The African-American farmer is a rare breed in the United States, and their numbers have declined dramatically over the past few decades. This trend, particularly, is due to the fact that young people are not entering the field to replace an increasingly aging population. In Florida, the average farmer’s age is 58.4, and approximately 45 percent of the farms in Florida are operated by farmers between 25 and 54 years of age.
For north Florida’s agriculture sector to continue to be a major contributor to the Florida economy, it will be necessary to transition to a younger generation of farmers. Farming is no longer the hard, manual labor venture of the past, but it’s a technical and managerial occupation. We started the New and Beginning Farmers Training Program at Florida A&M University Cooperative Extension Program (FAMU) to bring awareness to the fact that farming can be a viable, profitable business venture for new and beginning African-American entrants.
In 2009, we received a grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). BFRDP was established by the 2008 Farm Bill to offer education, outreach, mentoring and internships for beginning farmers and ranchers with 10 years of farming experience or less. NIFA expects to begin accepting applications for the FY 2012 BFRDP in summer 2011, with proposals due in the fall of 2011.
The goal of our project is to use the basic business development model and apply it to agriculture operations; thus, tying business and marketing skills to agriculture, making it a seamless endeavor and increase the likelihood of economic profitability. Project emphasis is placed on new and beginning farmers who are less than 25 years of age and/or are African-American. The project takes three approaches to providing educational support and assistance for this vulnerable audience:
- A web-based training program, which is soon to be launched, provides self-directed training and assistance specifically for new and beginning farmers to help them access the resources based on their goals, skills and progress in beginning a farm operation.
- The Young Farmer Entrepreneur Incubator targets new and beginning farmers under the age of 25, and is an intensive, hands-on approach working with small groups of young agricultural entrepreneurs to establish core business plans and practices that will enable them to start successful agricultural business ventures.
- The Beginning Farmer Demonstration Training Site provides hands-on training activities to demonstrate the viability of alternative market opportunities including institutions, retail, and direct-to-consumer outlets.
We saw much success in our first year with more than 40 training sessions conducted with new and beginning farmers in north Florida. These efforts enable participants to obtain real-world, hands-on experiences that will help them begin their own farming operations and contribute to the agricultural economy in north Florida.