USDA grant, Farm Bureau team up on training, mentoring

By TIM HEARDEN

Capital Press

A new information-sharing program will provide education, training and mentoring to beginning farmers and ranchers across the country, including those considered underserved.

The USDA's National Agricultural Library is creating a National Curriculum and Training Clearinghouse to help those pursuing a career in agriculture.

With assistance from the American Farm Bureau Federation, the effort will include a Web site and research database as well as an annual conference for beginning farmers and ranchers.

"Part of the objective is to be able to bring beginning farmers together so they can share information about things they've been working on," said Sabrina Matteson, the AFBF's director of rural affairs.

"The database is going to be a collection of resources that are currently available, and the National Agricultural Library is going to be hiring a research librarian and also a database expert that can also work on the Web site."

The user-friendly site will provide links to information posted on state and university Web sites and elsewhere, Matteson said.

The clearinghouse is funded with a portion of $17 million in grants for beginning farmer and rancher programs announced this month by the USDA.

The clearinghouse project will receive a five-year, $1.5 million grant.

Other grants announced this month included more than $1.2 million to Washington State University's small farms program for disadvantaged farmers, $515,862 to the Salinas, Calif.-based Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association and $525,000 to California FarmLink in Sebastopol, Calif.

For the national clearinghouse, the Farm Bureau is contributing $75,000 per year of in-kind support by helping with outreach and publicity and putting on the conference.

Beginning in February 2011 in Orlando, Fla., the Farm Bureau will add a beginning farmer and rancher component to its Young Farmer and Rancher Conference.

The Web site will include information on business set-up, how to grow certain crops and access to funding opportunities, Matteson said.

"We're hoping that it's very transparent and that we will get ... suggestions of information to have on the site," she said. "What Farm Bureau is doing, because we have so many members out there, we can get feedback from beginning farmers that are our members and also reach out to beginning farmers in other organizations."

As the average age of farmers gets older and older, the clearinghouse will aim to make it easier for young prospective farmers to get into the business, Matteson said.

One-quarter of the funding will be geared toward groups the USDA has designated as underserved, including ethnic minorities, she said.

"We are very excited about it because we feel it's a great opportunity for beginning farmers to have one location where lots of information is going to be readily accessible," Matteson said.

"By getting contributions from those that are searching, we'll be able to build a site that beginning farmers might want."

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