Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently spoke to the 84th National FFA Conven-tion about the critical need to recruit and support the nation’s next generation of farmers and ranchers.
“America’s producers are the most productive and successful in the world – with a willingness to embrace change, new science and innovative technologies to fulfill the noble task of feeding a nation,” says Vilsack. “To continue that success, we need organizations like FFA working to build policies, structures and institutions that will ensure the next generation can continue to feed and fuel the world.”
USDA’s focus on developing new generations of beginning farmers and ranchers is a result of America’s aging farming community. In the last five years, there has been a 20 percent decrease in the number of farmers under age 45. Today, the average American farmer is 57, whereas five years ago it was 55. Today, nearly 30 percent of American farmers are over the age of 65 – almost double what it is in the general workforce.
Investing In Ag’s Future
Secretary Vilsack highlighted USDA programs that are committed to investing more resources and energy to recruit the next generation of farmers and to making beginning farmers successful. The USDA Office of Advocacy and Outreach assists people who want to learn about USDA’s efforts to support new producers. In the past two years, more than 40 percent of all USDA’s farm loans have gone to beginning farmers and ranchers.
The Farm Service Agency provides direct and guaranteed loans to beginning farmers who can’t obtain financing from commercial credit sources. Each fiscal year, the Agency targets a portion of its direct and guaranteed farm ownership and operating loan funds to beginning farmers and ranchers. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program provides funding to offer education, training, outreach and mentoring programs.
USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) is working with partners to support young, motivated entrepreneurs who are looking past traditional ways of bringing products to market. Through RMA funding for the Farm Credit Council, the “Field Guide to the New American Foodshed” was developed to assist the growing numbers of direct-market farms and ranches and also the lenders, accountants and other businesses who work with them.
Help For Young Farmers
Additionally, the USDA Nation Agricultural Library is working in partnership with the American Farm Bureau Federation to develop a Curriculum and Training Clearing-house at Start2Farm.gov, which will serve as a national one-stop source of all beginning farmer and rancher education and training materials online.
“The future of agriculture is bright and will present the next generation with incredible opportunities to pursue,” says Vilsack. “They need to think big, innovate and tackle the important challenges facing American agriculture and the nation as a whole.”
USDA’s Office of Communications contributed information for this article. For more details, visit USDA’s Web site at www.usda.gov or call (800) 795-3272 (voice), or (202) 720-6382.