For some Americans, Veterans Day is the time that their thoughts turn to the men and women who have served in our Nation’s military.
But at the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA), we’re always thinking about the welfare of our nation’s military veterans and the rural communities in which some 5 million of them live.
Many veterans work as farmers or ranchers when their military service is over. Through our Risk Management Education Partnerships Program, RMA supports military veterans and other new and beginning farmers and ranchers through mentorship and educational opportunities.
Over the past 10 years, RMA has awarded $114 million to provide organizations with resources to develop training and education tools that help farmers and ranchers effectively manage long-term risks and challenges. This year, we’re awarding $1.7 million to training organizations that specifically include veterans among their target audiences.
We partner with groups such as the Farmer Veteran Coalition to provide much needed assistance to returning military veterans to help transfer their skills so they can become a new generation of innovative, ecological, and financially successful young farmers.
Jon Darling joined the U.S. Army after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He ended up an Army Ranger and did deployments, including Afghanistan and Iraq. After leaving the military, he turned to farming in 2012 in South Carolina.
He sought out the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) in September 2015 when his farming operation was at risk due to flooding and a land lease issue. Through one-on-one phone conversations, emails and workshops, Darling learned the risks of farming and how to mitigate those risks.
“The FVC helped me by letting me know that I’m not crazy, that there are other vets out there doing the same thing and going through the same struggles,” Darling said.
Other RMA partners are not veteran-specific organizations, but include vets among the farmers and ranchers that they serve.
Army veteran Bruce Johnson attended a Risk Management Education workshop this year offered by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), which holds trainings throughout the Gulf States region to help farmers learn strategies to successfully manage risk for their operations.
Johnson, who grew a variety of vegetables for local restaurants, farmers markets and on-farm customers in Mississippi and is thinking about returning to farming, went to an NCAT workshop primarily to learn about enterprise budgets. He wanted to be able to determine which crops would be the most profitable and to plan his growing season accordingly. He came away from the workshop with tools needed to keep good records, run cost-benefit analyses, and much more.
“The workshop was pretty thorough,” Johnson said. “It was more than just risk management; it also covered other tools that could be used for farm management. It also explained how to utilize services offered by other USDA programs.”
The USDA and RMA both recognize the duty we have to Darling, Johnson and thousands of other American military veterans who have turned to farming as a profession. They served our country, and we proudly serve them in their new roles.