- Michael ScuseUnder Secretary for Farm and Foreign AgricultureOffice of the Deputy Secretary, USDA
Access and Opportunity for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers
American agriculture is at a critical juncture of need and opportunity for the next generation of farmers and ranchers. New and beginning farmers and ranchers are a fundamental part of the American and global agricultural marketplace and legacy. However, according to the most recent Census of Agriculture, in 2012, the United States had 522,058 beginning farmers (principal operators who were on their current operation ten years or less). This was 20 percent fewer than in 2007, when the last agriculture census was conducted. Additionally, consistent with the 30 year trend, the average age of a principal operator has continued to rise – and is at 58.3 years old nationwide. While USDA is working to understand additional nuance and gain a deeper picture of all the parts of the next generation of agriculture, these are important trends of note. Information from USDA’s 2015 Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land report also evaluated the impending transition of agricultural land to the next generation – in the next five years, almost 10 percent (or 91 million acres) of all farmland is expected to transition, not including the 57.1 million acres that landowners have put or plan to put into wills. These trends stand to have a significant effect on the structure of the agricultural economy and rural communities.
Targeted outreach and increased investment in the next generation, proposed here by USDA, will serve to support new and beginning farmers and strengthen USDA’s ongoing efforts to assist beginning farmers in accessing capital, acquiring land, developing financially sustainable operations, and fully utilizing USDA programs – supporting the next generation of American agriculture.
Since 2009, USDA has engaged its resources to support a strong next generation of farmers and ranchers by improving access to land and capital; building new markets and market opportunities; extending new conservation opportunities; offering appropriate risk management tools; and increasing our outreach, education, and technical support. Specifically, from 2009-2014, USDA increased our investment in new and beginning farmers across several key programs by 14.1%. The 2014 Farm Bill gave USDA new tools and flexibility in several key programs in order to support new and beginning farmers and ranchers, by continuing, increasing, and creating new assistance for this group.
USDA is proposing to increase and broaden access for new farmers even further over the next two years – an additional 6.6% across key programs – for a total increased investment value of about $5.6 billion. Including the additional investment, by September 30, 2017, USDA will have invested roughly $17.4 billion to beginning farmers and ranchers.
USDA will focus our work on the most relevant programs across the Department (excluding disaster assistance programs due to their unique nature of benefit). These programs were chosen for their impact on increasing opportunity for new and beginning farmers and ranchers and support for increased longevity of new and beginning operations.
• For the purposes of our goal, increased opportunity is defined as the opportunity to begin an operation, grow an operation, develop new markets, support more effective agricultural or conservation practices, or having access to relevant training and education opportunities.
• Increased longevity refers to support for new and beginning farmers during critical development periods, including the transition from a brand new operation to a more experienced level of beginning farming, and then finally graduating from being a beginning farmer to an experienced farm operator.
Additionally, USDA works closely with other Federal partners that have a role in supporting new businesses, including agricultural operations. USDA will collaborate closely with them in the achievement of this goal.
Note: The numbers contained in the goal statement represent both dedicated programmatic funding and programmatic utilization by new and beginning farmers. We refer to this blended number as general “access” to USDA programs.
Strategy 1: Each Agency will provide guidance to field staff regarding availability of programs to reflect this increased priority on new and beginning farmers.
Strategy 2: Targeted outreach and resources will be developed to create additional awareness of the opportunities provided by USDA programs, including cross-promotion between Agencies – in order to create a pipeline of opportunity.
Strategy 3: USDA will create and strengthen effective partnerships in order to reach new and beginning farmers wherever they might be seeking service.
Strategy 4: USDA will conduct a survey of customers to determine customer service experience and any programmatic barriers for new and beginning farmers and ranchers
Q4 FY 2016 Update:
- USDA convened a series of six discussions across the country, complemented by a Twitter engagement, throughout FY16 Q4 and FY17 Q1 to engage stakeholders on the issue of beginning farmers and land tenure.
- USDA completed a Department-wide customer survey of new and beginning farmers and ranchers. The response rate was 11% (positive). The beginning farmer and rancher tem is reviewing the insights gained to further tailor USDA's approach and services to new and beginning farmers and ranchers.
- USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) has launched a toolkit and trained a pilot group of staff on resources on land transition and access for FSA staff to use in supporting producers in planning for their land. Upon successful completion of the pilot, expansion will be considered.
- For FY 2016, over 15,000 producers received the Beginning Farmer and Rancher (BFR) Incentives for Federal Crop insurance totaling a savings on premiums and administrative fees of over $15 million
- USDA will announce new tools and resources in FY17 Q1 to support new and beginning farmers and ranchers.
