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What's on their minds?

Tony Eickman was out of the running before the bidding even began for a quarter of ground near his Templeton, Iowa, farm.

“A neighbor's 160 acres were up for sale. The lawyer sent out a newsletter stating the starting bid was set at $10,000,” says Eickman, also a member. “That blew me out of the water before I even got my big toe wet. I was so disappointed.”

This young farmer's situation exemplifies the greatest two challenges young and beginning farmers face today, according to a recent report from the National Young Farmers' Coalition (NYFC). The report, based on a survey of 1,300 farmers and Ag industry members, shows the lack of access to capital and farmland are the biggest challenges in building a farm business today.

“We need credit opportunities for beginning and diversified farmers, land policies that keep farms affordable for full-time growers, and funding for conservation programs,” says Lindsey Lusher Shute, director of NYFC. The report also shows almost twice the percentage of farmers under age 30 (70%) say they rely on rented farmland than those over 30 (37%).

The report details some things that have and haven't worked for young farmers, 73% of whom say they depend on off-farm income. What hasn't worked? Things like “inconsistency in knowledge among FSA offices,” and the “inability to get small operating loans” top the list for young farmers, NYFC data show.

“Past farm bills created set-asides in FSA loan programs for beginning farmers. The FSA defines a beginning farmer as a farmer of any age who has been farming for 10 years or less,” according to the report. “There is little published data about who receives beginning farmer loans, but anecdotal evidence suggests that many young farmers are not qualifying for FSA programs.”

How can these be improved? The NYFC report shows that changes in policy – like making FSA funding more accessible to young and beginning farmers and expanding federal conservation programs – can help. But those are just the existing projects; NYFC supports the development of microcredit programs to allow young farmers to get modest amounts of capital to get started or to expand.

“If Congress wants to keep America farming, then it must address the barriers that young people face in getting started,” Shute says.

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