We have all seen the trend toward larger farms, especially for commodity crops, dairy and large-scale poultry operations. Closely related to that trend is the loss of younger farmers, particularly in the types of farm sectors that require major investments to start. Simply said, if you don’t inherit a large-scale operation, you can’t afford to buy the farm, or even the equipment to farm. The logical, long-term outcome of those trends is either corporate ownership of all such farms or the end of the industry, especially in places like Maryland with high land values.
With a grant from USDA, University of Maryland Extension initiated a Beginning Farmer Success program in 2012 to help new farmers get started. Extension also collaborated with two non-profits: Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission which initiated a Mentor Match Program and Future Harvest CASA, which utilized the funds to enhance its Beginning Farmer Training Program. These programs have been successful, particularly for vegetable, fruit and small-scale poultry producers. Both non-profits hope to continue to assist beginning farmers even after the grant period ends August 31st.
However, neither program has been able to help beginning commodity farmers or large-scale livestock farmers to get their start.
In the UK, a new program is getting started called share-farm, a national “matching service’ to bring retiring farmers together with aspiring new entrants. The goal is to create a pilot farm business matching service for young or new entrepreneurs seeking land and joint ventures with owners who have land to offer.
Such a program would be very useful in the U.S.! Who is ready to take the lead?