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NFU's Beginning Farmer Institute welcomes new participants

24 October 2020

14 new participants are taking part in the National Farmers Union Beginning Farmer Institute, a key pillar in the NFU's support for the next generation of American agriculture.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) has announced that fourteen participants had been selected for its tenth Beginning Farmer Institute (BFI) cohort. Over the course of ten months, these beginning farmers and ranchers will attend three sessions focused on technical training, mentorship, and leadership development.

NFU established BFI in 2011 to help address concerns about the rapidly aging farm population – a trend that has since only worsened. According to the most recent Census of Agriculture, farmers older than 65 outnumber those younger than 35 by more than six to one, raising serious questions about who will be operating America’s farms in the coming decades. “As the oldest generation of farmers retires, we’re going to see a significant amount of farmland change hands,” said NFU President Rob Larew. “Our goal with BFI is ensuring that there are plenty of young farmers who are ready to take the reins when that happens.”

This scarcity of young and beginning farmers is not due to a lack of interest – rather, it is due to immense barriers to entry, including the difficulty of land acquisition, high upfront costs, and a shortage of educational opportunities. Ongoing crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, have only added to these challenges, making programmes like BFI even more crucial.

“Getting started in agriculture right now can be really overwhelming – there’s a great deal of uncertainty and beginning farmers might not know where to get all the information they need,” Larew noted. During the programme’s hands-on training sessions, participants will gain practical skills to overcome any hurdles they may face during their careers, including business planning, accounting, insurance, and labour management. The programme will employ the Farm and Ranch Business Health Assessment, a tool used to help farmers set goals for strengthening their business. “By concentrating on the issues that are most relevant to today’s farmers,” Larew added, “BFI prepares new farmers to get their operations off the ground and run them successfully for years to come”

In addition to an aging population, agriculture has another demographic challenge: gender imbalance. Though it has improved gradually over time, women and nonbinary farmers continue to be underrepresented and underserved: in 2017, only 36 percent of producers identified as female. An early supporter of women’s suffrage, National Farmers Union has been working to overcome this gender disparity for the duration of its 118-year existence through its educational programming and policy priorities. BFI has been a key part of those endeavours, with women accounting for more than 61 percent of the programme’s 129 graduates.

Though historically participants have met in-person for classroom and on-farm instruction, NFU anticipates hosting some or all of this year’s sessions virtually to ensure the health of both instructors and students.

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