Prairie View, TX – In his second appearance at the Landowners Association of Texas’ (LAT) annual conference, Dr. Joseph Leonard, Jr., assistant secretary for Civil Rights—United States Department of Agriculture, said that he would come back every year that he possibly could to address this group of Texas landowners and keep them updated about the state of civil rights at USDA. The LAT held its 26th conference this year on October 7 – 8 at the Humble Civic Center in Humble, Texas. The Prairie View A&M University Cooperative Extension Program and College of Agriculture and Human Sciences were conference co-sponsors.
“The rights that we have in this country surpasses any other,” said Leonard. “I’m here representing USDA and USDA Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, and I can tell you that USDA is committed to upholding the rights of all individuals.”
“We wanted Dr. Leonard to come back and be with us at our 2010 conference because, number one, he made quite an impact on our participants last year, and number two, he is a native son of East Texas,” said Edward L. Cline, president, board of directors, Landowners Association of Texas. “We certainly look forward to his participation each and every time that he is able to come.”
This year’s conference theme was Sustainable Agriculture: Rebuilding and Sustaining our Communities. More than 200 farmers, ranchers, landowners and others interested in land ownership attended to get information about succession planning, financing farm and ranch operations, types of assistance available from state agricultural agencies, feral hog control and the 2012 Farm Bill.
A surprise guest appearance at the conference was Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee who pledged her support to the Texas landowners. “I see the seeding and hearts of America at this conference,” said Jackson Lee. “You all know about the value of land and the value of keeping your land. There is no closed door to you because farmers of all backgrounds need to work together and encourage young people to learn more about the field of agriculture.”
Several of these young people who have chosen the field of agriculture, including LaJoya Wilburn, Gabrielle Washington, Sefoullah Scofield and Vanessa Walker, all PVAMU students in the College of Agriculture and Human Sciences, made presentations at the conference about their internship experiences. Vanessa Walker, who interned at the Natural Resource and Conservation Service (NRCS), said she was able to travel to Ghana, West Africa because her internship peaked her curiosity in how agriculture is practiced in other parts of the world.
Krishaun Jackson, a PVAMU graduate in the CAHS, said that she formerly interned at Texas Parks and Wildlife and Tyson Chicken and now holds a full time job at the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA).
Several Texas state agencies including the NCS, TDA, Farm Service Agency, USDA Rural Development, Texas AgriLife Extension, and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department talked to the audience about the services that they offer to farmers, ranchers and landowners.
State Director for USDA Rural Development, Paco Valentin, said one of his agency’s responsibilities is letting the public know that there is a connection between production agriculture and community and economic development. “We provided Prairie View A&M University some funding for rural economic development early this year, and we will be providing them with more funding next year,” said Valentin. “Without a rural America, there is no America.”
The highlight of the conference was the presentation of the Farmer of the Year award. The LAT presents this award to farmers who have used their land successfully and have become profitable in their farm or ranch enterprises. The 2010 recipients were a brother and sister team who are owners/operators of the Wooten Family of Bar-A-Ranch in Lovelady, Texas—Robert Wooten and Barbara Wooten. This ranch has been in their family since 1878 and their mother, Mrs. Doris Wooten, accepted the award.
“The Landowners Association of Texas, Inc. was founded in 1978 with the primary goal of curtailing the alarming rate that black landowners are losing or have lost their land over the past 30 years,” said Billy Lawton, interim program leader – Agriculture and Natural Resources, Cooperative Extension Program. “To accomplish this goal the LAT provides information and assistance to these landowners to help them maintain and acquire land, develop and utilize land profitably, resolve land disputes through guidance and appropriate referrals and increase knowledge about methods of land transfer to heirs.”
“The conference that the LAT holds annually has definitely made a mark on landowners, ranchers and farmers, providing them with information that they need and, most of all, use,” Lawton said.
Writer: Gloria J. Mosby, program director – Communications, Cooperative Extension Program