June 4, 2020
Amidst the ongoing pandemic, farmers across the country are looking for help to keep their farms afloat. This need is especially acute for young and beginning farmers – many of whom don’t have a safety net or many assets to fall back on in times of economic stress. And while there are some federal resources to help farmers in times of stress, it can be nothing short of daunting for a new farmer who’s unfamiliar with government programs to navigate to the right agency and right program, or even know where to begin.
Nearly 18 months after the new farm bill was signed into law, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has finally filled key new positions to ensure beginning farmers are fully supported and able to get the help they need to grow their farm.
Since 2014, USDA has had a designated National Beginning Farmer Coordinator. This position was established under the previous Administration to help ensure that beginning farmers were a top priority across all USDA agencies, programs, and policies. The National Coordinator was responsible for launching USDA’s New Farmer website, setting up a pilot team of Regional Beginning Farmer Coordinators, and establishing metrics for measuring beginning farmer participation in USDA farm programs.
Understanding the importance of issues facing the next generation of farmers, Congress permanently authorized the National Beginning Farmer Coordinator in the 2018 Farm Bill while also creating state-level beginning farmer coordinators – both provisions that NSAC championed.
Earlier this spring, USDA announced the appointment of Sarah Campbell as the USDA National Beginning Farmer Coordinator, as well as a new team of State Beginning Farmer Coordinators, to help ensure there is a dedicated advocate for beginning farmers in every part of the country. The state coordinators were selected from current USDA field staff and include staff from the Farm Service Agency (FSA), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Risk Management Agency (RMA), and Rural Development (RD).
Now that USDA has finally appointed new farmer coordinators in each state, the important work of shifting USDA resources to where new farmers need it most can begin. This includes making sure that first generation farmers, young farmers, urban producers, immigrant and refugee farmers, and farmers of color are able to successfully tap USDA resources to help them build successful and sustainable farming operations.
As a beginning farmer herself, the National Coordinator will play two major roles: working within USDA to ensure that programs and policies issued by the Agency meet the unique needs of beginning farmers and working beyond USDA headquarters leading the State Coordinators as they develop goals and create plans to increase beginning farmer participation and access to USDA programs.
State coordinators also have an important role as they work to better meet the needs of beginning farmers at the local level. In this first year, they will be focused on:
Each state coordinator will receive training and develop tailored beginning farmer outreach plans for their state. Coordinators will work with USDA field staff at the local level to ensure all county FSA, NRCS, RMA, and RD staff are familiar with USDA resources available to help new farmers. They will also offer technical assistance and guidance directly to new farmers to help them navigate USDA resources.
Finally, state coordinators will partner with organizations on the ground who work directly with new farmers – including many NSAC member organizations. Many of these organizations have robust networks of beginning farmers and understand the unique challenges facing young and beginning farmers – whether they are first generation farmers or working to take over their family’s farm.
NSAC will be looking to these key new federal positions to advocate on behalf of beginning farmers and find creative solutions to address barriers new farmers of all kinds face in accessing USDA programs.
To find your state’s beginning farmer coordinator, visit USDA’s New Farmer website.
For more information about the National Beginning Farmer Coordinator and USDA resources for new farmers, check out this recent USDA “Ask the Expert” post.