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New and Beginning Farmers: The Future of American Agriculture

Posted by Melanie Edwards, NASS Public Affairs Specialist in Research and Science
Sep 24, 2020
A snapshot of new and beginning farmer Hank Huffman, with new poultry houses and during harvest season
A snapshot of new and beginning farmer Hank Huffman, with new poultry houses and during harvest season (photos courtesy of Hank Huffman). Cultivation in soybeans for weed control image courtesy of USDA ARS.

A snapshot of the next generation of young men and women realizing their dreams of becoming full- or part-time farmers reveals challenging opportunities. Some young farmers, like Hank Huffman – a 25-year-old farmer from rural eastern North Carolina – have gleaned great experiences from the generations of farmers before them. Hank, bolstered by the experience and wisdom imparted to him by his father, grandfather, and great grandfather, is now making his mark on the field of agriculture. He is a fourth-generation farmer growing corn and soybeans, and producing poultry and cattle on 130 acres. Born and bred on the pride and encouragement of the Future Farmers of America, better known as the National FFA Organization, he is living his “American Dream.”

According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, there are 3.4 million farmers, ranchers, and producers in the United States. Hank is part of a collective group of young producers (those 35 years or less of age) accounting for 9% of the total producers. On average, producers are older in Southern states and younger in Midwestern states. Beginning farmers, those having 10 or fewer years of farming experience, accounted for 27% of U.S. producers in 2017 (PDF, 1.8 MB). Hank falls into both – young and beginning farmer – categories.

When asked what his greatest challenges have been in his new venture, Hank indicated that funding was paramount. He identified the USDA Farm Service Agency as being a very helpful source of information and support, acknowledging that an understanding of the guidelines and qualifications are necessary to receive quality results.

It is evident that with the help of many generations of farmers, including advice from loved ones, and active support from USDA, agriculture will continue well beyond Hank’s generation. Although small in number nationally, new and beginning farmers are achieving success, telling their stories, and paving the way for future generations to come.

Category/Topic: Research and Science