July 20, 2011
Choices Magazine, a publication of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, released a themed edition focused on beginning farmers and ranchers in the United States. Choices Magazine is a a free online quarterly peer-reviewed journal that covers agriculture, the food industry, natural resources, rural communities and environmental issues.
The Innovations to Support Beginning Farmer and Rancher edition of Choices includes a number of articles that highlight the demographics of the growing population of new farmers and ranchers in the US, as well as the challenges that these farmers face now and in the future. The series of articles also includes data and analysis on federal programs that currently exist to support beginning farmers and ranchers. The last article in the series provides ideas and recommendations for new programs that are needed to ensure that new farmers receive the resources and support necessary to ensure that farming is a vibrant and sustainable industry in the US.
The series was co-edited by Dawn Thilmany, Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at Colorado State University, and Suresh Sureshwaran, National Program Leader for the Small Business Innovation Research Grants Program at USDA. A number of economists and policy analysts from USDA, academics from various non-government research institutes, and extension agents from across the US contributed to the series.
In their introductory remarks, the co-editors emphasize the importance of federal programs that support beginning farmers and ranchers. In 2009, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BRRDP), which is operated by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) at the USDA, provided funding for 29 projects across the US to provide training, technical assistance and support to beginning farmers and ranchers. As the authors note this program has already helped a significant number of young and beginning farmers become self-reliant entrepreneurs and has reduced the risk that they will exit farming or experience losses on investment.
Although data is limited on beginning farmers in the US, one of the Choices articles estimates that approximately 20% of the 2.1 million farmers in the US are beginning farmers (which the farm bill and USDA defines as having less than ten years of experience operating a farm). These farmers are found predominately in the West, Southwest, Southeast and Northeastern US. (See the map below which compares the percentage of agricultural producers in each state who are beginning farmers and ranchers.) The majority of new farmers and ranchers are very different than the general farm population — more college-educated women who are younger and more ethnically diverse than the farmer population as a whole.
One of the articles also outlines the financial challenges that beginning farmers face. In 2009 beginning farmers had an average annual income loss of $8,000, while the farm population as a whole had an average annual income of $10,000. Beginning farmers also face significant challenges in acquiring land, securing capital and accessing markets to sell their products. These statistics make it clear that financial support and technical assistance are critical to establishing and developing a new generation of farmers in America.
NSAC has been a strong supporter of beginning farmer and rancher programs, including BFRDP, Down Payment loans, Individual Development Accounts, and many other programs and policy options that we have developed. We will continue to advocate for legislation to provide additional resources and support for beginning farmers and ranchers across the US.
In June 2011, NSAC hosted 14 young and beginning farmers and ranchers who flew into Washington, D.C. to meet with their members of Congress in support for federal beginning farmer programs. You can read about this fly-in on our blog. You can also read our Beginning Farmers and Ranchers webpage to learn about our other work to support beginning farmers.