NSAC's Blog


Beginning Farmers Make Strides with Support from Federal Programs

December 1, 2017


Harvesting collard greens. Photo credit: Preston Keres, USDA.

As the average age of our nation’s farmers and ranchers continues to rise, ushering in the next generation of American producers has become a national priority. Congress recognized the potential crises this lack of production capacity could cause nearly a decade ago, and responded by creating the first ever federal program aimed exclusively at training the next generation – the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) not only announced the opening of the fiscal year (FY) 2018 application window for BFRDP, they also provided some helpful inspiration for applicants by announcing the awarded FY 2017 projects. In all, BFRDP awarded an $18 million investment in FY 2017 to support 36 new farmer training programs across the country. Most projects awarded this year will run through 2020.

Program Background

Farmers entering agriculture today have very different needs from those of their predecessors, and they also face new and complex challenges that would have been unprecedented just a few decades ago. Given the heightened complexity and difficulty of entering and succeeding in agriculture, the interest in training and outreach programs has grown substantially among beginning farmers over the last several years.

Many of these projects have been made possible thanks to federal support from programs like BFRDP. In fact, BFRDP remains to this day the only federal program dedicated explicitly to training the next generation of American farmers and ranchers.

Since its creation in 2002, BFRDP has invested nearly $145 million in developing and strengthening innovative new farmer training and resource programs across the country. To date, the program has funded 291 projects across the entire country.

Breakdown of Funded Projects

Projects funded in FY 2017 were relatively balanced across regions: the South had the most projects at 31 percent, followed by the West at 28 percent, the Northeast at 22 percent, and 19 percent of projects in the North Central region.

Like last year, the majority of this year’s projects will be run by community-based (CBO) and non-profit organizations – including several National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) member organizations. CBOs and non-profits have played a vital role in developing innovative beginning farmer training programs over the past decade, and were the primary drivers behind the program’s initial creation.

The 23 non-profit-led projects funded this year represent 64 percent of total awards, down from the high-water mark of the 78 percent funded last year. In recent years, BFRDP has consistently awarded 60 to 75 percent of grants to projects led by CBOs and non-profits, which reflects the statutory intent to prioritize projects led by these valuable partners. Total funding allotted to these groups also fell as compared with last year, from 76 percent to 61 percent. In total, $10.7 million will be invested in these groups to train, educate, and cultivate the next generation of farmers.

NSAC has been a consistent advocate urging USDA to prioritize support for non-profit and CBO-led projects, given these organizations’ unique perspectives and unparalleled connections to the farmers and ranchers in their communities.

Thirteen projects funded by BFRDP this year will be led by cooperative extension and other academic or government institutions. As in previous years, university-led projects received larger awards on average than non-profit or CBO-led projects. The average university-led project for FY 2017 is $562,147, compared to $466,577 for non-profits and community-based organizations.

Spotlight on NSAC Grantees

NSAC congratulates all of this year’s BFRDP grant recipients, especially the hard-working and dedicated farmer-based organizations who work directly with beginning farmers and ranchers every day. We would specifically like to congratulate and highlight the seven NSAC member organizations that received awards this cycle, including:

  • California FarmLink, California – Together with fellow NSAC member, the Community Alliance for Family Farms (CAFF), along with Kitchen Table Advisors, California FarmLink will use their grant to help beginning farmers grow their businesses beyond the initial start-up phase by providing beginning farmers with tailored land access services, financial management training, and access to markets. This ecosystem of support strives to enable beginning farmers realize their vision as they take the next leap toward sustainable scale, and long-term viability.

“With its capital and land access programs, FarmLink creates opportunities for ethnically diverse and sustainable farmers across California,” said Reggie Knox, Executive Director of California FarmLink. “As an agricultural Community Development Financial Institution, we provide financial literacy education, along with affordable farm loans, to beginning and underserved farmers. This grant will support farmers who have been in business for at least 3-5 years and are facing the challenge of scaling up and building long-term financial security.”

  • Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship (DGA), MissouriDGA is partnering with the University of Missouri and Missouri Extension to lead an Educational Enhancement Team project that will deliver enhanced training and resources for Master Graziers, provide continuing education for graduates as they transition to farm ownership, and develop integrated DGA courses to ensure quality and consistency nationwide.
  • National Hmong American Farmers Inc. (NHAF), California – NHAF will use their grant to assist and develop limited resource, beginning, and veteran farmers in their farming goals by providing workshops, outreach events, and by connecting them with their local USDA offices.

“The NHAF is thrilled to receive funding through USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program,” said Chukou Thao, Executive Director of the National Hmong American Farmers Inc. “For us, it’s an opportunity to continue helping the many worthy and deserving, limited resource, and socially, culturally, and linguistically disadvantaged farmers achieve their American Dream.” 

  • Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), Pennsylvania – PASA’s grant will support their work training the next generation of dairy farmers in the business and art of grazing. This work is centered on matching apprentices, who gain two years of paid hand-on experience and participate in college level coursework, with a Master Grazier.

“PASA currently administers the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Grazing Lands Coalition, the Center for Dairy Excellence, and the USDA Agricultural Research Service,” notes Project Director, Franklin Egan. “The BFRDP grant will allow us to deepen and strengthen this work, in service to both the largest sector of agriculture in Pennsylvania, dairy, as well as the larger sustainable agriculture community.”

  • Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI), Iowa – PFI will use their grant to help over 1,300 Iowa and Nebraska beginning farmers to establish, build, and manage successful farms. Their goal is to increase the diversity and sustainability of farms, access to healthy food, and vibrancy of communities in Iowa and Nebraska.

“Practical Farmers of Iowa is excited to be awarded funds through USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and to continue our efforts supporting the next generation of Iowa and Nebraska farmers,” said Greg Padget, PFI’s Beginning Farmer Manager. “This funding will allow us to provide farmer-to-farmer education, mentoring, technical assistance, network building and outreach for those thinking of starting a farming career, as well as those who are already engaged in farming.”

  • Renewing the Countryside, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa With this grant, twenty organizations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa will work collaboratively to develop an integrated process and robust network that assists new, resource-limited farmers in accessing farmland that is a good match for their operation and offers secure terms.

“Renewing the Countryside is excited and honored to receive funding from USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program,” said Executive Director Jan Joannides. “This funding will enable a cohort of organizations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa to work together to provide beginning farmers with an integrated and supportive pathway to access farmland.”

  • Seattle Tilth/Tilth Alliance, Washington – This grant will support the Beginning Farmer Support Collaborative, which aims to strengthen the sustainable food system in King County. The Collaborative is a partnership between Tilth Alliance, SnoValley Tilth, SAgE and county officials, which seeks to create a coordinated and strategic support system for beginning farmers and ranchers to help them become established and remain viable throughout their initial years in farming.

The Future of BFRDP

As Congress ramps up work on the 2018 Farm Bill, conversations about how federal programs and policies can best support the next generation of farmers will heat up as well. Even at this early stage, there have been several beginning farmer bills introduced in both chambers, with more action anticipated in the coming months.

Earlier this month, Representatives Tim Walz (D-MN) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) introduced the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act (H.R. 4316), which lays out a comprehensive national strategy to address the critical issues new farmers face in accessing land, building skills, managing risk and financial security and investing in conservation. Securing permanent funding for BFRDP is a core ask of this bill and one around which NSAC will be mobilizing our members. NSAC urges Congress to support beginning farmers and ranchers and to include this bill in its entirety in the 2018 Farm Bill.

For more information on NSAC’s 2018 Farm Bill work, click here.


Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Grants and Programs


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