Of the total participants, 46 percent were women. In addition, a group of seven organizations is working in rural communities in Arkansas and Oklahoma to educate, train, and foster mentorships for a variety of target groups, including military veterans. In the first year, the project created 32 mentorship opportunities and completed 12 internships with experienced farmers.
BFRDP will provide $18 million in funding this year, the fourth year of the program. Future funding is dependent on congressional reauthorization. For more information on the BFRDP program, and for a list of fiscal year 2012 awards, visit www.nifa.usda.gov.
Beginning farmers, by USDA definition, are individuals with 10 years or less experience operating farms. Beginning farmers are in all age ranges, racial and ethnic groups, and both male and female.
Currently, 30 percent of principal operators of farms are 65 years old or more, while the average age of U.S. farmers has climbed from 54 in 1997 to 57 in 2007. Research by USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) finds that the two most common and important challenges faced by beginning farmers are (1) having the market opportunity to buy or rent suitable land and (2) having capital to acquire land of a large enough scale to be profitable.
BFRDP is just one tool to address these challenges, along with greater access to credit including a new microloan program, a new land contract guarantee program, risk management education for beginning and socially disadvantaged producers, and new online resources such as www.start2farm.gov and the Know Your Farmer Compass.
Since 2009, USDA has provided 128,000 loans to family farmers totaling more than $18 billion. Between 2009-2011, the number of loans to beginning farmers and ranchers climbed from 11,000 to 15,000. More than 40 percent of USDA's farm loans now go to beginning farmers, while over 50 percent of loans went to beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers during the same time.
With expanded access to credit, USDA is helping a new generation of farmers sustain and build upon what is now the most productive period in history for American agriculture. To that end, in May the Secretary proposed a new microloan program to help small and family operations progress through their start-up years with needed resources, while building capacity, increasing equity, and eventually graduating to commercial credit. The microloan proposal allows producers to apply for loans of less than $35,000 using simplified and streamlined procedures. The goal of the microloan program is to better meet the credit needs of small farm operations while making more effective use of FSA resources.