At the Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa, Secretary Tom Vilsack announced expanded USDA efforts to assist beginning farmers and ranchers develop productive, sustainable farms.
USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded the grants through its Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program established through the 2008 Farm Bill. More than $18 million in grant money will go to organizations in 24 states.
"I'm certainly optimistic about the importance of this program and the ability to get to more people," Vilsack said in a conference call Thursday. "I think we need to continue to recognize the challenges."
USDA makes BFRDP 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% 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.
This year marks the fourth year of the program. The USDA says future funding is dependent on congressional reauthorization.
Today's announcement is not the first time Vilsack has addressed ways to get new people involved in agriculture. In testimony before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry in 2010, the Secretary reminded Congress of the need to attract thousands of new producers in the coming years as American farmers and ranchers continue to age.
Today, Vilsack said he was interested in additional ways to help, including Congress' action toward income tax issues. He said he was looking at new ways to help beginning farmers through those policies.
"As congress returns and as they deal with vexing tax issues, there's an opportunity to deal with the estate tax issue…and also potentially looking at ways the income tax system could be used to encourage and incent beginning farmers," Vilsack said.
Vilsack said today's announcement was just one of the many programs that have helped or will help beginning farmers get started.
"I think this is an important part of the process," Vilsack said as he reminded conference participants about the microloan process and the land contract guarantee.
"There are a lot of folks that are willing to sell land on a long-term contract and I think would be more comfortable doing so if they knew that that land was backed or guaranteed by USDA, so that's why we announced an expansion of that program earlier this year," he said.
Additional programs for beginning farmers and ranchers include risk management education for new producers and online resources such as www.start2farm.gov and the Know Your Farmer Compass.
For more information about the BFRDP program, visit www.nifa.usda.gov.