Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told state officers from the National FFA Organization Thursday that, as the next generation of America's farmers, they face a bright but rapidly changing future and USDA is committed to partnering with them to achieve their goals. The Secretary also announced the release of a new field guide to assist entrepreneurs looking to build successful farming operations that take advantage of new local and regional markets.
"The Obama Administration recognizes that the face of American agriculture is rapidly changing, with access to new markets, opportunities and innovative ways of providing products to consumers," said Vilsack. "At the same time, the average age of the American farmer is now 57, so it will soon be up to the next generation to pick up the mantle, produce our nation's food and fiber and manage the risks that are inherent to agriculture. At USDA, we are committed to working with these young farmers to ensure they have the support they need to be successful in this industry that is so vital to the safety and security of our nation."
Speaking to State FFA presidents and officers at the Agriculture Department, the Secretary noted that nearly half of the USDA direct operating loans provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act went to beginning farmers. He noted that the National Institute of Food and Agriculture continues to work with the National FFA and supports research, education and outreach projects that directly benefit small and medium size farmers. Working with the National FFA and the 4-H, the Farm Service Agency makes loans to rural youth to help them start agricultural operations. Earlier this year the Secretary signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the National FFA to find ways to strengthen American agriculture by developing new farming opportunities for young owners and producers. Additionally, Rural Development each year helps fund the FFA Agri-Entrepreneurship Award which honors FFA members who recognize market opportunities and develop solid business plans.
The Secretary noted that USDA is working with partners to support young, motivated entrepreneurs who are looking past traditional ways of bringing products to market. Through the efforts of the Farm Credit Council and with funding provided with a grant from USDA's Risk Management Agency, the Secretary said a new Internet tool has been developed to assist the growing numbers of direct-market farms and ranches and also the lenders, accountants and other businesses who work with them. Titled the "Field Guide to the New American Foodshed" it was inspired by the"Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" initiative. The Guide describes the business relationships between farms, processors, distributors, and business advisors and includes case studies showing how farms and ranches are utilizing a growing number of regional food marketing channels. There is also a "decision tree" to help develop a business plan. This effort, said the Secretary, is part of the Obama Administration's commitment to investing resources and energy to not only recruit the next generation of farmers, but provide them with the tools to help them be successful. To learn more see: http://foodshedguide.org/