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Helping New Farmers Get Started

October 31, 2011

LYONS, Neb. - Plenty of young people are interested in getting a start in farming or ranching, but they must overcome a huge array of obstacles. To give them some help, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act (S1412) has just been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In the past, young people in Wisconsin often got into the business by working on their parents' farm or ranch. However, says Traci Bruckner, assistant director of the Center for Rural Affairs Rural Policy Program, it is not like that today.

"We're finding a good majority of people are two or three generations removed from the land or have never had a connection to the land. There definitely is that aspect of this new farmer: They really have no history in it. So we're starting from absolute scratch."

Bruckner says a national strategy and commitment are needed to support those who want to enter agriculture, and the Act is an important part of moving public policy in that direction. She points out that the Act also will help create jobs, and calls it a sound investment that can provide long-term societal benefits.

Bruckner describes the legislation as very broad, saying it covers a number of issues that any beginning farmer or rancher faces in trying to get started in the business.

"The focus is on conservation programs, rural development programs, research programs, credit programs - all those provisions in the farm bill, then, would have some kind of special tweak or priority for a beginning farmer or rancher."

A new wave of interest in getting into agriculture is happening all over the country, Bruckner says, supported by good crop prices, a rapidly developing local food movement and growth in organic production and sales. With an aging farm population and a large segment of baby boomers considering retirement, she stresses that now is the time to give a boost to new agriculture start-ups.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI