USDA and the National FFA Organization recognize the importance of cultivating a new generation of farmers and ranchers. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan and 2011-12 National FFA President Ryan Best – in an article about agriculture’s need for an infusion of young farmers – point out that America has three farm operators over the age of 65 for every one under the age of 35 and the average age of a farm operator in the U.S. is 55. Merrigan and Best suggest it’s important to recruit new farmers from within and outside farming communities – and offer services and support to help them access land and credit, manage risk, develop revenue-generating businesses and adapt and innovate to meet new demands.
USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative is designed to strengthen opportunities that come from the growing demand for locally and regionally produced food. USDA also trains new farmers in production, marketing and business planning through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program. Projects in 40 states helped add thousand of new farmers and ranchers to the ranks in 2009 and 2010. USDA farm operating loans help connect these producers with land.
FFA offers agricultural education and training to young people in areas ranging from communications to business planning to diversified livestock production. While the base of the organization is still rural – there are now FFA chapters in 18 of America’s 20 largest cities – and urban and suburban members comprise 10-percent of total membership (which now stands at more than 500-thousand nationwide).