USDA website helps new farmers get started

The Fresno BeeJune 27, 2014 

A new USDA initiative called the New Farmers website is intended to help growers like Jacob Culter be successful. Cutler has planted 18 acres of lemon trees in Woodlake.

JOHN WALKER — Fresno Bee Staff Photo Buy Photo

Jacob Cutler dreams of a day he can upgrade his $3,000 truck to two Corvettes. He won't go into real estate or invest in the stock market -- he will do it through lemons.

Cutler, 29, grew up in San Francisco, but his family has been farming in the central San Joaquin Valley for 40 years. As a young single person, with less to lose and few responsibilities, Cutler said now was the perfect time to start his farm.

A year and a half ago Cutler got a loan from his parents and bought 18 acres for $200,000 in Woodlake, east of Visalia. He invested another $90,000 in planting lemon trees.

Cutler said he's aware of some government programs and resources meant to help new farmers and ranchers, but said they are hard to understand and use.

Now beginning farmers and ranchers have information available to make a more educated leap of faith into agriculture.

A website that was unveiled this week will allow new or beginning farmers and ranchers to look at USDA initiatives, incentives and programs to facilitate their farm investment. This was announced the same time as the implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill.

The New Farmers website will educate farmers and ranchers about USDA support programs. Fresno County Farm Bureau president Ryan Jacobsen emphasized the need for information to be readily available, especially to new farmers.

"Anything that can be done to get young farmers and ranchers going is an asset," said Jacobsen. "Having the tools available in a one-stop shop is necessary to individuals to navigate the agricultural world."

U.S. Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden said that the average age of farmers is 58 and rising. In the USDA's most recent census, the number of California farmers 65 and older increased to 39,428 from 2007 to 2012, or by almost 20%. This growth is three times faster than farmers ages 25 to 34.

Josh Donnelly, 21, is finishing his undergraduate degree at University of California at Davis, but is interning at Cutler's farm. Donnelly is studying managerial economics, which he said translates to agricultural econ.

Donnelly raised cattle from a young age, and leases land for his cattle now. However, he's not sure if he wants to get into ranching.

"It's such a huge risk, that it's hard for me to say. There's so many factors weighing in on whether I'll do that in the future," said Donnelly. "What you're doing is biological -- there's a lot at stake. If you don't know what you're doing, you could really lose."

Jacobsen said that multiple factors tend to deter new and young farmers, like high start-up costs. Land prices have increased, farm equipment can be costly, and crops could take years to yield results, meaning little to no revenue.

"Farming is capital intensive," said Jacobsen, "with a historical rate of return that's lower than other industries. There's a lot of barriers to entry."

For more information about the 2014 Farm Bill and insurance changes, go to www.usda.gov/newfarmers.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6279, htraceynoren@fresnobee.com or @HtraceyNoren on Twitter.

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