Connecticut Farmers Gain Ground Through Share of $17 Million USDA Beginning Farmer Grant Funds

Land For Good has announced that it has been awarded $641,000 grant to help beginning farmers who seek land in New England or who want to improve their tenure situation. The Land Access Project expands LFG’s ongoing work to help New England beginning farmers successfully access land to start or grow their farms. The project will also benefit established farmers seeking to plan a farm transfer or find a successor.

The grant comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program which is administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). USDA awarded more than $17 million in grants to organizations nationwide that will provide training and education for beginning farmers and ranchers. (USDA)

This second three-year phase of LFG’s Land Access Project brings together over 40 collaborating organizations, agencies and individual experts to continue regional collaboration on farmland access, transfer and tenure. The project takes a comprehensive, systems approach to improve programs and policies around land access and transfer in each New England state. Project teams and partners will work with established and transitioning farmers, landowners, conservation organizations, service providers, communities and policymakers.

In Connecticut, nearly one-third of the farms and farmland are owned and managed by farmers at or beyond retirement age, 65 years and older, and that number is growing with 56% of Connecticut’s principal farm operators aged 45 to 64 who will be facing their own succession challenges in the next couple decades. Many aging farmers are without an identified successor. Less than 10% of Connecticut farmland is owned or leased by next-generation farmers. (US Census of Agriculture) What these farmers do with their land and other farm assets as they exit farming will shape Connecticut’s agricultural landscape for generations to come. The Land Access Project will help farmers access land to start or grow their farms and to support established farmers to transfer their farms to next-generation farmers.

“It is exciting for us and for the state of Connecticut,” says Rachel Murray, farmer (Roxbury) and CT Field Agent of Land For Good. “It opens the door to the possibility of working with more farm seekers to get them onto secure farmland, working with private landowners and conservation groups like Land Trusts to make this land available for farmers looking to start or expand their farm business,” explains Murray. “We’ll also be increasing awareness and education in Connecticut about the importance of affordable and accessible farmland for the local economy, food system, and overall sustainable future for the state.”

Accessing farmland is a challenge for all farmers, but it is particularly daunting for beginning farmers who mostly come from non-farming backgrounds and lack access to capital. At the same time, an aging farmer population – many of whom lack identified successors – face the challenge of passing on their farms to the next generation. Acquiring land and passing it on are two sides of the same farmland access “coin.”

“Our long term goals of this project,” says Jim Hafner, Executive Director of Land For Good, “are to give beginning farmers more knowledge and skills to access land and improve land tenure. Beginning farmers will connect with established farmers, as well as landowners, so farms will be more effectively transferred. We’ll also be looking at land access innovations to create stronger programs to assist farmers to access land in New England and nationally.”