NSAC's Blog

USDA Announces 2012 Beginning Farmer Training Grants

August 30, 2012

Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $18 million in funding to support new farmer training and education programs at the 2012 Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa.  These new grant awards were made available through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) – a federal competitive grants program administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Background in Brief

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) provides grants to academic institutions, state extension services, federal and state agencies, producer groups, community organizations, and other organizations to assist, support, and train beginning farmers and ranchers across the country.

BFRDP is targeted especially to collaborative local, state, and regionally based networks and partnerships to support financial and entrepreneurial training, risk management education, marketing strategies, mentoring and apprenticeship programs, “land link” programs, innovative farm transfer and transition practices, and education and outreach activities to assist beginning farmers and ranchers across the country.

The program was originally developed by NSAC and its member organizations and included in the 2002 and 2008 federal farm bills.  It was championed by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Representative Tim Walz (D-MN) and many other members of Congress.

Over the past four years, BFRDP has invested over $70 million in new farmer training programs across the country, and has funded 145 projects in 46 states.

Press Conference

In today’s press conference, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stressed the importance of supporting the next generation of farmers, and has repeatedly issued a national challenge to create 100,000 new farmers.  In the first year of the program alone, USDA funded projects that supported training for 5,000 new producers, and in 2011, grants supported training for more than 30,000.  Clearly, there is still a long way to go to meet this challenge, but this program is helping to address the dire need for new farmers on the land all across the country.

“The future of American agriculture depends on cultivating the next generation of farmers and ranchers,” says Juli Obudzinski, Policy Associate with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.  “BFRDP is the only federal program dedicated to training new farmers, and over the past four years, has proven itself as the most successful new farmer initiative we currently have at our disposal at the federal level.”

Groups who work directly with beginning farmers were also present at today’s awards announcement in Iowa.  Leigh Adcock, the Executive Director of the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network (WFAN) – a non-profit organization and NSAC member based in Ames, Iowa – spoke with the Secretary about the importance of providing the next generation of farmers with the resources they need to be successful and stressed how critical BFRDP funding is to organizations that support new farmers on the ground.

“WFAN has been working with women farmers for 15 years, and we’ve witnessed an enormous surge in numbers over the past decade,” says Adcock.  “We’re thrilled to be able to help new and aspiring women farmers in Iowa and Nebraska reach their farm business goals with the help of our new three-year BFRDP grant.”

2012 Awards

For Fiscal Year 2012, $18 million was awarded to support new projects in 27 states across the country, including projects in Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Of the 40 grants that were announced, we are pleased to announce that nine were awarded to NSAC member organizations.  These projects include:

Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (Salinas, CA) – ALBA is a non-profit organization that works to generate entrepreneurial opportunities for farm workers and limited-resource farmers in California’s Salinas Valley.  This grant will support their new farmer education program, which targets the needs of a growing Latino/a demographic among the region’s farmers, the majority of whom are small operators working in the midst of large-scale and high-value agriculture.

Angelic Organics Learning Center (Caledonia, IL) – This grant will support Angelic’s Farmer-to-Farmer Advanced Training Project, which provides beginning farmers with the experience, knowledge, skills, and support services they need to successfully launch and expand sustainable farming businesses in their first 10 years of farm start-up. AOLC partners include the Upper Midwest CRAFT farmer alliance, the Prairie Crossing Farm Business Development Center, and Michael Fields Agricultural Institute.  Angelic Organics Learning Center and its partners have trained more than 100 beginning sustainable agriculture farmers to launch new businesses since 2005, and more than 70 percent of graduates are currently farming. More than 3,000 acres of farmland is stewarded by Learning Center program graduates and members of the CRAFT farmer alliance.

“Funds through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program are crucial in helping farmers overcome barriers and successfully launch local businesses,” said AOLC Farmer Training Program Director Jenny Meyer. “These new small businesses provide jobs, increase access to fresh foods, and improve quality of life throughout our region.”

California Certified Organic Farmers (Santa Cruz, CA) and Community Alliance with Family Farmers (Davis, CA) – This grant will support an apprenticeship program run by the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at UC-Santa Cruz, in close partnership with CCOF, CAFF and other organizations in California.  The “Grow a Farmer” new farmer training program attracts famers from across the globe, and graduates often go on to start new organic farmers, and teach others about organic and sustainable farming.

Dakota Rural Action (Brookings, SD) – This grant will support Dakota Rural Action’s Farm Beginnings program, which links established and beginning farmers who act as mentors for new farmers as part of a comprehensive training program.  Over 30 families have participated in the program over the past three years, the vast majority of whom are now actively involved in agriculture.

“This BFRDP grant gives us the opportunity to both encourage new farmers and to engage current farmers in helping to shape the next generation,” says Meredith Redlin, Board Chair for Dakota Rural Action.  “There are so many opportunities in agriculture for young farmers.  Capturing those opportunities will establish a base for the future sustainability of our rural communities.”

Food System Economic Partnership (Ann Arbor, MI) – This grant will support FSEP’s Tilian Farm Development Center, which was launched in 2011 in collaboration with several partner organizations.  This new farmer program is designed to address obstacles that beginning farmers face such as access to markets, land, equipment, mentoring, increased management experience, and continued education.

“Funding from BFRDP will allow FSEP to create a mentorship program to assist the next generation of farmers and to remove barriers to entry for new farmers,” says Jennifer Fike, Executive Director of Food System Economic Partnership.

Future Harvest – Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (Fairplay, MD) – In collaboration with the University of Maryland, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission, this grant will allow Future Harvest to expand their Beginning Farmer Training Program, which focuses on practical training for Chesapeake-region farmers on starting and managing a sustainable family farm operation.

Growing Power (Milwaukee, WI) – With over fifteen years of farmer training and capacity building experience with new and beginning producers, Growing Power is well positioned to train over 6,000 beginning farmers throughout the U.S. thanks to their new BFRDP grant.  Growing Power, in partnership with 14 national community-based organizations, will implement nationally recognized training programs that focus on engaging low-income individuals most impacted by food insecurity and lack of economic opportunity.

Land Stewardship Project (Minneapolis, MN) – LSP received an education and enhancement grant to expand and strengthen farmer-to-farmer training programs in 14 states across the country.  The grant will also help increase the capacity of beginning farmer training organizations to document program impacts and enhance the skills and knowledge of beginning farmer trainers participating in their Farm Beginnings curriculum.

Women, Food and Agriculture Network (Story City, Iowa) – According to Agriculture Census figures, women are entering farming at a higher rate than men, and typically choose to operate small-scale diversified farms.  WFAN is the only network operating in the Midwest to assist women in small-scale diversified agriculture.  Their BFRDP grant will support WFAN’s work with young women who are starting out in farming to raise food for their local communities.

Future of BFRDP Depends on New Farm Bill

The new farmer grants announced today are the latest round of grants for this program authorized in the current farm bill cycle.  Current funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program expires on September 30 this year, and unless Congress acts on reauthorizing the farm bill or provides for a short-term extension of the current farm bill that explicitly provides for new BFRDP funding, the program could completely vanish for at least a year.  With that delay, so goes much needed support for new farming opportunities and new economic opportunities that will help reform the food system and stimulate the economy.

In today’s awards announcement, Secretary Vilsack stressed the need for Congress to do its work and pass a farm bill in order to give producers the certainty they need. “There’s no reason that this can’t be done,” Vilsack said.  “Whatever differences exist can be worked out.”

Given the demonstrated success and growing demand for new farmer training programs, it is absolutely critical to our future food security and vitality of our rural communities that this valuable program be reauthorized and provided continued funding in the next farm bill.  With over half of our country’s farmers reaching or exceeding retirement age within the next ten years, cutting funding for BFRDP would be a huge step backwards in addressing the urgent need for resources and tools to support the next generation of farmers and the future of American agriculture.

Click here for a complete list of 2012 BFRDP awardees that were announced today.

Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Farm Bill, Grants and Programs

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