Friday, November 11, 2011

The Demand for Beginning Farmers

The National Young Farmer's Coalition released a study yesterday identifying and analyzing the barrier that new farmers face in making food production their full time career. The Report, Building a Future With Farmers: Challenges Faced by Young American Farmers and a National Strategy to Help Them Succeed surveryed over 1000 beginning farmers and identified the main obstacles, which are no surprise really:

  • Capital: Farmers need better access to capital, credit and small operating loans for start-up costs to start a farm business
  • Land: Farm land is scarce, it is unaffordable and it is difficult to convince landowners to make long-term lease agreements so that farmers can secure land that they can really invest in
  • Health Care: it is vital and unaffordable for beginning farmers
Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack is calling for hundreds of thousands of new farmers  nationwide.  For every single farmer under 35 there are 6 over the age of 65 and the average age of a farmer is 58.  This measn that about 1/4 of our nation's farmers are expected to retire in the next 20 years.  In order to replace these farmers, the US needs 500,000 new farmers - that's 10,000 farmers per state!  And as we have seen this year, farming is a risky business, so all farmers, (but especially less experienced, less financially-secure farmers) need a well crafted safety net for their businesses - provided by the US Government 

The 2012 Farm Bill is being written now, and it needs to include or increase funding to a number of initiatives to support beginning farmers:

  • micro-lending programs and loan pre-approval for farmers
  • training for people in the Farm Service Agency to work with beginning farmers more effectively
  • funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Accounts ( Pilot Program
  • tax credits for leasing or selling land to a farmer
  • expand the Transition Incentives Program
  • reinstate funding for the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, a database of farm apprenticeships and internships
  • fully fund the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (which has funded CT NOFA's Beginning Women Farmer program and the regional NOFA's Beginning Farmer Program)
  • restore funding to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to provide cost sharing between farmers and the federal government for farmers to invest in organic and sustainable production
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has advice on how to communicate to your legislators the this farm bill needs to be about the future of farming instead of about the continued profit of unsustainable, large-scale farming.  As we continue to mortgage our future, the farm bill has been scaled back considerably, but there is some hope for the Beginning Farmer Programs:  Much of the decision making has been made (mostly behind closed doors) but it's never too late to let your legislators know that you value investments in new farmers, in rural, suburban and urban areas, and for new farms that maintain the land in a way that respects the environment, the community and future generations.

Have a great weekend!

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