Beginning & Socially Disadvantaged Farmers

Beginning farmer D’Quinton Robertson
Photo credit: USDA

The future of American agriculture depends on the next generation of farmers and ranchers.

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 58, and there are four times as many farmers over 65 than under 35. And while the new farmer boom continues to grow all across the country, barriers to entry continue to make it hard for new farmers to build a successful and sustainable farm business. 

Beginning and would-be farmers face many challenges when they’re looking to start – and maintain – viable and resilient career in farming, such as the rising cost and limited availability of farmland, access to markets and infrastructure, and the worsening impacts of the climate crisis and natural disasters.

For farmers of color, women, and military veterans (also known as “socially disadvantaged applicants” in USDA lingo), 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 – these farming communities have not historically participated in USDA 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.

The 2018 Farm Bill includes an ambitious new farmer agenda and makes historic investments in training and outreach initiatives. The bill expands access to crop insurance and other risk management options, and includes new policies to address one of the most pressing issues facing beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers: access to affordable farmland. In total, the new farm bill will invest $485 million directly into beginning, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmer initiatives over the next ten years.

This section of our guide provides an overview of the key federal programs authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill 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.