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New Survey of 1,000 Young and Beginning Farmers Reveals What the Next Generation Needs

November 9th, 2011

Download Report (PDF)

TIVOLI, NY –The National Young Farmer’s Coalition released a study today showing that the nation’s young and beginning farmers face tremendous barriers in starting a farming career. Building a Future With Farmers: Challenges Faced by Young, American Farmers and a National Strategy to Help Them Succeed surveyed 1,000 farmers from across the United States and found that access to capital, access to land and health insurance present the largest obstacles for beginners. Farmers rated farm apprenticeships, local partnerships and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) as the most valuable programs to help beginners.

 “If Congress wants to keep America farming, then they must address the barriers that young people face in getting started,” says Lindsey Lusher Shute, Director of the National Young Farmers’ Coalition. “We need credit opportunities for beginning and diversified farmers, land policies that keep farms affordable for full-time growers and funding for conservation programs.”

Report findings include:

Lack of capital was found to be the biggest challenge for beginners. Although the USDA’s Farm Service Agency offers loans to beginning farmers, current loan rules often disqualify even experienced farmers with good credit and small loans are hard to come by. For real estate transactions, FSA loans take too long to process — up to thirty days to qualify and up to a year to receive funds – and the $300,000 loan limit doesn’t go far in many real estate markets.   

Land access was the second biggest concern. Farmers under the age of 30 were significantly more likely to rent land (70%) than those over 30 (37%). Over the last decade, farm real estate values and rents doubled making farm ownership next to impossible for many beginners.

“In Nebraska the main barrier to new and beginning farmers is access to land.  Unless an aspiring farmer inherits land, it is very difficult to have access to it,” says William A. Powers, farmer and Executive Director of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society.

The National Young Farmers’ Coalition recommends action at the local, state and federal level to help beginning farmers. At the local level, communities can create market opportunities for farmers by starting Community Supported Agriculture groups and shopping at farmers markets, as well as protecting existing farmland through zoning and the purchase of development rights. States can preserve farmland and even offer tax credits for farmers that sell their land to beginners. At the federal level, Congress can include the “Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Opportunity Act” in the next Farm Bill, which supports many of the specific recommendations in the report.

Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, is calling for hundreds of thousands of new farmers nationwide. Over the past century, the total number of American farmers has declined – from over 6 million in 1910 to just over 2 million today. For each farmer under 35 there are now 6 over 65 and the average age of farmers is 57. The USDA expects that one-quarter (500,000) of all farmers will retire in the next twenty years.

The ‘good food’ movement is inspiring many young people to farm, both from farming and non-farming backgrounds. These farmers have the potential to offset the numbers of retiring farmers and keep family farms active, but land tenure and lack of capital are getting in the way.

“Young farmers are poised to redefine the American landscape along with our food scene”, says Severine vT Fleming, Director of The Greenhorns, “We are strong of will, and determined to make farming sustainable in this country.” 

“With the release of reports such as this one, the agrarian revival, this influx of young and beginning farmers, gains status – we’re not just a few people spread across the country, we’re a well organized, politically active group that can be documented,” says Tierney Creech of the Washington State Young Farmers Coalition. “We know who our senators and representatives are, we vote, and our friends and families vote.  We need USDA and government support to succeed and we’re going to let the nation know that.”

Download Report (PDF)

Press Contact: Lindsey Lusher Shute, lindsey[at]youngfarmers[dot]org


11 Responses

  1. Lindsay,

    Thank you for publishing the report/findings of this survey.
    We can only hope that our Government will wake up and see that farm’s such as our’s are disappearing at an alarming rate. Especially where we are located! Gas & Oil exploration has taken over our once quite Ag intensive county. Farm’s are selling out and shutting down faster ever up here. We fear there won’t be any active farm’s left in the next 5-10 years!

  2. This report states access to capital, land, and health care as major obstacles for starting up farming businesses. Access to capital is a general issue with any startup seeking to become a profit making business. Yes, farming may need more capital than some industries, but it is not an issue specific to farming. And in the current economy (2011) this will continue to be an issue.

