In my two previous posts on beginning farmers (http://tiny.cc/… and http://tiny.cc/…), I raised questions about some of the programs created to help them. Many of these programs assume the beginning farmer's biggest problem is the high price and limited supply of land.
This assumption does not seem farfetched. Unless the beginning farmer has landowning parents or a sympathetic banker, lack of capital and inability to obtain financing are likely to prove major barriers to entry. Several of the readers who commented on my previous posts testified to the value of beginning-farmer loan programs.
But while coming up with the initial investment is a big hurdle for beginning farmers, it's far from the only one. Having gotten a farm off the ground, the newcomer must struggle to keep it airborne. New farms have a high failure rate. That should not shock anyone: Most new businesses have a high failure rate, and even farmers with decades of experience have years when they lose money. Still, beginning farmers' struggles suggest their need for help doesn't end with land-loan programs.
What can be done to boost new farmers' staying power? Training and mentoring leaps to mind, and you don't have to look far on the Internet to find programs providing them. The National Young Farmers Coalition website lists dozens of "training opportunities" -- courses, internships, apprenticeships and more (http://tiny.cc/…). Other websites have their own lists.
Finding programs is easy; what's hard is determining how much good the programs do. Which if any of them graduate new farmers who go on to have above-average success rates?
Unable to find studies assessing which farmer-development programs work and which don't, I turn again to readers for answers. If you've taken a new-farmer training course or done an internship or apprenticeship, I'd love to hear about your experiences. You can share them in the comments box below or by emailing me. My address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a previous post, I discussed a proposal to add farming to the list of "public service" professions qualifying for federal student-loan forgiveness. In response, I received a strongly argued email from Ethan Tate of Fairmont, Minnesota. Agree with him or not, I think you'll find what he has to say interesting:
"I recently read your post on student loan forgiveness for young farmers. Frankly I pose this question to you. Why should we get loan forgiveness?
"We as farmers are known for how hard we work. It is possible to pay back your student loans. I do it with a part time job as a police officer. I work all day on the farm and all night as a cop. I don't spend money frivolously and I pay my debts.
"As a young farmer working hard and paying your bills before you spend money on other things is how it should be done. I have done so in order to pay my student loans. And I believe it builds a lot more character than to just have them forgiven.
"Farming is tough right now. Off-farm jobs are needed to survive. Young guys don't usually have a chance without family. But hard work can get them a long way. I'm 26 and I can tell you a problem with my generation is that many don't want to pay off their bills as badly as they want to go out and have fun on the weekends."
Thanks, Ethan, for weighing in on this, and thanks especially for your hard work and commendable ethics. And thanks again, too, to all who have responded to these posts on beginning-farmer programs.
Please don't stop now. If you've taken part in a training program you thought was particularly effective -- or ineffective -- I'd love to hear from you.
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