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New England farmers to gain ground through share of $17 million in USDA Beginning Farmer Program grant funds

Landowner-Farmer-Open-House-LymeCT_photo by Kathy Ruhf -adj-brightness

Landowner meets with perspective farmer to discuss a lease-to-own opportunity
for their farmland.

(photo by Land For Good)

Land For Good announced that it has been awarded $641,000 grant to help beginning farmers who seek land in New England or who want to improve their tenure situation. The Land Access Project expands LFG’s collaborative work to help New England beginning farmers successfully access land to start or grow their farms. The project will also benefit established farmers seeking to plan a farm transfer or find a successor.

The grant comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program which is administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). USDA awarded more than $17 million in grants to organizations nationwide that will provide training and education for beginning farmers and ranchers. (USDA)

This second three-year phase of LFG’s Land Access Project brings together over 40 collaborating organizations, agencies and individual experts to continue regional collaboration on farmland access, transfer and tenure. Like its first phase, the project takes a comprehensive, systems approach to improve programs and policies around land access and transfer in each New England state. Project teams and partners will work with established and transitioning farmers, landowners, conservation organizations, service providers, communities and policymakers.

In New England, the majority of farmers are at or beyond retirement age. According to the US Census of Agriculture, 31 percent of principal farm operators are age 55 to 64 and 30 percent are age 65 and over. (See below for state statistics) What these farmers do with their land and other farm assets as they exit farming will shape New England’s agricultural landscape for generations to come. The Land Access Project will help farmers access land to start or grow their farms and to support established farmers to transfer their farms to next generation farmers.

Accessing farmland is a challenge for all farmers, but it is particularly daunting for beginning farmers who mostly come from non-farming backgrounds and lack access to capital. At the same time, an aging farmer population – many of whom lack identified successors – face the challenge of passing on their farms to the next generation. Acquiring land and passing it on are two sides of the same farmland access “coin.”

“Our long term goals of this project,” says Jim Hafner, Executive Director of Land For Good, “are to give beginning farmers more knowledge and skills to access land and improve land tenure. Beginning farmers will connect with established farmers, as well as landowners, so farms will be more effectively transferred. We’ll also be looking at land access innovations to create stronger programs to assist farmers to access land in New England and nationally.”

Founded and based in Keene, LFG works throughout New England to help farmers access and transfer farms and farmland. It is one of the few groups nationally focused on farmland access, transfer and tenure. In addition to innovation and policy work, LFG provides education, resources and direct services to farm seekers, established farmers, landowners, and community stakeholders in all six New England states.

State Farmland Access Statistics

Maine:  In Maine, nearly one-third of the farms and farmland are owned and managed by farmers at or beyond retirement age, 65 years and older, and that number is growing. Over 50 perent of Maine’s principal farm operators are age 45 to 64 and will be facing their own succession challenges in the next couple decades. (US Census of Agriculture) “Access to land is one of the biggest challenges for beginning farmers in New England, and Maine specifically. This major grant will enable over 2,000 beginning farmers to access land or achieve more secure tenure,” says LFG Education and Field Director and Maine farmer (Montville), Andrew Marshall. “I have seen first-hand how effective LFG’s work has been with Maine farmers and landowners.”

New Hampshire:  The majority of beginning farmers (55 percent) are age 45 to 64, and 30 percent are age 65 and over. NH’s farming population is aging. Only 15 percent of principal operators are under age 45, and only 26 percent are new and beginning farmers of any age. (US Census of Agriculture) And that number of “next generation” principal operators under age 45 is falling, according to new research by American Farmland Trust and Land For Good.

Vermont:  Over 25 percent of the farms and farmland are owned and managed by farmers at or beyond retirement age, 65 years and older, and that number is growing with 55 percent of Vermont’s principle farm operators aged 45 to 64 who will be facing their own succession challenges in the next couple decades. (US Census of Agriculture) Only 13 percent of the land in farms is owned or leased by next generation farmers, according to new research by American Farmland Trust and Land For Good. Many aging farmers are without an identified successor.

Massachusetts:  Over one-third of the farms and farmland are owned and managed by farmers at or beyond retirement age, 65 years and older. (US Census of Agriculture) A vast majority, 92 percent, of farmers age 65 or older do not have a farm operator under the age of 45 working alongside of them, according to new research by American Farmland Trust and Land For Good. So while the Commonwealth has seen an uptick in new and beginning farmers, a majority of these new farmers are age 45 or older, facing their own succession challenges in the next couple decades.

Connecticut:  Nearly one-third of the farms and farmland are owned and managed by farmers at or beyond retirement age, 65 years and older, and that number is growing, with 56 percent of Connecticut’s principal farm operators aged 45 to 64 who will be facing their own succession challenges in the next couple decades. Many aging farmers are without an identified successor. Less than 10 percent of Connecticut farmland is owned or leased by next generation farmers. (US Census of Agriculture) “It is exciting for us and for the state of Connecticut,” says Rachel Murray, farmer (Roxbury) and CT Field Agent of Land For Good. “It opens the door to the possibility of working with more farm seekers to get them onto secure farmland, working with private landowners and conservation groups like Land Trusts to make this land available for farmers looking to start or expand their farm business,” explains Murray. “We’ll also be increasing awareness and education in Connecticut about the importance of affordable and accessible farmland for the local economy, food system, and overall sustainable future for the state.”

Rhode Island:  Nearly one-third of the farms and farmland are owned and managed by farmers at or beyond retirement age, 65 years and older, and that number is growing with 56 percent of Rhode Island’s principal farm operators aged 45 to 64 who will be facing their own succession challenges in the next couple decades. (US Census of Agriculture) Only 15 percent are next generation principal operators and that number is falling, according to new research by American Farmland Trust and Land For Good. Many aging farmers are without an identified successor.

For more information please contact:
Jim Habana Hafner
Executive Director, Land For Good
Tel. 603-357-1600
Email. jim@landforgood.org

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