By James Tillman, Acting Associate Chief for Conservation, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service

Are you interested in protecting the soil, water, plants, and air and achieving economic sustainability on your newly acquired farm, ranch, or forest? Would you like to increase your marketing and income potential while focusing on increasing wildlife habitat on some of those acres?

As a new and beginning farmer, rancher, or private forest landowner, you will face unique challenges. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has programs and services to help you overcome those challenges and meet your natural resource goals at the same time. By working together and enhancing resources to meet common goals, USDA agencies can offer more economic and marketing opportunities to eligible agricultural producers and others, promote agricultural production that provides food and fiber for America and the world, and protect natural resources by applying sustainable conservation practices on private agricultural and forest lands.

USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA), Risk Management Agency (RMA), Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), and Rural Development (RD) are working together to expand opportunities and activities in diverse areas under USDA’s purview including outreach, conservation, housing, food security, marketing, on-farm energy efficiency, and renewable energy.

A large number of active farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners are approaching retirement. That is why USDA is increasing services to new and beginning farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners. In addition, the growing need for more food to feed a burgeoning world population makes it critical for USDA to embrace all eligible beginning farmers, ranchers, and foresters who are willing to contribute to the future of our nation’s health and food security.

Recent farm bills have sought to expand USDA’s customer base by setting aside funding and other assistance to help new and beginning farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners acquire the resources they need to manage their land, water, and other natural resources.

USDA is committed to providing a simplified “one-stop shop” for all farmers, ranchers and foresters nationwide. USDA’s offices are working diligently to improve natural resources, the economy, and quality of life in rural America. To gain access to that assistance, you must first visit the local FSA office that services the county where your land is located. FSA administers credit and loan programs and manages conservation, commodity, disaster, and farm marketing programs through a national network of offices. Through FSA offices, farmers, ranchers, and foresters register their farms and obtain a farm and tract number for their operation. This step must occur prior to accessing any other USDA program or service.

USDA’s NRCS offers voluntary, incentive-based conservation assistance to eligible farmers, ranchers, and private foresters nationwide. NRCS field office staffers will discuss with you your vision for your operation. Together, you will develop a conservation plan. The conservation plan is one aspect of the free technical assistance the agency provides to all eligible farmers, ranchers and foresters. NRCS staffers also will help you select the best conservation programs to achieve the goals in your conservation plan. You can access NRCS’s programs and services by visiting the local USDA Service Center in the county where your land is located.

USDA’s RD provides assistance through loans, grants and combination of both to diverse customers, including farmers and ranchers, to help them improve their quality of life. RD offers diverse programs, including some that promote energy efficiency, renewable energy and value-added business development.

USDA’s RMA offers a Whole-Farm Plan Protection. Crops that are not normally insurable can be protected through the Whole Farm Revenue Protection Plan Policy.

USDA’s AMS also offer numerous opportunities to assist you with your farm, ranch or woodland. AMS markets agricultural products in the U.S. and abroad. AMS’s services and grants support economic development in small towns and rural communities nationwide.

USDA’s FNS Farm to School Program allows local farmers, ranchers or fishermen to offer local agricultural products to schools to serve for meals and snacks. Producers also can educate students about food and agriculture through diverse activities such as demonstrations and tours.

These are a few of the opportunities, programs, and services USDA offers to help you to protect your resources and become economically viable. Visit your local USDA Service Center for more individualized services for your operation.

You can also visit USDA’s online portal or NRCS’s “Get Started with NRCS, to learn more about NRCS’s and USDA’s activities to help new and beginning farmers and gain tips on how to get started.

Like what you’ve read? Check out our Beginning Farmer Forum home page, and join the conversation in the Beginning Farmer Forum Facebook group.

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