Beginning Farmers and Ranchers | USDA
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Beginning Farmers and Ranchers

The next generation of farmers and ranchers will come from everywhere. 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.

According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, 22% of all farmers were beginning farmers in 2012. That means one out of every five farmers operated a farm for less than 10 years. Minority and historically under-represented communities were a significant part of the continued growth among new and beginning farmers and ranchers.

Over the past five years, USDA has engaged its resources to support a strong next generation of farmers and ranchers. We are supporting 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.

Access to Land and Capital

  • USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) is often "the lender of first opportunity" for many new and beginning producers. Within FSA programs, new farmers receive priority for lending assistance.
    1. Since 2009, FSA has issued more than 88,000 direct and guaranteed farm operating and farm ownership loans to beginning farmers and ranchers.
    2. FSA's microloan program is an important access point to credit for some new farmers and ranchers. Since the program's inception in January 2013, USDA has issued more than 8,400 microloans totaling $161 million. 70 percent of these loans have gone to beginning farmers.
  • FSA has also facilitated 1,789 contracts to transition over 299,000 acres of expiring conservation reserve program land from retired or retiring landowners to beginning or socially disadvantaged producers for sustainable grazing or crop production.
  • The 2014 Farm Bill expands lending opportunities for thousands of farmers and ranchers to begin and continue operations, including greater flexibility in determining eligibility, raising loan limits, and emphasizing beginning and socially disadvantaged producers.

Building New Markets and Growing Opportunity

  • New farmers often get their start by selling their products locally. USDA has invested in infrastructure development all along the supply chain for local foods, including scale-appropriate processing facilities, farmers markets, food hubs and distribution networks.
  • USDA support has helped increase the number of farmers markets nationwide to 8,268, an increase of 76% since 2008.
  • In 2013 alone, USDA made over 170 local food infrastructure investments to connect rural producers with new markets and sources of revenue.
  • Diversification and value-added agriculture is a key way that new producers can enhance their profitability and viability as a farm business. 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, over 25% of 600 awarded Value Added Producer Grants went to beginning farmers and ranchers.

Risk Management

  • The 2014 Farm Bill provides better crop insurance coverage for beginning farmers and ranchers, which for crop insurance purposes are those that have farmed for fewer than five years.
    1. The changes include: exempting beginning farmers from administrative fees associated with catastrophic policies; accessing premium assistance for insurance programs; allowing beginning farmers to use production history of entities they were working for or with as part of their loan assessment in certain circumstances; and adjusting requirements for yield failure in beginning farmer operations.
    2. 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% for new farmers and waiving their application fee. A final product is expected for the 2015 crop year.

Conservation Assistance

  • USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides technical and financial assistance to America's farmers and ranchers to help them implement voluntary conservation measures – resulting in benefits for both the environment and the agricultural operations.
  • NRCS has programs available to new and beginning farmers that may provide up to 90% of the costs associated with implementing conservation practices and may also provide up to 50% in advance for the purpose of purchasing materials or contracting.
  • In FY 2013 alone, 8,418 Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contracts on over 1.2 million acres were awarded to beginning farmers, resulting in over $188 million in financial assistance to treat critical conservation issues.
  • In FY 2013, 1,175 contracts on over 602,000 acres were awarded to beginning farmers for land and water management projects resulting in an additional $22.7 million in financial assistance.

Outreach, Education, and Technical Assistance

  • The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) is an important tool to provide training, education, and outreach to a new generation of agriculture. Since the program was created by the 2008 Farm Bill, USDA has awarded more than $70 million through 146 grants to organizations that have developed education and training programs. More than 50,000 beginning farmers and ranchers have participated in projects funded by BFRDP.
  • The AgrAbility program supports cooperative projects that meet the needs of agricultural workers with disabilities through education, information on assistive technology solutions, and networking. In FY 2013, NIFA awarded close to $4 million to support 20 State and one National AgrAbility projects. To date, more than 11,000 farmers, ranchers and their families have received personal direct AgrAbility service.
  • The 2501 Program, which targets outreach and technical assistance to veterans, minority and limited-resource farmers and ranchers, and others that have not historically benefited from USDA programs, has distributed over $57 million to 188 partners since 2010. The 2014 Farm Bill reauthorized the program at $10 million per year and expanded targeted communities to include military veterans.