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…)

Cuyahoga Valley National Park Invests in Public/Private Farmland Agreements

One of the most significant challenges facing young farmers today is access to—and retention of—quality farmland. Innovative land tenure models are the focus of many advocacy and research organizations. The role of public lands in farmland retention is less clear—but one national park in Ohio is navigating a public/private land use model aimed at keeping regional farming traditions alive.

In Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP), ten privately-run farms are managed by the National Park Service (NPS) and the Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy’s (CVCC) Countryside Initiative program. Recently profiled by Mary Beth Albright in National Geographic last February, CVCC was established in 1999 as a nonprofit cooperating partner of NPS and sought to fulfill CVNP’s mission of protecting the traditionally rural Cuyahoga Valley region. The Initiative spent its first few years renovating historical mid-19th to mid-20th century farmsteads that dotted CVNP land before beginning to offer farmers leases on selected sites. By 2009, eleven privately supported farms were operating on CVNP land. Today, there are 10 farms on CVNP’s 33,000 acres.

CVNP hasn’t advertised a request for farmland lease proposals since 2011, but according to Albright’s article, the park is expected to open the next round of its competitive proposal process in May. To qualify, applicants must present an economically sound proposal and show they will engage in sustainable agriculture practices and direct marketing, among other lease terms. Leases can extend for up to 60 years, which may require a more significant monetary investment by the farmer, but also allows them to reap the long-term benefits of land stewardship. Land parcels vary in acreage but include a single family home (some renovated, historical models, others modern structures), and farmers of all ages—and experience levels—are welcome to apply. Further information on past land parcels up for lease, model leases, and examples of Requests for Proposals can be found on CVNP’s 2011 Request for Proposals and Countryside Initiative pages.

In this unique management model, publically funded CVNP manages lease agreements and is responsible for dedicating resources to rebuilding historic farmsteads. Privately funded lease holders farm the land within lease terms. Meanwhile, nonprofit CVCC facilitates farmer recruitment, helps select farm sites and provides resources to farmers and the park to foster mutual success. Farming in national parks is a new concept in the U.S., but according to NPS, globally the practice is more common; for example, over 90% of national parklands in Great Britain are privately owned. Here’s hoping other national parks in the U.S. can follow CVNP’s lead and help grow land tenure opportunities around the country.

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


Training New Farmers at the Center for Agroecology and Food Systems

The Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) at the University of California, Santa Cruz is a nationally renowned training program for organic growers.

You can help strengthen programs like the Santa Cruz program:

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

In addition to funding their important work, CASFS is also using Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program monies to share their best practices with farmers across the country. Their three year grant “Building a Foundation for New Farmers: Training, Resources, and Networks,” began in September of this year and has big goals.  Namely:

• Expanding training opportunities within their Apprenticeship program, including increased access for socially disadvantaged and limited resource applicants;

Class of 2011 apprentices Maddie Morley and Willow Rudiger plant potatoes in the Alan Chadwick Garden at UC Santa Cruz. (Photo courtesy of Martha Brown)

• Revising and augmenting training materials for agricultural educators as well as providing them free online and at cost in print;

• Creating a Beginning Farmers network for the Central Coast region of California including farm mentoring, peer-to-peer connections, workshops, and social networking tools.

“The central coast is an incredibly rich place for organic farming,” explained Martha Brown, Senior Editor at CASFS. This regional success, however, does present a new set of obstacles for new and beginning farmers that the BFRDP grant hopes to address: opportunity visibility. “You have to sort of corral the opportunities together,” said Brown. Improvements to CASFS’s website,, will do just that by providing infrastructure such as a calendar of regional events and an online farmer’s forum. By helping CASFS craft the website as an information hub, BFRDP funds will benefit the entire region for years to come.

Farm Stand

Twice a week, apprentices sell the produce they grow at a roadside stand at the base of the UC Santa Cruz campus. Apprentices also manage a 120-member CSA project. (photo by Abby Huetter)

In addition to these online resources, the Center will be using BFRDP funds to promote interpersonal networks between mentors and new farmers using traditional and 21st century methods. The CASFS training manuals, “Teaching Direct Marketing and Small Farm Viability” and “Teaching Organic Farming and Gardening” which are designed to help others teach organic farming, gardening, and marketing skills, are to be expanded, made available free of charge online, and marketed to a national audience. These marketing techniques will rally social media, peer networks, and the website infrastructure.

Members of the 2011 Apprenticeship class dig beds in a high tunnel at the UCSC Farm. Apprentices learn both garden- and field-scale skills during the six- and 12-month programs. (Photo courtesy of Martha Brown)

Anne Eschenroeder, a CASFS alumna, says that her training there deeply influences her current work managing Phillies Bridge Farm Project, a nonprofit educational farm in the Hudson Valley. “Everything I do at Phillies Bridge is a direct result of my training there,” Eschenroeder stated. “You learn to read crops, read the land, and learn by doing, not just in a classroom.” The mix of hands-on training, classroom time, guest speakers, and peer networking made the training particularly effective, according to Eschenroeder. Of the center itself, Eschenroeder says, “it is an amazing place; the teachers are amazing, and it turns out great farmers.”

With BFRDP funding on the chopping block, now is a crucial time to tell congress to support the program in the new Farm Bill! “It is so little money for so much payback, it would be a tragedy for it to go away,” observed Brown. We can all do a part to ensure that this small portion of the Farm Bill stays designated for young farmers and ranchers.  Please join the NYFC campaign to save the BFRDP!





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!