According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, as of the 2002 Census, the average age of all U.S. farmers was approximately 55. More distressing, though, is that from 1982 to 2002 the number of young principal farmers under 35 years old has declined from 16% to 9%.
To help turn the tide and do its part to support the rise of a new generation of young farmers and ranchers, the USDA is stepping into the fray. It recently awarded 36 grants totaling $18 million for organizations to provide assistance and training to enable beginning farmers and ranchers to receive the training and assistance necessary to operate and grow successful, sustainable farms, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced Sept. 30.
More than 500 agricultural producers and small rural businesses across the US will benefit from more than $27 million worth of federal grants and loan guarantees awarded by the Dept. of Agriculture under the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), established following passage of the 2008 Farm Bill initiative.
REAP provides funding and financial support for farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses to buy and install renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements. REAP grants can finance up to 25% of a project’s cost and are capped at $500,000 for renewable energy systems and $250,000 for energy efficiency improvements.
More local farmers were able to get their wares directly to consumers this year, according to a study released in early August from the United States Department of Agriculture’s 2011 National Farmers Market Directory.
Since 2010, the number of farmers markets across the country has grown by more than 1,000, allowing the largest number of farmers ever the ability to sell their products directly to their local community. A total of 7,175 markets currently operate in the U.S. compared to 6,132 in 2010.
According to a 2010 nationwide survey conducted by the Organic Seed Alliance (OSA), organic farmers are faced with a seed market that neither possesses sufficient available quantities of certified organic seed to meet demand nor the specific varieties of organic seed that they desire. As a result, many organic farmers have had to compensate by using conventionally bred seed varieties selected for use in high-input chemical farming systems in lieu of those specifically adapted to organic farming systems.
There’s not a key issue that the next generation faces that doesn’t have agriculture at the center of it, according to US Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, who spoke Wednesday at UC Davis.
From the obesity epidemic to climate change to joblessness, what happens in agriculture plays a critical role, Merrigan said. Her speech focused on the USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2) initiative, a USDA-wide effort to carry out President Obama’s commitment to strengthening local and regional food systems.