There's a lot of good news in agriculture today. Something I'm particularly pleased about is that more and more young people are seeking ways to make a living in agriculture. Ag college enrollments are up, and the number of small farms with young owners and operators has grown rapidly in recent years.
Our surging production agriculture system is providing bountiful and rewarding opportunities, as American farmers continue to help feed the world and make agriculture one of the few bright spots in our economy. Emerging markets are also drawing new food growers and consumers. New entrepreneurial food movements, such as farmer's markets, direct-to-market production, organic farming, and local and regional foods systems are creating new opportunities and helping connect farms and families, and rural and urban communities. These are exciting trends.
I believe it is important to continue to encourage growth in these opportunities as agriculture also prepares to address some of its not-so-good news. While there are several challenges in agriculture today -- this year Nebraska and other farm states are beginning to recover from one of the most severe droughts in history - one of the most serious is not related to weather, trade, or any particular farm program. It's demographics. The average age of the farmer in the United States is 57 years old -- and getting older. While new interest among young people is encouraging, we must recognize the critical national importance of helping establish a new generation of farmers.
This week, I joined my colleagues in the United States House of Representatives to introduce the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act. Together with Representatives Tim Walz of Minnesota (a native Nebraskan), Ranking Member of the Agriculture Committee Collin Peterson of Minnesota, and Chris Gibson of New York, we are proposing a bipartisan initiative to help prepare the next wave of American ag producers. Recognizing the steep financial and technical barriers to establishing careers in agriculture, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act will provide a variety of support options involving access to farm credit for young producers, cost-saving conservation practices, emerging market opportunities such as locally and organically raised foods within regional foods systems, and increased outreach on agricultural job opportunities for our nation's veterans. Drawing young people to agricultural careers will not only help to sustain America's high levels of agricultural production, but will also help promote redevelopment and revitalization in rural America.
One of the challenges in Washington is to continue to tell our powerful agricultural story of our farmers and ranchers. Agriculture is critical not only to our safe and abundant food supply but it is also essential to our environmental policy, conservation policy, and even national security policy. To continue the stability and prosperity of this crucial part of our economy, a new generation of ag producers and entrepreneurs must be ready to come forward. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act is a step in the right direction, as it seeks to help encourage agriculture as a career path for young people and sustain our small communities and rural places.