USDA awards Beginning Farmer grant to Ottawa County

Farm Where You Belong

October 1, 2020

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Ottawa County’s Beginning Farmers get boost with USDA grant

Picture a farmer. Is this person you imagined a little older? That’s not surprising. Almost a third of farmers in Ottawa County are over age 65, and less than 10% are under 35. To counteract this concerning trend, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded the County $44,885 to build up its local support system for new and prospective farmers.

In the 21st century, few choose farming as their livelihood. It’s hard enough for a daughter or son to take over for aging parents; it’s exponentially harder for someone without a farming background to break into the business. The good news is there’s a slew of resources available to help those thick-skinned individuals looking to enter the world of ag. 

“These resources are out there – Ottawa County just needed the funding to channel efforts into a cohesive program that beginner farmers can navigate,” said Becky Huttenga, Ottawa County Economic Development Coordinator. “Being able to provide resources that are customized for the local area will make the process of jumping into Ottawa County ag much less daunting.”  This USDA funding for a local Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program will go a long way toward guiding, educating and connecting budding Ottawa County farmers with valuable resources to address needs identified through stakeholder engagement. The grant funds will be used to work with aging farmers to develop transition plans to protect their ag land as well as develop a land locator website to connect beginning farmers to the acreage they need.

Farm Transition

And, this grant work will link beginning farmers with experienced farmers they can learn from. Like any career, having a veteran show you the ropes will improve your chances of success. “Having a seasoned West Michigan farmer share the kind of institutional knowledge that only time and experience can provide is invaluable to anyone new to agriculture, “ said Tony McCaul, Agriculture & Animal Science Program educator at Careerline Tech Center and key partner on the grant.

Ottawa County will be working closely with a number of partners to develop this robust beginning farmer assistance program, including:

  • McShane & Bowie PLC
  • The Agriculture and Animal Science Program at Careerline Tech Center
  • Homestead Orchards LLC.

Other collaborative organizations involved in the grant activities include Michigan Farm Bureau; Michigan State University Institute of Ag Technology – MCC campus; DeBoer & Baumann PLC; and Michigan State University Extension.

“Agriculture needs support – we’re pleased to partner with Ottawa County in its efforts to assist and encourage folks to take that leap into farming,” said Adam Dietrich, grant partner and young farmer with Homestead Orchards.

About the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program

Beginning farmer education in the U.S. can generally be traced back to the advent of the 1862 and 1890 Morrill Land-Grant Acts, which gave states property to open colleges that would teach agriculture and ‘mechanical’ (industrial) arts.  But, it was only in 2008 the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act appropriated $75 million to develop and offer education, training, outreach and mentoring programs for the next generation of American farmers. With continued concern about the projected decrease in farmers and ranchers in the 2010s, Congress again funded programs supporting ag in 2014. In 2018, lawmakers reauthorized the BFRDP via the Farm Bill. The 2018 act provides millions in mandatory funds through 2023 to support education, mentoring, and technical assistance initiatives for beginning farmers and ranchers.

About Ottawa County’s Farmland Preservation Program

Ottawa County’s Farmland Preservation Program is about more than just permanently protecting acreage. The County’s farmland preservation specialists strengthen the program by addressing beginner farmer needs, increasing succession planning efforts, and numerous other programmatic efforts.

To learn more about the Ottawa County’s efforts to support its vibrant agricultural industry, and keep updated on the BFRDP program as it develops, visit, contact, or call 616-738-4852.