Federal programs are failing to reach and support the next generation of farmers and ranchers. Young farmers are unfamiliar with federal programs, overwhelmed with the cumbersome application processes, lack the land tenure required to make use of conservation programs, and/or are not successful in making their diversified, direct-market operations fit the mold of loan applications designed for large-scale commodity operations. We must work to improve the customer experience for young and BIPOC farmers, modernizing and streamlining processes, increasing USDA technical assistance staff capacity, and improving staff knowledge of diversity, equity, and inclusion—as well as knowledge of programs that benefit young and BIPOC farmers and the unique needs of this new generation.
- USDA has invested in establishing a Beginning Farmer and Rancher (BFR) national coordinating position at the Department, and has tapped employees across the country to serve as the Department’s beginning farmer coordinator in each state. To be accountable to the needs of young and beginning farmers, USDA should adequately resource these state positions to be focused full-time on serving beginning farmers, and elevate the national coordinating position to be institutionalized as part of the Farm Production and Conservation Mission Area.
- For all programs, increase the collection and reporting of demographic data to better understand who is accessing USDA resources and practice accountability to young and BIPOC farmers in how programs are implemented, evaluated, and improved over time.
- Increase investments in outreach so BIPOC and young farmers are aware of federal programs and are empowered to apply for technical and/or financial assistance—looking to models such as the Technical Assistance Investment Program—by resourcing organizations that already have trust with these farming communities.
- Require USDA RD State Directors, FSA State Executive Directors, NRCS State Conservationists, and their respective state and county office leaders to complete Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice training programs at reasonable intervals.
- Train every USDA agent and representative on needs and opportunities for young and beginning farmers, and foster a culture of creativity and flexibility regarding the application of program rules and regulations.
- Continue to improve USDA recruitment so that field offices are fully staffed and can provide technical assistance to producers. Recruitment should target underrepresented demographics so field staff reflect the diversity of our farming populations.
- Acknowledge the leadership and lived experiences of young and BIPOC farmers by actively recruiting, including, and compensating their voices on all county, state, and federal advisory committees related to farmland protection, land access, and farm viability.
- Establish a new position within USDA Departmental Management to drive agency adoption of standards, practices, and training in support of cultural competency among all customer facing and application evaluation staff across the Department.
The next generation of producers are innovative and open to trying alternative methods for growing food and marketing it to their communities. USDA must ensure that its officers are empowered and expected to work with and understand these new growers, and to make every local, county, or state office a one-stop shop for programs specifically designed to benefit young and BIPOC farmers.