Growing up on a farm in Camilla, Ga., I developed a passion for agriculture early. Being a farmer’s daughter helped me understand the challenges farmers and ranchers face over time and the need for common-sense policies and programs to create and expand opportunities for the farmers of the future. Now, as the Deputy Secretary of the USDA, my highest priority is to ensure that beginning farmers and ranchers – women, young people, immigrants, socially disadvantaged producers, returning veterans and retirees – have access to the programs and support they need to succeed.
Today, we’re announcing a new resource: USDA.gov/newfarmers. This new website is a one-stop shop to connect new farmers and ranchers with USDA resources, programs and support. On www.usda.gov/newfarmers, new farmers can find information about accessing land and capital, managing risk, finding education, outreach and technical assistance, growing businesses and markets, and investing in the land and environment.
www.usda.gov/newfarmers also shows how these programs and services work in real-life situations. Through inspiring stories like 19-year-old Austin Midkiff, who worked with an FSA Farm Loan Officer to get a microloan to expand his herd, new farmers can learn from the experiences of others.
The 2012 Agricultural Census, shows that diversity, youth engagement, and diversity of production models for agriculture are all increasing. There are more women and minorities entering agriculture. We saw an 11.3 percent increase in young, beginning principal operators who reported their primary occupation as farming. Over 257,000 of our nation’s farmers are under 34. At the same time, the average age and experience level of farmers and ranchers in America continues to rise. The question of how we capture all this knowledge, experience, and passion and truly “build our bench” in agriculture has never been more exciting or more urgent than it is right now.
We are also excited to announce the implementation of new Farm Bill measures and other policy changes to improve the financial security of new and beginning farmers and ranchers. These include Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) service fee waivers, eliminating Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) payment reductions, and increased payment rates to beginning farmers and ranchers under Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP).
Since last August when I was sworn in as the Deputy Secretary, I have had the privilege of meeting with hundreds of new farmers and ranchers. These new farmers and ranchers have started and come home to farm businesses – from the largest to the smallest. They are in every part of our country, creating jobs and economic opportunity. These farm businesses produce the food, fiber, flora, and fuel that make our nation so great and prosperous.
And there are many, many more new farmers just like them waiting in the wings. Enrolled in ag colleges, participating in their local 4-H and FFA chapters, veterans returning to civilian life – or even people not yet involved with ag at all – just wondering how they could find their way to a career and life on the land. We’ve built www.usda.gov/newfarmers for them to build the foundation they need to become the farmers of tomorrow.