TEXARKANA – Farming on any scale can be tough. Whether a a multi-generational farm family working hundreds of acres of row crops or a new grower cultivating specialty crops for local buyers, keeping budgets in the black and growing the business is often a season-by-season struggle.
As the “boots on the ground” of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Cooperative Extension Service, extension agents specializing in agriculture, marketing and other areas are often instrumental in making sure those Arkansans committed to the state’s No. 1 industry survive and thrive.
Koua Thao and his wife, Mai Her, are Miller County famers who first moved to the United States from Laos in 1982. After living in Minnesota for two decades, they moved to Arkansas in 2005.
Thao and Her have been institutions at the Gateway Farmers’ Market in Texarkana since about 2010, selling specialty crops including purple sweet potatoes, bok choi and lemongrass. The two have also gradually worked to expand their operation into poultry and then cattle — all with the help of microloans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency and marketing advice from the Miller County Cooperative Extension Service.
According to the FSA, Thao and Her have contracted with Tyson Foods to raise eggs for several years, supplying labor and management. In 2016, Thao applied for and received a USDA microloan of $30,000 to purchase 22 cows, one bull and 40 acres of grazing land.
Jennifer Caraway, Miller County agricultural agent, said that when growers expand into new areas, such as cattle production, she does her best to help them map out a strategy for success by first understanding the market.
“I knew Mr. Thao through the Gateway Farmers’ Market,” Miller said. “They had some questions about cattle operations, so I traveled to their farm to talk.”
Miller said that growers should first understand their own production capacity, and what that means for their profitability and ability to compete in the marketplace.
“One of the things I talk to smaller producers about is, if they don’t have a lot of acreage, they need to consider niche marketing,” Miller said. “Maybe growing organically, or grass fed, or something of that nature.”
While Thao and Her are just two of many small farm operations throughout Arkansas, they hope to succeed through effective marketing.
“Agriculture is in my blood,” Thao told the FSA. “My family has always done agriculture, and agriculture is interesting to me. I like being outside and to work alone.”
To learn about microloans and marketing, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.edu.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.