Three years ago, the average age of a Minnesota farmer was 56.5 years old according to the Census of Agriculture. As our farmers continue to age, there is an increased need to support the next generation of agricultural producers in the state.
In February 2020, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) released an important report about the barriers new and potential farmers face in Minnesota. The 37-page “Emerging Farmers in Minnesota” report explored the questions: who are emerging farmers, what are the barriers to entry, and what actions is Minnesota taking to support the future of agriculture in the state?
Conducted through six listening sessions with more than 200 participants, the report defines “emerging farmers” as individuals entirely new to farming as well as generational farmers who have been outside the scope of traditional state and federal agricultural support programs. This categorization focuses on historically underserved communities including women, veterans, persons with disabilities, Native American/Alaska Native, communities of color, young and beginning farmers, and LGBTQ+ farmers.
The report also laid out recommendations to support and cultivate this next generation of farmers. And in November 2020, the Minnesota Legislature appointed seventeen Minnesotans to an Emerging Farmers’ Working Group.
“Many Minnesotans are interested in agriculture and looking for a pathway to succeed at farming, only to encounter numerous barriers when entering the field,” Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan says about the launch of the working group. “I’m excited about the trail-blazers and risk-takers who are lending their abilities and perspectives to this effort to make agriculture more inclusive.”
The group focuses on advising the MDA and Minnesota Legislature on ways to advance the success and sustainability of farmers who traditionally face barriers to the resources necessary to build profitable agricultural businesses. All the group’s meetings are open to the public and currently held virtually.
The MDA also carved out space on its website to consolidate resources for emerging farmers. The “MDA Resources for Emerging Farmers” page includes the following resources for beginning, emerging and retiring Minnesota Farmers.
The FarmLink program brings together retiring farmers and landowners who want to see their farms or farming operations continue with beginning farmers who are looking for land, farming operations, or mentors. It also provides users with a list of available land and livestock operations that are for sale or rent.
Farm Business Management (FBM) Scholarships
The Beginning Farmer Farm Business Management Scholarship is available to eligible farmers in Minnesota who want to learn business management strategies that will lead to profitable farming operations. FBM scholarships are available through eight Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. Each scholarship pays up to 50 percent of tuition for up to 40 credits.
Beginning Farmer Tax Credit
The Minnesota Beginning Farmer Tax Credit provides tax credits for the rent or sale of farmland or a variety of farm assets for beginning farmers. This includes incentives for the sale of farmland. To qualify for the tax credit, a recipient must be a Minnesota resident who is seeking entry, or entered into farming, within the last 10 years.
Agricultural Microloan Program
The Pilot Agricultural Microloan Program assists non-traditional farmers by providing lending capital while developing their farm business towards traditional agricultural credit. Farmers can borrow up to $10,000 for working capital (annual inputs such as seed, feed, fertilizer, land rent, etc.) or equipment and other farm asset purchase with a common useful life of 10 years or less.
MDA Grants, Loans and Financing
The MDA has many grant and loan programs to help farmers improve and expand their current operations. Programs include support for new equipment, changes to farm management practices, expansion of a farm, or more. A complete list of the MDA’s grant and loan programs is available on its website.
All of MDA’s current resources for new and emerging farmers can be found at mda.state.mn.us/mda-resources-emerging-farmer