Access to land and financing were the biggest barriers to getting into farming cited by emerging farmers, according to a new report by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
The term "emerging farmers" refers to groups not generally represented among Minnesota farmers, who tend to be white and male. It includes women, veterans, people with disabilities, American Indian or Alaskan native, and people of color, the report said.
Emerging farmers also tend to be young, without family land, and are interested in regenerative or sustainable farming practices and selling directly to consumers, the report said. They tend to be passionate about farming and caring for the land.
The department compiled its report based on six listening sessions throughout Minnesota from Sept. 3 through Dec. 11 that drew a total of 144 participants.
Some of those participants said farmers were reluctant to sell land to immigrant farmers because it might upset neighbors, or that the farming practices of immigrant or young farmers may be too different from what has been done in the area.
Other barriers they mentioned were challenges obtaining health insurance, as well as access to health care.
"Rural health care services have declined over the past decade, leaving many towns in Greater Minnesota with limited clinics, hospital services, and specialized doctors," the report said.
Child care, addiction, lack of truly high-speed internet access and changing regulations were some of the other barriers farmers cited.
Also a big deal to smaller, diversified growers: Finding agriculture businesses that cater to them. It's difficult to find equipment and seed quantities scaled to their level, as well as small- to mid-size processing facilities.
In its report, the department recommended establishing a task force on aiding emerging farmers. Other recommendations:
- Increase the agricultural microloan program from $10,000 to $20,000.
- Create a one-stop shop where emerging farmers can find resources for training, grants and other materials.
- Address health insurance costs and student loan debt for emerging farmers.
- Strengthen connections between current farmers and emerging farmers through equity and inclusivity training in farming communities.
- Reframe the story of farming as an opportunity for underserved communities.