A new report recently released by the National Young Farmers’ Coalition reveals some of the top barriers and most valuable programs for young and beginning farmers in the U.S. today. Building a Future with Farmers: Challenges Faced by Young, American Farmers and a National Strategy to Help Them Succeed includes survey results from 1,000 young farmers across the country.
The survey found that access to capital, access to land and health insurance present the largest obstacles for beginners. Farmers rated farm apprenticeships, local partnerships and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) as the most valuable programs to help beginners.
Report findings include:
- 78% of farmers ranked “lack of capital” as a top challenge for beginners, with another 40% ranking “access to credit” as one of the biggest challenges.
- 68% of farmers ranked land access as one of the top two biggest challenges faced by beginners.
- 70% of farmers under 30 rented land, as compared to 37% of farmers over 30.
- 74% of farmers ranked apprenticeships as among the most valuable programs for beginners.
- 55% of farmers ranked local partnerships as one of the most valuable programs, and 49% ranked Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) as a top program.
Within the report, the National Young Farmers’ Coalition recommends action at the local, state and federal level to help beginning farmers. At the local level, communities can create market opportunities for farmers by starting Community Supported Agriculture groups and shopping at farmers markets, as well as protecting existing farmland through zoning and the purchase of development rights. States can preserve farmland and even offer tax credits for farmers that sell their land to beginners. At the federal level, Congress can include the “Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Opportunity Act” in the next Farm Bill, which supports many of the specific recommendations in the report.
“If Congress wants to keep America farming, then they must address the barriers that young people face in getting started,” says Lindsey Lusher Shute, Director of the National Young Farmers’ Coalition. “We need credit opportunities for beginning and diversified farmers, land policies that keep farms affordable for full-time growers and funding for conservation programs.”
Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, is calling for hundreds of thousands of new farmers nationwide. Over the past century, the total number of American farmers has declined – from over 6 million in 1910 to just over 2 million today. For each farmer under 35 there are now six over 65 and the average age of farmers is 57. The USDA expects that one-quarter (500,000) of all farmers will retire in the next twenty years.
The ‘good food’ movement is inspiring many young people to farm, both from farming and non-farming backgrounds. These farmers have the potential to offset the numbers of retiring farmers and keep family farms active, but several barriers are getting in the way.