PRAIRIE DU SAC
It might be surprising to learn that approximately 19 percent of all Wisconsin farmers have been farming for less than 10 years. Even more surprising, more than half of the beginning farmers in the United States are over the age of 50.
In numbers alone, there are fewer beginning farmers in Wisconsin today than five years ago. However, the interest and enthusiasm among beginning farmers is stronger than ever. Whether it is a young person returning to the family dairy farm, a recent college graduate starting a fresh market vegetable farm, or someone nearing retirement transitioning to a second career as a beef farmer, there are many people with a passion to farm.
To help beginning farmers access the wealth of educational resources available to them, Badgerland Financial created a "Beginning with Badgerland" program. "The centerpiece of the program is a small grant available to any beginning farmer who lives within Badgerland Financial's 33-county service area, regardless of age or whether they presently do business with the cooperative," says Paul Dietmann, Emerging Markets Specialist at Badgerland Financial.
He added, "Grant funds can be used for farm business-related costs such as tuition, conference registration fees, tax preparation by a Badgerland Financial tax consultant, business organization, marketing materials and more."
"The grant motivates beginning farmers to go above and beyond what they thought they could do. When money isn't an issue, they are able to enroll in farm business classes, attend workshops or conferences, buy software, or do other things they didn't think they could afford," says Brad Sirianni, Farm Business and Production Management instructor at Western Technical College. "It takes the financial obstacle away. Especially with beginning farmers, they think they can't afford a lot of things that are actually really important for their businesses."
Since October 2013, Badgerland Financial has presented 82 "Beginning with Badgerland" grants to new farmers, totaling nearly $42,000. Of the 82 grant recipients, 47 are beginning farmers who are not Badgerland Financial customers.
"We recognize the diversity of agriculture in Wisconsin and strive to help all farmers, traditional or not, to succeed. Regardless of whether you're part of a farm that's been in the family for generations, or you're just starting out, we can help," shares Diane Cole, CEO at Badgerland Financial. "Our staff and our board of directors believe it's important to invest in beginning farmers. The opportunity to use this grant money towards education goes far in helping farmers by giving them the tools and the knowledge to run their businesses longer and smarter."
Beginning farmers have used their grant funds for a variety of purposes. For example, some enrolled in Farm Business and Production Management courses at their local technical colleges. Several participated in the School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers or the School for Beginning Market Growers offered through UW-Madison. Others attended conferences including the Organic Farming Conference and the GrassWorks Grazing Conference.
For more information about the "Beginning with Badgerland" program, visit badgerlandfinancial.com and look for Beginning and Young Farmer Loans.