As senior U.S. farmers age, they are looking to the next generation to step into the spotlight to keep the wheels of food production turning in order to feed a hungry nation and meet the demands of a growing world population.
But agriculture Ì¶ the business of farming and ranching Ì¶ is fraught with economic challenges, government regulations and world competition, to name a just a few challenges, and is becoming less attractive to many young adults wanting careers that offer stability as well financial award.
It's no secret that agriculture is facing a degree of difficulty in finding and recruiting the next generation of food providers, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been charged with leading efforts to remedy the problem and ensure tomorrow's food production will meet the demand of a growing world.
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But technology drives the modern world, and the need for electronic engineers, system analysts, computer programmers, telecommunication specialists, medical equipment technicians, doctors and other medical professionals, and hundreds more tech-oriented and specialty careers, is greater than ever before. These highly-skilled careers offer great opportunity, rewards and many incentives, making the task of finding tomorrow's farmers even more difficult and challenging.
New farm bill programs support USDA efforts to attract more young people to agriculture careers, the latest a grant program targeting new farmers, especially returning military veterans and existing but economically disadvantaged food producers.
USDA has set aside more than $18 million in grants to educate, mentor and enhance the sustainability of the next generation of farmers and ranchers, made available through the Beginner Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which was authorized by the Agriculture Act of 2014.
USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden announced the grant program last week.
"As new farmers and ranchers get started, they are looking to their community for support. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program empowers these farmers and ranchers to bring innovative ideas to the table when it comes to addressing food security, creating economic enterprises, and building communities," she said. "As we celebrate the first anniversary of the 2014 farm bill, programs like these are evidence that an investment in beginning farmers and ranchers is an investment in our future."
BFRDP aims to support those who have farmed or ranched less than 10 years with workshops, educational teams, training and technical assistance throughout the United States. NIFA awards grants to organizations that implement programs to train beginner farmers and ranchers.
Applications for the 2015 grant cycle are currently being accepted through Mar. 13.
The Agriculture Act of 2014 mandated at least 5 percent of BFRDP funding support veterans and socially disadvantaged farmers. More than 15 percent of the funded projects have a substantial component that supports veterans and farming, while about 50 percent of the projects focus mainly on socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
Since 2009, 184 awards have been made for more than $90 million through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. These awards are part of USDA's deep commitment to beginning farmers and ranchers. Additional USDA investment in beginning farmers and ranchers include:
- Since 2009, FSA has issued more than 8895,000 direct and guaranteed farm operating and farm ownership loans to beginning farmers and ranchers.
- FSA's microloan program, an important access point to credit for some new farmers and ranchers, has issued more than 9,600 microloans totaling $188 million. Seventy percent of these loans have gone to beginning farmers. Recently, USDA raised the ceiling for microloan from $35,000 to $50,000, giving new farmers access to more credit.
- The 2014 Farm Bill also strengthens the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program for new producers by reducing the premiums on buy-up level coverage by 50 percent for new farmers and waiving their application fee. USDA announced this new tool for farmers and ranchers in 2015.
- USDA's Value-Added Producer Grants program gives priority to beginning farmers and ranchers to help them increase revenues through value-added agriculture, marketing, and new product development. Since 2009, more than 25 percent of 853 awarded Value Added Producer Grants went to beginning farmers and ranchers.
Funding for the BFRDP program is authorized by the Agriculture Act of 2014. Harden said the law builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers.
She said since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, and housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America.
More information about USDA support for new farmers and ranchers is available at www.usda.gov/newfarmers.
Click here to apply for the new grant program.