In previous posts, we have talked about the advantages of a strong, local food system, the need for new farmers and the challenges of attracting new farmers. These challenges may be the reason why there are six times more farmers 65 and older than there are farmers 34 and under in the U.S.
The final 2012 ag census won’t be released until May, but we are already learning about some states with success stories in attracting new farmers based on the preliminary census results. In a recent article, Let It Grow: Connecticut Leads Farm Growth in New England, Steve Grant wrote that “the latest U. S. Department of Agriculture Census of Agriculture shows that the number of farms nationwide declined by 4 percent between 2007 and 2012 — while New England states, including Connecticut, saw significant increases in the number of farms.”
In fact, Connecticut saw a 22% increase in the number of farms and an 8% increase in farmland acreage. Even more impressive, there was a 52% increase in farmers 34 and under. Of course, one reason for the growth in young farmers is the strong market for local food. Grant quoted one new Connecticut farmer, Haley Billipp, who said, “This is a very good time to get into farming if this is something you can do, and want to do, because there are so many people who are interested in local produce and organic produce and want to know the place where their food is coming from.”
However, beginning Connecticut farmers are also assisted by the CTNOFA program, a program supported by an agreement with the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, Inc. and a Journeyperson Program, which is based on The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s successful journeyperson program. Back in their home states, these programs are working as well. New York saw a 14% increase in farmers 34 and under and Maine saw a 39% increase!
Nebraska also witnessed a significant growth in farmers 34 and under, registering a 42% increase from 2007 to 2012. In addition, the number of farms in Nebraska jumped by 5%. Neighboring states did not experience a similar kind of growth in beginning farmers.
Beginning farmers in Nebraska benefit from tax breaks for land owners who lease to new farmers. In his article, Nebraska Sets the Standard for New Farmers, Philip Brasher notes that “the refundable tax credit for landowners is intended to help aspiring farmers overcome the daunting challenge of acquiring acreage, which has become even more difficult to afford as land values have soared in recent years. The tax credit is worth 10% of the cash rent or 15% of the crop share rent for each of three years.” Nebraska also has a “100-cow” and a “100-acre” program at the two-year Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture which links students with farmers. The students agree to work for the farmer in return for being able to use part of the farmer’s land. Finally, Nebraska has a “Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots” program to help returning veterans.
Across the country, there appears to be a new generation of young people eager to try their hand at farming. Several states seem to be finding a way to help them overcome the challenges, such as gaining access to land and acquiring the skills to succeed. As you may know, Maryland already has a number of programs for beginning farmers, such as Beginning Farmer Success, Future Harvest CASA’s Beginning Farmer Training Program, UMES Small Farm Institute and our own Maryland FarmLINK. We will keep looking for new ideas as we try to help Maryland’s beginning farmers to gain a foothold in agriculture.