Agriculture is a growing and vibrant sector of our nation’s economy, yet farming and ranching have become increasingly difficult occupations to enter and build into financially viable businesses. Limited access to land and markets, hyper land price inflation, high input costs, increasingly unpredictable and more extreme weather events, and a lack of sufficient support networks are just a few barriers agriculture entrepreneurs face. And for new, minority, veteran, and women farmers, the path to a successful farming career is fraught with even greater challenges, such as struggling to find financing to purchase land, confronting historical racial and gender inequities, and transitioning back into civilian life after military service.
Despite these hurdles, people want to farm or ranch and see great opportunities in agriculture. Community organizations, cooperative extension, and technical colleges report substantial interest in farming resources. The local and regional food movement, alternative livestock production systems and markets, and the growth in organics are just a few trends that have more and more individuals and families interested in farming or ranching.
NSAC works to advance farming opportunities for independent family farmers, who are the mainstay of American agriculture and our rural communities. Over the years, we continue to be at the forefront of creating new federal policies and programs that support the next generation of small and mid-sized diversified, sustainable family farms. We do this by advocating for federal policies that remove barriers facing family farmers, including the inability of new farmers to compete with large farms for coveted farmland or lucrative markets.
Not only are we working to level the playing field for beginning farmers by reforming federal farm programs that promote consolidation and concentration, but we have also worked tirelessly to target federal resources to those farmers who seek to benefit the most, including existing and aspiring small, family farmers of all kinds.
Every several years, as Congress prepares to reauthorize the federal farm bill, we inform legislative decisions regarding policies and funding that create opportunities and level the playing field for beginning, minority, veteran and women farmers. We also work each year to fight for critical funding to support the next generation of farmers in the annual appropriations process, as well as routinely meet with and deliver recommendations to USDA to guide program implementation.
For the latest news on programs and policies impacting beginning and underserved farmers, visit our blog!
Looking for specific information on federal programs that support beginning and underserved farmers? Check out NSAC’s Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Policy.
Recent NSAC actions on Beginning and Underserved Farmers
Policy News and Updates
The farmers and ranchers across the country who feed us are aging. According to the most recent Census of Agriculture, the average American farmer is now over 58, and there are nearly six times as many farmers over 65 than under 35.
The future of American agriculture depends on the next generation of farmers and ranchers.
Beginning and would-be farmers face many challenges when they’re looking to start a career in farming. For example, access to land is one of the most significant barriers that many aspiring farmers face when deciding whether or not to farm. At the same time, retiring farmers often struggle to successfully transfer their family farm to the next generation and ensure the land remains in agriculture.
Additionally, new farmers that are entering agriculture today have different needs and face new challenges compared with farmers who started farming decades ago and are now facing retirement. Beginning farmers are younger on average, and less likely to farm full-time than more established farmers. They also tend to operate smaller farms, have more diversified operations, and an increasing number come from non-farm backgrounds with little access to farmland, which has traditionally been passed down from generation to generation.
In support of these positions, NSAC has worked with Congress and USDA to create and improve numerous federal programs that support aspiring and new farmers such as the Beginning Farmer Rancher Development Program, which remains the only federal program exclusively dedicated to training the next generation of farmers and the Farm Service Agency (FSA) Microloan program, which provides small loans for up-front start-up costs.
Our advocacy in the most recent farm bills led to innovative federal policies that seek to connect farmers with farmland through the Conservation Reserve Program Transition Incentive Program, and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. Click here to read more about our policy wins for beginning farmers in the 2014 Farm Bill.
We also successfully advocated for targeted funding for beginning farmers in existing credit and conservation programs, to ensure that farmers are able to get the farm real estate and operating loans and financial assistance to adopt conservation practices on their farm that they need to build a successful and sustainable farming operation.
According to the latest Census of Agriculture, agriculture in the United States, like the nation as a whole, is becoming more diverse, as a greater number of ethnic minorities pursue farming careers.
But farming is a risky business and has become increasingly difficult to enter over the past few decades. For farmers of color – including immigrant, refugee, tribal, and farmworker communities – starting and managing a successful farming operation is fraught with even greater challenges. Although several federal programs exist to support farmers of all kinds – including loan, conservation, and disaster assistance programs to name a few – racial minorities have not historically participated in these programs to the same extent as other farmers, often due to insufficient or inadequate outreach and assistance to these farming communities, as well as historical discrimination towards these communities.
Over the years, NSAC has worked with our allies and partners to provide additional resources to our nation’s most underserved farming populations, including African-American, American-Indian, Asian-American, and Latino family farmers and ranchers. We supported efforts to create a federal program to improve and expand USDA’s outreach to these communities, through the Outreach and Technical Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program. This program has empowered non-profit and community based organizations to work in partnership with cooperative extension to provide training and support to minority communities across the country.
NSAC has also worked with our Congressional allies and organizational partners to better target conservation and loan funding to socially disadvantaged farmers through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program, and USDA farm loan programs. We have also advocated for funding priorities on projects that benefit socially disadvantaged farmers within the Value Added Producer Grant program as well as the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.
More and more military veterans are trading in their combat boots for cowboy boots and seeking to transition from combat to a career in agriculture. Many of the men and women who have served our country come from rural or agricultural backgrounds, and are either interested in returning to the family farm or pursuing farming as a therapeutic career that utilizes the unique skills they have acquired through military service.
NSAC works to create opportunities for military veterans to transition successfully into rewarding and sustainable careers in agriculture, specifically focusing on the needs of veteran farmers just getting started out in agriculture. We have worked for decades on removing barriers to farming for the next generation, and as more and more military veterans return from overseas, they have become an increasingly important part of the next generation of farmers.
With the support of our partners in the veteran community, NSAC championed several policy initiatives during the latest farm bill debate that would target assistance that reflects the unique needs of our country’s military veterans.
The new farm bill expands resources and creates economic opportunities for military veterans interested in pursuing a career in agriculture by establishing a new funding priority on new farmer training and agricultural rehabilitation programs specifically geared at returning veterans through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. The bill also expands several programs to specifically target military veterans, including the Conservation Reserve Program Transitions Incentives Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, FSA Microloans, and the Outreach and Technical Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers program.
Additionally, the bill creates a new Veterans Agricultural Liaison within USDA to help connect returning veterans with beginning farmer resources and assist them with program eligibility requirements for participation in farm bill programs.
Women farmers are one of the fastest growing sectors of American agriculture, though their contributions have often been overshadowed by their male counterparts. However, in recent years, we have seen more and more established female farmers assuming the role as primary operators and landowners, at the same time as more women farmers choose to pursue a career in agriculture.
From the first plow that was ever tilled into our country’s soil, we know that women have had an important role to play in growing our nation’s food and caring for our precious land. And while agriculture continues to be a male-dominated industry within the United States, more women and taking the helm and starting their own farm businesses.
NSAC has long advocated for targeted support to help more aspiring women farmers access the federal resources they need to be successful on their farms. Over the years, we have helped steer federal farm loan programs to specifically target outreach to women farmers to ensure they had the financial capital needed to venture out on a new farming enterprise. We have also worked to created programs like the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program that specifically targets funding to organizations that provide training opportunities that meet the needs of aspiring women farmers.
NSAC has also been at the forefront of creating new policy initiatives that support markets and methods of production that more and more women farmers are pursuing – including local and regional food systems, value-added enterprises and organic production systems. Our advocacy efforts have helped establish long-standing federal resources for women and all farmers, including the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program and the Value-Added Producer Grant Program.