USDA Launches New Website for New Farmers and Ranchers

Source: Logan Britton, 2014 National FFA Organization Communications Intern

Farmers work hard. They work to produce food that will eventually be on our dinner plate, while dealing with unpredictable weather, long hours and countless risks. New farmers face more obstacles with starting their operations with acquiring land, equipment and capital as well as learning about regulations and insurance policies.

With these new challenges, the U.S. Department of Agriculture hopes to guide the next generation of farmers for their future careers. As FFA members are also preparing to be future leaders in the industry, USDA’s New Farmers website could be used as a valuable resource.

The website takes users through a step-by-step process in creating an operation. These steps include education and technical assistance, acquiring land and capital, managing risk and financial management.

FFA members trying to start their supervised agriculture experience programs can find youth loans useful. The Farm Service Agency provides up to $5,000 to be used to buy livestock, seed, equipment and other operational items. If an FFA member wanted to expand their SAE, they could check out value-added producer grants and the USDA National Farmers Market Directory. These resources could help a member find different ways to sell their products in new markets.

Krysta Harden, agriculture deputy secretary, said the age of farmers is increasing, with the average age currently standing at 58 years old.

“New and beginning farmers are the future of American agriculture,” Harden said. “For agriculture to continue prospering in this country, we need to offer products and policies that address the unique challenges and issues facing new and beginning farmers. This website aims to address some of those challenges and make getting started just a little bit easier for the next generation.”

The website also provides information for creating a business plan as well as blogs and videos of topics that pertain to new farmers and ranchers.

North Hollywood High School Ag Students Keep Tradition Alive and Will Make Future Bright

Source: Karen Ross, California Agriculture Secretary

Many decades ago, now-urban Los Angeles County was agrarian. In fact, it was once the largest Ag county in California. In that more pastoral time, North Hollywood High School had a 100-acre farm.

Since then, it has seen its footprint shrink to eight acres and is now surrounded by apartment buildings and other developments. However, that smaller plot of land is still very productive! I had a chance to see it for myself recently.

Ag students at North Hollywood High, including FFA members, work hard to maintain a farm that serves the community – including a flourishing community garden. The students raise money for the farm, themselves, without funding assistance from the school district.

When I visited, they had just completed their annual petting zoo fundraiser, which is widely supported by the community.  It was a special treat to see twins born earlier that morning to a pygmy goat!

As usual, I was impressed by the poised, confident, articulate students who are proud representatives of FFA.  I love spending time with them because they represent the promise of a future bright with possibilities.

Whether they go on to have careers in agriculture or not, they certainly will be better citizens and well informed consumers, which make for healthier communities!

There is no doubt in my mind that that North Hollywood FFA officers, Nicholas, Thomas, Jocelyn, Casey, Josh and Letitia have benefited from their FFA experience. Our future is in good hands with young people like them.

Ag Students Rally to Try to Preserve Education Grants

Source: California Farm Bureau Federation 

Concerns about future funding for high school agricultural classes and leadership programs are being voiced throughout California—and nowhere louder than at the state Capitol, where thousands of students and members of Future Farmers of America rallied last week to try to prevent elimination of the state’s $4.1 million Agricultural Education Incentive Grant program.

“It was gratifying to see the number of legislators who came out to support the students at the Capitol rally,” said Jim Aschwanden, executive director of the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, who estimated participation at more than 2,000 students.

“They were met with great bipartisan support from both houses,” Aschwanden said. “The kids who came to the Capitol were well prepared to discuss the programs and funding issues, and did a great job of visiting offices.”

Program funding was included in the 2013-14 budget because legislators pressured the administration to preserve it, but the administration suggested the grant program could be scrapped this year.

Agricultural educators across the state currently use the grants to support career-based education that combines FFA leadership and personal development programs with classroom and vocational instruction, he said. The programs develop young leaders who go on to attend post-secondary colleges and career technical education programs at higher rates than their peers, Aschwanden said.

Enrollment in agriculture classes offered at 315 high schools statewide has steadily climbed during the past decade, educators said. Today, about 78,000 California high school students take agriculture-related classes, with strong program growth at urban high schools as well as those in rural communities.

“As teachers, parents, community members and taxpayers, we’re angry,” said Dave Gossman, who heads the agriculture department at Atwater High School. “The decision to eliminate the ag grant program is perplexing because it impacts an education program that has a direct benefit on the lives of our kids and the state’s future.”

Without the grant funding, California’s agricultural programs could be terminated, vocational education experts said.

“Instead of eliminating California’s proven FFA program, why not secure funding and build on the programs to offer more students the opportunity for success?” Gossman said.

“Virtually every region in our state has an FFA program,” Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, said in a letter to legislative leaders, which was signed by nearly 100 members of the Legislature and also noted the rising enrollment in agricultural classes.

The classes include agriscience, mechanics, ornamental horticulture, animal science, agriculture business, plant and soil science, forestry and natural resources.

Andrea Fox, legislative policy analyst for the California Farm Bureau Federation, said Farm Bureau has been “actively involved in ensuring that funding will remain available for the agricultural grant program.” She noted that a Farm Team alert from CFBF generated nearly 400 letters to the governor and legislators in support of the program.

Aschwanden said the next steps in the state budget process will include legislative committee hearings.

“We’re anxious to see what the May (budget) revise looks like in terms of overall funding for education,” he said. “We’re hearing there may be additional funds available for education, which will make these proposed cuts to ag education even more disturbing.”

He said agricultural educators have asked people to contact legislators, “particularly those from urban areas.”

Leaders of “Save,” a grassroots group affiliated with the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, encourage parents and community leaders to write letters to the governor and members of the Legislature. More information on the effort to ensure funding for agricultural education is online at