August 17, 2016 U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, invited a group of 15 beginning farmer-veterans to a roundtable discussion about “Opportunities for Beginning Farmers” at Iowa State University. Veterans in Agriculture had 6 representative in the roundtable discussion: Paul Havran, air-guard recruiter & cow-calf producer in Warren County; Aaron and Dana White, crop and cow-calf producers, Carlisle, Ia.; Todd Dirksen, FSA employee and owner of Dirksen Livestock, LLC. Hampton, Ia.; Jason Kerr, Kerr Blueberry Farm, DeWitt, Ia.; and Ray Meylor, Cherry Glen Learning Farm, Polk City.
As the men and women shared their stories and concerns, several themes stuck out. Here are some of the biggest challenges facing young and beginning farmer-veterans listed. First and foremost mentioned was access to land and capital. Other items listed were: the fact that landlords want to rent to larger well established farmers; it’s hard to compete with the high CRP rates that landlord are opting to go after; not enough USDA/FSA/NRCS etc. employees and that some are lacking the knowledgeable about all the programs that are available; even though the water quality issue is very important, beginning farmers can’t afford to expense of long-term mitigation; and trouble finding a local meat processing facility that could meet the regulations required to process their home raised products.
The Secretary announced to the meeting a new investment of $17.6 million for 37 projects to help educate, mentor, and enhance the sustainability of the next generation of farmers and ranchers for continued support.