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60,000 have been impacted by beginning farmer programs

'Cultivating the Next Generation' report examines outcomes of USDA's beginning farmer and rancher program.

A new report, "Cultivating the Next Generation," examines the impact of USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.

Jan Perez from the University of California-Santa Cruz and consultant Ann Williams are the principal authors of the report, which evaluates the only federal program explicitly dedicated to training the next generation of farmers. The duo examined the impact of the program, which has had funding since the 2008 farm bill. Authors looked at factors that lead to more successful new farmer training projects, and identify areas in which BFRDP can be improved to better support the next generation.

The evaluation was also informed by an Advisory Team of beginning farmer practitioners and agricultural policy experts. Advisory Team members include: Center for Rural Affairs, CROPP Cooperatives, Land for Good, Land Stewardship Project, the National Young Farmers Coalition, and the University of California-Berkeley.

“With the 2018 farm bill on the horizon and Congress weighing the fate of many valuable USDA programs, it is now more important than ever that we be able to accurately assess their true impact,” said Juli Obudzinski, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition deputy policy director. “BFRDP has been a critical support program for countless beginning farmers and ranchers, and this report helps put the importance of the program’s training and outreach efforts into perspective.” 

BFRDP has had many successes over the last decade. The program is helping to grow the next generation of farmers, building up agricultural infrastructure, and continues to innovate new ways to support entrepreneurship through farmer training projects. Since 2008, BFRDP has invested roughly $150 million in more than 250 new farmer training projects across the country.

“Farmers entering agriculture today have very different needs than those who came generations before them,” said Obudzinski. “They are facing new and unprecedented challenges, challenges that training and outreach programs like BFRDP empower them to overcome.”

The report finds that BFRDP funded projects are showing real outcomes – surveyed project leaders estimated that over half of their participants are now engaged in a farming career, and that nearly three-quarters of them felt more prepared for a successful career in agriculture following program completion.  BFRDP has also helped nonprofit and community-based organizations, along with their academic partners, to build their capacity and serve more farmers with better services.

Other key report findings include:

  • More than 60,000 beginning farmers have been impacted directly by BFRDP projects;
  • Almost all projects focused on farmers in their first five years of farming, with a significant focus on those farmers starting out at a small-scale;
  • More than half of all projects served socially disadvantaged farmers as their primary audience;
  • More than 90% of projects included farm business management training, and more than a third helped new farmers access land and capital; and
  • More than two-thirds of projects offered intensive programs, lasting months or even several years, designed to move aspiring farmers quickly into production.

The report also includes recommendations on opportunities for improvement in the program, including:

  • continuing long-term investments in new farmer training and evaluation,
  • deepening farmer engagement in program development, and
  • improving the grant reporting process to ensure consistency in outcome data.

“Interest in agriculture as a career is growing,” said Obudzinski. “And as our current generation of farmers and ranchers prepares for retirement, so too is our need for new, talented producers who can replace them. It is our hope that this analysis will provide a better understanding of the value and impact of BFRDP in training the next generation, and help to make the program even stronger going forward.”

To download the full report, visit: http://sustainableagriculture.net/publications/bfrdp/

Source: The Center for Rural Affairs

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