New farmers are quickly becoming a rarity, and these days, it can be hard to get started. Yet exciting opportunities exist in farming and ranching, especially for those who capture the growing consumer interest in healthy food and stewardship of our natural resources. Anyone with interest can become a new farmer - there is no age limit on pursuing an interest in farming or ranching.
The population of U.S. agriculture is poised to make a dramatic change:
- Half of all current farmers are likely to retire in the next decade
- U.S. farmers over age 55 control more than half the country’s farmland
- The number of entry-level farmers has fallen by 30 percent since 1987
- New farmers make up only 10 percent of farmers and ranchers
New farmers have different needs than established farmers and ranchers. Beginning farmers often lack the capital and the scale of operation required to make profits with the high-cost technologies and production systems that are the focus of many research and education programs.
Returning veterans can be new farmers, too. Nearly half of the Iraq & Afghanistan veterans are from rural areas and many would like to start farming and ranching careers. This work can fulfill veterans' sense of service, provide a healing atmosphere to reenter civilian life, and support rural communities in need of young families and economic revitalization. Veterans receive benefits for education or for starting farms and businesses. Our Veteran Farmers Project and other information for beginners below can help answer questions for new veteran farmers.
Many Center programs address the unique needs of new farmers. Navigate through the Beginning Farmer links to learn more about how our work can help you. The Center staff has extensive experience advocating for beginning farmers with policy makers. For example, Traci Bruckner has served on the USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Advisory Committee.
Farmer and rancher linking programsconnect new farmers with retiring landowners. When the new and retiring generation match up, they can work out mutually beneficial arrangements to transfer ownership while maintaining a small farm’s legacy and promoting good stewardship.
New Farmer/Rancher Benefits
- gain access to land
- find help with financing
- learn from experienced landowners
- ensure the continuity of a farm’s operation and legacy
- bring fresh energy and strong hands to work on the farm
- ease transition into retirement
To learn more about how linking programs work, how they benefit those involved, and how they help secure the future of small family farms, click here.
You can view a listing of linking programs throughout the country and the world.
The Center for Rural Affairs’ Land Link program was the first of the now many programs that help match new farmers with retiring farmers and landowners, helping them to make working arrangements and ownership transfer strategies that benefit both parties. Case studies are also available.
Before seeking outside financing, beginning farmers and established landowners need to do some basic planning.
Financial resources and advice for new farmers:
- Financial picture overview: eight factors to consider before seeking financing
- New Farmer Financing Programs: potential funding sources
- Rural Enterprise Assistance Program: business planning and small business advice
Financial information for land linking and retiring landowners:
- Succession planning questionnaire (pdf): help with retirement planning
- Tax incentive programs: information on Nebraska Beginning Farmer Tax Credit and the NIFA Aggie Bond, tax incentives for landowners who rent or lend to beginners
- Estate Tax Planning Tools: retirement planning support for older farmers
Other financial support for land linking:
- NebraskaBeginningFarmer.org: access to financial resources for Nebraskans in agriculture
The Center offers strategies to help family farmers and ranchers succeed:
- High Value Markets Information: information on using new production systems with environmental benefits to capture a larger share of the consumer food dollar; resources and grants to help reach high value markets
- Advice for beginners (pdf): series of articles on successful strategies including substituting management and skill for debt while integrating livestock systems with crops to fully use farm resources
- Additional programs and resources for new farmers
Contact Wyatt Fraas, firstname.lastname@example.org or 402.254.6893 for more information.