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Creating ag opportunities

Listening session focuses on inspiring new generation of farmers

Photo by Deb Gau Small group discussions were a key part of a Minnesota Department of Agriculture listening session in Marshall on Tuesday. Southwest and central Minnesota farmers including Greg Boerboom, at center, and Angela Walter, at right, talked about the barriers that new farmers may face getting started in the industry.

MARSHALL — You can’t have agriculture without farmers. But at the same time, agriculture isn’t always an easy industry to get into, area residents said Tuesday.

Participants at a Minnesota Department of Agriculture listening session talked about some of the challenges faced by potential new farmers, as well as possible ways to help.

It’s all part of an effort to learn more about how to create opportunities for emerging farmers, including underrepresented groups like farmers of color, women and American Indian farmers, said Patrice Bailey, assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

“This is an attempt to reach everybody,” Bailey said.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Emerging Farmers Working Group is holding a series of listening sessions around the state. Using the information they gather, the working group will report back to state legislators in February, Bailey said. The goal will be to form a task force on emerging farmers.

Tuesday’s listening session in Marshall drew about a dozen people from around southwest Minnesota, and with a mix of backgrounds including agriculture, ag education and finance.

Access to farmland and equipment were some of the barriers area residents said new farmers can face.

“There are fewer middle-size farms,” said Greg Boerboom, a pork farmer from the Marshall area. Not having enough of a cash flow or working capital could also keep new farmers out of the industry, group members said.

Participants said language barriers can also impact immigrant farmers and farm workers in Minnesota.

Angela Walter, education coordinator for the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship program, raised the question of whether there were opportunities for Hispanic workers and managers at dairy farms to move up and become farmers themselves.

Participants also talked about what they thought worked to help new and emerging farmers. Brian Boomgaarden, a faculty member from Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Pipestone, said the young farmer tax credit program has been good for new farmers. Participants said low-interest loans, and expanded ag education in high school were also positives.

During part of the listening session, Minnesota Department of Agriculture representatives also talked about some of the programs and resources available to help new farmers. The department’s Ag Marketing and Development Division offers resources for mental health for farmers, farm business management scholarships and grants. Other resources include beginning farmer tax credits, and the Minnesota FarmLink program.

FarmLink coordinator Jim Ostlie said the program works to connect farmers who want to see a new generation on their land, with people who want to farm but don’t have the means to start on their own.

“Our beginning farmers have ranged from having no agricultural experience to growing up on farms,” Ostlie said.

Bailey said there are still three chances left for Minnesota residents to be part of listening sessions. Meetings will be held in Duluth on Thursday, in St. Cloud on Dec. 4, and in Rochester on Dec. 11.

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