During yesterday’s Facebook chat with Secretary Vilsack, it became obvious that there is a lot of interest in supporting beginning farmers and ranchers. USDA knows beginning farmers face unique challenges, such as high startup costs and a lack of available land for purchase or rent. These issues are important to you, and they are important to us as well.
The U.S. agricultural population is poised to make a dramatic change as half of all current farmers are likely to retire in the next decade. According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, the average age of farm operators was 57 years. Farmers over the age 55 own more than half the farmland in the U.S. But the number of new farmers and ranchers over the age of 35 is increasing, as does the number of smaller farms and ranches nationwide. Through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Programs, USDA is dedicated to not only helping younger farmers succeed, but ensuring that U.S. agriculture stays prosperous in the future.
Several USDA agencies are addressing these issues by providing assistance and training to help beginning farmers and ranchers succeed in their production efforts.
The Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) began funding the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program in 2009. This program is an education, training, technical assistance and outreach program designed to help U.S. farmers and ranchers -specifically those who have been farming or ranching for 10 years or less. Under the program, CSREES will make grants available to state, local, tribal and regional organizations to design programs to help beginning farmers and ranchers through mentoring, apprenticeships and internships, providing resources, assisting farmers in acquiring land and teaching innovative farming strategies and practices. The first round of grants are expected to be awarded this fall.
USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) makes loans available to beginning farmers who are unable to obtain financing from commercial lenders. More information about obtaining a loan is available on the FSA website.
Rural Development administers a Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program to help farmers and ranchers enter into value-added activities related to the processing and marketing of bio-based products. In FY 2009, the program prioritized applications from Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers or Ranchers by awarding priority points in scoring to applicants and reserving a percentage of available funds to those meeting program requirements.
Grant funds are available for economic planning activities such as feasibility studies, business plans, and marketing plans to establish a value-added marketing opportunity for an agricultural product; and for working capital activities to pay expenses related to operating a viable value-added business venture, subject to conditions.