The United States Department of Agriculture has opened doors for the next generation of farmers.
United States Department of Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack has announced the availability of more than $19 million in grants to help train, educate and enhance the sustainability of the next generation of agricultural producers through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.
Priority will be given to projects that are partnerships and collaborations that include non-governmental, community-based or school-based agricultural educational organizations. All applicants are required to provide funds from non-federal sources in an amount that is at least equal to 25 percent of the federal funds requested. Applications are due June 12.
"USDA is committed to the next generation of America's farmers and ranchers because they represent the future of agriculture and are the backbone of our rural economy. As the average age of farmers continues to rise, we have no time to lose in getting more new farmers and ranchers established," Vilsack said. "Reauthorizing and expanding the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program is one of the many resources the 2014 Farm Bill gave us to build America's agricultural future. Through this program, we can build a diverse next generation of farmers and ranchers."
Virginia Carlberg, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County Agriculture Program coordinator, spoke similarly of the announcement.
"According to USDA, an estimated 70 percent of United States farmland will change hands in the next 20 years. That means that a significant number of farms need to be transitioned to a next generation, and a whole new generation of farmers need to be trained and assisted with starting their farm businesses," Carlberg said. "Grant programs like these will help to support educational activities that assist with this and that promote new farming activities in New York state."
Carlberg also said that the funding takes into account the background of the next generation of farmers.
"Many new farmers are not necessarily born and raised on a farm. Many of the phone calls I have been receiving at our office are from people who have land and want to do something productive with it," she said. "Many are entering retirement and want a farm business to supplement their income and also for enjoyment. Young people interested in agriculture also have new ideas they want to explore: (community supported agriculture), restaurant sales, organic certification and participation in farmers' markets. There is a lot of excitement about the local foods system right now, and new farmers are hoping to participate in it."
According to Kelly Young, senior associate director of national affairs at the New York Farm Bureau, the program has a multitude of benefits for the state.
"This is the type of program we fought for in the Farm Bill," she said. "In 2008, New York state was awarded over $2.2 million in grants from this program."
Young also said that the funding is focused on agriculture education and training that can benefit all areas of the state, including in urban areas like New York City.
"These grants get people involved in agriculture and address core issues," Young said.
By law, at least 5 percent of available funding will be allocated to programs and services for limited-resource and socially disadvantaged beginning farmers, ranchers and farmworkers.
Additionally, 5 percent of available funding will be allocated for programming and services for military veteran farmers and ranchers.
The National Institutes of Food and Agriculture is hosting two upcoming webinars for interested applicants on April 30 and May 6 at 2 p.m. The first webinar will focus on general guidelines for the program, while the second webinar will focus on the funding allocations for socially disadvantaged and military veteran farmers and ranchers.
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program is an education, training, technical assistance and outreach program designed to help farmers, ranchers and managers of non-industrial private forest land - specifically those aiming to start farming and those who have been farming or ranching for 10 or fewer years.
The program was authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, receiving $100 million to be awarded over the next five years. The program was originally funded through the 2008 Farm Bill. Since then, the National Institutes of Food and Agriculture has awarded more than $66 million through 136 grants to organizations that have developed education and training programs. More than 50,000 beginning farmers and ranchers have participated in projects funded by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.