- USDA will host a first regional marketing summit and regional beginning farmer conference to help new farmers connect with our programs and local market opportunities.
- USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) will announce additional technical assistance resources and conduct outreach letter campaign to landowners to communicate the benefits of supporting new farmers and the ways that FSA can connect landowners to resources and information about land transition.
- FSA will build on outreach in FY16 and conduct targeted outreach to producers in food hubs, coops, and farmers markets in FY17. This effort will engage small and mid-sized, non-traditional, niche, and organic producers on how FSA can support their operations.
Percentage of direct loan borrowers who are beginning farmers
Increase the percentage of guaranteed loan borrowers who are beginning farmers
Increase the number of first time beginning farmer applicants in the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program
Environmental Quality Incentives Program Contracts to beginning farmers
Increase the percentage of Value Added Producer Grant awards to beginning farmers
Increase the total percentage of Farmers Market Promotion Program dollars awarded benefitting beginning farmers
Increase the total percentage of Local Food Promotion Program dollars benefitting beginning farmers
Increase the number of beginning farmers who are receiving crop insurance incentives (cumulative)
Contributing Programs & Other Factors
The following USDA programs are contributing to this goal:
- FSA’s Direct and Guaranteed Loan Program
- FSA’s Non-insured Crop Insurance Disaster Assistance Program
- NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
- RD’s Value Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG)
- AMS’ Local Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) and Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP)
- RMA’s Crop Insurance Incentives
Importantly, the National Agricultural Statistics Services of the USDA has commissioned an expert panel to discuss “Federal Statistics on Women and Beginning Farmers in U.S.A. Agriculture.” This is in response to concerns that these groups be accurately represented in data gathered under the U.S. Census of Agriculture. The National Institute of Statistical Sciences (NISS) has been asked, as an objective independent organization, to organize a panel of experts to consider the data gathered and the reporting of statistics for these two groups and, as appropriate, to suggest possibilities for improvement. Initial results of this work, expected to be reflected in the 2017 Census, will create new opportunities for measurement and program targeting for new and beginning farmers and ranchers.
USDA will be directly engaging our customers to determine how our programs are connecting with and serving the next generation of farmers in ranchers – in conjunction with this new investment period. The feedback that we get from this process will help guide future investments and policy.
USDA is working to coordinate and plan for our growing body of policy, programmatic, statistical, and customer information regarding the next generation of agriculture. As new data become available – both on program delivery and outcome – USDA will continue growing ways to track, measure, and report on successes and opportunities.
USDA will also track other key indicators as part of our goal, in order to gauge the overall health of new and beginning farmers and ranchers. Progress on these contextual indicators will be reported in the progress update section.
Specifically, USDA will monitor:
- The overall number of beginning farmers and ranchers. In 2013, of 2.04 million family farms, 19.2 percent (392,283) were classified as beginning farms, with 546,283 beginning farmers working on them. Some established farms with multiple operators have at least one operator who is a beginning farmer. The total number of beginning farmers in 2013 was 620,881 – 546,283 on beginning farms, 74,598 on established farms. (Note: USDA is working to build additional visibility into the next generation on farms with multiple operators – currently, we only have detailed information on the first three operators.)
- Beginning farmers’ overall participation in USDA direct payment programs (including commodity, conservation, and disaster programs – excluding loans). Currently, beginning farmers are less likely to participate in direct payment programs than established farms. While beginning farmers represent approximately 22 percent of the overall farm population, only 13 percent of program participants are new farmers.
- Beginning farmer’s share of market sales. Currently, beginning farmer’s share of market sales is lower than their share of the market; in 2013, beginning farmers operated 19 percent of total family farms, but only contributed 9 percent of total value of gross farm sales. While this may be a function of the types of farms that new and beginning farmers begin, and reflective of the learning curve experienced by new and beginning farmers – USDA expects that by increasing opportunity for new and beginning farmers to access appropriate risk management tools, relevant USDA financing programs, and market building funding, new and beginning farmers can increase their share of the market.
Additional programs that will be tracked specifically include:
- Number of collaborative networks or partnerships funded to provide education, mentoring, and technical assistance to beginning farmers and ranchers through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Grant Program;
- Total percentage of Specialty Crop Block Grant Program dollars awarded benefitting beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers;
- Acres transferred to new and beginning farmers and socially disadvantaged producers under the Conservation Reserve Program Transition Incentives Program authority;
- Beginning farmer participants receiving Value Added Producer Grant funding; and,
- Beginning farmer participants receiving technical assistance through the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA)