WASHINGTON – Building on over a century of agricultural education, National Farmers Union (NFU) has announced its ninth Beginning Farmer Institute (BFI) cohort. Thirteen beginning farmers and ranchers from across the United States will take part in the education program, which promotes the success of the next generation of agricultural professionals by providing mentorship, technical training, and leadership development.

BFI was established in 2011 in response to many of the demographic challenges the agricultural industry is currently confronting. At the time, the median age for American farmers was 55.5 years; today, that number has crept up to 57.5. An estimated 33 percent of American farmland will transfer ownership in the next 15 years.

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. As these hurdles have grown and multiplied over time, the training offered through BFI has become even more valuable. “We are facing a seismic shift in agriculture in the coming years,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “Many of today’s farmers won’t be in the field in 10 or 15 years. When they retire, we need to ensure that there are plenty of qualified and well-equipped beginning farmers ready to take their place.”

Through sessions hosted in Washington, D.C., California, and Georgia, the program’s hands-on training will address the many challenges beginning farmers may face in their careers, including business planning, accounting, insurance, and labor. This is the first year the program will employ the Farm and Ranch Business Health Assessment, a tool authored by Poppy Davis and developed in 2017 through a Farm Service Agency funded project with California FarmLink and Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE). The 2019 update funded by Farm Credit Council follows two years of field testing in partnership with various training organizations around the country.

“By providing pertinent and up-to-date technical and professional training, NFU’s Beginning Farmer Institute is playing an important role in securing a bright future for American agriculture,” Johnson added.

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.

National Farmers Union, an early supporter of women’s suffrage, has been working to overcome this gender disparity for the duration of its 117-year existence. The organization has offered women-focused educational programming for many decades and continues to prioritize the specific needs and interests of women farmers. Women have been active participants of the Beginning Farmer Institute, accounting for more than 61 percent of the 116 beginning farmers who have completed BFI and 8 of the 13 participants announced for this year.

The farmers selected to participate in the 2019-2020 Beginning Farmers Institute program are:

  • Rose Bisanz, Michigan.
  • Josefina Lara Chavez, California.
  • Tucker Dehmlow, Ohio.
  • Carissa Elmstrand, Minnesota.
  • Jennifer Ghigiarelli, Colorado.
  • Miriam Goertzen-Regier, Kansas.
  • Ryan Goertzen-Regier, Kansas.
  • Tanner Hunt, Washington.
  • Sara Beth Johnson, Arkansas.
  • Akello Karamoko, Michigan.
  • Kyle Minyard, Oklahoma.
  • Joseph Ploeckelman, Wisconsin.
  • Diana Weinhardt-Treangen, Minnesota.

NFU Foundation has continued to grow the BFI program through the generous support of CHS Foundation, Farm Aid, Farm Credit and Farmers Union Industries Foundation.

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