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USDA grant to support training for beginning farmers in Pennsylvania

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture will enable Penn State Extension to offer a program designed to bring together beginning and retiring farmers in Pennsylvania, with an eye toward facilitating the transition of farms from one generation to the next.

The $50,000 award is part of USDA-NIFA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which supports a wide range of professional development activities and topics, such as managing capital, acquiring and managing land, and learning effective business and farming practices.

Agriculture is an important industry in Pennsylvania, supplying nutritious and locally produced food to residents, while also providing employment and economic and environmental benefits in both rural and urban areas, according to project leader Paula Ledney, financial analyst and education program associate with Penn State Extension.

“However, between 2012 to 2017, the USDA agricultural census showed a 10% drop in the number of farms and a 6% decline in farmland acreage in the state,” she said. “New and beginning farmers are finding it difficult to buy or lease farmland due to the decrease in available land and the higher prices that landowners are seeking for remaining farmland.”

Ledney said her grant-funded project, titled "Setting the Stage for Succession: Tools for the Beginning Farmer," is aimed at combating this issue by piloting an overnight retreat workshop that will bring together prospective farmers looking to get started and retiring farmers who want to keep their land in agriculture. The goal, she noted, is to help facilitate the successful transition of farmland and knowledge.

Topics addressed through the project will include finding farmland, legal and tax structures of land purchase and ownership, asset transfer channels, and retirement planning considerations for new farmers. Ledney said the project also will offer training for project personnel to learn how to design and facilitate the workshop effectively so the program can be replicated in the future.

She said the workshop is scheduled to be held in early March 2024 in Lancaster County, and more information will be released as details are finalized.

New and beginning farmers also can learn more about starting a farm by visiting the Penn State Extension website.

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