There's no doubt about it: the US population of farmers is aging. There's no shortage of young people eager to begin farming, but most often, they lack the capital for equipment, land, and other startup expenses. So what can the government do about it, especially when funds are so tight?
The best opportunity may lie in the USDA's 40-year-old Rural Youth Loan program. With a few changes in the 2012 farm bill, this program could be the microcredit that the next generation needs.
The Rural Youth Loan program was created to provide opportunities for youth living in communities with fewer than 50,000 residents to learn about agriculture and start income producing businesses. And by youth, they really mean it. Loans are given out to kids as young as 10 and as old as 20. A USDA video tells the story of the Hungate boys of Idaho, ages 9, 11, and 12, who were given a $5,000 loan to buy four cows. Drake, the eldest Hungate, reports, "we got really good interest -- and we locked it in at 3.2 percent."
In the 2012 farm bill, a new category of youth loans could be created for young people ages 21-35. The loans could double or triple the lending limit, but remain accessible for the young farmer with limited experience.
It's a great idea. Shute also discusses some of the nongovernmental organizations that are creating new and innovative programs designed to get young or beginning farmers started in business. With creativity and support, new farmers can get on the ground and into business!