Report Unveils Beginning-farmer Needs

In a survey conducted by the National Young Farmers’ Coalition, beginning farmers rank access to land and capital among the top farming barriers.

by Dani Yokhna
Beginner farmer cleans chicken coops on farm
Photo by Rachael Brugger
One of the biggest barriers for beginner farmers is finding access to land, according to a report released by the National Young Farmers’ Coalition.

A report recently released by the National Young Farmers’ Coalition reveals some of the top barriers facing young and beginning farmers in the U.S. today. One-thousand young farmers from across the country were surveyed for the report, “Building a Future with Farmers: Challenges Faced by Young, American Farmers and a National Strategy to Help Them Succeed.” The purpose of the survey was to have them identify specific challenges confronting those who want to farm as well as the most useful resources they’ve found.

Lack of access to capital, land and health insurance were among the top obstacles reported by beginning farmers who participated in the survey. Apprenticeships, local partnerships and community-supported agriculture were cited as the most valuable programs for beginners.

“Everyone wants young farmers to succeed—we all know that,” says Lindsey Lusher Shute, director of the National Young Farmers’ Coalition, who oversaw the survey. “But no one was addressing this big elephant in the room, which was capital and land access.”

Here are some of the report’s findings:

  • 78 percent of farmers ranked “lack of capital” as a top challenge for beginners, with 40 percent also ranking “access to credit” as a top challenge. 73 percent said they depend on off-farm income.
  • 68 percent of farmers ranked land access as one of the biggest challenge faced by beginners.
  • 70 percent of farmers under 30 said they rented land, as compared to 37 percent of farmers over 30.
  • 74 percent of farmers ranked apprenticeships among the most valuable programs for beginners.
  • 78 percent of farmers said they weren’t raised on a farm.

Although some of the barriers that new farmers face are typical of any new startup, farming still remains a unique business in many ways. Land is an absolute necessity for anyone wishing to farm for a living, but it’s nearly impossible to access in some parts of the country unless handed down from the previous generation. In addition, development pressure on rural and peri-urban farmland coupled with the current high commodity prices has caused the price of land to skyrocket in many areas of the country. Not only are new and aspiring farmers finding scarce farmland available for sale, but those parcels that are on the market often command a price tag that is out of reach to many beginning farmers who lack the start up capital to buy land outright.

The NYFC says it encourages the USDA and federal policymakers to use the survey results to make policy changes and support programs that serve young and beginning farmers. Several farm programs currently exist that help young and beginning farmers overcome the barriers illustrated by this study. They include:

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  • FSA federal loan programs, such as the Down Payment Loan Program or Direct Farm Ownership Loans, which both set aside federal dollars to help young farmers afford to purchase farm or ranch land
  • Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which provides grants to community organizations in order to train and conduct outreach with beginning farmers
  • Value Added Producer Grants, which help beginning farmers establish profitable value added business enterprises
  • Transition Incentives Program, which increases beginning farmers’ abilities to access land that is available through the Conservation Reserve Program

These federal programs have provided assistance to thousands of farmers and ranchers over the years.

Read the full report on the NYFC website.

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