Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $18 million in funding to support new farmer training and education programs at the 2012 Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa.  These new grant awards were made available through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) – a federal competitive grants program administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

BFRDP provides the training and tools that the next generation of farmers needs to be successful.  The program supports financial and entrepreneurial training, risk management education, mentoring and apprenticeship programs, innovative farm transfer and transition practices, and other educational activities to assist beginning farmers and ranchers across the country.  BFRDP is targeted especially to collaborative local, state, and regionally based networks and partnerships.

“The future of American agriculture depends on cultivating the next generation of farmers and ranchers,” says Juli Obudzinski, Policy Associate with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “BFRDP is the only federal program dedicated to training new farmers.  Over the past four years, the program has funded a wide variety of successful initiatives to help new farmers start a career in agriculture.”

Over the past four years, BFRDP has invested over $70 million in new farmer training programs across the country, and has funded 145 projects in 46 states.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stressed the importance of supporting the next generation of farmers, and has repeatedly issued a national challenge to create 100,000 new farmers.  In the first year of the program alone, USDA funded projects that supported training for 5,000 new producers, and in 2011, grants supported training for more than 30,000.  Clearly, there is still a long way to go to meet this challenge, but this program is helping to address the dire need for new farmers on the land all across the country.

Groups who work directly with beginning farmers also spoke at today’s award announcement in Iowa.  Leigh Adcock, the Executive Director of the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network (WFAN) – a non-profit organization and NSAC member based in Ames, Iowa – addressed the importance of providing the next generation of farmers with the resources they need to be successful and stressed how critical BFRDP funding is to organizations that support new farmers on the ground.

“WFAN has been working with women farmers for 15 years, and we’ve witnessed an enormous surge in numbers over the past decade,” says Adcock.  “We’re thrilled to be able to help new and aspiring women farmers in Iowa and Nebraska reach their farm business goals with the help of our new three-year BFRDP grant.”

2012 Awards

For Fiscal Year 2012, $18 million was awarded to support projects in 27 states across the country, including projects in Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Of the 40 grants that were announced, we are pleased to announce that six were awarded to NSAC member organizations, including grants to Dakota Rural Action (South Dakota), Food System Economic Partnership (Michigan), Future Harvest – Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (Maryland; award to University of Maryland), Growing Power (Wisconsin), Land Stewardship Project (Minnesota, for work in 14 states), Women, Food and Agriculture Network (Iowa, for work in Iowa and Nebraska).

“This BFRDP grant gives us the opportunity to both encourage new farmers and to engage current farmers in helping to shape the next generation,” says Meredith Redlin, Board Chair for Dakota Rural Action.  “There are so many opportunities in agriculture for young farmers.  Capturing those opportunities will establish a base for the future sustainability of our rural communities.”

More information on BRFDP awards to NSAC member organizations is available on NSAC’s website.

Future of BFRDP

The new farmer grants are the latest round of grants for this program authorized in the current farm bill cycle.  Current funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program expires on September 30 this year, and unless Congress acts on reauthorizing the farm bill or provides for a short-term extension of the current farm bill that explicitly provides for new BFRDP funding, the program could completely vanish for at least a year.

Secretary Vilsack stressed the need for Congress to do its work and pass a farm bill in order to give producers the certainty they need. “There’s no reason that this can’t be done,” Vilsack said.  “Whatever differences exist can be worked out.”

“Given the demonstrated success and growing demand for new farmer training programs, it is critical to our future food security and vitality of our rural communities that this valuable program be renewed and provided continued funding in the next farm bill,” says Obudzinski.  “With over half of our country’s farmers reaching or exceeding retirement age within the next ten years, cutting funding for BFRDP would be a huge step backwards in addressing the urgent need for resources and tools to support the next generation of farmers and the future of American agriculture.  We urge Congress to pass the new farm bill and include robust funding for BFRDP to support the new economic opportunities that will help reform the farm and food system.”

Click here for a complete list of 2012 BFRDP awardees.