WASHINGTON, Sept. 30- Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced 36 beginning farmer and rancher grants at a total of $18 million today. Grant proposals are being accepted within the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) until Nov. 22. 
Under BFRDP, NIFA makes grants available to organizations that implement education, training, technical assistance and outreach programs to help beginning farmers and ranchers, specifically those who have been farming or ranching for 10 years or fewer. The 2008 Farm Bill provided $75 million in mandatory funding for BFRDP over the four-year period from 2009-2012. 
With the challenges of retiring farmers, rising land prices and declining rural populations, Merrigan said these programs are needed to transition our workforce to the next generation of people to work the land. She said the average age of today’s farmers is between 57-59 years old and that 30 percent of farmers are over age 65. 
“The problem I’m describing, I believe, is a national phenomenon,” she said. “That young blood is out there that wants to farm and ranch in this country. The challenge for us is to facilitate ways for them to reach their dreams.”
The grants announced today are not exclusive to any particular type of farmer, Merrigan said.   One of the grants provides $675,000 to the Farm Credit Council for business plan development and financial expertise in beginning farmer programs across the country. She added that at least 25 percent of the program’s funding supports the needs of limited resource and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, as well as farm workers who want to get a start in farming and ranching. BFRDP provided $18 million in funding this year, the third year of the program. Another $18 million will be made available in fiscal year 2012. For more information on the BFRDP program, visit: http://www.nifa.usda.gov/funding/bfrdp/bfrdp.html.
“We’re hoping that during the 2012 Farm Bill deliberations, beginning farmers will be center stage,” she said.
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011, sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Representative Tim Walz (Minn.), will include a $125 million baseline proposal for BFRDP. 
Policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Ferd Hoefner, said the bill will serve as the beginning farmer agenda for the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill and is optimistically scheduled be introduced in the Senate next week.  BFRDP, established under the 2008 Farm Bill, is one aspect of the comprehensive Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act, which was first included in the 2002 Farm Bill. 
“Until the program [BFRDP] came into existence in the last Farm Bill, no other programs other than credit programs existed for beginning farmers,” Hoefner said. “I’m quite hopeful that Congress will find a way to sustain it.”
Also in the 2008 Farm Bill, the Transition Incentive Program (TIP) provided land from the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to beginning farmers. Hoefner said CRP TIP will be authorized under the new bill, but some changes to the program are still pending. 
Today's BFRDP project announcements were awarded in Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

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