Thousands of smart, fast-thinking FFA members gathered in Indianapolis last week, and the message they received from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack? Pursue careers in agriculture.
Speaking to the 84th National FFA Convention, Vilsack talked about the critical need to recruit and support the nation's next generation of farmers and ranchers.
In his statement, Vilsack noted that America's producers are the most productive and successful in the world and that they have a willingness to embrace change. "To continue that success, we need organizations like FFA working creatively to build policies, structures and institutions that will ensure the next generation can continue to feed and fuel the world.
The U.S. agriculture community is aging. According to stats Vilsack shared with the group, in the past five years there has been a 20% crop in the number of farmers under the age of 45. Today the average American farmer is 57, but five years ago it was 55. About 30% of American farmers are over the age of 65 - which is almost double the general workforce.
USDA isn't standing still on this issue. Vilsack pointed to agency programs committed to investing more resources and energy to recruit the next generation of farmers, and to finding strategies to make these beginning farmers successful. The USDA Office of Advocacy and Outreach assists people who want to learn about USDA's efforts to support new producers. In the past two years, more than 40% of all USDA's farm loans have gone to beginning farmers and ranchers. In addition the National Institute of Food and Agriculture has the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program, and there are other programs focused on young farmers.
USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) is working with partners to support young, motivated entrepreneurs who are looking past traditional ways of bringing products to market. Through RMA funding for the Farm Credit Council, the “Field Guide to the New American Foodshed” was developed to assist the growing numbers of direct-market farms and ranches and also the lenders, accountants and other businesses who work with them.
Additionally, the USDA Nation Agricultural Library is working in partnership with the American Farm Bureau Federation to develop a ‘Curriculum and Training Clearinghouse’ at Start2Farm.gov, which will serve as a national one-stop source of all beginning farmer and rancher education and training materials online.