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What is a New or Beginning Farmer?


There are a number of terms and definitions that apply to this sector:

  • According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), a beginning farmer is one who has operated a farm for ten years or less. This definition is used for USDA beginning farmer loan programs. Several loan programs further require that a beginning farmer must have at least three years' experience.
  • A young farmer is a farmer under the age of 35. The Farm Bureau and Farm Credit have young farmer programs. A young farmer may be working with the older generation on the family farm.
  • The term next-generation farmer is used to describe young people who will be the next generation of farmers. Sometimes the term specifically suggests the next generation of the family to take over an existing farm.

Several Northeast organizations* working with new farmers propose a broad definition of a new farmer. This definition includes people who have started farming (described above) and those who have not yet begun to farm. We developed a typology that further describes different categories of new farmers.

Prospective farmers have not begun to farm.

  • "Recruits" might consider a career in production agriculture, for example students in vo-ag high schools.
  • "Explorers" are investigating a farming future, and may be gathering information.
  • "Planners" have made a choice to pursue some sort of commercial production agriculture, but are not actually farming yet.

Beginning farmers also fall into several categories.

  • "Start-ups" have been farming for three years or less.
  • "Restrategizing" farmers are making adjustments in their fourth to seventh years.
  • "Establishing" farmers are stabilizing in years eight to ten of the beginning farmer phase.