    Profitable farming is a business first. That means that the hurdles of capital, infrastructure, customers, marketing, benefits for employees, etc. are things to be tackled. Starting any business is not for the feint of heart.

    Besides relying on government policy changes, what are the market/economic changes startup farming operations need to take?

  3. This was such an important survey to be undertaken. As a young farmer I couldn’t agree more with the results. For farming to have a future we must find ways to make a farming career/ lifestyle possible. Many people don’t realize the challenges that first generation farmers face, thanks for bring these issues to light.

  4. This was such an important survey to be undertaken. As a young farmer I could not agree more with the results. For farming to have a future we must find ways to make a farming career/ lifestyle possible. Many people don’t realize the challenges that first generation farmers face, thanks for bring these issues to light.

  5. In response to the gentleman who asks, “what are the market/economic changes startup farming operations need to take?” It is time to stop asking more of farmers, and expecting them to create miracles when the current economic gap between the cost of food on the shelf and the true cost of food is so skewed. You can’t take the standard economic model, apply it to farming and expect it to work.

    It is time for food to be valued, and for the customer to step up to the plate and accept the true cost of food. What would a head of lettuce cost if a farmer was being paid 12, 15 or even 25 dollars per hour?

    Let’s pay stock brokers $20k a year and farmers $250k a year.

  6. Thank you for doing this survey. As a young farmer starting out in Colorado — mushroom farming — I can be very specific about my needs. Perhaps this will help you understand the needs of my generation (I’m 21.)

    1. I need some upfront capital to rent a 2000 sq foot grow building. As I become more profitable, I’ll move to my own land, but right now I’m pressed for space and can only afford to rent.

    2. I have gone to the first SCORE (small business) meeting, and very much appreciate the generic information on how to run a business, but I’d very much like to have a mentor.

    So, I guess your survey is correct: access to capital and mentoring.



  7. I am wondering if the Young Famers’ Coalition has looked at Alaska as well. I am a local resident in Alaska that is under 30 and am trying to start a family farm here in Alaska and it is looking impossible to find a grant to get things kicked off. This report needs to be taken seriously by those in Washington because our agriculture and industrial base is fading away and we as Americans in this great country need to make sure that these industries are here for many future generations to come and also to ensure our National security.

  8. We have been operating two farms & orchards. We are ready to sell one of them. How should one go about connecting with younger people who want to start, without sounding like a commercial exploiting real estate person, and so forth. Is their a genuine meeting place for the older and experienced to meet up with the young and brave. It is such a great and rich life. We are extremely happy and are bringing in about 50,000 lbs of sweet cherries, plus peaches, etc. We are so busy in this orchard, we need to sell our first farm, in a most beautiful part of Montana. The farm has the most perfect, composted soil for beds and free, abundant, living, fresh water. It is a smaller place, 10 acres, but abundant.

  9. Even in North Carolina it has been hard to get access to credit. I have been denied multiple times with great credit and an excellent business model. I have since self financed with an additional job. It has been a slow grow, but at the end of the year I don’t owe a bank not $1. The govt. is not going to help. Right now it is up to the elder farmer/landowner to work with the ‘new guy’, to help them be profitable by making land lease agreements or rent to own deals. If it is not done this way, when the elder passes, the govt comes and takes everything via estate tax, triples the land value, and leaves families who were raised on the farm to be forced to find work and land elsewhere. Even with low interest rates it is hard to purchase land and remain profitable on a ‘bankers note’. Until there are sweeping changes to legislation, the farmer young or old is almost doomed. Self Finance if you can. Its a slow grow, but a profitable one.

  10. I am the Assistant Manager of a semi-rural township in Bucks County, PA. The township owns a 91 acre preserved farm (with approximately half of that farm fields now in hay) with an old stone farmhouse and a newer pole barn. We are seeking a resident farm family. The Supervisors would like to create a “model food farm” with a road stand at this site. How can we contact potential candidates to lease this farm? The local CSA organization has not responded.

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