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USDA Deputy Secretary Grants Florida Universities Future Farmer Funds

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009   

GAINESVILLE, Fla - Farming in Florida is an industry worth more than $6 billion a year, and now, the state's higher education system has received some much-needed extra cash to "grow" a future crop of farmers.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan has awarded $17 million in federal grants to 29 institutions. As part of the USDA's "Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program," the University of Florida will receive almost $600,000; Florida A& M University gets more than $225,000.

Merrigan points out that the average age of farmers in America is 59, and says it's time to train a new generation of agricultural leaders.

"We have this new initiative at USDA that we call 'Know your farmer, know your food.' We like to say that not every family needs an accountant, not every family needs a lawyer, but clearly every family needs a farmer -- do you know who 'your' farmer is?"

Beginning farmers and ranchers need training to build profitable and sustainable businesses, while the USDA is searching for strategies to bring more people back to the land. So, the grants are a good fit, says Merrigan.

"To develop the kind of local and regional markets that are especially appealing for small and mid-size operations, so people can get into farming and, maybe from there, grow their operations to a larger size."

She adds as part of the 2008 Farm Bill, the new initiative will provide $75 million dollars over the next four years in dedicated funding for community-based organizations and others working with new farmers.



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