December 5, 2023

With a family history in agriculture that spans four generations back to the Mississippi Delta, Charles Hannah knew he wanted to enter the field as he prepared to return home from Afghanistan in 2009. But with all his family’s farming enterprises gone, he was stuck looking for an entry point into a generational career. When he stumbled upon an ad for the BattleGround to Breaking Ground Skills Training Program years later, he didn’t hesitate to apply. “That ad changed my life trajectory,” Hannah said.

Developed in 2016 through a partnership between the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Beginning Farmer Rancher Development Program, BattleGround to Breaking Ground set out to combat the aging farmer population and teach interested beginning farmers and ranchers the basics of agriculture business. Since inception, the program has transformed from a one-day workshop to a four-phase, year-long program that allows participants to receive hours of hands-on training and develop their business plans. Another grant from the USDA in 2019 allowed AgriLife to develop an offshoot program specifically for transitioning military members through a Department of Defense Skillbridge Program. In 2022, the program accepted its first cohort.

A Groundbreaking Gift

Designed specifically for transitioning military members who are in their final 180 days of service, the Skills Training Program provides participants a bridge into farming and ranching. Because it’s a job training program, the military releases these soon-to-be veterans to complete their training while they are still earning a paycheck from the Department of Defense.

“Recognizing that many veterans come from rural areas and want to return home after their service, we developed this program to help them find meaningful employment that enables them to continue serving their country in a new avenue,” said Erin Kimbrough ’13, BattleGround’s program manager. “The program facilitates new career pathways for transitioning military and others, guiding them toward their next steps in life while also strengthening the communities they call home.”

Cohort Connections

With its gift, Capital Farm Credit is also enabling participants to access a lifelong network filled with like-minded individuals, which Hannah believes is an invaluable part of the program. “Without having a mentor and the Skills Training Program, the struggles of starting my own farm from the ground up would have been much harder, and I would have been more tempted to find another day job,” he said. “When you find someone who is a farmer and a veteran, there is an immediate camaraderie.”

“We are honored to do our part to ensure veterans have resources available for involvement in agricultural production.”
- Jeff Norte

Hannah isn’t alone in this sentiment. After serving 20 years in the U.S. Army as a veterinarian,
Dr. Sandi Parriott ’84 ’92 decided she wanted to explore agriculture through the Skills Training Program. She found that learning from a program graduate—particularly what they got right and wrong—enriched her experience and proved valuable in the development of her business proposal. However, it is the support mentors offer beyond farming guidance that makes the program unparalleled.

“The thing with having a veteran mentor is that we have experienced difficulties that most of the population cannot believe,” she said. “Having someone else who has been there and understands when you’re having a bad day or just need someone to talk to is indescribable.”

The contribution from Capital Farm Credit will afford other veterans the opportunity to receive the same experience as Hannah and Parriott. However, its magnitude goes beyond farming, as these graduates will apply their newfound skills to serve not only themselves but also their communities. “We are honored to do our part to ensure veterans have resources available for involvement in agricultural production,” Norte said. “Together, we are in the industry of serving people, and that common goal is still what we’re trying to do—impact a better tomorrow.”

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