New blood ignites ag committee

New members are invigorating an important Federal agricultural committee. The Advisory Committee on Beginning Farmers and Ranchers, charted in 1998, helps pave the way for a continually revived industry.

According to the USDA, the committee is responsible for advising Agriculture Sec. Vilsack as programs are developed that provide coordinated assistance to beginning farmers and ranchers, while maximizing new farming and ranching opportunities. Members will also work to enhance and expand federal-state partnerships to provide financing for beginning farmers and ranchers.

“Beginning farmers are a key to 21st-century agriculture and I look forward to working with this committee to help ensure that,” Vilsack said. “These new agricultural entrepreneurs are the cornerstone to a vibrant rural America and to the future of all of agriculture. I will look to this committee to provide guidance to me as we prepare recommendations for the 2012 Farm bill.”

The committee comprises farmers, which strengthens its ability to effectively enact policies that are beneficial and desirable because of members’ first-hand experience.

The new 19-member committee has eight incumbents and 11 new members. Members serve a two-year term and can be reappointed for up to six consecutive years.

The Center for Rural Affairs states that half of all current farmers are likely to retire in the next decade. U.S. farmers older than 55 control more than half the farmland, while the number of entry-level farmers replacing them has decreased 30 percent since 1987 and now represents only 10 percent of farmers and ranchers.

To keep American agribusiness strong, the committee addresses several issues that inhibit and deter America’s potential young men and women pursing a future in farming and/or ranching:
  • Access to capital and credit
  • Access to land
  • Access to information, training and technical assistance
  • Access to new markets
According to Kathryn Z. Ruhf of the New England Small Farm Institute:

“By 2000, beginning-farmer issues were elevated on the national farm policy agenda. This awareness was heightened by the results of the 1997 Census of Agriculture, which portrayed ever more disturbing trends in the aging of the American farmer and in land ownership and transfer patterns. In response to this heightened awareness, new policy proposals are being generated at the federal, state and grassroots levels to address the full range of barriers faced by next generation farmers and ranchers.”

Several online resources are available to assist beginning farmers and ranchers such as Beginning Farmers also has a Facebook page that includes information about grants and loans, finding land, jobs, training programs, business planning, production, marketing, research, publications, events, policy issues and more.

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