Thursday, April 26, 2018

New young farmers aiming to sell local produce at farmers markets; McConnell's push for hemp bill could help too

American small farms are in dire straights right now: more than 12,000 went out of business in 2017, net farm incomes have dropped 52 percent in the past five years, and bankruptcies are up 33 percent in the past two years. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway said last week at the Farm Bill markup that "two key universities informed us that two-thirds of the representative farms they use to model the economic conditions of agriculture are currently in marginal or poor financial condition," Doug McKelway and Kellieanne Jones report for Fox News.

But some farmers are finding hope in consumers' increasing desire to buy locally grown meat and produce. Thousands of young hopefuls, many who aren't from farming families, are going into farming with an emphasis in the kind of local, often organic product that people demand--coupled with modern social media savvy to market their products directly through farmer's markets or community supported agriculture programs.

"Congress is also intent on expanding opportunities for new young farmers," McKelway and Jones report. "One bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, The Hemp Farming Act of 2018, would remove industrial hemp, the non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana, from the Controlled Substances Act. With its soil replenishing qualities and uses in fabric, food, lotions, and anti-seizure oils, many farmers are convinced it's a potential replacement for a mostly bygone cash crop, tobacco."

New farmers are sorely needed in an industry where the average farmer is 58 years old and will retire soon. But the cost of land could deter aspiring farmers. Nearly 100 million acres of farmland is expected to change ownership over the next five years, so advocacy group The New Young Farmers Coalition say they hope Congress will do more to help young farmers afford land, McKelway and Jones report.

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