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beginning farmers

Growing Farmers

Fresh. Local. Honest. This motto underscores the guiding philosophy of the Minnesota Food Association (MFA). To achieve its goals of promoting healthy food and regenerative agriculture, the MFA offers workshops for farmers and helps immigrants learn how to farm sustainably in local conditions.

The MFA manages Big River Farms, a 150-acre certified-organic teaching farm. Farmers can enroll in a three-year training program, during which they’re taught about local soils and growing conditions, trained in organic certification and farming methods, and provided a large plot of land to manage. Many of the farmers are immigrants and refugees.

“I thought America was all cities and buildings. I didn’t picture the farmland,” said Suraj Budathoki, a Bhutanese refugee from Nepal. He is a recent graduate of Big River Farms.

NRCS Helps Young Iowa Farmer Plan New Grazing System

When Iowa livestock producer Ryan Collins bought his 170-acre farm near Harpers Ferry, he knew from experience with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that the agency could help him plan a rotational grazing system.

A rotational grazing system—also known as prescribed grazing—divides pastures into four or more small paddocks with fencing. The animals move from paddock to paddock on a schedule based on the availability of forage and the livestock’s nutritional needs.

Collins says he has a lot more grass available than before. “I attribute it to the rotational grazing,” he said. “I like to have plenty of grass. The cows and calves both do, as well.”

NASS Data Fuel USDA Programs to Help Agriculture in America

Farmers are unique in that they touch every single American every single day, because we all eat. Ensuring a continuity of agriculture is important to all of us. To take the pulse of U.S. agriculture, we conduct a Census of Agriculture every five years which gives us a comprehensive analysis of agriculture in America and supplements information from more than 400 other surveys we conduct each year.

Our last census was in 2012, and the resulting data showed a decline in the number of new and beginning farmers compared to the previous census in 2007. On top of that decline, we saw the average age of American farmers trending upward to 58 years old. The USDA took these two pieces of information and recognized the need to encourage new and beginning farmers.

Beginning Rancher Applies Tribal Traditions and USDA Risk Management Tools to Help Grow Her Business

Shawna Kalama is a proud member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. She’s also a beginning rancher, pursuing her dream the past few years near the Cascade Mountains on the Yakama Indian Reservation in Washington State. Kalama has successfully leveraged several USDA programs to simultaneously support both her entrepreneurial education goals and her growing livestock operation.

She began earning her business degree at Heritage University, and recently participated in a risk management education program, sponsored by the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA). This week, the agency announced that $8.7 million in cooperative agreement funding is available for the risk management education program for fiscal year 2016. The program introduces the agency’s risk management tools, crop and livestock insurance programs and educational partnerships to new and beginning, and traditionally underserved farmers and ranchers. The curriculum includes an overview of RMA’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis tool, which identifies potential problems, and finds solutions and resources to help beginning farmers and ranchers manage risks. Nearly 90,000 producers participated in risk management education events in 2015.

Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Find One-Stop Shop in Farm Answers

The following guest blog from a web communications coordinator at the University of Minnesota's Center for Farm Financial Management highlights the FarmAnswers.org information clearinghouse for new and beginning farmers and ranchers. Farm Answers is a vital element of the USDA-wide effort to make it easier for people to find USDA programs and services.

By Jeff Reisdorfer, University of Minnesota

(The U.S. Department of Agriculture on April 11 opened a new information clearinghouse for new agriculture producers, FarmAnswers.org.)

Farmers and ranchers, like owners of other start-up companies, face serious challenges, including the need for easy to access, reliable information and technical assistance for getting their businesses started.

FarmAnswers.org is a website clearinghouse where farmers and ranchers can find online courses, videos, presentations, apps, and other materials – more than 3,175 at this time – to answer farming and ranching questions.  FarmAnswers is supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) through its Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP).

