BOONE, Iowa – The US Department of Agriculture is giving $18 million in grants to several organizations aimed at helping young, beginning or struggling farmers and ranchers, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Aug. 30 at a Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa.

USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded the grants through the agency's Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). USDA gives BFRDP grants to organizations that provide education, training, technical assistance and outreach programs to beginning farmers and ranchers, specifically those who have been farming or ranching for 10 years or fewer, according to the agency. USDA categorizes “beginning farmers as individuals with 10 years or less experience operating farms.

"In the past few decades, US agriculture has become the second most productive sector of the American economy thanks to farmers adopting technology, reducing debt, and effectively managing risk," Vilsack said. "Last year, America's farmers, ranchers and producers achieved record farm income and record exports. To protect and sustain these successes, we must continue to build an agriculture industry diverse and successful enough to attract the smartest, hardest-working people in the nation.

"These grants will help beginning farmers and ranchers overcome the unique challenges they face and gain knowledge and skills that will help them become profitable and sustainable," he said.

In 2008, the first year of the program, three-year grants supported training for 5,000 beginning farmers and ranchers. In 2011, grants supported training for more than 38,000, USDA said.