A Coalition for Young Farmers

The National Young Farmers Coalition works to connect beginning farmers with resources.

By Claire Vath

SEE THE COMPLETE SPECIAL REPORT: We asked several young farmers about their challenges and goals, then listened as each spoke of hard lessons learned, their passion for farming and hopes for the future. >>

While young farmers face some pretty hefty challenges, there are organizations formed with the express purpose of providing relevant resources, such as information on loans and subsidies. Thing is producers need to know where to look.

Founded in 2010, the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), out of Hudson, N.Y., focuses its efforts on supporting America’s next generation of sustainable farmers and ranchers. In fact, following the NYFC’s lead, in 2014, Canada formed a similar organization, the National New Farmer Coalition.

In addition to providing a few resources below, FarmLife spoke with Eric Hansen, the NYFC policy analyst, to understand the challenges young farmers face and how his organization can help.

“In 2011, we did a national survey of our members to ask them what’s going well and what they were struggling with,” says Hansen. “The two biggest struggles we heard were: 1) access to credit and 2) access to land.”

These issues are complicated, with no silver-bullet solution. “What we know about our members is that many, but not all, are first-generation farmers who aren’t coming from farm families and inheriting land.

“Even those who’ve grown up on the farm are still struggling to access land,” he says. One of NYFC’s efforts is simply pointing these agricultural newcomers to the resources they need, such as USDA loans. “Once we’re able to point people in right direction, they’re going to find the door, open it and walk through,” Hansen says.

As part of its advocacy and policy-changing efforts, Hansen says his organization continues to work with the USDA and other groups to offer microloans. “If you want to grow corn or beans in Iowa, the state folks know what to do and how to help through traditional USDA funding,” Hansen says.

“But many young farmers are doing some pretty innovative stuff—from adopting new practices within row crop rotation, to diversified direct markets and carving out new marketing channels. USDA doesn’t know how to serve those farmers; historically, they haven’t done it. So we’re working with them to ensure they can serve all of agriculture … not just traditional crops.”

And that’s why microloans make sense. According to Hansen, the smallest loans through some of the USDA programs is almost $1.4 million. “But if you’re a young farmer, you can’t even leverage that much credit. For a smaller farm to grow over time and have the ability to scale up, you don’t need that much money anyway.”

Microloans go up to $50,000, allowing young operators to purchase a tractor or lease small acreage. To date, USDA has granted about 17,000 of these loans. “It’s been incredibly successful,” says Hansen.

But challenges remain. Over the next 25 years, an estimated two-thirds of farmland will transition to a new operator and/or ownership. That, says Hansen, could play out in a few different ways: “We could see a whole bunch of farmland fall out of production or into non-farm uses; big farms could get bigger, further limiting opportunities for new farmers.”

Or, he says, “We could see a whole generation of new, young farmers pop up who are prepared to take over some of that land and drive agriculture forward, both innovating and growing the sector.”

He remains upbeat about that last scenario. “I’m hopeful we’ll continue to see programs like the NYFC that help bring farmers together and empower young farmers.”

For more information on the NYFC visit To learn about Canada’s National New Farmer Coalition, visit See also Canada’s Young Agrarians organization at

For more on succession planning, including advice on getting started, an explanation of options available to farmers and other family businesses, a case study, and resources for more information, see the special report, “Passing on the Farm.” >>