Big USDA Wins for Young Farmers


This past week, USDA announced two big changes coming to your local county office. First, USDA will be hiring five new staff members at the state level to coordinate new farmer programs for the Farm Service Agency (FSA). The National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) has pushed USDA to provide specialized expertise for new farmers, and this job description is exactly what we have been asking for. Second, USDA announced that it is expanding it’s Farm Storage Facility Loan program to cover a host of new products including dairy, eggs, meat, poultry, hops, and flowers. NYFC helped USDA expand this program to fruit and vegetable growers, laying the groundwork for this new expansion.

Here’s a little more information about both of these news items: (more…)

Rogue Farm Corps Recruits Aspiring Farmers for their Hands-on Education and Mentoring Programs

Planting at Rogue Farm CorpsFarming is a tough business, and beginning farmers need hands-on experience and mentoring before they can successfully take on a commercial operation. Finding that experience and mentoring can be a significant challenge, and it’s at the heart of why Rogue Farm Corps (RFC) was created. The Oregon-based nonprofit was founded in 2003 by first generation organic farmers in their twenties and thirties who themselves had been mentored and considered it critical to their success. They noticed that many older farmers were retiring without anyone to take over their businesses, while young, inexperienced farmers didn’t know how to get started in commercial farming. RFC’s Executive Director Stu O’Neill says the organization was born from the desire to give beginning farmers access to mentors and in-field training. (more…)

USDA to Release 2012 Census of Ag Data

Every five years, the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) takes a hard look at the state of US agriculture by conducting a Census of Agriculture. In a very real way, the census is one of the few opportunities farmers have to tell the USDA about their operations—who they are, and what they need. Today, USDA will publish its full report of the 2012 Census of Agriculture. Below is a snippet of the agency’s preliminary report, which compares select results of the 2012 census to those of the previous census, conducted in 2007. Stay tuned for a further analysis of the census.  Without a doubt, the face of US agriculture has experienced some changes in the past five years, and young, beginning farmers should take notice.

Republicans and Democrats Introduce New Bill To Aid Beginning Farmers













April 25, 2013

Contact: lindsey(at)youngfarmers(dot)org

Republicans and Democrats Introduce New Bill To Aid Beginning Farmers

“Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013” addresses major barriers to starting a farming career

TIVOLI, NY – Today, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa and Representative Tim Walz of Minnesota announced the introduction of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013 in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The two identical bills expand opportunities and remove barriers for beginning farmers and those who wish to pursue a career in agriculture.

In addition to the bill’s lead sponsors, the following members have signed on as original co-sponsors: Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1), Chris Gibson (R-NY-19), and House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN-7) in the House, and Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Al Franken (D-MN) in the Senate.

“Short of jumping on a tractor, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013 is the best way that members of Congress can help the nation’s young growers,” says Lindsey Lusher Shute, Executive Director at the National Young Farmers Coalition. “The bill tackles the significant barriers to starting a farm in the US, including access to credit, land and training opportunities. NYFC urges Congress to include all of its provisions in the Farm Bill, and to pass a Farm Bill this year.”

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act is a comprehensive legislative package that invests in critical federal conservation, credit, research, and rural development programs that support opportunities for new farmers and ranchers. The bill reduces barriers, such as credit and land access issues, that new agriculture entrepreneurs face, and invests in successful new-farmer training programs and grants to help farmers capture more of the retail food dollar through value-added enterprises.

“With the average age of the U.S. farmer at 57, ensuring that the next generation of American farmers is able to provide the world with a safe, abundant supply of food should be a top priority,” said Congressman Walz, Ranking Member of the U.S. House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry. “To accomplish this goal, we must provide our youth with the training and tools they need to seize opportunity and take up farms of their own. By easing access to lines of credit and land, and creating training programs for new producers, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act works to do just that.”

“As the House considers a five year Farm Bill this year, it is important we include provisions to encourage a new generation of New Yorkers to take up farming.  This is both critical to maintaining the rural nature of our communities and ultimately is a national security issue as we need to have a robust domestic food supply. This bipartisan legislation will expand opportunities for those looking to take up farming and facilitate their entrance into the field.  I applaud the National Young Farmers Coalition for bringing this issue to my attention originally, and look forward to continuing to work with my constituents to ensure we can get these initiatives included in the Farm Bill,” said Congressman Chris Gibson.

Some of the specific proposals in the bill include:

Expanded Credit Options

The bill would create a new microloan program that would make loans of up to $35,000 to young, beginning, and veteran farmers seeking capital to help cover start-up costs, such as purchasing seeds or building a greenhouse. The bill would also give new farmers increased flexibility in meeting loan eligibility requirements for FSA loans to purchase farmland. Finally, the bill would provide funding to jump start an Individual Development Account pilot program aimed at helping beginning farmers with limited financial resources to establish savings accounts that could later be used to cover capital expenditures for a farm or ranch operation, including purchases of land, buildings, equipment, or livestock. 

