As of the 2002 Census, the average age of all U.S. farmers was approximately 55. More distressing, though, is that from 1982 to 2002 the number of young principal farmers under 35 years old has declined from 16% to 9%.

To support the rise of a new generation of young farmers and ranchers, the USDA is stepping into the fray. It recently awarded 36 grants totaling $18 million for organizations to provide assistance and training to enable beginning farmers and ranchers to receive the training and assistance necessary to operate and grow successful, sustainable farms, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced September 30.

“Beginning farmers and ranchers face unique challenges, and these grants will provide needed training to help these producers become profitable and sustainable,” Merrigan said. “American agriculture supports 1 in 12 jobs in America, a critical contribution to the strength and prosperity of the country.”

Merrigan continued: “The sheer productivity of our farmers has given Americans access to a cheap, wholesome food supply and provides us with more discretionary income than much of the rest of the world. But our farmers are aging, and more of our young people are looking outside of farming for their careers. It’s time to reverse these trends, keep farmers on the farm and help beginning farmers and ranchers thrive in their careers.”

The grants will flow through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) “Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program” (BFRDP).  Established in the 2008 Farm Bill, NIFA makes these grants to organizations carrying out education, training, technical assistance and outreach programs that help beginning farmers and ranchers with 10 years’ experience or less.

Awards were made to organizations in Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, the US Virgin Islands, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Select awardees include:

  • A project in New York to provide workshops, conferences, apprenticeships, online resources and mentoring services for more than 1,200 beginning farmers by 2014
  • A project in Montana will offer financial, credit and marketing training to beginning American Indian farmers
  • A project in Mississippi will develop and disseminate training materials and decision-making tools to high school and college students who plan to enter farming and ranching

 More information is available at: http://www.nifa.usda.gov/newsroom/news/2011news/beginning_farmer_awards.html.