Cultivating the Next Generation of Farmers and Ranchers

Wednesday, June 15, 2016
According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service’s most recent Ag Census data, the number of young people entering farming continues to decline, but the number of new farmers and ranchers over the age of 35 is on the rise, as is the number of smaller farms and ranches nationwide. Ensuring there will be a new generation of beginning farmers and ranchers — regardless of age or production choice—is important to the future of U.S. agricultural production.

Opportunities exist within farming and ranching, but beginning farmers and ranchers have unique educational, training, technical assistance, and outreach needs. Those who are brand new to farming or ranching, and those in their first ten years of operation, need access to capital, land, and informational resources to ensure profitable, sustainable businesses

NIFA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) provides grants to organizations for education, mentoring, and technical assistance initiatives for new farmers and ranchers. 

A BFRDP project at the University of the Virgin Islands works with crop and small livestock farmers who have less than 10 years of experience. The Islands are home to more than 106,000 U.S. citizens — and, as of March 2015, an unemployment rate of 11.8 percent — far higher than the U.S. average of 5.5 percent. Faculty members and other subject matter specialists from universities lent their expertise to the training program to ensure well-rounded training. The effort worked: a survey taken of the initial 102 participants indicated that 96 percent increased their knowledge and 92 percent improved their skills.

Another BFRDP project is helping veterans transition into farming roles. Twelve military veterans are spending one weekend a month throughout 2016 at Arcadia Farm in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn all aspects of farming – from starting seeds and cultivation to running a successful farm business. Together they visited farms in the region to understand the full range of business models for these farmers-to-be, and to hear from farmers – many veterans themselves – about the challenges and rewards of the business. The veterans will also spend two full weeks during the year working on Arcadia Farm to get a feel for the demanding day-to-day rhythms of agriculture. Read more about one veteran farmer on Connection Newspapers' website.

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) has trained 240 new farmers since 2000. The graduates have established more than 140 new farms and 89 percent of the participants still farm in Maine. Women own, in part or wholly, one-half of those farms. A 2010 study of the economic impact of Maine's organic farming sector concluded that each farm enterprise contributes an average of $63,000 per year to the local and regional economy and creates 2.7 jobs. This same economic analysis indicates that MOFGA's program adds more than $9 million annually in economic activity and has created more than 350 jobs in rural Maine.

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