Since 1974, Nebraska has lost almost 17,000 ranches, 287,000 cows and a substantial number of residents in many rural communities.
Today, 40% of Nebraskan communities maintain a population of 300 or less. One of the major reasons for the population loss is the inability of rural communities to attract young people back to agricultural enterprises, says Weldon Sleight, dean of the UNL Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis.
That is about to change through the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture's new 100-Beef Cow Ownership Program, which you can read about in your December Nebraska Farmer. That edition of Nebraska Farmer also is available online at www.NebraskaFarmer.com.
The program, a partnership between the USDA Farm Service Agency, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, the Nebraska Cattlemen and the Nebraska Farm Bureau, is designed to return NCTA graduates to ranches and rural communities with 100 cows.
On Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2008, a meeting of interested ranchers will be held on the NCTA campus in Curtis to discuss the program in more detail. Sleight strongly encourages ranchers who want to ensure that the future is bright for Nebraska ranching to attend. This event is also open to Nebraska bankers, FSA directors, county extension educators, high school agriculture teachers, community leaders and others concerned about the future of Nebraska's rural communities.
In addition, young farmers and ranchers who don't currently own a ranching enterprise are also invited because NCTA is now developing an outreach program that will allow young farmers and ranchers unable to attend NCTA to receive the education needed to participate in the program.
The meeting will begin at 3:30 p.m. in the NCTA Veterinary Teaching Hospital Amphitheater.
"For years, we have held seminars to teach farmers and ranchers the mechanics of transferring agricultural enterprises from one generation to the next with only marginal success," Sleight says. "We have now designed a program that will return our graduates to ranches with a sizable enough asset to ensure they can be partners rather than hired hands. This will create a career path enabling these young ranchers to one day become owners of sustainable cattle operations."
Currently, there are twice as many farmers over the age of 65 than there are under the age of 35, and during the next 20 years, 70% of all agricultural land in the U.S. will change hands, according to Sleight. The greatest problem and opportunity lays in the agriculture industry's ability to develop enough young people to take over the Nebraska ranching operations during the next 20 years.
"If we fail, rural communities will continue to lose residents as absentee owners buy up ranches throughout Nebraska," Sleight adds.
The NCTA curriculum has been changed to help students better understand entrepreneurial principles and their application in beef production management.
"This type of education, coupled with beef cattle research being conducted at the UNL Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory, will give NCTA graduates the cutting edge information needed to be successful in beef cattle production," Sleight explains.
The 100-Cow program also covers the financial aspects of herd ownership. FSA will provide NCTA students will low-interest loans to purchase the cows. "This financial support is absolutely necessary to make the program viable," says Sleight.
The Nebraska Department of Agriculture Beginning Farmer program, the Nebraska Cattlemen and the Farm Bureau have pledged their support, so the final step in the process is to identify ranchers who will make a place for the NCTA graduates and their 100 cows. These cows can be new cows or cows purchased from ranchers wanting to give young people an opportunity to enter a ranching career.
For more information about the 100-Beef Cow Ownership Program, please contact Dr. Weldon Sleight at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-3CURTIS.