CONTINUING COVERAGE: FLOODS OF 2016

Tom Vilsack Announces Nearly 18 million in Funding, Looks to Grow Next Farming Generation

AMES, Iowa -- The average age of the American farmer is just over 58 years old, and that concerns the USDA.

With the older generation soon to pass the torch to the younger, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced Wednesday in Ames that it will be getting easier for new farmers to enter the industry.

The USDA just invested $17.8 million in programs across the country aimed at new farmers getting started in the business.

The National Farmers Organization based in Ames will be getting almost $590,000 of that money and say they are using it to create a mentorship program that matches up new farmers with veterans in the organic industry.

Farmers say they’re grateful for the funding.

“I’ve been able to use some of the beginning farmer programs through the USDA and to see that kind of commitment from the USDA I think is very positive for the future of young farmers,” said fourth generation farmer Nathan Anderson.

Secretary Vilsack also says marketing the importance of the industry to would-be farmers is critical in bringing in new farmers.

“We are one of the only food secure nations in the world; we do not have to depend on anyone for food. China would love to be in that situation but they’re not and they never will be, but we are, and that makes us a safer nation. That too is brought to us by farm families. Every single one of us that’s not a farmer, is not a farmer because we’ve delegated the responsibility of feeding out families to people we don’t even know,” said Vilsack.

Farmers already in the industry say that message is what they need to focus on.

“…And if they take that step to make that connection to the person that’s growing what they’re consuming on their table, that’s the best recruitment tool we have as farmers," said Anderson.

Young farmers like Anderson also says adding new blood to the culture of farming would benefit everyone.

“Maybe they’re starting in vegetables or niche livestock, that they bring a different perspective to the table than I have as a more conventional row crop farmer,” he said.

Secretary Vilsack also announced he will be holding a series of forums for beginning farmers to share their concerns about the industry.