WASHINGTON – Individuals interested in becoming farmers and ranchers now have a new resource at their disposal – a US Department of Agriculture website called Start2farm.gov. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and USDA's National Agricultural Library, in partnership with the American Farm Bureau Federation, announced the new online portal that will include links to training, financing, technical assistance and other support services specifically for beginning farmers and ranchers as well as successful case studies about new and beginning farmers and ranchers.

"America's farmers and rural communities are vitally important to our nation's economy, producing the food, feed, fiber and fuel that continue to help us grow," Secretary Vilsack said. "USDA is working to provide opportunities for the next generation to get into agriculture in order to continue the record success of America's farmers and ranchers who are seeing record farm incomes and record exports. Start2Farm.gov will help us protect and sustain these successes, so that we continue to build an agriculture industry diverse and successful enough to attract the smartest, hardest-working young people in the nation."

Start2Farm.gov was funded via the NIFA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). The Program has been funded since fiscal year 2009. It was authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill with $75 million through FY12. In the first year of NIFA's Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, three-year grants supported training for 5,000 beginning farmers and ranchers. In 2011, it is anticipated that these grants will have supported training for more than 10,000 beginning farmer and ranchers.

The BFRDP legislation requires the Secretary to establish an online clearinghouse (Start2farm.gov) that makes available to beginning farmers or ranchers supporting education curricula and training materials and programs. Additional features include a 'Thinking about farming?' tutorial and an event calendar. Start2farm.gov also showcases stories of how other BFRDP grantees have started, and stayed in, farming and ranching.

Beginning farmers, by USDA definition, are those operated by individuals with 10 years or less experience operating farms, which means about 20 percent of the 2.1 million US farms are classified as beginning farms.

Most beginning farmers and ranchers experience shared challenges in getting started. The two most common and important challenges faced by beginning farmers are (1) having the market opportunity to buy or rent suitable land and (2) having capital to acquire land of a large enough scale to be profitable.