The New York Department of Agriculture and Markets has launched a new grant program for beginning farmers just as industry experts and farmers say access to land and capital are two of the toughest challenges for a farmer starting out.
“Land is expensive if you don’t have capital,” said Larkin Podsiedlik, the executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension Madison County. “One of the things we find right now with beginning farmer is the farms that are looking to sell or lease land are large properties, but when you’re a smaller beginning farmer, you can only afford maybe a couple of acres.”
The state launched the new $1 million program earlier this month with the goal of providing grants ranging from $5,000 to $250,000 per farmer. There is a separate $4 million grant program for farmers from socially and economically disadvantaged groups.
Podsiedlik said the programs can pave the road to owning land.
“The grants can really help just get them started, get them off on the right foot,” she said. “I think they often encourage people to partner with organizations like CCE. We hope that when people are accessing these grants, they also reach out to their local extension to see how we can help with beginning farmer programs.”
CCE Madison County continues to get young people interested in agriculture, which can come in the form of equipment repair, accounting or other business careers, Podsiedlik said.
“There are a million jobs that touch agriculture, even if you don’t want to be in the fields every day,” she said.
Bringing in the next generation will be critical as data from the USDA shows the average age of a producer in the United States is 57.5 years old.
It’s a point raised at Madison County Open Farm Days over the weekend as 26 farms opened their gates to the public to visit and participate in tastings, animal interactions and tours. Tess Southern, 4-H educator for CCE Madison County, said the event is meant for the public to better understand farms.
“It’s different than seeing a farmer at a market, you don’t get to understand all the ins and outs of how they get to the market,” Southern said. “Being able to have people come on to the farm is really beneficial so that they can see every aspect of that farmer’s life.”
Teaching appreciation for the land and local farms is critical as access becomes limited, said Todd Avery, the farm manager at Deer Hill Wagyu in Cazenovia.
“They’re not making any more of it,” he said. “We’re in an area where the agriculture is bigger, so the bigger farms are always expanding and needing more and more land.”
The state grants will help farmers wanting to enter the industry, said Ryan Fitzgerald, a farm apprentice at Salt City Harvest Farm in Kirkville.
“I’m working on a grant program right now. I don’t think I would be able to work in the agriculture sector in this capacity if there wasn’t money floating around ready for people to utilize,” Fitzgerald said.
In addition to the price of land, the input costs of materials can be prohibitive, Fitzgerald said.
“Things like materials for irrigation, fertilizer, equipment, it’s a lot of startup costs,” he said.