Investments in Beginning Farmer Training Paying Off

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition released findings today (Oct. 19, 2017) from its comprehensive evaluation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). Their report, Cultivating the Next Generation, explores the impact that this unique program – currently the only federal program explicitly dedicated to training the next generation of farmers – has had since it first received funding in the 2008 Farm Bill.

Cultivating the Next Generation describes the types of projects funded, explores best practices, provides examples of successful projects, and offers recommendations for better serving beginning farmers and identifying project impacts. Jan Perez, a research and education specialist for UC Santa Cruz’s Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS), served as one of the two lead evaluators contributing to the report. 

The report provides resources and recommendations both for those running beginning farmer projects and for USDA personnel involved in the program,” said Perez. “Project leaders shared their ideas on how to best work with beginning farmers. Farmer-to-farmer strategies, one-on-one services, networking, and adult/general education methods are a few of the main strategies they found most effective,” said Perez. 

Since 2008, BFRDP has invested roughly $150 million in over 250 new farmer training projects across the country.

“Interest in agriculture as a career is growing,” said Juli Obudzinski. NSAC deputy policy director. “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.” 

Program has served more than 60,000 beginning farmers

The report highlights the BFRDP projects’ achievements and outcomes: over 60,000 beginning farmers have been impacted directly by projects funded by the BFRDP. 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, as well as academic institutions, to build their capacity and serve more farmers with better services. 

The BFRDP funding program is also creating a new model – one that provides a variety of services to beginning farmers that are developed by collaborations between organizations (often academic and nonprofit), with direct farmer input. BFRDP projects are helping create and expand the reach of effective approaches to training beginning farmers, and appear to fill a need in the changing composition of beginning farmers.

The report also offers recommendations on ways to improve 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.

Other key report findings include: 

  • While the projects serve those who are aspiring to be farmers, to those who are somewhere in their first 10 years of farming, almost all projects focused on farmers in their first 5 years, with a significant focus on those farmers starting out at a small-scale
  • Over half of all projects served socially disadvantaged farmers as their primary audience
  • Over 90 percent of projects included farm business management training, and more than a third helped new farmers access land and capital
  • More than two-thirds of projects offered intensive programs, lasting months or even several years, designed to move aspiring farmers quickly into production

To download the full report, visit the NSAC publications website.