USDA has awarded 36 grants totaling $18 million to organizations that will provide training and assistance to beginning farmers and ranchers to help them run successful and sustainable farms. As the average age of America's farmers and ranchers increases, and with traditional rural populations in decline, Merrigan said that now is a critical time to train the next generation of American producers.

Beginning farmers and ranchers face unique challenges, and these grants will provide needed training to help these producers become profitable and sustainable,” said Merrigan. “American agriculture supports 1 in 12 jobs in America, a critical contribution to the strength and prosperity of the country. The sheer productivity of our farmers has given Americans access to a cheap, wholesome food supply and provides us with more discretionary income than much of the rest of the world. But our farmers are aging, and more of our young people are looking outside of farming for their careers. It's time to reverse these trends, keep farmers on the farm and help beginning farmers and ranchers thrive in their careers.”

USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded the grants through its Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). Under BFRDP, which was established through the 2008 Farm Bill, NIFA makes 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.

Projects were awarded in Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

A full list of awardees can be found online at: www.nifa.usda.gov/newsroom/news/2011news/beginning_farmer_awards.html.

BFRDP provided $18 million in funding this year, the third year of the program. Another $18 million will be made available in fiscal year 2012. For more information on the BFRDP program, visit: http://www.nifa.usda.gov/funding/bfrdp/bfrdp.html.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future. More information is at: www.nifa.usda.gov.