NSAC's Blog

USDA Invests Millions Into Training for the Next Generation of Farmers

August 19, 2016

Photo credit: Reana Kovalcik, NSAC.

Photo credit: Reana Kovalcik, NSAC.

As the average age of our nation’s farmers and ranchers continues to rise, training the next generation has become an increasingly urgent priority. Young and beginning farmers and ranchers face unique challenges to success, obstacles which the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) helps them to overcome through its Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP).

BFRDP, was developed by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) as part of the 2002 Farm Bill, and is currently the only federal program specifically dedicated to training the next generation of American farmers and ranchers.

This week, USDA announced nearly $18 million in federal grant funding to be invested in 37 projects across the country, which are dedicated to serving new and aspiring farmers and ranchers. This year’s grantees include 29 community-based and non-profit organizations, including NSAC and several NSAC member organizations, in addition to 8 college and university-led projects.

Non-Profits Lead in Farmer Training

This funding cycle marks the second year in an row that program funding has prioritized non-profit and community-based projects, in contrast to fiscal year (FY) 2014 funding, where large, university-led projects dominated. Community-based and non-profit organizations have been a vital part of developing, as well as securing public support and funding for BFRDP over the past decade. They have also been pioneers in the development of innovative beginning farmer training programs thanks to their direct connections with rural communities and stakeholders.

78 percent of grants awards this year will support projects led by non-profit and community-based organizations, up 20 percent compared to last year. Likewise, total funding for non-profit and community-based organizations has increased – 76 percent this year compared to 61 percent in FY 2015 – resulting in an investment of over $13 million to help these groups train, educate, and cultivate the next generation of farmers.

The shift in funding this year is due to a number of factors, including more applications from non-profits and fewer applications from universities. A second, significant factor is a lowered cap ($600,000 in FY 2016 as compared to $750,000 in prior years) on the maximum grant size available through BFRDP ­– a change for which NSAC has been a strong advocate, as this allows more, smaller organizations to lead on-the-ground projects. The lowered cap, combined with a 10 percent cap on indirect (i.e. “overhead”) costs, has likely discouraged many universities and academic institutions, which can have very large overhead costs, from applying for BFRDP funding.

As in previous years, university-led projects remain larger overall than non-profits and community-based organization projects –$540,692 for university-led grants, compared to $464,505 for non-profits and community-based organizations.

Spotlight on NSAC Grantees

NSAC congratulates all of the grant recipients, especially the hard-working and dedicated farmer-based organizations who work directly with beginning farmers and ranchers every day. NSAC member organizations receiving awards include:

  • Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (California) – The Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) and its partners (including NSAC members California FarmLink and Community Alliance with Family Farmers) received $600,000 to renew their Farmer Education and Enterprise Development (FEED) project. FEED is a three-year initiative designed to help beginning and minority farmers establish organic farm businesses by offering affordable access to land, equipment, technical assistance, financing and agricultural training.

“The BFRDP funds will be used to train 30 aspiring farmers in our college-accredited bilingual Farmer Education Course and support the development of 35 small farm businesses, primarily, run by current or former immigrant farm workers, on 90 acres in our Organic Farm Incubator,” said Nathan Harkleroad, ALBA Program Manager & FEED Project Co-Director. “This project will also allow ALBA to greatly enhance business support services to farmers transitioning to independent farming off ALBA land.”

  • Angelic Organics Learning Center (Illinois) – Angelic Organics, Liberty Prairie Foundation and Upper Midwest CRAFT farm alliance will use their $600,000 grant to lead the Open Books: Open Farmland project, which aims to help beginning farmers develop viable, financially robust farm businesses through farm financing working groups and a mentoring program.
  • Future Harvest (Maryland) – Future Harvest will use $597,599 in funding to provide targeted beginning farmer classroom and in-the-field learning opportunities for varying levels of experience to farmers across rural and urban Maryland.

“This BFRDP grant will enable us to build a robust suite of programs that meet the diverse educational and training needs of beginning farmers at different stages in their careers,” said Sarah Sohn, Director of Beginning Farmer Training Program at Future Harvest. “We’re thrilled to be collaborating with University of Maryland Extension, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Maryland Grazers Network, Farm Alliance of Baltimore, and Chesapeake Farm to Table on this exciting project.”

  • Just Food (New York) – Just Food received $593,930 for their project, Farm School NYC 2016-2019: Enhancing Educational Experiences, Resources, and Support for Beginning Farmers, which offers training opportunities to existing agricultural operations and professionals, as well as to aspiring urban farmers.
  • Land Stewardship Project (Minnesota) – LSP’s project, Farm Beginnings from Regional to National: Beginning Farmers and Viable Farms Initiative ($384,649), aims to strengthen and expand its Farm Beginnings program by identifying the gaps in financial planning education for beginning farmers, integrating 3 to 5 new organizations into the Farm Beginnings Collaborative, and expanding the capacity of the Farm Beginnings programs to better reach socially disadvantaged farmers.
  • National Center for Appropriate Technology (Arkansas/Montana) – The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) received two project grants related to expanding their beginning farmer veteran training program. Armed to Farm is a week-long beginning farmer training for veterans in which participants spend half of the time in the classroom learning business planning skills, and half of the time engaged in hands on learning at area farms. The trainings will be focused in the intermountain west and the northeast.

“We are super excited to have the opportunity to launch Armed to Farm trainings in Montana over the next 3 years, especially since the state has the second highest per capita population of veterans in the nation,” said Tammy Howard, NCAT Project Manager. “With agriculture as the number one industry in Montana, it makes a lot of sense to have veterans be a part of that equation.”

  • National Young Farmers Coalition (New York) – NYFC’s project will use $574,150 to create an interactive Land Affordability Calculator Tool (both online and print workbook versions), as well as a series of ten webinars and eight in-person trainings to help expand financial literacy among young farmers. 

“The National Young Farmers Coalition is thrilled to receive funding through USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program,” said Holly Rippon-Butler, Land Access Program Director. “This funding will enable NYFC to deliver critically needed financial decision making tools and training to farmers to help them navigate the land access process.”

  • Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (Ohio) – OEFFA’s project, Growing Good Farmers, Growing Good Food ($566,141), will provide skill-building educational opportunities for beginning farmers. The project includes on-farm apprenticeships, field days, workshops, networking opportunities, and a production assistance hotline.

“This new program will allow us to comprehensively serve Ohio’s beginning farmers and help build a healthy food system that brings prosperity to family farmers, meets the growing consumer demand for local food, and safeguards the environment,” said Carol Goland, OEFFA Executive Director.

Additionally, NSAC was also awarded grant funds to lead the first-ever comprehensive evaluation of BFRDP funded projects to date. Working in partnership with NSAC member organizations and academic evaluation partners, this project will seek to better understand both the short, medium and long-term outcomes and impacts of BFRDP by evaluating all completed grants awarded since the program first received funding in 2009.

As interest in new farmer training continues to grow and existing funds are stretched to their limits, it is imperative that policymakers and practitioners alike understand how to make this program as effective and successful as possible. It is our hope that this analysis will provide this clarity and showcase the importance of this unique program to the future of American agriculture.

Abstracts for all this year’s funded projects can be viewed on NIFA’s reporting website.

Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Grants and Programs

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