Gov. Gavin Newsom’s revised budget calls for millions of dollars to support new farmers and ranchers.
Specifically, it proposes $10 million for beginning farmer and rancher training and farm management apprenticeship programs, which is a new budget proposal but still less than some farm advocates were hoping.
CDFA Secretary Karen Ross said the funding will help maintain and expand diversity in California agriculture, including by size of farm.
“We value our multi-generation farms that have grown into large entities and we value small farms,” she said in a press conference after the May budget revision was announced. The budget line would include incubator programs for new farms and farmworker training.
“We value the opportunities for farmworkers to do training to become farmers,” Ross said.
Several ag groups expressed support for funding the programs, which they say will benefit more than just the next generation of California farmers.
“Investing in beginning farmer and farmworker training programs will support the growth of food systems jobs and the local farming economy,” Community Alliance with Family Farmers wrote in its legislative ask, which called for $15 million for beginning farmers and farmworker training.
USDA also has increased its efforts to attract and keep new farmers and ranchers.
More than 200 people have contacted California’s statewide Beginning Farmer Rancher Initiative since the four-agency USDA collaboration launched in December.
Staff members in California’s Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency, Rural Development and Natural Resources Conservation Service offices are coordinating the effort with Victor Hernandez, of NRCS, leading the team. He says the goal is to match farmers and ranchers who are just getting started with USDA programs and also with a network of organizations eager to help them succeed.
Eligible farmers can apply for $50,000 USDA microloans when they do not yet qualify as commercial borrowers. Hernandez said other financial resources and agronomic and conservation tools are available through the collaboration.
“We're building the bench of business partners, agricultural partners and educational partners, he said.
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Some of the business partners include Kern County Women's Business Center, California Farm Link, Minority Business Development Agency, California Asian Chamber and Kitchen Table Advisors.
The agriculture partners range from national groups such as American Farmland Trust to state programs like CDFA’s Farm to School, to county ag commissioners’ offices. Ventura College, Sierra College and UC Santa Cruz cooperative extension are among the academic partners, though additional training programs through private nonprofits such as Archi’s Institute for Sustainable Agriculture and ALBA Farmers are also collaborating.
Hernandez is rolling out a series of webinars, beginning June 9, that will introduce each of the partners and what they can offer to beginning farmers (they will be recorded and available afterward on demand). Details on the partnership webinars for new farmers will be posted (under Events & Deadlines) when they become available.
Through the collaboration, Hernandez says he can “act as a matchmaker” connecting the farmers with whatever resources they need at a particular moment in their business or farm development.
Many barriers can prevent an aspiring farmer from starting a new business, and Hernandez hopes the initiative can break down some of them. USDA defines “new” farmers are those in their first decade, so Hernandez says after one milestone is reached, he’s still there to help farmers with their next steps.
“As soon as you meet that, let's start talking again,” he said. “This is going to be a long term relationship.”
The California legislature has until June 15 to finalize the state’s budget.
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