Montpelier, Vermont, August 27, 2020 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is standing up a new team that will lead a department-wide effort focused on serving beginning farmers and ranchers.
To institutionalize support for beginning farmers and ranchers and to build upon prior agency work, the 2018 Farm Bill directed USDA to create a national coordinator position in the agency and state-level coordinators for four of its agencies – Farm Service Agency (FSA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Risk Management Agency (RMA), and Rural Development (RD).
Elijah Massey was selected as the USDA Beginning Farmer state coordinator in Vermont. Prior to joining USDA RD in 2017, Elijah spent six years working on farms across the United States, served as an Agricultural Extension Volunteer with the U.S. Peace Corps in Paraguay, and completed a graduate degree at UVM where his thesis focused on farmer access and utilization of technical assistance. Elijah is excited to be working in support of Vermont’s beginning farmers to ensure the growth and success of their agricultural endeavors.
Others on the team coordinating Vermont’s beginning farmer efforts include USDA’s Jill Thomas (FSA), Amy Overstreet (NRCS) and Bill Ferris (RMA). This is a collateral duty for all team members. Each state coordinator will receive training and develop tailored beginning farmer outreach plans for their state. Coordinators will help field employees better reach and serve beginning farmers and will also be available to assist beginning farmers who need help navigating the variety of resources USDA has to offer.
Twenty-seven percent of farmers were categorized as new and beginning producers, with 10 years or less of experience in agriculture, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture. According to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the percent of Vermont farms operated by new and beginning producers in 2017 was 35%.
USDA offers a variety of farm loan, risk management, disaster assistance, and conservation programs to support farmers, including beginning farmers.
Additionally, a number of these programs have provisions specifically for beginning farmers, such as FSA’s down payment program loan, NRCS conservation programs, as well as waivers and exemptions.
USDA’s online Discovery Tool (https://newfarmers.usda.gov/discovery) leads new and aspiring farmers through a series of questions to formulate a personalized report to help guide new USDA customers to the appropriate agency, programs, and resources to assist them. This interactive tool can help farmers find information on USDA farm loans and conservation programs within minutes. Elijah notes, “We are working to improve our customer service and part of our solution is through improving how farmers can work with us online.”
Learn more about USDA’s resources for beginning farmers as well as more information on the national and state-level coordinators at farmers.gov/newfarmers. For more information on available programs in your area, contact your local USDA Service Center.