By Tom Driscoll, NFU Director of Conservation Policy and Education
National Farmer Union’s historic concern and advocacy for the vitality of family farming and rural communities demands that every person involved with the organization works to ensure beginning producers can successfully engage in farming and support their families with sustainable businesses. NFU’s policy, established by the organization’s membership, recognizes that “the average age of a U.S. farmer continues to increase and a majority of the nation’s farmland will change hands in the coming years due to the aging farmer population. The ability of the next generation of family farmers to continue to produce food and fiber is critical to the economy, health, and security of our nation and local communities.”
High land prices and the capital-intensive nature of many farms present serious challenges to beginning producers trying to find their first parcel or access more land near the start of their careers. But opportunities are out there: many farmers are approaching retirement without a successor, and innovations stemming from renewed popular interest in food production may offer new farm business models that circumvent traditional land access challenges. It’s a careful matter of matching beginning producers with retiring farmers committed to keeping the land in production, being diligent about careful conversations with family farming partners, or maybe rethinking what a career growing agricultural products might look like.
Fortunately, stakeholders from off the farm are tuned into this challenge. If beginning farmers do not have the opportunity to assume responsibility for the nation’s production, farmland and the food system will be vulnerable to consolidation. This limits consumer choice and impairs the resilience of the food system. The Beginning Farmer Forum will highlight some of the work these stakeholders have undertaken; please stay connected to the Forum to learn whether their efforts might be good opportunities for you. We also hope to learn from Forum participants which opportunities work, which don’t and why.
Are you a beginning producer looking for land? Are you a producer nearing retirement without a successor? Do you see the trends discussed in this post occurring in your community? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.