missouri agricultural products into value-added goods, benefit agricultural producers and create more jobs for Missourians. Example: Area cooperative for cleaning, packaging, storing and shipping native seed.
Free seed testing for germination and purity is offered from June 1 to August 31 and November 1 to January 15 to assist small farmers in making good purchasing and planting decisions. Official samples take precedent the remainder of the year, but farmers can continue to get seed samples analyzed for a fee.
Can be a way for small farmers to gain economic strength by pooling resources, marketing and buying in larger quantities, and increasing their bargaining power. MDA provides assistance to small farmers by answering their questions about how to form a cooperative, alliance, or other collective activity. Farmers are provided the basic principles and state regulations, as well as more complex information relative to equity issues, board structure, tax implications and marketing strategies. MDA also provides export assistance to farmer-owned cooperatives. Example: Area cooperative for cleaning, packaging, storing and shipping native seed.
Often grown on small farms. MDA helps recommend alternatives to traditional crops grown in the state and in many cases, with less land and capital-intensive methods than more traditional crops. This may allow young farmers to start in agriculture or allow another generation to come back to the farm. MDA promotes exports of specialty and identity-preserved crops, which provides small farmers the opportunity to diversify their production. Furthermore, many specialty and identity-preserved crops are contract-grown, providing a more secure source of income than “regular” varieties of crops.
For more ideas about working with MDA and native plants to improve your farm or ranch profitability and management, check with the MDA, your local University of Missouri extension office, USDA Farm Service Agency.