USDA Recruits Young Farmers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency recently announced a nationwide drive to recruit up to 100,000 new farmers within the next several years. The agency’s announcement is partially motivated by disturbing trends in agricultural censuses. Despite large-scale marketing campaigns and low-interest farm loans, young farmers seem unwilling to enter the agricultural profession, leaving an increasingly aging farm community. Between 1987 and 2007, the average age of American farmers increased from 52 to 55.

Agriculture agencies across the country have tried to counter these trends by offering farm loans for new farmers and expanding access to farm subsidies. The Delaware Department of Agriculture, for example, recently offered tax credits to young farmers first entering the profession. Private organization offer information for new farmers ranging from crop advice to information about farm loans.
On a federal level, agriculture officials have acted more aggressively, citing the need to replace retiring farmers. According to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, over 35 percent of the farm population is over 60 and young farmers are needed to replace future retirees. Offering farm loans and grants to new farmers is one of the most effective ways of recruiting young people, agriculture officials believe. The 2008 Farm Bill, for example, expanded federal assistance to new farmers to include loans, commodity payments, conservation payments, and training programs. Since 2008, farm loans to beginning farmers and ranchers rose from 9,000 to 15,000.
Other efforts by USDA officials include aggressive marketing to young people, including the launching of a “Start2Farm” website that offers advice and tips to beginning farmers. In addition, the USDA has embraced new forms of agricultural production. Farm loans to urban farmers, some ag officials hope, will lure younger farmers who may be interested in agricultural production, but leery of traditional rural lifestyles. While it may be too soon to determine the impact of expanded marketing efforts and increased access to farm loans, agricultural leaders hope that reforming farm demographics can help reform the entire agricultural industry.