While many transition programs are geared towards technology or corporate jobs for veterans, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is working to make a career in agriculture more accessible and appealing to veterans with their ‘New Farmers’ programming.
The USDA recently announced that they will be working with SCORE, a network of volunteers with business expertise, to provide mentorship opportunities to new farmers, including veterans.
For the last 30 years, farmers have been saying that the three biggest impediments to entry level producers are “access to land, access to capital, and access to technical assistance,” said Chris Beyerhelm, Acting Administrator of USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA).
Rural America has a wealth of knowledge for new farmers, according to Beyerhelm.
“What we came to realize is that one of the greatest assets that rural America has are all the retired folks that live in their communities. They’re retired bankers and lawyers and agro business people, and accountants,” he said.
USDA decided to partner with SCORE when they realized they needed a way to network agricultural mentors in rural areas.
“SCORE matches business professionals and entrepreneurs with new business owners to mentor them through the process of starting-up and maintaining a new business,” an Aug. 5th press release said. “USDA and its partners across rural America are working with SCORE to support new farming and ranching operations, and identify and recruit mentors with a wealth of agricultural experience.”
Making it easier for veterans to return home to rural areas is a focus of USDA.
USDA is reaching out to veterans to become farmers because, “We understand that 47 percent of active duty service members when they transition from the service, they return back to rural America,” said Michael Alston, Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison for USDA. “And if it’s rural America that they return to, USDA believes that is our area of expertise.”
For veterans, “It seems like as they muster out they’re encouraged to go in to corporate America. So we just thought it was important that we wanted to make sure that people that came from rural America had an opportunity to go back to rural America,” Beyerhelm said.
“A lot of veterans have told me, ‘I served my country in the military, I want to serve my country in helping provide a safe and ample supply of food,’” he added.
The average age of a U.S. farmer is around 58 years old, according to Alston, so a new generation of farmers is important. “We know that rural prosperity helps the overall country and the overall country’s prosperity,” he added. Veterans can be part of that equation.
USDA, including FSA, are currently working to recruit mentors and mentees with SCORE. Interested mentors and mentees can sign up on their website at newfarmers.usda.gov/mentorship.