Access to Farmland

The legislation would help new and aspiring farmers access land to start or expand their farming operations by continuing and improving the successful Down Payment Loan Program, which provides much needed capital to new farmers seeking to purchase property. The bill would also modify the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program to give priority to preserving farmland that is accessible and affordable to new farmers.

New Farmer Training Programs

The bill would renew funding for the successful Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which provides grants to organizations and institutions to establish new farmer training programs. This program is the only federal initiative that is exclusively dedicated to training the next generation of farmers and ranchers.

Value-Added Enterprises

This legislation invests in critical economic development programs, including the popular Value-Added Producer Grants program, which provides grants to farmers to scale up their businesses and add value to their products in order to meet surging consumer demand for high quality, farm-based, value-added food products such as farmstead cheese, salsa, and grass-fed beef.

Agricultural Opportunities for Veterans

The bill would also expand resources and create economic opportunities for military veterans interested in pursuing a career in agriculture by establishing a funding priority for new farmer training and agricultural rehabilitation programs specifically geared at returning veterans, and creating a new Veterans Agricultural Liaison within the USDA to help connect returning veterans with beginning farmer resources and assist them with program eligibility requirements for participation in farm bill programs.


National Young Farmers’ Coalition (NYFC) is national network of young and sustainable farmers organizing for our collective success: we’re defining the issues that beginning farmers face, fighting for the policy change that we need, and bringing farmers together in person and online to learn, share and build a stronger community. NYFC is a farmer-led partnership between young farmers and innovative beginning farmer service providers and is fiscally sponsored by the Open Space Institute, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.  


Young Farmers Take to Washington!

Lindsey and Maisie in front of capitol - Farmer Fly-in 2013The halls of Congress heard ringing of cowboy boots and the stomping of mud-stained muck boots this past week as farmers from across the country descended on our nation’s capitol.

On Monday and Tuesday, the Young Farmers Coalition brought five beginning farmers from California, South Dakota, Colorado, and New York to Washington, DC to meet with Senators and Congresspeople to urge them to support beginning farmer programs in the next farm bill.  

In all, over fifty farmers participated in the Farmer Fly-In, organized by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.  The Fly-In is an annual event, but this year had a particular emphasis, given the way that beginning farmer programs and many other helpful USDA provisions were left high and dry in January’s farm bill extension.  Given that urgency, this year was also the largest fly-in ever, with about one hundred legislative visits taking place over the two days.  Of those, NYFC’s crew organized and took part in sixteen meetings, ranging from left-leaning Democrats to tea-party-aligned Republicans.

Farmer Fly-in 2013 Stabenow and farmersSometimes speaking with elected officials themselves and sometimes with their agricultural policy associates, meetings covered a large spectrum of topics, from personal stories about how specific programs were essential in the formation of a new business to practical discussions about the likelihood of different bills being able to pass.  Legislators were selected for meetings based on their positions on the House and Senate Agriculture and Appropriations Committees.

As many of the farmers new to political advocacy found, most elected officials took quickly to the beginning farmer message: that the government needs to ensure the next generation of farmers and ranchers receive the training and support they need.  We shared stories about how USDA services like the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program allowed for business training courses, how SARE grants helped fund grassroots technical innovation on the farm, and how the Conservation Stewardship Program helped farms become more sustainable while not breaking the bank.

Senate CR action picThis fly-in was just the start to the 2013 advocacy season.  With sequestration making its impact known, with the debt ceiling debate coming up, and most importantly with the Farm Bill extension expiration looming ahead of us, there is plenty of work cut out for us.  Get ready: in the coming months, we’ll be asking many of you to write letters, make phone calls, and come with us on in-person meetings, so please stay in touch and get ready to make history! 

In fact, you can take action right now!  Click the image to the right to learn more.

Action Alert – Fund Beginning Farmer Programs in the new C.R.

Hey all-
Merrigan meetingWe want to give out a huge Thank You! to the intrepid young farmers who came from the four corners of the country to speak with Senators and Representatives earlier this week about the importance of beginning farmer programs in the USDA budget.  (Stay tuned to the blog for a reportback on that adventure soon.)

Didn’t get a chance to be there, but want to get involved?  Well you are in luck!  News just came down the pipeline that the Senate is going to be voting on Monday on a general government budget (called a “Continuing Resolution, or C.R.”) that could also include funding for those amazing programs that were left high and dry in the New Years Eve farm bill extension.  (Read more about the whole dirty mess that was the 2012 Farm Bill here.) 

