In the United States, farmers are getting older, farms are getting bigger, and the number of farms is decreasing. According the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA), between 2007 and 2012 the United States saw a net decrease of 95,489 farms. The most recent census showed that the average age of a farmer is 57, up from 54 in 1997. This may not be news to some, but it creates real problems in rural America.
The quality of life in rural communities depends on its people. Not long ago, rural communities were sustained by a robust segment of the population actively involved in agriculture. However, due various factors, making a living in agriculture became tough. Farmers sold their land and moved to urban areas where there was more opportunity. Big farms swallowed up smaller farms. With fewer and fewer farmers, rural communities began to suffer. There is now an acute need for new, beginning and transitioning farmers and ranchers to enter the agriculture sector.
Getting into farming isn’t easy. Access to capital, financing and land are major hurdles that potential farmers face. Technical expertise is also often lacking, so a strong support system is needed to fill the gaps. Luckily, the 2014 farm bill provides various incentives to make it easier to get into agriculture.
An unlikely place to look for new and beginning farmers is in our nation’s veterans. USDA data shows that although rural Americans make up only 17 percent of the population, it accounts for 44 percent of the military. When soldiers return home from tours abroad, they are looking for a career that gives them a sense of purpose. Since many are from rural communities, farming can provide an excellent way for our men and women in uniform to make a valuable contribution here at home.
Farmers Union is doing its part to support beginning, new and transitioning farmers and ranchers. Besides working with the Farmer Veteran Coalition and the National Young Farmers Coalition, we are championing policies on Capitol Hill that support veterans and beginning farmers in general, National Farmers Union created and implements the Beginning Farmers Institute (BFI). This is a unique program that develops and encourages agricultural leaders from all backgrounds. Leadership training and farm management skills are taught to promising individuals eager to enter or expand their agricultural operations.
Farmers Union is proud to have represented family farmers and ranchers since 1902. We will continue to support policies that encourage new and beginning farmers to enter agriculture.