Refugee Farmers Set Down Roots, Honor Traditions in Vermont

Rwanda native Janine Ndagijimana, her husband Faustine and their children moved to Burlington, Vermont in 2007 after living in a refugee camp in Tanzania for 13 years. Now a U.S. citizen, she works closely with Ben Waterman, the New American Farmer Program coordinator at the University of Vermont Extension Service (UVM) Center for Sustainable Agriculture. He manages the Land Access and Assessment Program that helps Vermont's resettled refugee and immigrant farmers obtain access to the resources they need to pursue their goals as farmers and to link common threads between their new home in America the culture of their homelands.

Janine was one of several farmers who recently attended a meeting of the Association of Africans Living in Vermont to learn about USDA programs and services. Farmers from Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo learned about land acquisition, insurance programs, loans to support farming, and technical and financial assistance for implementing conservation farming practices.

Celebrating the New Face of Agriculture

At the Agricultural Marketing Service and across USDA, we often talk about the fact that the face of American agriculture is changing. The ranks of our farmers, especially young and beginning farmers, include a growing number of women, people of color, veterans or folks in their second careers. So-called “traditional” agriculture defies the term as it pursues new strategies, new products, and new markets. Across the country, agriculture is diversifying and evolving to meet changing consumer demands.

I saw the new face of agriculture last week during travels to Illinois and Indiana. My first stop was a roundtable on Women in Agriculture held at FarmedHere in Bedford Park, Illinois, about 15 miles from Chicago. Twenty or so women gathered to talk about their farming goals and to hear about how USDA could support them. This topic is close to my heart – I’m a New Hampshire native, a state with the second highest percentage of women farmers in the country. The women around the table with me represented the new face of ag, but so too did the setting – an indoor, vertical farm that produces basil and microgreens in a facility designed to reduce energy costs and shrink the carbon footprint of growing food.  FarmedHere is managed by Megan Klein, an attorney by training who found her calling in urban agriculture and became part of this “new face.”

Public-Private Partnerships a Crucial Element in Crop Insurance Safety Net

Farming is in my blood, and I’m proud of that. I grew up on my family’s sheep ranch in northern Utah and managed our raspberry farm before coming to USDA. For the past three years, as Administrator for the Department’s Risk Management Agency (RMA), I’ve sat across the table and listened to producers who, like myself back in Utah, couldn’t find an insurance product for their operation.

Natural disasters and unexpected events make agriculture a risky business, so having a strong safety net is essential for today’s farmers and ranchers. Nobody knows that better than RMA.

Future of Agriculture: Creating Change from the Ground Up

The face of agriculture is changing. At USDA, we want you to know that whether you come from a farming background or not, grew up in a rural, suburban or urban area, that there are opportunities for you to get involved in agriculture. It is my highest priority as Deputy Secretary to ensure that beginning farmers and the growing ranks of agriculture - women, young people, immigrants, minorities, socially disadvantaged producers, returning veterans and retirees - have access to the programs and support they need.

That is why yesterday, I joined Congresswoman Gwen Graham at Florida A&M University to talk about the importance of diversity in agriculture. There are a host of resources available at USDA and beyond, especially now that Florida has been named a StrikeForce state. I also announced that farmers can now use our popular microloans to gain access to land. These are just some of the tools that are helping new farmers succeed.

Counting All Farmers - Capturing the Many Faces of Agriculture in the 2017 Census

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

The 2017 Census of Agriculture is still two years away but, at the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), we work hard to continually improve the data we collect. The agriculture census conducted every five years is the one time we collect demographic information on today’s farmers and ranchers.

The 2012 Census found that 14 percent of the nation’s 2.1 million farms are run by a woman, and women make up 30 percent of all farmers when up to three operators per farm are included. Similarly, 25 percent of farmers were beginning farmers (ten years or less on their current farm) in 2012. But, as we get ready for the next census, we want to make sure that our data fully capture the role of women farmers and beginning farmers in agriculture today.