Clemson awarded $595,000 USDA grant for New and Beginning Farmer Program
COLUMBIA — Clemson University has received a $595,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to nurture the next generation of farmers in South Carolina.
The three-year grant will support the university’s S.C. New and Beginning Farmer Program led by Dave Lamie, associate professor and Extension agribusiness specialist at the Clemson Sandhill Research and Education Center in Columbia.
The program is in its fifth year and already boasts more than 200 graduates. Forty-five participants from across the state completed the program in May.
The grant will help fund activities to support this growing alumni base, nurture new participants and reach a broader audience through regional training efforts.
“The average age of a South Carolina farmer continues to increase, so investing in the next generation of ‘agripreneurs’ is absolutely vital to the ongoing success of our state’s No. 1 industry. We appreciate the continued support from the USDA,” Lamie said. “Our goal is to grow sound business managers, exemplary environmental stewards and innovative marketers who will capitalize on the tremendous demand for local, high-quality, nutritious farm products.”
This is the second USDA grant awarded to the New and Beginning Farmer Program at Clemson. The first covered the program’s first three years.
“We see new and beginning farmers and ranchers as a critical force in sustaining food security, food safety and many other aspects of agriculture that will become even more challenging as our global population grows,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in announcing the Clemson grant and $17.8 million in grants to similar projects across the country. “The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, and the forums that we are planning, will be important steps in helping young people, returning veterans and others access the tremendous opportunities in the agriculture sector.”
The Clemson program provides instruction on farm business management, business concept/plan development; financial and risk management; legal and regulatory issues; marketing strategies; personal assessment; and an introduction to federal, state and local agriculture resources. Participants attend regional workshops throughout the state that offer important opportunities for local peer and resource networking, as well as provide additional instruction on production topics tailored for each region. Regional workshops are open to the public and will be listed at www.scnewfarmer.org in September.
Regional workshops are a collaborative effort between Clemson Agribusiness, Clemson Cooperative Extension, the Clemson Sustainable Agriculture Program, the S.C. Coastal Conservation League, the Catawba Farm & Food Coalition and the Richland County Soil & Water Conservation District.
Many collaborators have provided material and program support, including ArborOne Farm Credit, AgSouth Farm Credit, the South Carolina Farm Bureau Federation, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, USDA-Rural Development, USDA-Farm Service Agency, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, South Carolina State University and the S.C. Department of Agriculture.
The program, which runs from October to May, is offered in two levels: one for farmers with less than three years of experience; and one for those who have been farming three to nine years. The application for this year’s New and Beginning Farmer Program is closed, but interested participants can sign up on the waiting list here.
This year’s class, like those before it, is diverse. Some have farmed before. Others have not. Some are retired. Some hope to switch careers and become business owners. Some have no agricultural background at all. The New and Beginning Farmer program is available to any resident of South Carolina who is beginning to farm or who has actively farmed for less than 10 consecutive years.
“The New and Beginning Farmer program is an important part of our Extension Agribusiness program being developed at Sandhill,” said Kathy Coleman, director of the Sandhill REC. “Our goal is to provide programs that will support and expand the agriculture industry in South Carolina at all levels.”
Said Nathan Smith, Clemson Extension Agribusiness program team leader: “The grant brings much needed support and resources together that will allow the program to continue and expand with the growing interest in farming in South Carolina, particularly related to local foods. Building a strong foundation in agribusiness management principles is essential to successfully transition and develop farmers of the future.”
The USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program is administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which invests in research, education and extension programs that combat childhood obesity, promote rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, identify new sources of energy, mitigate climate variability and ensure food safety.