These include the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which funds countless training programs, Organic Cost-Share, and many more*.  Take just a minute to make a call to save these programs!

Head over to the NYFC action page right now and make your call!  (Can’t do it right now?  You’ve got until Monday, so don’t forget!)

* Some of the programs currently stranded without funding include:

    Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program       
    Value-Added Producer Grant Program
    Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program
    Rural Energy for America Program
    Organic Agriculture Research & Extension Initiative
    National Organic Certification Cost Share Program
    Organic Production & Market Data Initiatives
    Farmers Market Promotion Program
    Outreach & Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers & Ranchers
    Conservation Reserve Program – Transition Incentive Program


With BFRDP, Grassworks Resists Corporate Dairying by Training Young Ranchers

In Wisconsin, as in most of the country, the path to becoming a teacher or a lawyer is well defined. But suppose you want to become a dairy farmer without a farm to inherit: That career path is less certain. And, with an aging population of farmers, it’s more important than ever to educate the next generation of ranchers. Many farms without successors are being sold to become large animal confinement operations. Wisconsin’s Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards and GrassWorks Inc, a non-profit that provides leadership, education and resources for grass-based farmers, are offering an alternative. Their apprenticeship program is graduating a group of beginning ranchers trained in “managed grazing” and ready to own their own dairy farms.

Nate in the field

The Grassworks Apprenticeship Program, thanks to funding from the USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP,) hires beginning ranchers to work for a “Master Dairy Grazier” for a two-year, 4000 paid-hours program that includes 288 hours of off-farm instruction, from classes in technical schools to training on herd nutrition and holistic management. During these two years, the apprentices are working towards their goal of farm ownership, whether it is moving into an equity earning system or initiating a farm transfer. Program manager Joe Tomandl reports these individual farm businesses based on managed grazing “…have real success, and they make money. They keep local communities going. They make upper middle class business people and a lot of quality jobs. There’s a real potential for rural economic development here too. And that isn’t saying anything about the environmental benefits.”

Nate Weisenfeld, one of the 11 apprentices in the 2010-12 cohort, fell in love with agriculture on his grandparent’s dairy farm. He worked on a dairy while earning a degree in dairy science and, after graduation, began buying a half-calf each paycheck instead of being paid in cash. After four years he was able to leave the dairy and start milking his own cows. In 2010, he bought a house and 80 acres. Nate serves as a model beginning rancher for the Grassworks Apprenticeship Program. Although he was on track to starting his own business before participating in the program, he has benefited greatly from its resources, especially the network. This summer, when he had some issues he was able to call upon the group for help. “I have a whole Rolodex of experienced farmers… They come out in the field, walk through the pastures and say ‘Here is what I think.’”

Without the BFRDP and the Grassworks Apprenticeship Program, Nate believes he would be working at a factory punching a button. Nate struggled with obtaining loans from regular commercial banks before receiving training from the program. Starting a farm is just too difficult to do alone, he says “It’s absolutely crucial that we have this program.”

Have you signed the petition to support a better Farm Bill?  It’s not too late: sign up now.

South Dakota Trains a Network of Beginning Ranchers with Help from BFRDP Funding

Ken Olson is the extension beef specialist at South Dakota State’s West River Agricultural Center. He came to South Dakota from Montana, where he grew up on a farm that ultimately wasn’t large enough to support both him and his brother. Though he teaches agricultural science for a living at SDSU, the highlight of his career has been his work developing an exciting rancher training program funded by the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers’ Development Program (BFRDP.) The program has allowed him to expand his reach to beginning ranchers with fledgling businesses who need more technical assistance and connections. The program, called BEEFSD, is a partnership between the SDSU extension and the South Dakota Farm Bureau. When the project received funding in 2010, 46 individuals representing 30 operations began a three year training program which includes classroom time, field trips to established ranches, guest speaker lectures, and networking opportunities.

The most satisfying aspect of the program for Ken is the creation of a close community among the cohort. “It’s a bright young bunch of people,” Ken says. “We have helped them establish a network among themselves and we are really promoting networking and learning from each other.” The education they receive is exponentially increased, as each rancher is quick to share new knowledge with the others. Ken explains, “…the time on the bus is almost as valuable as the trip because of all that networking.” The program also introduces participants to mid to late-life successful ranchers who have a lot of wisdom and experience to draw from. Through visits to their ranches and guest lectures, participants are given an opportunity to create a support network of experienced mentors.

You can help strengthen programs like BEEFSD:

Tell Congress to support the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program today.

