Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke to the 84th National FFA Convention about the critical need to recruit and support the nation's next generation of farmers and ranchers.
"America's producers are the most productive and successful in the world -- with a willingness to embrace change, new science and innovative technologies to fulfill the noble task of feeding a nation," said Vilsack. "To continue that success, we need organizations like FFA working creatively to build policies, structures and institutions that will ensure the next generation can continue to feed and fuel the world."
USDA's focus on developing new generations of beginning farmers and ranchers is a result of America's aging farming community. In the last five years there has been a 20% decrease in the number of farmers under 45. Today the average American farmer is 57 whereas five years ago it was 55. Today, nearly 30% of American farmers are over the age of 65 -- almost double what it is in the general workforce.
Secretary Vilsack highlighted USDA programs that are committed to investing more resources and energy to recruit the next generation of farmers and to finding strategies to make these beginning farmers successful. The USDA Office of Advocacy and Outreach assists people who want to learn about USDA's efforts to support new producers. In the past two years, more than 40% of all USDA's farm loans have gone to beginning farmers and ranchers.
The Farm Service Agency provides Beginning Farmer and Rancher loans. These are direct and guaranteed loans to beginning farmers and ranchers who are unable to obtain financing from commercial credit sources. Each fiscal year, the Agency targets a portion of its direct and guaranteed farm ownership and operating loan funds to beginning farmers and ranchers. In addition, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program provides funding to develop and offer education, training, outreach and mentoring programs to enhance the sustainability of the next generation of farmers.
USDA's Risk Management Agency (RMA) is working with partners to support young, motivated entrepreneurs who are looking past traditional ways of bringing products to market. Through RMA funding for the Farm Credit Council, the "Field Guide to the New American Foodshed" was developed to assist the growing numbers of direct-market farms and ranches and also the lenders, accountants and other businesses who work with them.
Additionally, the USDA Nation Agricultural Library is working in partnership with the American Farm Bureau Federation to develop a 'Curriculum and Training Clearinghouse' at Start2Farm.gov, which will serve as a national one-stop source of all beginning farmer and rancher education and training materials online.
"The future of agriculture is bright and will present the next generation with incredible opportunities to pursue," said Vilsack. "Young people should continue to engage in policy that affects them -- but they shouldn't be limited by it. We need them to think big, innovate, and tackle the important challenges facing American agriculture and the nation as a whole."