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USDA Results: Beginning Farmers and Ranchers

In 2009, we recognized that the rapid aging of the American farmer was an emerging challenge. The average age of the American farmer now exceeds 58 years, and 2014 data show that almost 10 percent of farmland in the continental United States will change hands in the next five years.

These issues present a significant challenge to rural communities: how to keep these communities economically vibrant and to attract new farmers, ranchers and other business owners, workers and their families. That recognition has also evolved into a robust, transparent, tech-based strategy to recruit the farmers of the future.

The next generation of farmers and ranchers will reflect the diversity of the nation. They may come from farming backgrounds or be new to agriculture; they may be college graduates coming home to farm with their families; or they may be veterans, second career seekers, immigrants and people from all ethnic backgrounds. Beginning farmers and ranchers will also face challenges themselves; above all, access to land, profitability, capital and technical assistance.

To that end, over the past eight years, USDA has engaged its resources to support a strong next generation of farmers and ranchers of all backgrounds by improving access to land and capital; building new markets and market opportunities; extending new conservation opportunities; offering appropriate risk management tools; and increasing our outreach, education and technical support.

A few key highlights of our progress:

  • Implemented the 2014 Farm Bill quickly and well, which contained significant investment in the next generation of agriculture.
  • Launched the first comprehensive, interactive online tool for new and beginning farmers, www.usda.gov/newfarmers.
  • Targeted September 30, 2017, by which time USDA will have increased access to key beginning farmer and rancher programs which will result in increasing investments to new farmers valued at $5.6 billion over 2 years.
    1. Within existing resources, USDA will expand opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers through targeted outreach, and increased technical assistance, resulting in increasing new farmer participation in key programs by 6.6% over the goal term. Full details and updates on these goals are shared publicly each quarter on performance.gov.

Access to Land and Capital

  • USDA's Farm Service Agency is often "the lender of first opportunity" for many new and beginning producers. Highlights include:
    1. Issued more than 138,000 direct and guaranteed farm operating and farm ownership loans to beginning farmers and ranchers since 2009;
    2. Expanded our Farm Storage Facility Loan program to offer a new streamlined option that will be especially useful for smaller farms, and allow application for portable farm storage and handling equipment, such as refrigerated trucks; and,
    3. Issued over 21,700 microloans to help small, underserved, and beginning farmers obtain operating credit; in total, seventy percent of FSA's microloans have gone to beginning farmers.
  • USDA has led a broad discussion about the issue of land tenure - how do people access land securely and with some longevity, and how do they pass it forward - and worked to identify solutions to mitigate the challenges beginners have with accessing land. A few highlights of progress to date:
    1. Updated our website, www.usda.gov/newfarmers, to feature better, more tailored information for land access and transition;
    2. Partnered with key organizations to support projects which will provide education and technical assistance on land tenure;
    3. Implemented a new microloan program to help farmers with the purchase of farmland;
    4. Facilitated almost 2,700 contracts to transition over 400,000 acres of expiring conservation reserve program land from retired or retiring landowners to beginning or underserved producers for sustainable grazing or crop production;
    5. Published a new rule for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) that now requires a farm and ranch succession plan for all applications and includes an "Option to Purchase at Agricultural Value" (OPAV) as an acceptable succession plan, which will keep lands in agriculture and in the hands of producers; also provided an incentive for easements that facilitate transfers to new and beginning farmers; and,
    6. Allowed two additional years of payments on expiring 10- to 15-year Conservation Reserve Program contracts to retiring farmers who sell or lease that land to new farmers.

