Hello again, friends;
The new year brings to mind new beginnings. This is the time to reimagine the future and set resolutions to bring new plans to life.
If you are an aspiring or beginning farmer, this will be the year that brings you another step deeper into the vibrant agricultural community that stewards the land and feeds our local communities. The 2012 U.S. Census of Agriculture found beginning farmers, defined as those with 10 years or less experience, operate 25 percent of U.S. farms. As the current generation of farmers retire, it is important to support the next generation.
When I was just out of college, I went to work on a new vegetable farm nestled in a picturesque valley of a sleepy New England town. The farmer I worked for did not grow up on a farm but knew from a young age that farming was the career he would pursue. Land was expensive and hard to come by, but he discovered that small-scale farms direct marketing to local customers had the potential to be economically viable. Rather than purchase farmland, he was able to secure a long-term lease on 20 acres from a land conservancy.
The year I worked on that ambitious start-up farm, I learned more than how to hook up the brush hog to the tractor PTO, snap the scapes off the garlic, and trellis tomatoes with the “California Weave.” I also learned about the challenges beginning farmers face. There was the uncertainty of building a business on land you do not own, the financial limitations, and the learning curve involved in a job that requires expertise in just about everything.
The farmer I worked for inspired me with the grit, exuberance and integrity with which he built his business.
It’s been over 10 years since I worked on that farm. The farm I worked on is now a well-established business and supports the farmer’s growing family, a team of employees, and the hundreds of families who are fed by the food he produces.
As he built his business, he made a commitment to teach and support other beginning farmers by offering apprenticeships on his farm. Over the years, dozens of his apprentices have gone on to start or manage farms or work in an agricultural field. He is not only growing food on his farm, he is growing new farmers.
The USDA helps grow new farmers, too. The farmer I worked for experienced the kinds of challenges faced by beginning farmers across the country. A 2009 report from the USDA Economic Research Service explored some of the obstacles beginning farmers face when getting started, including high startup costs and limited availability of land. To help lessen some of these barriers, the USDA, through the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), provides loans and conservation assistance to beginning farmers.
America’s next generation of farmers are supported through FSA’s Beginning Farmer direct and guaranteed loan programs. Farm ownership loans can provide access to land and capital. Operating loans can assist beginning farmers in becoming prosperous and competitive by helping to pay normal operating or family living expenses; open doors to new markets and marketing opportunities; assist with diversifying operations; and so much more.
Through the microloan programs, beginning farmers have an important source of financial assistance during the start-up years.
While FSA is fully committed to all farmers, there is a special focus on the particular credit needs of farmers and ranchers who are in their first 10 years of operation. Each year, FSA targets a portion of its lending by setting aside loan funds for financing beginning farmer and rancher operations.
Make a resolution this year, to visit USDA’s website for new farmers at https://newfarmers.usda.gov/ and contact your local FSA office to learn more about the opportunities we offer as you begin to grow your own farm.
That’s all for now,
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