The average age of the American farmer now exceeds 58 years, and data shows that almost 10% of farmland in the continental United States will change hands in the next five years.
To get ahead of expanding farmer age disparities, USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden on Thursday told attendees at the National FFA Convention in Louisville, Ky., that the agency would be prioritizing funding for beginning farmer and rancher programs and also is unveiling a new web tool that helps those farmers find appropriate USDA resources.
Harden told FFA members, ag teachers and guests that $5.6 billion over the next two years would be channeled to services and programs for new and beginning farmers and ranchers.
The new, tailored web tool is designed to connect these new farmers with programs and resources available to help them get started.
"Today's announcement is symbolic of the evolution of USDA's efforts to better serve the next generation of farmers and ranchers," Harden said. "What began seven years ago with the recognition that the rapid aging of the American farmer was an emerging challenge, has transformed into a robust, transparent, tech-based strategy to recruit the farmers of the future.
"No matter where you're from, no matter what you look like, no matter your background, we want USDA to be the first stop for anyone who is looking to be a part of the story and legacy of American agriculture."
The new web tool is available at usda.gov/newfarmers. The site was designed based on feedback from new and beginning farmers and ranchers around the country, who cited unfamiliarity with programs and resources as a challenge to starting and expanding their operations.
The site features advice and guidance on everything a new farm business owner needs to know, from writing a business plan, to obtaining a loan to grow their business, to filing taxes as a new small business owner, USDA said.
By answering a series of questions about their operation, farmers can use the site's Discovery Tool to build a personalized set of recommendations of USDA programs and services that may meet their needs.
USDA says the new tool will help it reach a new goal of increasing beginning farmer and rancher participation by an additional 6.6% across key USDA programs.
Programs targeted for expanded outreach and commitment were selected based on their impact on expanding opportunity for new and beginning farmers and ranchers, including starting or expanding an operation, developing new markets, supporting more effective farming and conservation practices, and having access to relevant training and education opportunities.
A full explanation of the investment targets, benchmarks and outcomes is available on the USDA website.