Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced more than $18 million in grants to organizations across 24 states that will help beginning farmers and ranchers with the training and resources needed to run productive, sustainable farms.
Under the Secretary's leadership since 2009, the USDA) has driven a number of efforts meant to spur interest in agriculture and provide the necessary support to young, beginning and socially-disadvantaged producers. At the Farm Progress Show today in Boone, Iowa, Vilsack said investing in beginning farmers, ranchers and producers is not only a smart investment, but one that is vital to our nation's national and economic security.
"In the past few decades, U.S. agriculture has become the second most productive sector of the American economy thanks to farmers adopting technology, reducing debt, and effectively managing risk," said Vilsack. "Last year, America's farmers, ranchers and producers achieved record farm income and record exports.To protect and sustain these successes, we must continue to build an agriculture industry diverse and successful enough to attract the smartest, hardest-working people in the nation. These grants will help beginning farmers and ranchers overcome the unique challenges they face and gain knowledge and skills that will help them become profitable and sustainable."
USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded the grants through its Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) established through the 2008 Farm Bill. In his June 30, 2010 testimony before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry, the Secretary reminded Congress of the need to attract thousands of new producers in the coming years as American farmers and ranchers continue to age.
Vilsack urged members of Congress to address this critical need when drafting a 2012 Food, Farm and Jobs bill. That legislation remains unfinished, while the current Farm Bill is set to expire on Sept. 30, 2012.
USDA makes BFRDP grants to organizations that implement education, training, technical assistance and outreach programs to help beginning farmers and ranchers, specifically those who have been farming or ranching for 10 years or fewer. At least 25 percent of the program's funding supports the needs of limited resource and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, as well as farm workers who want to get a start in farming and ranching.
In the first year of USDA's Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, three-year grants supported training for 5,000 beginning farmers and ranchers. In 2011, grants supported training for more than 38,000. For example, the Appalachian Sustainable Agricultural Project in Western North Carolina has directly assisted 865 farmers across 20 rural counties.