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Published March 14, 2011, 12:59 PM

Opportunities for young farmers, ranchers important to future of ag

DELAVAN, Minn. — As our nation’s farmers get older and a wave of baby boomers reaches retirement, the question of who will step in as the next generation of farm operators is an increasingly pressing and relevant question for agriculture. According to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, the number of farmers 75 years and older has increased 20 percent since 2002. We need a national commitment to recruit and support the next generation of farmers in all sectors of agriculture.

By: Kelly Firkins,

DELAVAN, Minn. — As our nation’s farmers get older and a wave of baby boomers reaches retirement, the question of who will step in as the next generation of farm operators is an increasingly pressing and relevant question for agriculture. According to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, the number of farmers 75 years and older has increased 20 percent since 2002.

We need a national commitment to recruit and support the next generation of farmers in all sectors of agriculture.

In 2009, my husband and I started DelaBlu Farm in south-central Minnesota. Our farm is a small vegetable operation. We are starting our third season and marketing directly to consumers and in the process of becoming certified organic. With each passing year, our farm is growing, and so is our commitment to contributing to our community.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz and talk with him about the importance of beginning farmers. What impressed me the most was that he understands the value of young farmers and ranchers — how they create new jobs, bring money into local communities and how they are the future for innovation and the preservation of our nation’s rural culture.

There are many opportunities in farming today — growth in local and regional markets, organics, grass-fed and sustainably raised livestock, and hopefully soon, energy crops. It’s hard work, but real opportunities exist for beginning farmers.

Clearing hurdles

We need smart public policy that can help new farmers get started and address barriers to entry. It’s a worthwhile investment that will produce lasting results for our agriculture economy and rural communities.

Congress should redouble support for beginning farmers and ranchers in the next farm bill. Community-based beginning farmer training and assistance efforts should be expanded and enhanced, affordable and accessible credit should be bolstered, set-asides in conservation and other programs should be established, and policy should be enacted to tackle the difficult land access/farm transition issues retiring and new farmers face.

We all know America’s good land needs good farmers producing good food for today, but also for tomorrow.

Editor’s Note: Firkins is a farmer at DelaBlu Farms in south-central Minnesota.

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