The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced $5.6 billion in funding over the next two years for programs and services that serve new and beginning farmers. Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden also announced a new, tailored web tool designed to connect burgeoning farm entrepreneurs with programs and resources available to help them get started.
According to USDA, the average age of the American farmer now exceeds 58 years, and data shows that almost 10 percent of farmland in the continental United States will change hands in the next five years. The new web tool is available at www.usda.gov/newfarmers. The site was designed based on feedback from new and beginning farmers around the country, who cited unfamiliarity with programs and resources as a challenge to starting and expanding their operations.
The site features advice and guidance on everything a new farm business owner needs to know, from writing a business plan, to obtaining a loan to grow their business, to filing taxes as a new small business owner. By answering a series of questions about their operation, farmers can use the site's Discovery Tool to build a personalized set of recommendations of USDA programs and services that may meet their needs.
Using the new web tool and other outreach activities, and operating within its existing resources, USDA has set a new goal of increasing beginning farmer participation by an additional 6.6 percent across key USDA programs, which were established or strengthened by the 2014 Farm Bill, for a total investment value of approximately $5.6 billion.
Programs including starting or expanding an operation, developing new markets, supporting more effective farming and conservation practices, and having access to relevant training and education opportunities.
USDA is also focusing on encouraging young people to pursue careers in industries that support American agriculture, citing an employment outlook report released by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and Purdue University. That report shows that agriculture is one of the best fields for new college graduates is agriculture.
The study estimates nearly 60,000 high-skilled agriculture job openings are expected annually in the United States for the next five years, yet only 35,000 graduates with a bachelor's degree or higher in agriculture related fields are expected to be available to fill them.