Building New Markets and Growing Opportunity

  • USDA has worked to support the diversity of emerging markets and the new opportunities that they pose. Some highlights of our work:
    1. Between 2009 and 2015, from the smallest on-farm projects like high tunnels, to large-scale investments like food hubs, USDA has invested over $1 billion in more than 40,000 local and regional food businesses and infrastructure projects. Today, more than 160,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are selling into local markets, from farmers markets and CSAs to local restaurants, grocery stores and institutions, generating huge returns for local communities.
    2. Supported the profitability and viability of new farm businesses by helping them diversify and turn commodities into value-added products, including through USDA's Value-Added Producer Grants;
    3. Enhanced our partnership with our State and Regional Trade Groups and Cooperators to support the needs of next generation of agriculture seeking to export their products; specifically, working earlier and more intensively with interested new and beginning farmers and ranchers, helping to develop export capacity where appropriate and connecting appropriate new and beginning farm and ranch businesses with enhanced networking opportunities, including domestic trade shows and trips to meet buyers abroad;
    4. Provided standards and grading services that help new farmers be more competitive in the evolving marketplace and access new market opportunities;
    5. Created a certification for small and very small producers of grass-fed beef tailored to meet the needs of small-scale livestock producers and the growing grass-fed beef industry;
    6. Made available over $60 million since 2009 available to defray the cost of organic certification; In September 2016, NASS reported the results of the 2015 Certified Organic Survey, showing a 13 percent increase in organic farm receipts and a 20 percent increase in certified organic acreage;
    7. Published a new "Sound and Sensible" video to train organic inspectors to focus on practices while minimizing paperwork burdens, facilitating access for new and beginning farmers;
    8. Announced an updated USDA organic portal where users can easily access new agency landing pages for organic, including conservation, loans, and technical assistance;
    9. Announced a new Food LINC project with 18 philanthropic partners to strengthen local and regional supply chains in 10 regions by hiring value chain coordinators; and,
    10. Announced a new USDA Urban Ag Toolkit, which highlights an innovative kind of new farmer who has the passion to find agricultural opportunity where little to no opportunity existed before (rooftops, vacant lots, old warehouses that become aquaponics factories), and where price per square foot comes at a premium.

Risk Management

  • USDA has worked diligently to expand the safety net available to producers, including those producers in their vulnerable first years. Some highlights include:
    1. Provided better crop insurance coverage to over 15,000 new and beginning farmers and ranchers participating in beginning farmer crop insurance incentives, working more than 3.8 million acres; beginning farmers and ranchers have saved over $15.5 million in premiums and administrative fees because of this new program in the 2014 Farm Bill;
    2. Dramatically expanded offerings of organic price elections for all crops. In 2011, RMA offered organic price elections for just four crops; RMA now offers separate organic prices for 73 different crops; and,
    3. Strengthened the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) for new producers by reducing the premiums on buy-up level coverage by 50 percent for new farmers and waiving their application fee; USDA estimates 1,241 new and beginning farmer first-time applicants enrolled in NAP in 2015. To date, there are 2,160 new and beginning farmer first-time applicants enrolled in NAP for 2016.

Conservation Assistance

  • USDA provides technical and financial assistance to help beginning farmers and ranchers implement voluntary conservation measures, resulting in benefits for both the environment and agricultural operations. Some highlights include:
    1. Made available assistance for new farmers that will cover approximately 90 percent of the costs associated with implementing conservation practices and provide approximately 50 percent of funding in advance to help new farmers hire contractors or purchase needed materials to implement conservation practices;
    2. Awarded over 9,600 EQIP contracts to new and beginning farmers in FY16 - nearly $300 million in obligations, or 27 percent of all EQIP contracts;
    3. Awarded 45 Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) to cutting-edge projects to stimulate the development and adoption of innovative approaches and technologies for conservation on agricultural lands. Thirteen projects totaling over $5.8 million have a focus of boosting the number of historically underserved, new and beginning, and military veteran producers who use NRCS's programs and services; and,
    4. Supported 17,031 high tunnels since 2010. These low-cost greenhouses extend the growing season, reduce input costs, conserve natural resources and make locally-grown produce available for a greater portion of the year - and can be important tools for new and beginning farmers.

Outreach, Education, and Technical Assistance

  • USDA provides key outreach, education, and technical assistance opportunities for the next generation of farmers and ranchers. Some highlights include:
    1. Launched for the first time, a single front door to USDA resources for the next generation of farmers and ranchers, www.usda.gov/newfarmers;
    2. Unveiled 55 new cooperative agreements to educate minorities, women, new, veteran and urban farmers and ranchers - many of whom are engaged in local and regional food systems - about FSA programs that provide financial, disaster, or technical support;
    3. Provided training, education, and outreach to a new generation of agriculture leaders through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). Since 2009, 256 awards have been made for more than $126 million through BFRDP. More than 50,000 beginning farmers and ranchers have participated in projects funded by BFRDP;
    4. Supported cooperative projects that meet the needs of agricultural workers with disabilities through education, information on assistive technology solutions, and networking through the AgrAbility program;
    5. Targeted outreach and technical assistance to veterans, minority and limited-resource farmers and ranchers, and others that have not historically benefited from USDA programs through the 2501 Program, which has distributed over $82 million to 349 partners since 2010. In FY2016, the Office of Advocacy awarded 45 grants to nonprofit and higher education institutions;
    6. Enhanced our coordination with veterans resources including Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense, and Department of Labor;
    7. Announced a new Military Veteran Agricultural Liaison to specifically address the unique interests of military veterans engaging in agriculture; and,
    8. Expanded our work with STEM colleagues like NASA to build connections with youth and their engagements with STEM and agriculture.