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Land, capital top young farmer concerns

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 are up for sale. The lawyer sent out a newsletter stating the starting bid is set at $10,000," says Eickman, also a member. "That blows me out of the water before I even get my big toe wet. So disappointed."

"I'm with you. I put in a sealed bid on some ground in our area last winter and was sweating the whole time that I had bid way too much and would overpay," adds western Kansas farmer Jonathan Dansel. "I got outbid by $1,000/acre. It was the wishful thinking of a beginning farmer in these times."

These 2 young farmers' situations exemplify the greatest 2 challenges young and beginning farmers face today, according to a recent report from the National Young Farmers' Coalition (NYFC). The group's report, based on a survey of 1,300 people in 34 states (81% of whom are farmers and the remainder "aspiring farmers or individuals who work closely with farmers in a professional capacity"), shows the vast majority of farmers surveyed said a lack of access to capital and farm land 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 the NYFC. The report also shows almost twice the percentage of farmers under the age of 30 (70%) say they rely on rented farm land than those farmers over 30 (37%).

"In Nebraska the main barrier to new and beginning farmers is access to land. Unless an aspiring farmer inherits land, it is very difficult to have access to it," William Powers, farmer and Executive Director of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, says in an NYFC report.

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 changes in policy -- like making FSA funding more accessible to young and beginning farmers and the expansion of 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 expand."

“If Congress wants to keep America farming, then they must address the barriers that young people face in getting started," Shute adds.



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