Cultivating the Next Generation: An Evaluation of the Beginning Farmer & Rancher Development Program

Our nation’s farmers and ranchers are aging. At the same time, aspiring and beginning farmers nationwide continue to face significant barriers to farming. To ensure the continued success of agriculture in the U.S., it is vital that we facilitate the transfer of skills, knowledge, and land between current and future generations. But new farmers entering agriculture today have different needs and face new challenges compared with those farmers who came before them and are now facing retirement.

As a result, interest in new farmer training has grown and hundreds of projects have emerged over the past decade with the goal of arming the next generation of farmers with the skills they need to succeed in agriculture. Many of these projects have received federal support through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). To date, BFRDP is the only federal program seeking to explicitly train the next generation of farmers. Since the program was created in 2008, nearly $150 million has been invested in new farmer training projects across the country.

Nearly a decade after the establishment of BFRDP, and with the 2018 Farm Bill on the horizon, it is timely and necessary that we better understand how to design more effective and successful new farmer training programs, as well as evaluate the return on federal investments in growing the next generation of farmers.

In partnership with the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has conducted the first ever comprehensive evaluation of the Beginning Farmer & Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) from 2009 to 2015. The report’s two lead evaluators, Jan Perez from the University of California-Santa Cruz and consultant Ann Williams, have years of expertise evaluating beginning farmer training programs. This work was also informed by an Advisory Team of beginning farmer practitioners and agricultural policy experts. Advisory Team members include: the University of California-Berkeley, Center for Rural Affairs, CROPP Cooperative, Land for Good, Land Stewardship Project, and the National Young Farmers Coalition.


Programs like BFRDP are an integral part of developing our next generation of farmers and ranchers. With the 2018 Farm Bill on the horizon, it is of critical importance that we can ensure our beginning farmer and rancher programs are performing as effectively and efficiently as possible. With a decade of BFRDP data now available for review, NSAC looks forward to working with our partners in Congress and USDA to help improve and strengthen BFRDP for the generations to come.

To download the report, Cultivating the Next Generation: An Evaluation of the Beginning Farmer & Rancher Development Program, click here. 

To download a copy of the Executive Summary of the report, click here.

For more information on the project, please see our Report Press Release here or our Project Summary here.

Learn more about NSAC’s work on BFRDP!