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2012-01-19

Young Farmer Grant Program - leg up for agriculture's future

By Gene Hall Texas Farm Bureau

Farming and ranching is a tough business to get into these days.

There's no question about that.

Production agriculture is capital intensive, requiring huge investments in land, expensive equipment and livestock. Formidable adversaries, like drought, predators, insect pests, volatile markets and government regulation, lie in wait to ambush even the most astute farmer or rancher.

In 2009, the 81st Texas Legislature approved the Texas Department of Agriculture's proposal for the Texas Agricultural Finance Authority (TAFA) to establish the first-of-its-kind Young Farmer Grant Program. Since TAFA's creation in 1987, the program has provided financial assistance to individuals and businesses through partnerships with banks or other agricultural lending institutions.

Last month, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples announced TAFA awarded $150,000 in the form of matching grants to 15 young farmers.

The funds, in the amount of $10,000 each, are awarded through the Young Farmer Grant Program to farmers ages 18-46 who will create or expand agricultural businesses in Texas.

Texas farmers fund the program themselves through farm vehicle registration fees.

"According to USDA, the average age of a principal owner of a Texas farm or ranch is 59 years old with only 6 percent under the age of 35," Staples said. "As today's farmers and ranchers near retirement, we must find ways to support a younger generation who will be tasked with feeding a growing population. The Young Farmer Grant Program, which is funded entirely by Texas farmers and ranchers, offers user-friendly, effective financing options that can help new and young operators get started and become more firmly established."

When the farmers of this generation pass from the scene, not only will there be a lack of numbers, but also of the expertise that could well retire with them. Who will grow food and fiber for future generations?

Programs like TAFA and its Young Farmer Grant Program are small parts of the answer. Industry-funded, this is what a private and government partnership should look like.

For information about the Young Farmer Grant Program and other TAFA programs, visit

www.TexasAgriculture.gov.

Visit the Texas Farm Bureau website at www.txfb.org .

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