Beginning & Socially Disadvantaged Farmers

Beginning farmer D’Quinton Robertson
Photo credit: USDA

Important Update:

Please note that the Grassroots Guide has not yet been updated to reflect changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill, which was passed and signed into law in December 2018. We are in the process of updating the Guide and expect to publish an updated version in the spring of 2019. In the meantime, please use this guide for basic information about programs and important resources and links for more information, but check with USDA for any relevant program changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill. Also, check out our blog series covering highlights from the new farm bill. 

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. Now is the time to invest in the next generation of people who will feed our nation and steward the land in the years to come. They’re going to be job creators, entrepreneurs, and innovators – as long as they have the tools and resources they need to succeed.

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, such as the rising cost of farmland, a critical shortage of training and technical assistance, and lack of appropriate financing to suit their operation.

For farmers of color and women and military veteran farmers in this country (also known as “socially disadvantaged applicants”), 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, women, and veteran farmers 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 – along with, at times, outright discrimination.

With help from NSAC, Congress continues to make investments in supporting the next generation of farmers and ranchers and improving and expanding USDA’s outreach to historically underserved farming communities. From the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, first created in 2002 to the Conservation Reserve Program-Transition Incentives Program created in 2008, there are funding and training opportunities for beginning and underserved farmers in nearly every title of the farm bill. In total, the new farm bill will invest $444 million directly into beginning, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmer initiatives over the next ten years, representing an increase of 154 percent over the previous farm bill.

This section of our guide provides an overview of the key federal programs focused on serving beginning and underserved farmers (including military veterans, women, immigrants, and farmers of color). It includes programs directly available to farmers, ranchers, and landowners – such as microloans – and programs available to community-based organizations and institutions working on the ground to equip farmers with the tools and resources they need to succeed in agriculture.