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Center for Rural Affairs

Training for farmers, ranchers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced more than $18 million in funding available to support training, mentoring and development of beginning farmers and ranchers through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.

We helped create and advocate for this program in the 2002 Farm Bill. It was finally funded in the 2008 Farm Bill.

The need was clear then and remains so today. A number of beginning farmers and ranchers don’t have direct roots to agriculture. While they yearn for the honest, hard work you find in farming or ranching, they need help learning the ropes.

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program awards grants to organizations implementing programs to train beginning farmers and ranchers. Funding includes support for workshops, farmer-to-farmer mentoring, and technical assistance.

Since the program was first funded and put on the ground in 2009, 145 awards have been made. That’s more than $71 million dedicated to giving the next generation of farmers and ranchers the know-how to succeed.

A focus on projects for veteran beginning farmers and ranchers has been added this time. It joins previous set-asides for socially-disadvantaged, limited-resource, or farmworkers who want a start in agriculture.

Organizations experienced in serving beginning farmers and ranchers must submit their applications by March 13, 2015. If you are a beginning farmer or rancher looking to find training and mentoring opportunities, call us at 402-687-2100 or send an email to We’ll point you in the right direction.

Conservation Stewardship Program

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking public comments on recent changes to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The program, the most significant leap in conservation policy in a decade, was designed to reward top-notch conservation already on the ground, as well as incentivize the integration of new and innovative conservation systems that protect and enhance the quality of our soil, water and air.

However, without crucial changes, the program will fail to yield those intended results. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) must base producers’ ranking and payments solely on environmental benefits and outcomes. They consistently overemphasize the importance of additional or new conservation activities while failing to adequately support conservation practices and systems farmers and ranchers are currently employing, which misses the mark by supporting late adopters of improved conservation systems over those who have historically placed conservation at the core of their operations.

NRCS must also ensure payment limitations are real. By statute, CSP contracts are limited to $40,000 per fiscal year and $200,000 from fiscal year 2014 through 2018. But the rule doubles the statutory limit for joint operations. Worse, the rule fails to require that beneficiaries be active farmers, and allows farms to have multiple contracts despite the statutory stipulation that the entire farm must be enrolled in the CSP contract. These loopholes allow certain operations to rack up contracts far in excess of the statutory limit and gives them a competitive advantage over small and mid-sized farmers.

Visit: to make public comments.