Ken and his colleagues would love to continue the program with a new cohort of beginning ranchers, but without BFRDP funding the future of the program is bleak. BEEFSD even has some money left over from their 2010 grant, but because BFRDP funding doesn’t roll over after three years, the team needs to start from scratch. For Ken, it’s essential the program and funding for farmer training programs continue. “It doesn’t seem like a lot of people. But it’s 46 people whose futures have been positively impacted. If we can keep this thing going we can build on what we’ve started here. These 46 people are young, excited and motivated. They are active learners, they really energize me. They are going to be the future leaders of South Dakota.”

If you would like to help programs like BEEFSD succeed in the future, please help advocate for the BFRDP in the next Farm Bill. If you haven’t yet signed the petition, click here to join the call!

The Farm Bill’s Real Impact – BFRDP Helps Train the Next Generation

My name is Sophie Ackoff, I have been an apprentice at Glynwood Farm.  Like so many other beginning farmers today, I don’t come from a farming family and I have no land or agricultural skills to inherit from my parents. 

I believe that the government needs to support beginning farmers and shouldn’t short-change farmer training programs.  Please act now to send that message to Congress.

Sophie in the fields at Glywood

I grew up in suburban Southern California, a region historically filled with citrus groves that ultimately succumbed to pressure from developers.  Our family vacations always involved driving past the confined beef and dairy operations of the Central Valley, and at a young age I became active in the fight against industrial farming.

Still, I did not witness how broccoli and Brussels sprouts grew until I went to college.  At Wesleyan University, I discovered my love of farming at the student-run organic farm, Long Lane.  Despite having few academic opportunities in sustainable agriculture, an incredible number of Wesleyan students are starting to farm thanks to alternative training programs such as farm apprenticeships and incubators.  Seeing several friends graduate and begin farming, I realized a career in the field was a feasible possibility for young, idealistic kids like me who are eager to transform our broken food system.

I believe the BFRDP is a major reason why my friends and I are optimistic about having a future in farming.

Tell Congress to support the BFRDP in the next Farm Bill today.

In 2008, the federal government finally recognized the need to support beginning farmer training programs – that build future farmers like me – and provided $75 million in direct farm bill funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP).  In just a few years, this program has helped launch pioneering farmer training programs across the country, such as  Holistic Management International’s Beginning Women Farmers program, Land Stewardship Project’s Farm Beginnings, and the Latino Farmers Cooperative of Louisiana’s Farmer Incubator.  The programs funded by the BFRDP are creating unique opportunities for young people who might not otherwise have had access to affordable farm training.

For my first full-season apprenticeship, I chose the Glynwood Center because of the organization’s dedication to helping to train the next generation of farmers.  Glynwood is a non-profit organization located in New York’s Hudson Valley, whose mission is to “save farming by strengthening farming communities and regional food systems.”  We have a working farm in Cold Spring, NY that has a hundred-member CSA and a pasture-based livestock operation.  After receiving a grant for a feasibility study from the BFRDP, the organization has now leased additional land to launch a farmer training program that expands our current apprenticeship program.

In the Northeast, there are many first-year apprenticeship opportunities.  Glynwood hopes to grow farmers by nurturing the business and management skills that complement on-farm, hands-on apprenticeships, from budgeting to navigating loans and leases.  There is a real need for programs that cultivate those apprentices in subsequent seasons and help young farmers transition to management roles, so they can ultimately operate their own farm enterprise.  Glynwood’s BFRDP-funded program will expand the number of apprentices they train each year, and include ample classroom time devoted to strengthening skills needed for the business side of farming.  After a season or two, beginning farmers have a solid skill set but lack access to affordable farmland and capital, and could benefit from mentorship and equipment sharing.  These are critical next steps.

As of October 1st, the BFRDP has no renewed farm bill funding and the future of emerging, established, and new beginning farmer training programs is now in jeopardy.  I am a young farmer, and an organizer for NYFC because I believe the entire country has a vital stake in the future of America’s young farmers.

If the BFRDP’s future is uncertain, so is ours, and so is our nation’s food security.  Tell Congress not to slash America’s agricultural future today.

(This post also appeared on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s blog earlier this month as a part of their “Stories from the Field” series documenting the real impact of the Farm Bill.)


NYFC Signs on to Call for Investing in Beginning and Underserved Farmers

LSP logoNYFC has joined with the Land Stewardship Project and other agriculture organizations around the country in signing on to an organizational letter to Congress calling for proper investment in USDA programs supporting a bright future for American agriculture when they reconvene after the election.

The letter urges action on a new farm bill along with inclusion/investment in two key programs: the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Rancher Program.  Both of these programs are included in the draft Senate and House Ag Committee bills but both have also expired and have no future funding.  As popular and in high-demand programs to lose them in the next year would be a travesty.

If you work with another ag-based organization, please consider signing on as well!  The petition is available here. The deadline to join is November 2, 2012.  The LSP will deliver the letter to House and Senate agriculture leadership the week of November 12.