Beginning Farmer Sustainable Agriculture Project

1993 Annual Report for LNC93-059

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1993: $109,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1995
Matching Federal Funds: $10,000.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $244,160.00
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Wyatt Fraas
Center for Rural Affairs

Beginning Farmer Sustainable Agriculture Project


The Beginning Farmer Sustainable Agriculture Project sought to create a more sustainable future
for agriculture by enhancing opportunities for beginning farmers to start farming using
sustainable farming methods. Sustainable agriculture and beginning farmers are a natural fit.
Beginning farmers are generally more open to sustainable farming than established farmers who
have already made emotional, intellectual and financial commitments to conventional methods.
The sustainable agricultural strategy of substituting hands-on management and skilled labor for
capital and other purchased inputs offers opportunities for beginning farmers, who lack finances
but have time and management ability, to build the equity needed to get started farming. This
project was a cooperative effort between beginning farm families, local community leadership,

the Center for Rural Affairs, the Center for Holistic Resource Management, the University of
Nebraska Agricultural Economics Department and the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society.

1) Provide educational support to mutual-help groups of beginning farmers.
2) Collect and analyze data from cooperating farm families on their start-up strategies.
3) Publish whole-farm case studies of farm-entry strategies for cooperating farm families and
publish decision case studies of critical decisions in the farm entry process.
4) Disseminate the process and results of this project.

Methods and Results:
The project organized beginning farm families into mutual-help networks in eastern Nebraska. A
special advisory committee of beginning farm families helped shape and guide the project.
Support was provided for developing holistic farm management strategies and applied
sustainable agricultural practices to get started farming. Specific support network activities
included group meetings, short courses, informational workshops, construction workshops, farm
tours, on-farm research and on-farm consultation with farm families. Information was gathered
from descriptive case studies of participating farm families who agreed to keep whole-farm
records including finances, energy and chemical use, and other environmental measures.

Economic Analysis:
As a group, the new farmers were succeeding at becoming established farmers. Owner equity
increased an average of 16 percent for the study group in 1992. The debt-to-asset ratio
(comparing total debts to total assets) was 0.35 in 1992, which was identical to a group of
established farmers in northeast Nebraska, while the six least indebted farmers of the study group
had a ratio of 0.11. Farm income provided only one-third of total income for the study families,
and nearly all held at least one off-farm job to make ends meet. In contrast, non-farm income for
established farmers in the area provided only one-third of family income. This demonstrates the
need for diverse local economies to provide these off-farm jobs that allow beginning farmers to
start farming.

Potential Contributions and Practical Applications:
Expected benefits fall into two categories: increased use of sustainable farming practices and
increased success of beginning farmers in becoming established. Use of sustainable farming
practices will improve rural economies, reduce use of nonrenewable resources, and reduce water
and air pollution, effected by this project's emphasis on teaching young farmers about sustainable
farming practices. The improved success of beginning farmers will accrue from improved
policies and services to benefit young farmers, encouragement of potential farmers to begin
farming through methods with proven success, and education of existing young farmers in
methods that improve their management abilities, including group support and problem-solving.

Operational Recommendations:
Beginning farmers often lack the financial resources, equipment, time, and skills necessary for
the development of a successful operation. Project cooperators offered several recommendations
to other beginning farmers, such as: using off-farm income to support the family while the farm
becomes diverse and stable enough to support the family; keeping debt minimal, especially for
machinery and facilities; finding a mentor to help with advice and to loan equipment; finding a
group of like-minded farmers to share ideas, problems, and frustrations; finding a group of
people to socialize with; integrating and diversifying the farm enterprises, with livestock at the
core; involving the whole family in goal-setting; continuing education through all means