By Maria Miller, NFU education director

It has never been easy for young people to begin farming and ranching. Each generation of farmers lack credit, affordable and available access to land, a depth of experience, and, sometimes, support from their hometown communities and families.  It’s tough enough for to put down roots when taking over an operation that has been in the family for generations, and even more if you don’t have a strong farm background.

Curiously, both the problem and solutions sound familiar. Federal and state programs have been around for years to make it easier for beginning farmers to start. Some lending cooperatives also have programs in place. And land grant universities along with farm organizations have been offering their insight and assistance to encourage a new generation of farmers. So why were Farmers Union members coming to us saying they couldn’t find a beginning farmer program that “fit”?

“National Farmers Union’s ability to reach out to a broad cross-section of farmers makes it different than other organizations,” said a participant in NFU’s 2011 Beginning Farmer Institute (BFI). “They teach at a level that opens eyes to a broader picture of where our farm fits into agriculture.”

Having been on farms from Hawaii to Alaska and from California to Rhode Island and across the Midwest we couldn’t help but notice the common concerns of beginning farmers.  So we created a beginning farmer and rancher education program that includes a diverse mix of farmers from an urban farmer to a rancher to a CSA owner to a grain farmer.

“The varied backgrounds of the participants ­ such as grain, livestock, vegetable, organic, and conventional ­ made the Institute a truly unique and engaging experience,” said a new farmer participating in the inaugural class.  “The diversity of perspectives enriched the experience by demonstrating how, despite our individual circumstances, we all face similar challenges in starting a farm-based business whether it’s access to capital or transitioning the farm between generations.  We especially appreciated the focus on mutual respect across agriculture, and cooperation as a solution to help meet these needs in order to keep family farming viable into the future.”  That’s what National Farmers Union is about: growing the future of agriculture.

NFU has been around since 1902.  Some things don’t change. Farmers plant seeds, worry about weather during the growing season, and hope the price they get provides enough to live on after all the bills have been paid.

What has changed is the number of young people who want to begin in agriculture without having experience in growing up on a farm or ranch. Many of these beginning farmers want to start their own sustainable community agriculture operations: growing for the local market.

If we’re going to have future generations of family farmers, they need to start now and we want to see them succeed. That’s why we’re continuing our BFI program and giving them a voice at our national convention in Omaha.  During our annual meeting, we’ll have a break-out session designed to listen to what new and transitioning farmers have to say.

Don’t miss your chance to hear BFI speakers and more at NFU’s 110th Anniversary Convention. Click here to register.

To apply to NFU’s 2012 Beginning Farmer Institute, log on to  Applications must be postmarked by March 14, 2012.


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