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. USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded the grants. Under the program 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.
Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan told reporters that she has met many young people interested in making agriculture their future, but there are many challenges for them, especially the high cost of land.
Merrigan spoke about testimony from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack before the Senate Agriculture Committee stating that we need 100,000 new farmers a year.
"We know the average age of farmers now is somewhere between 57 and 59," Merrigan said. "Thirty percent of farmers are over the age of 65 and in my travels I meet a lot of farmers that are age 80, hanging on, not necessarily wanting to keep farming, but not quite clear who to pass the farm on to."
Merrigan says these grants are one of the tools that were created in the 2008 Farm Bill to help bring on the next generation of farmers and ranchers.
Examples of some of the projects these grants are going toward include minority training, micro-lending, and Internet marketing.
At least 25% 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.